Thumper…

January 8, 2015

The journey home

Filed under: Trips — pearsey @ 12:46 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Today was the day I finally got to leave Madagascar. Sure, I was glad I went and I’d largely enjoyed my 5 weeks away, but I was sure glad to be going home too. I guess a few things just added to one another, making it a holiday I was glad to be finishing. Before I made it home though, I had a 4 day journey, including a 30 hour stopover in Nairobi.

IC Hotel Balcony

IC Hotel Balcony

The IC Hotel is about 3 minutes from the airport, the airport is fairly small and there’s nothing to do there. Reception kindly informed us the night before that our transfer would arrive some 3 and a half hours before the flight. We asked nicely why so early… traffic, just in case, that sort of thing. We asked them to change it, they said they would, although at 10pm that night we were a little doubtful. So no surprises next morning when at the original time they knocked on the door and told us our transfer was here. They just shrugged when we asked what happened to making it later.

We kept them waiting for a while, while we finished our packing, but we decided there wasn’t much point, may as well hang around the airport… We made it to the airport with oh, 3 hours til our flight. No surprises that we had no traffic problems given that we were 3 minutes away and 1 minute of that was getting out of the hotel gates…

IC Hotel

IC Hotel

At the airport we were greeted with – wait for it – A NEW TAX!!! Can you believe it? A day before they’d introduced a new departure tax. It was so new, they had caravans out the front of the airport making you pay it. Even the airport staff weren’t entirely sure what the process was and confusion reigned. Ok, at least it filled in about 10 or 15 minutes and I got rid of a few of my left over Ariary. But what kind of country introduces a new tax in the middle of the week, in the middle of the month!

The 3 or 4 airport shops were initially closed (it was after 10am), but finally they opened and I was able to spend my last few remaining Ariary on a couple of postcards. Then the flight was delayed. I couldn’t even leave the country easily! But, if you’ve got a 4 day transit coming up, it’s important to not let the little things get to you, so while it’s easy to get annoyed at those things, at the time you do your best to not let it bother you and instead find the funny side to it.

We arrived at Nairobi, got out of the airport easily enough, met the Bishop (who is a friend of Mike’s) and then spent the next 3 hours stuck in traffic getting to our hotel. Ahh, the joys of other countries!

Nairobi Traffic

Nairobi Traffic

Our hotel was in the centre of Nairobi, forget what it was called, but it was rather noisy until the early hours of the morning, and there was a trick to the hot water – which I didn’t master, I called reception for help (the last few nights at the IC Hotel had been cold water showers). They had a rather nice restaurant attached and included a nice continental breakfast with our room.

The next morning the Bishop met us at our hotel, we walked to meet the driver who was late. That meant we spent ages in Nairobi traffic and missed out on things we were meant to do. Never mind, it was good to spend some time with the Bishop and his family. If you think Kenya is warm, we drove past miles and miles of tea crops, some of which were still covered in frost!

Kenyan Tea Fields

Kenyan Tea Fields

We went to a tea making factory first. That was fascinating, seeing how a real working factory in another country operated. It was a private tour, organised through a contact of the Bishops, so it was a rare treat. I did take some photos, but it was on the condition that they were kept for private use, so obviously I won’t post them here. We got to watch the whole process, from the drying through to the packing and sampling. They have a whole lab set up and a few professional tea tasters who took great delight in showing us how to properly sample tea. It’s so funny, you kind of gulp it up, then snort it out, nothing delicate like they show wine tasters doing.

Nairobi Lookout

Nairobi Lookout

From there we went to the look out over Nairobi, dropped the bishop and his wife off and headed for the Nairobi Safari Walk. We ended up stuck in traffic, we were getting so hungry… First thing we did at the National Park was grab some lunch! The safari walk was good, with some good information boards on the animals and the steps being taken to preserve them. I finally got to see a Rhino, they are rather large. Not sure if it counts towards completing my big 5 given it’s in captivity though!

Up close with the rhino

Up close with the rhino

After the safari walk, back to the hotel to pick up our luggage, then off to the airport. Due to traffic, it was already rather late (still plenty of time before our flight though, we were going to be there about 3 hours early again) so we stopped at a local restaurant for something to eat. Dispute over pricing didn’t help the day, then just as we were trying to leave it absolutely bucketed down- typical equatorial type rain. A big thanks to Bishop and his family for organising everything for us on our stop over.

We got to the airport again with hours to spare, and surprisingly Nairobi airport hadn’t changed much since we were there about 12 days ago.

When we got on our flight, we found it was actually going via Dubai. Sure no problems, we didn’t have to get off or anything, but it was the first we’d realised we were going via Dubai and was going to add hours to our time in the air. Never mind, it wasn’t going to change the time we got home, it was just how we spent it. Turned out that the leg from Dubai to Hong Kong was the best flight I’ve* ever had. Most people got off at Dubai, so the rest of the flight was virtually empty and I stretched out over a few seats and slept most of the way to HK.

