Saturday, December 31, 2005


I'm writing this retrospectively some 8 years after the event, but in 2005 along with (ex-Mayor of Newbury!) Garry Poulson, Clare Maynard and Richard Maynard I went to Feltre with Newbury Twin towns. I played in a tennis tournament there (losing all 3 games!) and afterwards we visited nearby Bassano del Grappa (where this picture is taken).

It was a lovely long weekend and it's a great place to visit with lovely food and wine. From memory both Feltre and Bassano were beautiful medievil towns.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Made the Plane!

Thought I'd better write this one to say that I made the plane.

Kevin picked me up about 8am and I'd incredibly been organised enough to pack before I went out the night before! I was dropped at the airport. Bought a new book and caught my plane to Joburg.

It's actually a bit of a weird route really Durban-Joburg-Madagascar, but never mind (I've actually plotted it on the map on this site if you want a look!)

I hadn't really known what to expect when I landed in Antanivo (I'll call it by it's local name of Tana from now on!)

The plane flew low over the country and I got a chance to see the extraodinary landscape - wide meandering rivers, small clusters of mud(?) huts and scatterings of paddy fields, I really had never seen anything like it.

The airport was shabby but I managed to 'clear' customs pretty quickly courtesy of my makeshift visa obtained from someone's bedroom in Shepherds bush.

The guy from the hotel who had promised to get me didn't show up and instead I was pestered by a crowd of touts all trying to drag me to their taxi. After about 10 minutes when it was obvious nobody was showing from the hotel I went with the most persausive bloke (was that a good idea?) to his old old taxi.

We were joined by his mate who turned out to be the driver of the Renault 5 and the three of us made our way into town. It was all pretty frightening to be honest. I've learnt that roads between major cities and airports are never the best - try taking the road from Columbo in Sri Lanka for example - come to that Heathrow - London!

Eventually after thinking I was likely to end the journey with my throat cut we reached Tana. It was now about 7.30 and dark. The Lonely Planet makes Avenue d'Independance (the main street in Tana) sound interesting - I'd imagined a Parisian street. In fact there were throngs of people and broken up old French cars filling the evening air with a thick smog. The road was blocked in both directions.

I'd been in some dodgy places but this was very near the top. Incredibly the driver dropped me at my hotel Sakamanga which was actually very nice. It had a small courtyard and I even had a tele (not bad for 15 quid a night) - shame all the programmes are in French!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Lokaro Peninsular

I'd decided to go and have a look at the Lokaro Peninsular, a strip of land about 25k north east of Fort Dauphin and arra

Monday, January 10, 2005

Surfing in Fort Dauphin

In the morning I went to send some e-mails and ran into this guy called James. He worked for an NGo called Azafady (based in Fort Dauphin). Bqsically they are involved in various projects around the area from conservation, to teaching to health education.

James's speciality was water and sanitation and as well as fitting new wells he was also tasked with encouraging the locals to use toilets. In some areas (especially outlying ones) it is fady (taboo) to use toilets - meaning that the people take to the bushes or beaches (nice). They have a huge issue with fadys over here, there are some weirdest rules about things, many of them pretty nonesensical.

We chatted a while and arranged to meet up for lunch. He'd been in Madagascar for 3 months (he was intending to stay a year, but really loved it, so said he would like to stay for longer. From what I could make out he was salaried (sort of) they paid him 5k per year as a contribution to his living costs.

He introduced me to a few of his friends and we arranged to go out for a meal that evening.

In the afternoon I visited Fort Flacort (overlooking the bay) it's a military institution and I was shown round by a soldier (we couldn't really communicate as we both only had bits and bobs of French in common, and you can only say "it is sunny" so many times!)

I then met up with James and the others at the far end of Baie Des Gallians beach. I tried my hand at surfing (I'd tried once before in Oz) and yes, I was still rubbish. There were a couple of rastas there who were simply incredible surfers. Basically they hadn't worked for 12 years and had surfed all day, every day!

We had a nice meal that evening in a local resaurant, about 6 people from the charity and me. It was a scary walk home in the dark, but mostly I think because I'm not used to a town not having streetlights!!

Sunday, January 9, 2005

Around Fort Dauphin

I'd decided to go and see the reserve at Nahampona. Essentially I was hoping to see lemurs for which Madagascar is famous. It was only a little way out of town (about 7k) and so travelled there by (overpriced) taxi.

It was a nice place, originally opened by the French about 100 years ago and with a lot of interesting plants and trees. I spied some lemurs high up in some branches, and we came upon some bamboo lemurs (which were also pretty cute).

My guide took me out of the reserve to see a small waterfall, and then onto a boat trip.

On the boat trip we passed a lot of huge plants called "Elephant ear plants", their huge ear shaped leaves clearly being the reason for this. I asked my guide why they were so called, and he told me it was due to the leaves resembling elephant ears (clearly irony is a difficult thing to convey in a foreign tongue!!)

I spent a lot of the afternoon on Libanona beach. It's on the other side of town and a really nice place. I had a sandwich and beer overlooking the bay.

