Travel Journal

Toamasina

(Sunday 6 March 2011) by Mike and Julie's sort of round the world trip
Day 197-8 2/18-19/11
We headed east on the bus until the coast and made our way north to Toamasina. It was a colonial port city and must have been city engineered by the French as it has the wide avenues and galleries on the buildings. The bus station is a little bit out of town so we hopped in a bicycle rickshaw and went to the Eden Hotel which had a basic room with a nice balcony to view the street life. The room had a shower but no toilet – go figure. It was rather muggy but the room had a fan and mosquito net and the power held up for most of the time.
We realized the lemur mix up and I decided to go on boat tour on the Canal des Pangalanes and Julie agreed to go so we bought tickets for the following day. We strolled around the town looking at a few shops, looking at the harbor and picking up some stuff at the grocery store. The town has a booming prostitution industry and it’s common to see middle age westerners walking down the street with women, of an alarmingly young age, on their arm.
We decided we would try to get a ride out the day after the tour and thought we made reservations. The hotel didn’t have a phone and the employees didn’t want to call on their cells claiming they had no charge left on their cell although we should have offered to pay them first before they told us that. We paid someone on the street to call the bus station for us and secure a reservation.
The tour guide picked us up late and we got in a taxi rather than a bus. I don’t think they had enough people to justify the use of a van as there were only four of us. We made our way out of town to the start of the canal where the tour office had their boat which was in good shape. We were lucky in that the other two French tourists spoke English so our guide could give the tour in English although his accent was rather strong and we had to strain to understand him. The canal was built over a hundred year period by the French as a waterway to transport cargo inland from this ocean port. The railroad and then the roads eventually doomed the canal but the villages that sprung up along it still survive and use their boats to trade locally. Currently you cannot travel the full length of the canal and natural river as foreign lilies have been introduced on the canal and have choked off sections preventing motorboats from using it and the cleanup effort is deemed too costly...
We stopped at a restaurant and gave our lunch orders and then proceeded to a local village where we got out. There was a ruin of a train station here and the town is translated to “dropped flag” referring to when the French lowered the flag at the train station and left. It was interesting looking at the villagers on a typical day. We also walked the short distance to the ocean where they brave the large waves in boats that I wouldn’t feel safe on in the canal! The visit did not seem staged and the people were just going about with life. The opposite was true at the restaurant where they had local dancers that seemed a bit bored doing traditional dances for tips. The food was very good and we watched our boat float down the river unmanned as it wasn’t secured very well. After a local retrieved the boat, we took the river section of the waterway out to the ocean, I’m not really sure why this was considered a big point, and then made our way back passing a palm plantation.
One of our tour companions was an interesting French man who didn’t care for France (I didn’t think that was possible) and was working at Reunion Island and visiting Madagascar on holiday. He also was going back to Tana the following day and offered to check on our questionable reservation as he was going to the bus station that afternoon. We returned to our hotel and showered and then immediately sweated.
The next morning, we got a rickshaw and went to the station. The Frenchman had made a reservation for us as the office didn’t have us down for the trip so, when he showed up, we thanked him profusely because we would have had to scramble to get a ride out of town for that day.

 


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