I’d had fond memories of the Hong Kong airport – last time I was there I spent the time watching Popeye cartoons! I found the restaurant again, but they weren’t playing Popeye 😦 So… no cartoons to watch meant I spent the nearly 6 hour stopover looking at all the shops, having a bite to eat and walking from one end of the airport to another. In fact, HK airport is so huge, they even have trains that take you from the main part of the airport to your terminal in another part of the airport. You could spend 25mins walking, or you could catch the train… We can’t even get a train TO our airport, but in other places of the world you can get a train around the airport. But you know, Melbourne is not behind the rest of the world at all…

Leaving Hong Kong

Leaving Hong Kong

Ever noticed when you’re on flights that most people will not say no to the meals when they’re served? They’ve paid for it, so they’re going to get their money’s worth! Well, I’d got over that earlier on, on the trip to Dubai. I just asked for extra nuts. No worries they said. Seeing as I’d already eaten and it was fairly late, I said the only thing that will make me eat anything is if they serve ice cream. Now, on all the flights I’ve been on, I have NEVER EVER had ice cream served. NEVER. What did they serve that night? Yep, you guessed it, ice cream. I couldn’t say no. Then the flight attendant asked if I wanted two seeing as I wasn’t eating. Sure…! Then Ev didn’t want hers… 3 was too many and the rest of that trip was not pleasant… I’m blaming the Maccas from the airport!

So, after 5 weeks, 4 countries officially visited, 14 take offs and thankfully 14 successful landings, that last of which was Melbourne, I sailed through customs and got met by family who’d kindly brought a jumper down for me (my only real jumper was stolen in Uganda). Another trip done and dusted.

* It was the worst flight Ev had ever had. Unbeknown to me, she was sick for most of it…

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January 7, 2015

Amperfy Waterfalls and Lakes

After the Amparaky Geysers, we continued our day trip by heading to Liliha Waterfalls, where the village of Antafofo is found.

The waterfalls were great. It was a short walk from the car park to the falls, over a few rocks, a bridge and then down some stone steps to the base. There was a good volume of water going over, made for a good spectacle.

Liliha Waterfalls, Amperfy

Liliha Waterfalls, Amperfy

The one thing that took the shine off a great day was that as soon as we arrived, we were followed and harassed by young girls and supposedly their teacher, trying to sell us rocks they’d painted themselves. They followed us from the car park to the top of the falls, and then waited for us while we went to the base. From there, they also followed us back to the car, getting increasingly agitated when we didn’t buy anything. They even started telling our driver off because we didn’t buy anything!

Hassled by the girls

Hassled by the girls

At the Liliha waterfalls there’s another track to a further waterfall downstream. It’s about an hour or so return, and by all reports they are also pretty good, but unfortunately we didn’t have time. Would be worth a visit if I ever got back there.

Our lunch stop was on the shores of Kavitaha Lake in Amperfy, a small lake where you could hire a paddle boat or canoe if you had time. The name of the restaurant was the Kavitaha, belonging to the Kavitaha hotel. Unfortunately our meals took over an hour to arrive – an hour we could have spent doing the other waterfall walk perhaps!

Lake Kavitaha, Amperfy

Lake Kavitaha, Amperfy

The menu was in French and our French skills still hadn’t improved too much. I went for the safe option of spag bol, while Ev picked some kind of beef dish. It smelt ok, but on closer inspection it was obviously the tongue of the cow – I was happy to let Ev eat that!

The tongue dish

The tongue dish

Once we’d finally finished lunch, we collected our local guide and had a really nice drive out to the very centre of Madagascar, on the shores of Lake Itasy, marked by a huge statue of the virgin Mary. A short climb to the top gave us a great panoramic view of the region. The lake was so still and the sky so blue bar a few white clouds in the distance. Primarily the volcanic mountains were all fairly dry and we went for a walk from the top of the tower to a little inlet on the shore. A few small fishing canoes paddled quietly around the shore as the men set their nets. There was no breeze, no birds chirping, no people around. Other than our voices it was really quiet. It was so peaceful and warm sitting there on the rocks by the shore, I could’ve stayed there all day.

Setting the nets, Lake Itasy

Setting the nets, Lake Itasy

But it was getting late in the day, so we had to move. Back up the hill, past a few crops growing, the long grass and back to our car. There were a few other people by now who’d come to the statue – apparently many people make an annual pilgrimage there.