In the afternoon I followed the throngs of locals and ended up watching a football match in the local "stadium". It was a ramshackle place, and the playing surface left a lot to be desired (the grass was about 6inches long in places and stopped the ball!

There were about 400 of us there (mine being the only white face). The match appeared to be a local derby between two Fort Daupin teams, one in yellow, the other in blue. The crowd support seemed to be behind the yellows (who lost 7-1)

The blue side were a lot stronger, and all of their players had football boots (about 2/3rds of the yellows played barefoot). Blues also had the advantage of a rampaging centre back, built in the mould of Paul McGrath, who came forward at every opportunity and took all of their set plays. Yellows weren't helped by their keeper, who was probably at fault for about 4 of their goals.

I did get a small section of the crowd shouting "get it in the box", although whether they really knew what they were shouting, or whether they knew what an ideal tactic it was, given the playing surface, I shall never know.

I gave my biro to a kid sat next to me. It wasn't anything fancy, but he held it like it was a jewel as he carried it home.

Saturday, January 8, 2005

Flight to Fort Dauphin

I'd arranged to go and see the baobab trees with a guy who worked behind the bar in Vovo Telo.

I met him about 6am and the two of us trudged off through the nearby villiage. Madagascar has 7 different types of baobab, Africa only 1. We saw loads of wildlife on the way, birds, lizards and a huge brown snake (about 5 feet long) which smoothly pulled itself across our path. Mustapha told me it was poisonous, but I'm not too sure (not that I was going to find out!)

We walked round for about 2 1/2 hours. Mustapha was a nice bloke.

At about 1pm I left to get my plane. I can't begin to explain how bad the road is between Ifaty and Tulear. Basically a dustrack with huge holes and occasional lakes!! Along the way were occasional police "checkpoints", all of whom required a bribe of some sort before we could pass.

The airport café in Tulear is also amuising. There is a menu, but no prices. They seem to charge you what they think you can afford. I paid the same for my sandwich and coke as the next table paid for a family to have a meal. I queried it (in broken Fench/English) to be met with further shrugs and smiles.

After an uneventful flight to Fort Dauphin, I made my way to the Mahovoky Annex. The taxi driver picked up a number of other fares along the way!

I've probably stayed in worse places, but I'm struggling to remember them. Still, the view over the bay is lovely. There are a number of wrecks out to sea and it's a very interesting vista.

At this point I discovered I'd lost/forgotten my Visa card. It wasn't complete disaster, as I had about 80quid still in cash. A few frantic calls were made to the bank (no help at all) and parents. Hopefully a bit more cash will arrive on Monday! (thanks mom and dad)

In my defence I'd not been using my wallet (where my visa card was). Essentially because it hadn't been BIG enough to store the huge wedges of cash you have to carry round here!!

Friday, January 7, 2005


I'd decided to go to Ifaty to kill time until my flight on Saturday. At Breakfast I met some arrongant Yanks who were also going there. They refused completely to speak either French or Malagasy. As a result they got a random selection of things for their breakfast (half of which they left at any rate) I got my breakfast and referred them to my French phrasebook. One bloke was particularly annoying.

Anyway, I left Tulear (again!) and arrived at Ifaty about 11am. The place I'd planned to stay was "fermer" (that phrasebook coming in handy once more!) and so I ended up staying in a little place called Volvo Telo.

It was right on the beach and absolutely amazing (if basic!) I spent most of the day swimming and reading. The sea is so blue and the sand so white. I had a great seafood pizza for tea!!

I awoke about 2am to the sound of disco... two streets away. The music was so loud. I decided to get dressed and investigate.

It was really little more than a villiage hall packed with bodies dancing to (slightly out of date) music. One of the more distateful aspects was the amount of French expats (aged 45-70) in various clinches with their local "girlfriends" (aged 15-20). Some of the girls are very pretty, but it's a bit seedy nonetheless. I stayed for a drink and went to bed.

I woke up about an hour later with a two inch cockroach on my chest. not nice

Thursday, January 6, 2005

Tulear (again!!)

In order to get my flight I needed to be in Tulear early, so Safari Vizo (the place where I was staying in Anakeo) laid on my own piroque at no cost! It took us about an hour and a half to get back and I felt like some kind of lord being ferried by my own driver back to shore!

I reached the town with loads of time to spare, so went to get my ticket. Disqster struck though - the visa card connection with Madagascar was down and so you could neither withdraw cash or pay for anything by credit card. I imagined what melt-down this would cause in the UK, but here everyone just shrugged and smiled.

At about 12pm I gave up hope of catching my flight so returned to Hotel Capricorn where I'd left my bag while in Anakeo.

I've got a bit of a tummy bug, but I'm sure I'll survive!!

Wednesday, January 5, 2005


This is such a nice place. I went to sleep (and awoke of course) to the sound of the waves. Paolo (one of the Italians) had arranged for us to go to a small island off the coast called Nosy Ve (literally meaning "Is there an Island?"

