Madagascar Part 5 of 8: Morondava.
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I had been warned that today was going to be the longest day of driving on my trip with a 10 hour drive to the western coast of Madagascar. We set off just after 06:30 from the lodge with packed breakfast in hand. I hadn’t managed to shake off my tiredness entirely but given I had a 10 hour drive ahead of me I figured I could snooze on the way. People were already out and about and I could see kids already walking to school and traders setting up their food stalls for the day. As we got out of the city the landscapes changed, from rolling brown mountains to terraced paddy fields. Rice is one of the country’s main staples and is consumed three times a day. It wasn’t long before we encountered our first traffic jam, but not the usual traffic one would expect. Some herders were struggling to contain their zebu, a breed of cattle unique to Madagascar, and they strayed in front of our jeep. Zebu are bred and then sold in markets and fetch good prices, and are considered to be a status of wealth. The large hump made of fat is considered a delicacy and generally only used to mark special occasions. The largest zebu market is in Ambalavao, central Madagascar, with herders often travelling from all ends of the country to sell their prized cattle.
I was surprised at the good condition of the road especially as the rainy season had just passed and I expected there to be more potholes. The first baobab trees started coming into view. These iconic trees are synonymous with Madagascar and look like inverted trees. Legend has it the gods were angry and ripped out the trees turning them upside down as the branches look like roots. I was told that Madagascar is home to 6 of the world’s 8 species of baobab trees. We stopped at the appropriately named Allee des Baobabs, which resembles an avenue of towering baobab trees lining each side of the road. A young boy approached me asking for a photograph with a green chameleon he had on a stick. I declined the offer figuring I will get the chance to see some in the forests later on. Other kids were playing an impromptu game of football with these magnificent arbors as the backdrop.
We finally entered the town of Morondava on the western coast where we refuelled. We spotted a large crowd cheering by the roadside. We stopped the jeep and my driver told me it was a moringi, a tradition whereby male youths fight each other to demonstrate their manliness in the hope of attracting a female. Many people also bet on the outcome. Unis told me that I was extremely lucky to see this as they don’t occur that often. I scrambled to get to get a good view and was amazed at the force with which these young men were punching each other bare-fisted in the head. Of course there was no protection of any kind! A referee finally stepped in once he thought there was a winner who was then paraded on someone’s back in front of the crowd. Two youngsters who couldn’t have been more than 13 years of age then launched into each other too – it was certainly one of the more bizarre spectacles I’d witnessed!
We then took the dirt road to the Camp Amoreux where I was spending the next two nights. The accommodation was tented with mattresses and outdoor bathroom facilities attached to the raised tent. It was fairly basic but clean. Water was stored in a tank which was used for the shower and bathroom. After a cold, but refreshing, shower I joined my driver for dinner which was also quite simple (the veggie option was omelette with chips). Unis then pointed up towards the corner of the wooden ceiling. We were being spied on by tiny mouse lemurs, considered to be one of the smallest primates in the world. I decided to call it an early night after a long day’s drive. Tomorrow I do my first wildlife safari with a morning walking safari in Kirindy Forest..