Marking the centre of Madagascar, the virgin mary statue

Marking the centre of Madagascar, the virgin mary statue

Our trip home back to Tana was largely uneventful. A traffic accident reminded us again of the dangers of driving around these windy roads – large drops on one side of the road, lack of emergency services if the worst did happen. Not too many oxen and carts on the way home – most had pulled over for the night, but we did have to dodge the drunks. We got back around 8:30pm and a big thanks to our driver who did a great job on our trip and admitted he didn’t like driving at night much, partly because of the risk of violence…

An awesome day, with great scenery that made me go wow. The best day I’d had in Madagascar and made the trip to Madagascar a memorable one. The day was topped off with the excellent cauliflower gratin at the IC Hotel that we’d had every night we’d been there!

Heading to the lake

Heading to the lake

January 6, 2015

Colours of the Amparaky Geysers

Today was my last full day in Madagascar (Wed 12th June 2013), and a day that I was looking forward to even before I’d left to come away. No, not because it was the last day, but because of where I was headed. We had one spare day in Madagascar and rather than spend it shopping or something like that, I’d organised a day trip to the Amperfy region. Normally you would take a few days to do this area, but I didn’t have that long. If you are looking for a tour company, Go Travel Madagascar was great with our day trip. They responded to all of my emails quickly, driver was excellent and spoke very good English and it all ran smoothly. Anyway, on to the trip!

We were leaving at 6:30am and the IC Hotel had kindly provided us with an early breakfast. We had roughly a 3 hour drive to get to our destination, but thankfully missed most of the traffic due to our early start.

Our driver gives a wave

Our driver gives a wave

I think in the first hour of our drive we’d learnt more about the region than we had in our previous days, thanks mainly to our drivers English skills. Of course I can’t remember it now…

Today was a Wednesday and there must have been a market or something soon, as there were a lot of people out with their oxen and carts on the side of the road. Made the drive a little more difficult because you needed to be watching out for them on the side of the road and oncoming traffic out wide to avoid them, all the time. Some of the people were able to sleep in their little wagons, some travelled alone, some travelled in convoy and set up camp all together. Some would walk alongside their animals, some rode on their carts. All had in common some produce (possibly rice or maize), a wagon and some oxen. As some of the oxen strained and fought the yoke that kept them tied to the other ox, I was reminded of that passage of scripture “Take My yoke upon you… For My yoke is easy and my burden is light”. Interesting to see the yoke example in real life.

Some oxen and carts on the road

Some oxen and carts on the road

The geysers at Amparaky were our first stop. It’s an underdeveloped area, which is great for the visitors who do come, perhaps not so great for those in the area if they’re trying to attract visitors. You need to head down a few dirt roads to get there but it’s well worth the drive.

Ladies enjoying the water

Ladies enjoying the water

As we arrived, we were greeted casually by some local guides. Our driver was great and explained that if we wanted to, the local guide could accompany us, and if we wanted to, not obliged to, we could give a tip. The local guide was really helpful, he knew the area, he joined in and had a bit of fun with us, explained things (translated by our driver) – it was such a change to the other local guides we’d had earlier in the trip! (For the record, yes we gave him a tip.)

The local guide

The local guide

Our local guide showed us some of the plants nearby that snapped shut when touched. That was pretty cool! I did manage to get some video of it, but my videoing skills need a lot of work!

Even though the facilities are a little underdeveloped compared to other tourist areas in Madagascar, there are seats, shelters, toilets, a change room and some information signs. The geysers also form pools that you can soak or swim in and the water is lovely and warm. The stream of water from the geysers used to shoot a long way into the air, but unfortunately they don’t go as high anymore. Our local guide put something in it to block one of them right at the start, then at the end we came back and pulled it out. The water shot into the air and we could start to imagine how it used to look for a brief moment (I’m sure it still wasn’t anywhere near what it used to be).

After shooting in the air, still a little lame!

After shooting in the air, still a little lame!

It was a great area, the colours in the rocks, stained that way by the water, were brilliant against the bright blue sky. The reds, oranges and browns of the rocks provided a colourful feast for the eyes and the water brought life and enjoyment to the people. The people there were so friendly and genuinely enjoyed us being there (weren’t trying to hassle us for money or anything). It was such a lovely place, warm, friendly and inviting.

The biggest geyser provides striking colours against the blue sky

The biggest geyser provides striking colours against the blue sky

Even though we were on a fairly tight time budget, we still ended up spending nearly an hour there and could have spent longer. It was a shame to leave. It would be a great place for a picnic and to spend a little more time there.

Having fun

Having fun

Next post – Onward to Liliha Waterfalls

January 5, 2015

Back to Tana

Today was the last day of our tour and I can say I was glad about that.

We started off by going to a gem stone and sapphire shop, they were happy to give us a few free rocks which of course I have to cart home (chose to cart home?).

After that was a candy making factory where we watched them make some lollies. They made some eucalyptus lollies, where instead of using oil, they used crushed leaves to flavour it. Crushed leaves. Not cooked, just straight crushed leaves… hmmm. Plenty of other flavours were also available and we purchased quite a few packets because they were so cheap (they didn’t even taste that nice).

