Inside Madagascar: Part Two

In my last post, I shared the part one of ‘Inside Madagascar’ about my mistaken identity as a Malagasy woman. Now, a few insights into my experience with accommodation and food in Madagascar.

I cannot believe how much time had passed since I last published the part one of this series. It is important to me that when I write, I put my heart into it and not rush for the sake of getting my pieces published. The last weeks have thrown all sorts of work and life challenges, and at the same time opened up new and very exciting journeys. This took a lot of time away from me causing this long delay. My sincere apologies and thank you so much for your continued support. It really means a lot to me.

Stalls you see along the streets when passing small towns
Stalls you see along the streets when passing small towns

If you had visited my blog’s main page, my love for good food is no mystery. Trying different cuisines during my travels is very important to me, more than securing adequate accommodation (something which I came to regret later). As I knew nothing about Madagascan cuisine, I was excited about what I will discover on this island. Everything I knew of Madagascar was from wildlife documentaries, that rarely covered any details about food or accommodation. I had no idea what fruits or vegetables grew there, what were their local delicacies, or style of dishes. This was a dream for any food lover (like me) with a sense of adventure! I did not travel to Madagascar for food, but for anyone curious about going there one day, I was hoping this piece can give you a sneak peek.

Accommodation

Given my love for food, everyone expected interesting and long stories about my unforgettable foodie adventures in Madagascar…on the contrary. Instead, it was my experience with accommodation that resulted in a colourful story of ‘almost’ madness, flood and a relentless three-day blood donation to mosquitoes.

Before I reveal my colourful story, I would like to discuss a few basic details about my experience with accommodation in Madagascar.

When I was doing an internet search for a tour guide, I came across a few comments from past travellers who strongly advised not to go too cheap with accommodation bookings.  To keep it simple, I settled on two criterions for my travel: mid-range (2 to 3 stars) when travelling and something better (4 to 5 stars) during rest stops in Tana.

All the mid-range accommodation had one thing in common, mattresses which broke my back. After a day of hiking through some difficult paths and travelling long hours in the car, all I wanted was a halfway decent bed to sleep in. So many of the beds in the mid-range accommodation were sponge beds, at least I think they were based on the extreme softness. Sleep became a scarce commodity during my travels.

At times, I remembered crying myself to sleep mostly due to unbearable fatigue. The next day when I stepped out for my daily wildlife sighting trip, my tears evaporated and excitement returned (most times anyway).  This cycle continued for days. Then this experience turned to extreme contrast when we stopped for rest in high-end accommodations. It felt so strange and wrong to experience so much luxury after days of witnessing the everyday difficulties and poverty faced by the locals. In the end, only my sore back thanked me for this experience as the rest of me was too guilty to be in the moment to fully enjoy some of the ridiculously comfortable accommodation.

Despite everything, I managed to keep my travel curiosity alive and well. However, I experienced a near breaking point in Morondava where the famous ‘Avenue of the Baobabs’ is located (yes…this is my colourful story). Our guide had booked us into a beachside resort-styled accommodation for a one night stay before we traveled further on to Isalo National Park. As it was the peak of the cyclone season, we arrived at the destination in heavy downpour and strong winds. After dropping us off (my husband and me), our guide left in a hurry. Before he left, we were informed of an early morning pick-up (the next day) to visit the Baobabs.

Still reeling from the tour guide’s express exit, I quickly realised that we were the only guests at this resort. In a few seconds, the reasons became apparent. Due to the heavy rains, the resort had lost its power. The main reception was powered by a generator which lulled me into a false sense of security that everything was OK. Apart from the reception area, there was no electricity in the accommodation. This meant, no fan to keep the mosquitoes away, no light and no hot water. We were given a small torch as our beacon of light. The knowledge of staying in a place with no electricity did not bother me very much as the stay was only for one night and it was quite late. I thought to myself, “How bad could it be! It is only for a night”.

After placing our dinner orders, we retreated to the room. The room was extremely dark with a very hungry mosquito population. My Australian ‘bushman’ insect repellent, which had previously melted my flip flops, was no match for the hungry mosquito mob. We unfolded the mosquito net as quickly as possible and scrambled in for security, only to realise that it had a number of holes. I felt as though we were starring in our own horror movie titled ‘Revenge of the mosquitoes’. Needless to say, we were foraged on mercilessly for the rest of the night.

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The next morning greeted us with more rain and a knee-high flood outside our resort hut. As we tread in water to make it to the reception area for breakfast, the receptionist informed us that our guide will not be coming today and that we had to stay for one more night. I felt as if a large lightning bolt hit my head. Another eventful night with a blood drive ensued. Two nights became three nights. This affected me emotionally and mentally. At this point, I was too exhausted to even talk. Despite everything, I was trying desperately to find the upside to this situation. The resort staff tried their ultimate best to make sure we had some decent food on our plates and resorted to cooking on a makeshift BBQ to provide the meals. Even my coffee was boiled over the BBQ.

