Early in the morning, I am on my feet – with my luggage packed up in front of the tent. Directly in front of our community roof, Coquerel Sifakas jump around between two dead trees. In another, a very high tree sits a Broad-Billed roller. The funny name in German is “cinnamon bird” and describes a rather boring rusty brown bird with a yellow beak, Eurystomus glaucurus. Whether he actually rolls cinnamon out of tree bark – there would be suitable trees here – remains unclear for today. Very briefly, two little Grey-headed Love Birds join him a little deeper in the tree.
It takes a very long time until all the tents are taken down. Ndrema came today in the best twist and brought his eldest daughter, his wife Therese and guide Corinne along with her youngest offspring. He also brought a whole bunch of overripe cherimoyas, harvested in his own garden. The fruits almost fall apart and taste amazingly sweet and delicious. Ndrema and Therese will bring 70 of our coloring books and crayons to the neighboring school. Both are very happy about the new coloring books. Ndrema unpacks his laptop so that we can transfer yesterday’s photos from the mobile phones to his device. He also shows photos of his house with proudly swollen breast. Which, by the way, he built entirely by himself with his own hands. And it is really pretty. Therese tells that Kristyna, who braided my hair, was afraid of the chameleon tattoo on my shoulder. But then she dared to braid her hair because she was assured several times by the guides on the campground that this special chameleon was harmless. Soothing, isn’t it?
Finally, Ndrema gets up, he wants to help the others dismantle the camp. Since I am of little help, I join those who have been waiting on the graveled parking lot. In the big tree right next to the park office the Coquerel Sifakas have meanwhile taken an early nap. They are watching very carefully a small group of guides who are playing Pétanque, the Malagasy national game, directly under the tree. Philipp is already on the edge of the forest again, he has found several pretty Heterixalus behind the sanitary house. I am looking for my trekking shoes. But what I have learned after some years of traveling Madagascar: Shoes are valuable and they would never just be left anywhere. Therefore I simply assume that they are already stored somewhere in one of the cars. In any case, they are not standing on the campground anymore.
A lot of sun cream and Antibrumm mosquito spray later there is a little Kabary, a speech to express mutual thanks and of course to assure that we will come back. There is a warm hug, then we board the Landcruiser.
The landscape behind the dry forest of Ankarafantsika is relatively barren, savannah-like with many thin-leaved palms. In Port Berger, we stop for lunch. In front of a bright house the cars park, it is insanely hot. I am already sweating wet, the T-shirt is sticking to my back. Andrea, unfortunately, doesn’t tolerate the heat very well, so I spontaneously search in Léon’s car for my second travel bag – the one with the small pharmacy. I not only find suitable medication but also my shoes.
The restaurant has been repainted since last year and now shines in light blue. Fitah organizes the orders. While this was Jose’s job before, Fitah has now taken over it as the new Junior Guide. And he is doing well. Only when I ask him whether I want a small or a large beer, he rather gets an amused grin. Who wants a small THB in this weather? For lunch, there is excellent Min Sao Speciale, a noodle dish with vegetables. Speciale usually means meat or even egg as an extra ingredient, which in this case is not a scrambled egg but a fried egg. In addition, there are small, crispy fried glass noodles as decoration – super delicious! For two big THB and the huge plate of noodles, I pay just 21.000 Ariary, about 5,50 €.
The journey continues north. The road has a lot of big potholes in between, but most of the road is still ok. That means: There is still more asphalt than holes. We cross a concrete bridge over a very wide river with only little water. In the distance a herd of zebu drinks on the sandy bank. I notice that the village and river signs have been repainted for the most part and are therefore surprisingly easy to read. From the northwest, I am used to rather unreadable or non-existent concrete signs. Again and again, small, red shining Fodys accompany us in the flight for a small piece. Also, kites fly again and again in big circles over the savannah.
About 30 kilometers before Antsohihy, a white Nissan pushes behind Gris, gets incredibly close and tries to overtake on the right and left. Gris doesn’t lose his coolness. But when he suddenly avoids a snake on the asphalt and turns the steering wheel to the right, the white Nissan recklessly overtakes on the left – and simply zigzags over the snake. Suddenly Gris’ coolness is gone. Sick as hell, he scolds Léon at the radio about the ass-whore who has just deliberately run over a snake. He just can’t understand why someone kills such a harmless animal so senselessly. I am a bit proud of the guys, because this attitude is not a matter of course in Madagascar.
A short time later a big Leioheterodon modestus crawls across the street in front of us. Gris gestures wildly out of the window to tell the driver coming towards us to slow down. This only works for a very short time, but is enough for the golden snake to disappear from the asphalt into the grass. Driving slower for animals is obviously not normal for everyone.
Between two slopes covered with high grass, we stop for a pee break. On a dead tree, a kite and a bee-eater sit peacefully side by side. Unfortunately with the back to us. A boy drives a small herd of zebus by, a limping calf tries to keep up with the bigger cows. Later we stop at a big bridge to take some pictures of the landscape. An older lady with a walking stick wiggles past and stops for a moment to observe what the Vazaha are actually doing there.
In the early evening, we arrive in Antsohihy. Tanala and I have room 109 again, as usual. A few smaller house geckos scurry over the wall. I turn on the air conditioning. Here it is actually always very warm, at night it cools down only slightly. The air conditioning comes just in time.
At Chez Mamie we have dinner, a small restaurant at the entrance of Antsohihy. It is surrounded by white walls, the gravel parking lot is directly in front of the restaurant. On the roofed veranda tables and chairs are moved together to a long table. A small, brown bitch with white paws wanders between the feet. If you stroke her, she immediately lets herself fall on her back and wants to be stroked further. If you do nothing, she nudges you with her paw or head. Behind the restaurant, two radiated tortoises bobble along in a tiny roundabout. They are joined by a poor Eulemur fulvus, which here – illegally of course – is vegetating in a tiny wire crate, and a Malinois and its puppy, both on a much too thick chain.
For dinner, there are gigantic noodle portions and at least as much rice. Luckily, Madagascans are sitting at the table – there is no plate left to go back to the kitchen full. Meanwhile, it is dark outside. We talk about the day, about the first experiences in Ankarafantsika, about Madagascar in general. The mood is good. Suddenly a real downpour sets in. Raindrops are pelting down on the tin roof of the restaurant. One can no longer understand one’s own words. The TV hanging on the wall above the tables goes off. As an alternative entertainment, a few geckos fight under the TV about a moth, which is actually much too big to be a feeder animal. In the middle of the rain, a Malagasy driver arrives who has long since dropped off his French guests somewhere. He reports that he has just arrived from the north. Some bridges are probably still broken. Last year we had to stop the north tour before Ambilobe, because several bridges were destroyed over weeks and it was impossible to get on. This year we dare a new attempt. The Madagascan drives a Starex himself and says that he has managed to get through everywhere quite well. A place at a river is probably a bit difficult, but you can pay local men for help… and then it would work. I’m curious.
Back at the hotel, I’m gonna take a nice long shower. No eight-legged roommates. Only a little baby gecko flits over the wall, while behind the front door some dead gecko remainss are being dragged away by eager ants. Air conditioning’s on. Heavenly coolness – 28 degrees to be exact – promises a restful sleep.