Making candy, Antsirabe

Making candy, Antsirabe

While we were there, there were a few young boys pushing this cart heavily loaded with bags up a fairly steep hill. We were a little unsure about taking a photo of them, but when they saw us with the camera they had a good laugh and asked us to come and help.

Hard work uphill, Antsirabe

Hard work uphill, Antsirabe

The worst thing about Antsirabe was though, every time the car stopped we had people banging on the windows trying to sell us stuff. In fact, generally all around this central highland area was fairly similar in that everytime the car stopped you had people coming up to try and sell you things, but I guess due to the amount of people in the town, it was much worse here.

I needed to post a postcard, so we stopped in the centre of town near the post office. I had to fight and push people away just to get out of the car and they stayed there and hassled us. It would have been nice to have a look around this area as there was a nice town square type thing with a monument there that obviously meant something. Unfortunately it was really only possible to see it from inside the car. (It was the Fahaleovantena, monument to the 19 tribes that make up Madagascar and features the head of a zebu (cow)).

Fahaleovantena monument with pousse pousse in the front, Antsirabe

Fahaleovantena monument with pousse pousse in the front, Antsirabe

The area around here was also known for little wooden trucks and cars, and they made for colourful stands on the side of the road. I picked one of these to grab a couple of small cars as souvenirs (except that I got the aluminium can ones).

Cars and trucks for sale

Cars and trucks for sale

As well as toy cars, they also have plenty of Mary statues on the side of the road. I can only assume there is a strong catholic presence around this area and the number of catholic churches in Tana supports that.

Mary statues

Mary statues

We had lunch at the Coin Du Foie Gras, in Behenjy, nice working toilet, nice view from the balcony, not so nice duck pizza.

Duck pizza, Coin Du Foie Gras, Behenjy

Duck pizza, Coin Du Foie Gras, Behenjy

It wasn’t long before we were back in Tana, taking a look around the town. We went to Analamanga Hill that has a church and Manjakamiadana Palace on top, which overlooks the lake and Mahamasina Municipal Stadium. Great view of the city. Unfortunately again, as soon as we got out of the car we were hassled by loads of people trying to sell us stuff. Of course they wouldn’t take no for an answer, they would keep pushing each other to gain a position closest to you, often you would end up getting pushed as well. Perhaps the strangest thing though was a young girl, maybe 2 or 3 who was there begging. Could barely speak, but knew enough to ask for money, while holding out her hand – and she knew the tricks, she knew what she was doing. When she didn’t get anything, she got angry and started hitting me – thereby acting more like a spoilt child than somebody truly in need. I must admit though, it didn’t break my heart, nor tug at my heart strings – truthfully giving a few aria is not going to help her. It’s more sadder that potentially those responsible for her have sent her out to go and beg, rather than look after her and themselves by trying to earn money responsibly. I understand the challenges of third world countries – I have friends who live permanently in other third world countries and I’ve visited a few as a volunteer and missionary. Giving people money doesn’t help them in the long term, but giving them a way to help themselves does. Trouble is, many don’t want to help themselves and want to live on handouts. Anyway, I’ll get off that bandwagon now…

Lake Anosy and Mahamasina Municipal Stadium, Tana

Lake Anosy and Mahamasina Municipal Stadium, Tana

We had a chance to take a couple of quick photos, but didn’t spend too long thanks mainly to the people hassling us all the time. If that’s what it’s like being a celebrity, I’m more than happy not to be one!

After that we had a brief drive through town down toward the railway station. There were cars everywhere, people everywhere and we didn’t take a walk around because it was a little dangerous (so we were told). We paid a visit to the Marche artisanal Digue market, which isn’t far from the airport or where we stayed. They have stalls both sides of the road, before one side gives away to carparking while the shops continue on the other side. There were very few people around, which meant that again, we were prime targets for people hassling us. One stall holder followed us down about half the street, through all the other shops, trying to get us to buy something we’d stopped to look at. We thought he’d given up, only to find him there a bit later on. It became a bit of a circus, with other people following him, following us. Painful. We had a few things on our shopping list and being the end of the trip, we were running out of Aria and not that willing to get more. So you could also say we were on a strict budget as well! The worst part about shopping here was that the people got really upset if you didn’t buy something you looked at. They’d start shouting and screaming at you, becoming aggressive and throwing a tantrum like a child, as though that would somehow make you want to buy from them. Truthfully, Madagascar is the worst country I have been to in terms of people hassling you and begging. And it was more due to the response when you refused that makes me label it like that. I’ve been to Asia – they will hassle you but generally not get aggressive. Mainland Africa – they will hassle you but not as much as in Asia, and again, not that aggressively, but Madagascar – oh they’re in a world of their own!