On the third day, out of nowhere, our guide turned up. We packed and ran out of the accommodation so fast. I had no idea that I could move so fast. The dark cloud was finally lifted when we arrived at the famous ‘Avenue of Baobabs’. It was absolutely stunning! The heavy rains had left a special atmosphere; which we were told that very few people have experienced. Flood water was running everywhere. The grass was wet and smelled green and everywhere you looked…you could see the perfect reflection of the baobabs on the water.

The day after the big rains - 'Avenue of the Baobabs'
The day after the big rains – ‘Avenue of the Baobabs’
Electric atmosphere
Electric atmosphere

As we left this special place, news came through in the car that the cyclone had just arrived in Morondava. It was one long silent and sad car ride to our next destination.

Food

My staple dish throughout this trip was a bowl of chicken soup served with some rice and the spicy sakay (i.e. a chilli condiment) from local eateries known as ‘Hoteley’. I absolutely loved sakay! The condiment is made from a special chilli, which I cannot remember the name. The locals had an awesome description for it, a chilli which can kill four (or may be three?) men. I hope this gives you an idea of how spicy it was. At times, it was so spicy to the point I could not feel my mouth, but I still could not do without it when I ate.

Well, if you are thinking why only chicken soup? Our guide was very choosy about what we could eat and where we could eat. His number one priority was to make sure that we did not get entangled in a food poisoning episode. The chicken soup was boiled for a long time and always served piping hot, which made it safer to enjoy. We were only allowed to eat the chicken soup at ‘Hoteleys’ selected by our guide…naturally.

The best way I can describe a hoteley is a local eating joint located in each small town along the roadsides. This is frequented mostly by the locals and the occasional tourist. The menu choices are limited but really affordable. The chicken soup was simple but satisfying, cooked with lots of crushed ginger. You only get about one or two pieces of chicken in the soup accompanied by a mountain pile of rice. To keep myself full, I stuffed in all the rice I could. Honestly, I was grateful to have any food when I was travelling in Madagascar. When you see so much poverty around, it reminds you to be grateful for what you have.

What was left of my lunch :)
What was left of my lunch 🙂

Vegetables are very expensive in Madagascar. Hence, it was often not on the menu in many hoteleys and access to fruits varied from place to place too. However, I always had pineapple no matter where I went. Pineapples were more readily available as it was locally grown whereas most of the vegetables had to be imported or grown in small quantities making it very cost ineffective. Another item which was widely available was cassava. It was a long root vegetable, like your sweet potato or yam. I grew up eating a lot of cassava in Singapore. My mum used to marinate it with turmeric, deep fry and serve it with a nice cup of piping black coffee. My best (and only) experience eating cassava in Madagascar was in a local wildlife guide’s home in Ranomafana National Park. I felt so special to be invited to his house for an afternoon snack of boiled cassava with local honey. It was delicious! The simple pleasures of life 🙂

Of course, I wanted to try the street side stalls and sample a number of Madagascar’s traditional goodies. Our guide will have none of it! Thinking back, it was a good move. The malaria medication I was taking gave my stomach a good beating. I don’t think I would have survived any food poisoning episodes.

A typical street side stall
A typical street side stall selling some local delicacies and dried produce

Occasionally, the guide brought us to restaurants designed for tourists. The menu varied between Chinese, Indonesian and French influenced cuisines. You get an amazing amount of variety but these places also cost about 10 to 20 times more than the hoteleys. I will not lie, when we did get to these places, it was a welcomed change. The food was amazing.

Overall, no matter where I went and what I ate, I found the food to be decent and at times, absolutely delectable. Today when I think about all the food I had in Madagascar, it is the chicken soup and sakay that I miss the most.

If you are worried about food when travelling to Madagascar, my best advice for you is, don’t. There seems to be a little something for everyone unless you decide to be incredibly fussy. There are well-stocked supermarkets in Tana, where you can find a number of food items for the long road trips.

The next and final part will explore my experience with the nature, wildlife and guides in Madagascar. Till then, keep safe and enjoy!

In case you missed this, Part One – Mistaken Identity

 

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3 thoughts on “Inside Madagascar: Part Two

  1. Gary Schoer

    Those makeshift food stalls bought back my first trip to Africa in 1976. Madagascar I have only seen through teaching about Lemurs and human evolution in HSC Biology…common ancestry/DNA closeness etc etc. Well done again Geetha!

    Like

  2. Pingback: Inside Madagascar: Part Three – Conservation for the Wild

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