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Home » Africa » Madagascar » Madagascar on a scooter | Part 9 | Malaimbandy – Antsirabe – Ambositra (450 km)

Madagascar on a scooter | Part 9 | Malaimbandy – Antsirabe – Ambositra (450 km)

Who gets it in their head to buy a second-hand scooter in the capital of Madagascar to buy? To travel more than 4.000 km over this enormous island? No one before me had ever come up with this idea. I just did it and discovered the real Madagascar. Travel with me to the Red Island and get to know the baobabs, lemurs, chameleons, snow-white beaches and above all the hospitable Malagasy: TONGA SOA.

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Continuation scooter trip: Malaimbandy – Antsirabe

Without a plan to Miandrivazo

You can plan anything, but is that so wise in Madagascar? Just go and see where the ship strands. After more than two weeks, that is the best plan. Every day is full of surprises that simply cannot be planned. I've given up making plans. I drive and see where the ship or in my case the scooter strands…

A zebo cart (charette) with rice on the bridge over the Manambolo River near Miandrivazo
A zebu cart (charette) with rice on the bridge over the Manambolo River near Miandrivazo

Suddenly I'm back on a perfect tarmac road of 115 kilometers from Malaimbandy to Miandrivazo. My fellow road users are, as always, a colorful company of walkers, zebu carts, shepherds and every now and then a car or taxibrousse (minibus). I stop twice to stretch my legs and, for example, surprise a class full of diligent children with my presence.

A diligent school class on their way to Miandrivazo
A diligent school class on their way to Miandrivazo

In the heat of Miandrivazo

Around noon I arrive in Miandrivazo. It's been exactly a week since I left here for a three-day canoe trip on the Tsiribihina River† Now I also notice why Miandrivazo is one of the hottest places in Madagascar. The city of about 100.000 inhabitants is located inland and only a hundred meters above sea level. There is not a breath of wind and the temperature is well above thirty degrees Celsius. It is high time for an extensive lunch in the shade.

View of Miandrivazo
View of Miandrivazo
Trolley with cold orange juice in Miandrivazo
Trolley with cold orange juice in Miandrivazo

At a juice cart along the road I first quench my thirst with three cups of orange juice under great local interest. Then I go to a restaurant with beautiful murals.

Baobab art in Miandrivazo
Baobab art in Miandrivazo

Relaxed ride from Miandrivazo to Antsirabe

Around an hour I start the more than 220 kilometers long ride from Miandrivazo to Antsirabe. I now know the condition of the road from the way there. The road surface on the first thirty kilometers is really bad in some places. The worst places are boys with spades. On the outward journey they pretended to be very busy to close all the potholes in the road surface. This time they omit it. "Vaza," they shout. 'We want chocolates!'

I take out a new bag full of lollipops and give the males a handful each. "Thanks beaucoup!" is their answer.

Children earn some extra money on the RN34 near Miandrivazo
Children earn some extra money on the RN34 near Miandrivazo

I find myself actually enjoying driving on a road that I've already driven once. It's much more relaxing when you know what's coming. Now I can enjoy the beautiful landscape and the ever friendly people at my leisure. A herd of cows or goats on the road, yet another fully packed minibus and the speed bumps that announce the arrival of a village or settlement. I don't mind it at all. This is what I do it for. Pure freedom.

A shepherd leads his flock on Route National 35
A shepherd leads his flock on Route National 35
Characteristic scenes in a Malagasy village
Characteristic scenes in a Malagasy village

The villages follow each other every so many kilometers. Activity picks up as the afternoon progresses. It is almost always the women who perform the most manual labour. Hubby prefers to watch in the shade.

Refueling in Madagascar remains a challenge

At half past three it is time to fill the tank. There is no point in trying to make it to the only gas station on this 220 km long road. That is not so much because the petrol is cheaper there. I'm just fine with paying a little more to a villager trying to earn some extra money selling bottled gas. But unfortunately I've been fobbed off twice with watery petrol.

The tank is almost empty and I still have more than 70 kilometers to go. In Mandoto I have the tank refilled with water bottles full of petrol. "There's no water in it, is there?" I ask. 'What? Water in the gasoline? Where do they do that? I'm not a criminal.' I tell them that I have experienced it twice now in the Kirindy area. 'That's very bad. I do not do that. Look!' She shows me a closed jerry can full of gasoline. I fill the empty water bottles with that. I'm selling gasoline, not water.'