Analamanga Hill, Tana

Analamanga Hill, Tana

Ev was looking at a t-shirt there and our driver said to us, wow, that is expensive. We explained that yes, it was expensive by their standards, but when we compare it to what we have to pay in Australia, it is dirt cheap. We started explaining some of the prices we would pay back in Australia for items around the shop. His eyes widened and I think he finally got why tourists come here and are happy to pay more than the locals. A small win in the scheme of things perhaps.

After we finished at the market the driver took us back to his house to have some afternoon tea and meet his wife. He had a quite a nice house, a separate building in an apartment block where most of the rest of his family lived. He served us a special local cake that he had got from the area near the hill and some drinks to go with it.

Cake and drinks from our driver

Cake and drinks from our driver

Our tour finished at the IC Hotel, admittedly, one that I was glad was over, which was a bit of a shame. While I loved the scenery, the language barrier was really difficult in relation to our driver and we missed a lot of discussion involving the local customs and culture. That wouldn’t have been a problem if we were expecting that – in fact earlier in this trip we’d done Malawi by ourselves, with no tour guide/driver at all. But we’d paid extra specifically so that we would have a guide who spoke English and so that things would be organised. It drove us mad that we would get to places and have to spend time questioning whether it was included, because if we didn’t, we would find ourselves having to pay for it once we had agreed to do it, or worse still, at the end. Our poor driver, who while he had done the trip before, hadn’t had to be the guide while doing it. He did his best, but it wasn’t his job. He kept the car perfectly clean – every morning up early giving it a wash. He’d even make sure all the windows were spotless because we’d taken to taking photos out the windows! He did his best also to keep away the guys who would try and carry our bags. We were appreciative of that.

Incidentally we gave our feedback to Nomad who the tour was through when we returned, they get a local operator to run it (don’t know who) and Nomad had had other complaints regarding the same tour and were reviewing it all. Hopefully something came out of it.

January 4, 2015

Mango Time!

Filed under: Food — pearsey @ 12:01 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

My brothers girlfriend left 5 mangos at my place on Christmas day. She didn’t want them back, because she didn’t like them! They were a little soft, so they really needed using fairly quickly. Now mango is a bit of an acquired taste and I’m not sure I’ve quite acquired that taste yet… Nevermind, I like a challenge, so I’ve been cooking with mangos the last few days as well as using up Christmas leftovers and the fruit and vegies I had. Here’s what I did.

  • Turkey and mango salad

    I got the idea from here, and only loosely followed the recipe.
    I used some iceberg lettuce, walnuts, leftover Christmas turkey, some capsicum (I only had green on hand, red would have looked better) and one mango topped with some olive oil. Surprisingly it tasted ok and tasted better day 2! Great way to use up the left over Christmas turkey!

    Mango and Turkey Salad

    Mango and Turkey Salad

  • Fruit salad

    Easy! Threw in some pineapple, cherries, orange and apples that I had on hand, and of course one mango.

    Fruit Salad

    Fruit Salad

  • Two down, 3 to go.

  • Mango and Pineapple cake

    Found this recipe while searching for mango recipes. I used two mangos instead of canned mango. It tastes great! I think I’ll actually go and buy mangos specially just so that I can make this cake again.

  • The last mango – I have promised that to one of my work colleagues who is going to make a mango smoothie. Cheating? Maybe, but I think I’ve done a pretty good job on the mango challenge!
    Mango and pineapple cake

    Mango and pineapple cake


    Ready to cook

    Ready to cook

    Just out of the oven

    Just out of the oven

January 3, 2015

Pollen’s Vanga, Pizza and Shops

A bit of a mixed day today, up early again, making sure that we’d be early enough to catch the birds in the Ranomafana National Park. The hotel kindly put breakfast on for us early, but it didn’t change the way it tasted… Dry bread and jam, was the Madagasy breakfast way. The breakfast at least came with a hot drink, so by then we’d figured it out – Ev would order coffee, I would order hot water and putting that together we’d get something you could nearly drink! (My only tip is order breakfast from the menu, or take your own, our breakfast was included everywhere as part of our tour and we kept hoping it would improve. It didn’t!)

Sunrise, Ihary Hotel

Sunrise, Ihary Hotel

So, off to the bird watching part of the National Park. Our guide spoke English (just), but was very good at spotting birds. There weren’t too many to spot at all though, again, wrong time of the year as we kept getting told, but we did manage to see the very very rare pollen’s vanga, a bird that we’d never heard of, but was apparently, every bird watchers dream. After that our guide kind of lost interest in showing us many more birds (his mission was accomplished), so never mind, we enjoyed our walk through the national park, and tried to spot some more of our own. Needless to say, this tour also finished well before the scheduled time… no point he says staying any longer. Ok, so why charge us for x hours if you’re only going to do half that. On cue, those English skills disappeared…

The Pollen's Vanga, very rare, a bird watchers dream! Ranomafana NP

The Pollen’s Vanga, very rare, a bird watchers dream! Ranomafana NP

Despite that, at least we got to see the very very rare pollen’s vanga!

