I woke up at about 5 am in our hotel room in Paris on the day we were leaving for Madagascar. My stomach was turning tricks and I ended up spending the next several hours in the bathroom. It must have been that salmon I ate last night. Luckily, our flight to Madagascar wasn't scheduled to leave until 4 pm. I tried to help Suzi get all the luggage packed up, but I was just miserable for the whole morning. I forced myself down to the lobby at noon, and we caught a cab to Charles de Gaulle airport.
When we arrived at the airport, our cab driver didn't seem to know where the Air Madagascar ticket counters were. He dropped us off and we realized that we were at the wrong terminal. I don't know who designed that airport, but they must have been drunk when they did it. To get from terminal A to B, you basically have to take the shuttle for a complete loop around the airport. Once we found the ticket counter, we checked in and went to our gate.
We had a few hours before we left, and several of our tour companions met us at the gate and we all got acquainted. When we boarded the plane, the flight attendants announced that insecticide would be sprayed on the plane. Sure enough, two flight attendants walked up each aisle with cans of spray and gassed the plane. Welcome to Air Madagascar.
The flight was about 10 hours, over the African continent. It was dark the whole way, and we could only see scattered lights on the ground. I would like to have seen it in daylight, but c'est la vie. As dawn started to break through the windows, we realized we were over water. Soon, we got our first glimpse of the coastline of Madagascar. The island has many different types of terrain, located in different regions. The capital, Antananarivo, or Tana for short, is located in the central region and has hills and mountains around it. Soon, we were flying over Tana and admiring the view.
Madagascar was a French possession from 1896 to 1960. As we flew over, we could see the influence of the French in the architecture of some of the buildings, although we could also see that many of the buildings were very run down. The city is beautiful from the air, spread over a large area and built up into the hills surrounding it. I spent so much time staring out the window, that before I knew it, we had landed at Ivato Airport.
We got off the plane right onto the tarmac (there are no jetways in Madagascar) and I wanted to begin taking pictures and video right away. The weather was beautiful, as it was the middle of summer in the southern hemisphere. I pulled out my video camera and started filming, not realizing the reaction that the locals would have. They were very upset about me taking video, and after almost losing my camera in the first minute on the ground, we entered the terminal.
The terminal was quite nice, and after gathering our luggage and clearing customs, we met up with our Malagasy tour guide Klaus. Klaus was German and was port of a tour company called Roadhouse Voyages. They would be a part of our trip the whole way. Klaus had arranged breakfast for us at a hotel that we would be staying at during a couple portions of our trip. We also would be meeting two of our tour companions, Ray and Kathy, who had flown there the day before. Klaus helped us get past all the porters at the airport who wanted to carry our bags for us, and we were all soon on a bus to the hotel.
As we drove to the hotel, we realized a few things. One, our driver was nuts. Two, it didn't seem as though there were any speed limits or laws on the road. Three, people didn't seem to care that there was a large vehicle barreling down the road toward them. Our driver pretty much dodged the people along the road, and more than once I looked back to make sure we weren't leaving any bodies in our wake.
We turned onto a narrow dirt road between two buildings and about a half mile of bouncing later, we pulled up to the Mahavelo Hotel. The hotel seemed very nice, but later we would find out that Suzi had some issues with it. We found the dining room and met up with Ray and Kathy. We sat down to a nice French style breakfast of baguettes, jam and butter, as well as some good, strong coffee. After my stomach upset in Paris, I still wasn't very hungry, but the bread helped out a lot and I felt my energy coming back.
Our initial stay in Tana would be short, as the plan was to go back to the airport after breakfast and fly south to Toliara (pronounced too-lee-are). From there, we would drive south, through the southern spiny desert to the village of Itampolo on the southwestern coast. After loading a few more bags onto the bus, we headed back to the airport at about 9:30 am. We made our way back through the terminal and all the porters who were again eager to take our bags. We checked in and boarded our twin engine turboprop for the short flight south.