Perfect asphalt on the way from Miandrivazo to Antsirabe
Perfect asphalt on the way from Miandrivazo to Antsirabe
Gasoline from a water bottle in Mandoto
Gasoline from a water bottle in Mandoto

I then report to an unmanned vegetable and fruit stall. The saleswoman is a little further away, snapping an owl. I grab some tangerines and oranges and show them to her. '2.000 Ariary (50 cents),' she says sleepily. I put a 2.000 Ariary bill in the booth.

Characteristic roadside stall in Mandoto
Characteristic roadside stall in Mandoto

The time has flown and in the last rays of the sun of the day the cows are directed back to their stables. This time I am on time. I am driving leisurely towards the sunset and my final destination for today, Antsirabe.

A couple of zebus with a shepherd on their way home near Antsirabe
A couple of zebus with a shepherd on their way home near Antsirabe

Three Horses Beer (THB) at hotel le Trianon

It's time for a well-deserved draft beer from the company Three Horses Beer (THB) in the hotel le Trianon. The reunion with the staff of hotel le Trianon in Antsirabe is most cordial. "Eric, we're very happy to see you in one piece," the receptionist says. 'What have you experienced on your scooter?'

Even the bar and restaurant will be opened for this occasion. I enjoy a freshly tapped THB (Three Horse Beer). The brewery of the only and immensely popular Malagasy beer is in Antsirabe.

The bartender at hotel Le Trianon in Antsirabe taps a fresh Three Horses Beer
The bartender at hotel Le Trianon in Antsirabe taps a fresh Three Horses Beer
The entrance of hotel Le Trianon
The entrance of hotel Le Trianon

Pousse pousse match in Antsirabe

Antsirabe is one of the nicest cities in Madagascar. Simply because it is actually not a city but an oversized village with more than 250.000 inhabitants. This morning I find out that Antsirabe is known as the city of hundreds (if not thousands) of pousse pousses. The pousse pousse is the Malagasy variant of the Indian rickshaw† A rickshaw is a two-wheeled cart that is pulled by a bicycle or a person. In some cases also by a motorcycle or moped, but in Madasgascar these motorized variants are rare.

A pousse pousse for the gems market in Antsirabe
A pousse pousse for the gems market in Antsirabe

Around noon it is very busy in the center of Antsirabe. Someone tells me there is a "spectacle" today. The spectacle consists of a speed race between dozens of pousse pousse runners. A podium has been erected in front of the station building where the winners of the spectacle will be honored.

A young man is transported in a pousse pousse in Antsirabe
A young man is transported in a pousse pousse in Antsirabe
Participants of the pousse pousse competition in Antsirabe
Participants of the pousse pousse competition in Antsirabe

The race is an event in itself. There are many spectators and I notice the many itinerant traders. They peddle balloons, fruit and soda. A stage has been erected in front of the former station building where a band entertains many.

The spectacle in Antsirabe continues for a while. A new band has taken the stage. The audience sings along wholeheartedly. The pousse pousse runners relax in their carts and wait in peace for the award ceremony.

The drive towards Ambositra

At a quarter past one I decide to leave the festivities behind. It's time to leave for Ambositra (pronounced: Amboestra). The distance from Antsirabe to Ambositra is 'only' 90 kilometers, but you never know. The road seems to be fine. 'There is only a little delay at the bridge over the Mania River,' says the manager of hotel le Trianon. 'It succumbed to the water pressure during the rainy season. A temporary diversion has now been made.'

Have a safe journey from Bank of Africa to Ambositra
Have a safe journey from Bank of Africa to Ambositra
Brick transport on the RN7
Brick transport on the RN7

Taxibusses in Madagascar

Halfway through the drive to Ambositra I stop by the side of the road with a mother with five children. 'We've been waiting four hours for a taxi bus to Fianarantsoa. All the vans that pass are full,' sighs mother dear.

Public transport does not (or hardly) exist in Madagascar. The inhabitants depend on the thousands of taxibrousses (minibuses) that skim over the immense island every day. Without exception, the vans are full or overcrowded. The passengers regularly sit on the roof. The vans leave packed from one city on their way to another city. If you want to score a place in such a van somewhere in between, you have to be really lucky. You can wait half a day if you are unlucky.