After that our driver took us toward Ambositra, taking the back road. It was 90% dirt road, but in good enough condition for our van. It was a great detour though, past rivers, rice paddies and open land and through tiny villages full of smiling kids happy to see us and people congregating on the side of the road filling in time.

Walking to town

Walking to town

Back on the main road, our driver stopped at a small creek not far from Ambositra, where some of the young men were gold panning. I’m sure he thought we’d never seen it before, but our home town was built on gold, so we had a good understanding (good thing, coz like most things, the explanation was lost in translation). The water wasn’t that deep and I’m not sure they were that successful, but they had some logs set up underneath the water that they stood on. They looked pretty flimsy, but somehow they managed to maintain their balance on there without taking a tumble into the water.

Gold panning near Ambositra

Gold panning near Ambositra

While we were here, we also took the chance to get rid of our spare water bottles. We often bought big ones, then decantered that into our smaller bottles. By this time we’d figured out that while the bigger bottles were of no value to us, the kids loved them – they would fight over them and the victor would walk away triumphant, gloating about their win. Another tip: If you want to draw piles of kids to you in Madagascar – give away a few water bottles!

Kids with their bottles

Kids with their bottles

We stopped at Ambositra for lunch, at the restaurant of the place we’d stayed at the first night (Violette). That night we’d chosen to eat street food, and as we munched on our pizza today, we wondered aloud whether we’d chosen the wrong night to skip the restaurant attached to the hotel. The pizza was great, the view from the balcony over the rice paddies was great and while we didn’t have much idea of the French menus, I had at least figured out pizza and spaghetti bolognaise.

Lunch! Hotel Violetta make great pizzas.

Lunch! Hotel Violetta make great pizzas.

After our lunch break, we continued north toward Antsirabe, our destination for that night. When we arrived there, we got taken to a few shops. The first was a cow horn place, where they made different things out of cow horn. Of course we were expected to buy something, so I bought a guitar pick. Not sure whether I ended up with it or Mike, but I never found another place that sold them! The next place was an embroidery and bike/pousse pousse making place. We were expecting to see them making real bikes and pousse pousses, but it was miniature ones. They made them out of tin cans, very ingenious and the embroidery was all done by hand. Ev nearly cleaned them out of bikes while I grabbed an embroidered cushion cover for myself.

Hand made bikes, Antsirabe

Hand made bikes, Antsirabe

When we arrived at our hotel that night, we were pleasantly surprised. It was like we’d stepped up a few stars! Our room was huge, there were at least two floors, a couple of pcs that had internet access and the restaurant attached to the hotel looked excellent. I think it was the hotel Vahiny we stayed at. A very different tuna lasagne for tea and some lovely, but expensive coconut ice cream rounded out a nice meal.

Tuna Lasagne

Tuna Lasagne

January 2, 2015

Christmas Haul 2014

Filed under: Idle Ramblings — pearsey @ 12:33 am
Tags: , ,

In keeping up with my tradition, here’s my Christmas Haul for 2014. Again I did pretty well and I’ve got some useful things to enjoy.

  • 2 photo frames (I’ve finally hung a few photos up around my kitchen and I was a couple of frames short)
  • Donna Hay Spoonula and spatula and some Christmas scrapers
  • Holman Green Wall – which I plan to hang on the side of my house somewhere and turn into a vertical herb garden
  • Potting Mix
  • Herbs, including basil, lemon thyme, thyme, chives
  • Assorted things to eat (chocolates, home made biscuits, shortbread and a jar to put them in)
  • Recipe book which has many of Mum’s favourites in it
  • Top Victorian Walks book and a Gippsland walks brochure
  • 2 pairs socks
  • 2 Bendigo Cinema Tickets
  • National Geographic Landscape Australia Book
  • Sprinkler
  • Toilet roll holder and some liquid soap
  • 2015 Calendar
  • Rose handkerchief and a tea towel
  • My kitchen clock repaired

Again, Christmas was a good day. I made my own Christmas bon bons, which looked pretty good and for the most part even “cracked” when pulled. They’re surprisingly easy to make, just grab some snaps from your local craft shop, keep some toilet rolls or paper towel rolls (or even the rolls from your Christmas paper) and find something to put in them. I brainstormed with another lady at work and we came up with some interesting ideas, including memory sticks, seeds, lotions (ie moisturiser, shampoo etc) and batteries. If all else fails go for the chocolates! Some dilbert cartoons and “what am I” jokes rounded out my bon bon list.

Homemade Christmas bon bons

Homemade Christmas bon bons

Table

Table

Christmas feast

Christmas feast

Ranomafana National Park

Up early this morning to take a walk around the Ranomafana National Park.

