Travel Journal

Toliara

(Wednesday 23 February 2011) by Mike and Julie's sort of round the world trip
Day 188-9 2/9-10/11
We took a prop plane which made a stop in Morondava before continuing on to Toliara. There were a lot of Chinese tourists who boarded the plane at Morondava and stayed on the plane to head back to Tana (Antananarivo). I remembered afterwards that Morondava has the famous avenue of Baobab trees that are often photographed and perhaps spending a day in Morondava wouldn’t be a terrible idea even though we are limited time budget.
Anyways, we arrived at the airport in Toliara at about noon and were greeted by about twenty taxi drivers wanting our business. We picked one and for 15,000A ($7.50) got a ride to our hotel in town. It wasn’t the grandest but a clean, decent place for 21,000A a night. It is very hot in town but we checked out the market area and stopped into the tourist center which was closed and locals indicated it had been closed for quite awhile, I’m not sure if it’s permanently closed or just for now the low season. I had wanted to check with them on how to get to the next town and also how to get to the Arboretum d’ Antsokay which is a private reserve which was recommended to me.
We got a good meal at Etoile de Mer which is an upscale restaurant for the area and I enjoyed a Zebu steak (their local cow which has a hump on its back). Discussing our situation with the waiter, he suggested calling a friend with a taxi who would drive us to the Arboretum and back the next day for 10,000A which didn’t seem right as the Arboretum is farther out than the airport and the guide book has one way trips to the airport at 15,000A. He said the taxi would pick us up at eight and we figured we could negotiate the price then and if it was outrageous, find another way to get there.
We slept well and the next morning there was a taxi outside. The driver didn’t speak any English nor did anyone at the hotel and the driver didn’t know where we wanted to go so we weren’t sure if this was the driver that was suppose to pick us up. We stalled till it was after eight in case another driver showed up and then asked for a price which the driver said was 60,000 which I originally considered reasonable (20 there, 20 back and 20 for waiting/return time). We were off and I realize what bad shape the taxi was in and I hoped we would make it. First stop was for gas which, naturally, I had to pay and the driver unhooked a jug from the front passenger side which was indeed the fuel tank for the car. Fortunately the driver did not smoke. We were driving out of town when we had to stop at a police checkpoint. They looked through my passport and asked for Julie’s which was back at the hotel. After some hemming and hawing and some fake – and genuine – ignorance on our part; the police let us pass and go on our way.
I did not know what to expect at the Arboretum so I told the driver to come back at three to pick us up which would give us six hours to go through the park. Upon arriving, I found out we were only allowed in on guided tours and it would take one hour. This was relayed to our driver who followed us for about twenty minutes before becoming bored and wandering off. The park is nice and the guide spoke very good English and we were introduced to many arid-country plants species endemic to Madagascar. Can you spot the spider on the tree trunk? We were hoping to see some of the larger baobab trees but the oldest at the park was only about twenty years which was really quite small. The guide gave us information on another park about 27 Kilometers on the other side of Toliara and told us we could get a taxi for about 60,000 ARs there and then pay him to wait and pay 60K back. Just outside the park was a small lake where the locals were making bricks from the vast mud or clay deposits.
We had to wait a while for our cab driver who had gone to get something to eat. We were stopped again by the police to check our passports so I slipped the man a five which got Julie really upset. I can see her point in not promoting corruption – if you want to call it that, but I did not want to go back to the hotel to get her passport and return to pick her up.
Julie talked to the manager of the hotel and, somehow, got information that the baobab park, which is called Reniala Park in Mangilly-Ifaty, could be reached by Taxi-brousses for about 5,000 each and would take about an hour to get there. I was game for this, so we hopped in a pousse-pousse (rickshaw) and rode about two klicks to the northern taxi station. It’s an unpaved road to Mangilly so the vehicles that serve as a taxi are pickup trucks with wooden benches on the side and a low-covered shell. If we are going to have to use this type of transport for Madagascar, this trip is going to be hell. There were 7 persons on each side and about 6 more in the middle and end of the truck. I had my head bowed for the whole trip to keep from banging it on the roof. Because of the frequent loading and unloading of cargo, stops for gasoline, three oil refills, and countless stops to let passengers on and off; the trip there took three hours. What little I saw, was beaches and interesting designed villages seemingly built of sticks.
It was now about five o’clock and the touts were asking do we need a room at a hotel!
We hurried to the park and paid for an hour and a half tour and asked about transportation back to Toliara and were told there were no more Taxi-brousses that day. Rut Roh! We asked a local fixer if he could arrange a taxi or ride back and that we’d be back at seven and went off to see our baobab trees. The park had many species common to the previous park and we got the guide to zero in on the baobab tree giving us all the information he could on them. There are some huge trees in the park including the oldest which is twelve hundred years old and still producing flowers. We went by the nursery after the park and saw the saplings of the baobab at six months, four years, and six years old. They were still very small for that age.
Returning to the park entrance, we saw the fixer who had arranged a ride back to town with a private car whose driver was returning home for the night and we could get a ride for 50,000AR. The car was in good shape but the driver had been drinking but it’s a dirt road and we would reach speeds of oh, 15 mph, so I thought it would be okay; so after tipping the fixer and guide, we headed back and arrived around eight o’clock. Of course there was some argument about the price as the driver thought he was getting 70K but we settled on 60K.
We got a pousse-pousse the next morning to take us to the taxi-brousse station and paid for our next leg. I was so happy when we saw it was a normal van with one person one seat and luggage stored on the roof! Wheee!!!!

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