The six of us set off together with a couple of locals on a tiny piroque (fishing boat). It took us about 40 mins to reach the other shore as there was hardly any wind. Nosy Ve was lovely, a real desert island and the two sailors cooked us a delicious bbq of fish and rice.

I met up again (by chance) with the two Aussies Steven and Rachel and the three of us walked around the island and arranged to meet for a drink later that day.

We returned to Anakeo about 1pm.

Paolo knew of a soothsayer in the local villiage and so four of us went along to see her. Paolo could speak fluent Malagasy (having married a Malagasy girl 9 years earlier) so it made communicating with the locals a lot easier!

The soothsayer was an old lady and took payment in the form of rum and cigarettes!! (apparently that's a tradition!!) and acted as a medium between the living and the dead. You could ask her any question and the spirits would answer it!! She put on a big white frock and a cowboy hat and lit up one of the fags.

We asked her a few questions to which she gave garbled responses (probably in fqirness as the questions were being translated English-Italian-Malagasy and back again!!)

In the evening Rachel, Steven and 4 other Italians came over so we had a few more beers!!

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

On my way to Anakeo

Again a battle with the Malagasy way of things!

I went to the bank early on (it opened at 7.30) and wasted nearly an hour amongst a throng of people. Even after I left I couldn't claim to understand how it all worked. You basically grabbed a piece of paper about the size of a postage stamp wrote on it what you wanted and tried to force it into a clerks hand. After that you went to three separate queues none of which were really queues, the objective being to push to the front as auickly as possible.

Anyway after that I went to catch my boat, and after a zebu ride out to the boat (I kid you not) we set off on the hour long trip across the coast.

Anakeo can only be reached by sea and is the most amazing location. There's a little villiage, where the kids spend all day playing in the surf (while their dads fish) and blue sea and white sand that stretches for miles in both directions.

I walked for a couple of hours along the beach and found some huge shells. It's really pretty idelic.

I'm here with a group of Italians (who seem to hate the French). A couple of them can speak English so my conversation has become an eclectic mix of Spanish, French, English and Italian(just the stuff I learnt off the Godfather). A gorgeous sunset over the sea to end the day.

Monday, January 3, 2005


I got to the airport at 5am and still nearly missed my flight. It was typical Malagasy all the way. First, the person supposed to be selling tickets didn't show up for work and so the office due to open at 6 remained closed. At 6.30 the Air Mad rep realising this decided they should do something about this so decided to start selling tickets - cash only of course! The only way really to survive is to withdraw a whole stack of cash and constantly have it hand. Given that it's about 1 zillion Malagasy franc to the pound you end up carry 2 inch thick wads of cash around with you.

I met a really nice Malagasy bloke on the plane called Richard who worked in the mining industry, we chatted for most of the trip;

I got a cab into Tulear. Again, as with Tulear it was a real spectacle, we passed markets along the way with meat carcasses pulsating in shrouds of flies, but not far from them, women sold beautiful embroidered tablecloths!

I strolled around and met a couple of Aussies, Rachel and Steven and went for a beer. They had bussed it from Tana (it had taken them a week) I was the first English person they'd met. We went our separate ways and I went to book my trip to Tulear.

The road system is so difficult. The streets resemble a maze and there's not a single street sign in the whole of Madagascar! It was getting dak by the time I found my way home - no street lights either! calamari for tea

Sunday, January 2, 2005

Around Tana

I decided to face Tana - it couldn't have been as bad as my first impression had been.

I walked back into town, with my money in my shoe and minus watch camera and phone which I'd left locked in my room. I'd decided that my mugging was pretty much inevetable.

I took a long walk to a place called Rova (an old palace which was burnt out in 1995). The actual town wasn't toooo bad, although I did notice a shop called Nazi Electronics - try taking something back there!!

Intermittently(?) kids or women with babies would approach you and make appeals for cash, but I figured I'd probably survive a mugging anyway as I was about 2 feet taller than most people surrounding me.

When I reached Rova, high on a hill above the city, it started to rain, but being so hot you vitually dried out the moment it hit you.

I was escorted round the place by a guy called Elan. I think the guide was obligitary I had tried hard to shake him off! Actually he was quite interesting and he seemed happy with the couple of quid I gave him at the end.

He also took me to a museum where there were exhibits of things given to Madagascar by amongst others Queen Victoria and Norway!

I went back to my hotel, had an omelette and decided to go to the zoo (Elan had recommended it) It actually wasn't up to much, in fact it was more of a botanical garden, which was interesting in it's own right, but the few lemas in small cages wouldn't really have brought world renoun. They had a local charge too - 20p for locals and a fiver for tourists (cheek)

I took the (bad) decision to walk back to the hotel (to save myself the 2 pounds taxi journey) and ended up in a particularly bad bit of town. I had to walk through a smog filled tunnel where people literally sleep/live. I was going to take a picture (on Ralph's request) but I think it would have been the last one my camera took in my possesion.

I eventually reached the centre of town and decided that although the people are desperately poor they're a pretty genuine bunch and not (too) likely to do you in.

I fly out tomorrow at 7am to Tulear on the coast.