Path through the Ranomafana National Park

Path through the Ranomafana National Park

We saw a couple of different lemur types, such as the bamboo lemur, flat faced lemur and pointy nosed lemurs. There were times our guides left the track and took us through the park in an attempt to find and get closer to the wildlife, which is something that probably wouldn’t happen in too many other national parks. Anyway, once or twice we were within a metre of some lemurs who were just going about their business. It’s always hard to get some good photos of wildlife, they animals tend to move around a bit, then you have to try not to get in the way of other people, and on top of that, I couldn’t charge my camera batteries as I had no camera charger, so I was taking one or two shots, not reviewing them and hoping for the best! The nighttime shots weren’t that great, they were much more point in the general direction and hope… but at least some of the lemurs come out ok.

Greater bamboo lemur (I think!) Ranomafana

Greater bamboo lemur (I think!) Ranomafana

Within the national park there’s a nice vantage point which is not far from the entrance. It was a great place for a rest and drink, but because it was a bit of a clearing you could feel the heat, even though it was still earlyish in the day. It made you appreciate the dark and coolness of the rain forest and the coverage of the foliage even more.

View across the national park

View across the national park

After leaving the national park we took a walk around the town, through the market – all 20 stalls – before heading to the thermal pools. Ev had been wanting to go to these pools since hearing about them. Our driver kindly advised us to have a look at them before we paid. It was different – there was a row of rooms around the back, each of which literally had a huge concrete bath in them, a small space to change and obviously a door on the front. Some looked like they brought their family there for the weekly bath – makes sense, where else are you likely to get a warm bath! Maybe Sunday is washing day and bathing day! Otherwise, there was a big swimming pool as part of the complex, which was rather busy being a Sunday. Ev said it wasn’t quite what she was expecting and no longer wanted to go and I wasn’t too bothered either. We did get to watch a local soccer match though on the way past, good on them for getting out and having a run around in that heat!

Thermal pool, Ranomafana

Thermal pool, Ranomafana

Instead, we headed off to the arboretum, a short drive from our hotel, where we took a look around at the different types of trees in Madagascar. Gum trees, or Eucalyptus trees as they are probably known as there, were introduced to Madagascar in 1895. Many people are surprised that you even find gum trees outside Australia. I was surprised that they’d been introduced there so long ago. It’s well worth paying a visit (very well kept and signs are in 3 languages: local, french and english) and if you do manage to get there, keep an eye out for the huge chameleon. He was huge, the biggest and best we saw in all Madagascar.

Huge chameleon, body about the size of a man's forearm, Ranomafana Arborteum

Huge chameleon, body about the size of a man’s forearm, Ranomafana Arborteum

That night we headed off on a nocturnal forest walk. Again, not quite what we were expecting because we didn’t leave the side of the road. Our guide just walked up and down the road looking for wildlife, and used bananas smeared on some branches to attract some of the small lemurs. Bring your torches our guide said – but I was torchless because mine had been stolen, so I was pretty much useless in the search for wildlife! We did see a few different things – a few mouse lemurs, some frongs and a couple of small chameleons. Best thing about this walk was that at the end of it we started talking to another group who were parked near us. They were a couple from Australia who spoke French (French is the “second” language of Madagascar. Brush up on your French if you’re heading there, English speaking people are few and far between). Great to talk to some Aussies after so long and this was about the first tourist group we’d actually had a chance to talk to. Definitely quiet season when we were there (today was June 9 2013). Now here’s a question to contemplate: How do chameleons know what colour they should be in the dark?

Tiny brown chameleon, Ranomafana

Tiny brown chameleon, Ranomafana

Back to the Ihary hotel where we had a bite to eat. We weren’t really getting the hang of these French menus yet, but we had worked out what beef was in French. Too long since I did French at school and all I remember from that was translating the three bears into English. Not helpful at all!

Geese wandering through Ranomafana

Geese wandering through Ranomafana

January 1, 2015

Let us now go

Filed under: Church life,Idle Ramblings — pearsey @ 9:20 pm
Tags: ,

Christmas has just been and it’s always a good time to reflect on the first Christmas day. Although it’s a few days late, here are my thoughts on Christmas this year.

Luke 2:8-17
It was night time. Out in the paddock there were some shepherds. Their job was to watch the sheep. No doubt they were just doing what they always did – watching those sheep. You could imagine that at that point, it was just another night. Maybe it was cold and dewy, with not much happening where they were. Maybe the usual stillness was broken by faint noise from nearby Bethlehem as people from all over gathered together, enjoying their time catching up with each other because of the census. Perhaps the light of the moon was providing just enough light for some silhouetted sheep outlines. However their night was going, whatever was or wasn’t happening, something else was about to happen that would change their lives. “Behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone around them”.
Their night was changed when they were visited by an angel, then a multitude of angels. The darkness was gone. Dazzling light, the glory of the Lord, shone around the place. The peaceful night they were having was rudely interrupted and they were greatly afraid.