Because no matter how packed and overloaded the vans are; there is a lot of control. On the RN7 from Antananarivo to Tulear there are more than 500 posts of the local gendarme. This means that there is one every 20 kilometers. I have already passed dozens of them and saw that many a driver of such a fully loaded taxi van gave 'a gift' to the local constable. A 1.000 or 2.000 Ariary note (25 to 50 euro cents) is a common 'gift'. It does mean that many drivers only take passengers on the road if there is really room.

A family waits for a taxi bush in Manandoana
A family waits for a taxi bush in Manandoana
A wood shop along the RN7
A wood shop along the RN7

Bob Ross landscapes

It is now about four o'clock and the sky is quickly clouding. I'm right on schedule as I approach the collapsed bridge over the Mania River. The landscape has become more and more beautiful in the meantime. At least I think so. The late American landscape painter Bob Ross would have gone all out here. What a wonderful variety of breathtaking landscapes I have already been able to admire in just two hours. From picturesque mountain villages to immense rice terraces and bizarre rock formations. The photos below speak volumes. 'And here we paint a happy cloud with some titanium white.' I hear Bob Ross in my mind…

Collapsed bridge over the Mania River
Collapsed bridge over the Maniarivie
A Bob Ross scene in Madagascar
A Bob Ross scene in Madagascar
Rice terraces near Ambakoana
Rice terraces near Ambakoana

A rainy arrival in Ambositra

Hallelujah! I am driving in the middle of a real cloudburst. I don't know how fast to park my scooter along the road. The owner of a hotely (a Malagasy snack bar) gestures to me. "Stand in here, vaza!"

So this is an original hotely. A snack bar the Madagascar candle. Noodles, lettuce, oliebollen, spring rolls and a thermos with hot water. For barely a euro you can get a hearty bite.

Hiding from a downpour in a snack bar in Larinoro
Hiding from a downpour in a snack bar in Larinoro

Fortunately, the downpour stops after half an hour. I wait another fifteen minutes to see how the huge puddles on the road disappear like snow in the sun. It still drizzles, but that doesn't stop me from driving on. I reach Ambositra at half past six.

Arrival in a rainy Ambositra
Arrival in a rainy Ambositra

Hotel l'Artisan in Ambositra

On the advice of Enzo, an Italian tourist guide whom I met Antsirabe, I check in at hotel l'Artisan. L'Artisan is beautifully situated on a hill opposite the center and is very popular with tour groups. 'We only have a small bungalow for tonight. Soon there will be a large tour group of 35 Italians. They stay for one night. Tomorrow you can sleep anywhere, because then they will be gone again.' 'Fine, for 15 euros you won't hear me complaining.'

Italian tourists in hotel l'Artisan in Ambositra
Italian tourists in hotel l'Artisan in Ambositra

The Italian tour group arrives in two minibuses. Enzo is also there. “Eric, it's nice to see you again. I accompany a group of 35 Italian tourists. Do me a favor and don't tell me what you paid for your bungalow.' oops. 'How so?' 'I know you pay 15 euros, but my group pays a multiple of 15 euros. They have no idea what the hotel prices are in Madagascar.'

The restaurant has live music and an exuberant atmosphere. I thoroughly enjoy the excellent three-course menu. The Italian tourists are also having a great time. The Champions League final starts at ten o'clock. Are you going to watch too? Juventus against Real Madrid.' "Of course," I answer against my better judgment. I can hardly stay awake anymore.

When Ronaldo opens the scoring for Real Madrid, the entire Italian tour group goes completely crazy. 'Huh? You are Italians, aren't you?' “Yes but we are all from Turin and are fans of Torino. We hate Juventus.' A little later, Mandzukic signs the 1-1 for Juventus against all proportions. I keep watching until Real easily outreach to a 3-1 lead in the second half.

Time to sleep…

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Eric on a scooter in Uganda

Eric

What is it like to drive more than 10.000 kilometers in Madagascar on a locally bought scooter? Or on a pikipiki (scooter in Swahili) through East Africa? In more than 20 years I have visited more than 100 countries. This has resulted in a lot of priceless travel experiences, which I would like to share with you.

ERIC – OVER 100 COUNTRIES
– Currently in Kenya.
– Share unique travel experiences.
– Favorite destinations: Madagascar, Uganda, Japan, India and Colombia.

Seen a mistake? Ask? Remark? Let us know in the comments!

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Eric on a scooter in Uganda

Eric

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