The angel said not to be afraid before delivering the message. Angels must be big scary things, because that’s a common thing the angel has to say when he visits people.
The message for the shepherds was that a Saviour had been born that day, a Saviour who would be their King. If they were to go and see, they would find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manager.

After the angels gave the message, they departed. They didn’t tell the shepherds to go and visit the baby Jesus – they just said if you go, this is what you will find. The shepherds said to one another “let us now go”. It doesn’t sound like they needed much convincing. They just decided to go and visit the baby. They went there quickly.

They left everything behind. Their sheep, livelihoods and potentially their jobs. They took a risk and responded to God. They trusted God and found it just as the angel had said.

When we hear the Christmas story, are we quick to go and come to Jesus? Do we respond quickly when we hear from Him? Is our response one of seeking Jesus, or is it one of ambivalence, an “I’ll go when I’m ready” type of response. The shepherds responded: “let us now go”.

Ranomafana

Filed under: Trips — pearsey @ 12:01 am
Tags: , , ,

“Left Isalo National Park today, as good as it was, was glad to see the back of it. The scenery was good, it was spectacular rocks, but all I did was see them from a distance. No real chance to get up close and explore, or take time to enjoy it, always rushing around, but with time to spare at the end of the day…” went my diary entry for my 7th day in Madagascar. I must admit it was the first trip I’d ever counted down the end to, and while there were some extra contributing factors such as the driver not speaking much English, no tour guide, the guide in the national park, I’m sure it also had a bit to do with not being that well for most of it so far, as well as being robbed just as I was leaving Uganda and just wanting to get home.

Having said that, I was still in a place I was unlikely to visit again, so I still wanted to do and enjoy as much as I could and the people (most of them) were fairly friendly and usually did whatever they could to help.

Isalo Motel

Isalo Motel

Leaving the Isalo Motel was kinda funny. We’d done well to avoid anybody helping us with our luggage – we were both a bit protective with our luggage since our little incident… and well – both our bags were light, especially mine so it was pretty easy to carry ourselves – why tip somebody to do something we didn’t want. So a couple of boys at the motel had obviously found out who was checking out and what room and had been waiting outside our room for around an hour. We figured there was no way we could avoid them carrying our bags, although we were going to give it a go. We had no hope! As soon as we came out, our bags were taken from us and they were off to the car. We hadn’t quite co-ordinated our tipping though, and as the boys ran off like the cats who’d got the cream, we realised both of us had ended up giving them something!

Bishops Hat

Bishops Hat

The drive to Ranomafana saw us leave behind the open rocky plains of the south and come back to the highland area with more lush vegetation. The main road between Tana and Isalo is bitumen all the way, it’s windy and slow going, but scenic and the backbone of the communities it weaves past. The sides of the road are hives of activity, with people walking their produce to market, roadside stalls selling everything from toy baskets and hats to honey, statues, crickets and fruit, endless streams of people just walking around, cattle being taken to market and even oxen (or bulls) pulling carts full off stuff. It provides an interesting glimpse into life in Madagascar and the everyday difficulties faced by the people.

Walking

Walking

We came back via the Anja Park where I picked up some tinned crocodile as a delicacy food gift for those at work. On our return to the park we got to see the real crocodiles – seems we missed them first time round!

Namorona River waterfall provided the highlight of the day. The road followed the river, but then out of nowhere came this spectacular waterfall. It was like a breath of fresh air, a flowing stream after the dryness of the desert like landscape. It looked to be a smallish stream, but still made a decent noise going over the rocks. Around about here the landscape turned to lush tropical rainforests. You can’t help but wonder how much of the surrounding countryside has been cleared and destroyed over the years in order to allow humans to continue to exist and multiply. At least the small pockets that become National Parks are protected.

Waterfall, Namorona River, Ranomafana National Park

Waterfall, Namorona River, Ranomafana National Park

There were a few places we stopped on the road into Ranomafana from the main highway number 7 – the waterfall mentioned above, a bit further on where we could see the river running down more of a gorge and a few little water trickles from tributary streams on the opposite side of the road (the left hand side as we drove in) which were tucked away just off the road side.

Looking at the road from a little stream, Ranomafana National Park

Looking at the road from a little stream, Ranomafana National Park

Our accommodation was the Ihary hotel, right on the river in the middle of town. Our cabin was rather tight, just squeezing our luggage in around the beds. The bathroom was good and functional, but the electrical wiring was a little odd! We got there later in the day, but had just enough time to go for a fairly quick walk around town and watch the people crossing the river right outside our room. The water was cold and flowing quickly, so it was quite impressive the way they could cross the river and keep their balance with everything they were carrying.

Namorona River crossing from Ihary Hotel, Ranomafana

Namorona River crossing from Ihary Hotel, Ranomafana

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