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Flying north

Madagascar day six

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Near the fish market in Antsiranana

My birthday, but no time to celebrate. We had to be up at 4.00 for a 4.30 departure to the airport and our 6.10 flight to Antsiranana. Michel and Solu saw us off, the former promising to stay in touch and let us know if he ever comes to London. The domestic terminal was as small and basic as these places usually are, but even this early the café was open so we could get a coffee and a croissant, and there was plenty of seating for passengers waiting for the two early morning departures. Ours was the second of these.

Boarding our flight to Antsiranana

We boarded and took off on time and had an uneventful flight. A light breakfast of juice and a small pastry were served. I got talking to one of the cabin crew while queuing for the loo and she asked me if it was true that it’s always foggy in London!

Flying over Madagascar

Flying over Madagascar
~ the landscape got drier as we neared our destination

We landed ten minutes early but had to wait ages for our bags as the men loaded the plane with the outbound luggage before delivering ours to the very simple belt. Outside we were met by our new guide, Laurent, and driver Said. We were able to go to the hotel to drop off our bags and sort a few things before setting out on our planned city tour. Our room was simple but large and attractive, with a view of the bay from the balcony.




Our room at the Allamanda Hotel

View from our room

We’d mentioned wanting to change money so Laurent took us to somewhere we could do that, and we then went for a cold drink at the Royal Enfield café. We enjoyed sitting outside watching the passing activity, mainly tuk-tuks. It was clear already that we were in a very different world to that of Tana, lived at a slower pace. The tropical heat slows everyone, even the locals. Different too were the faces on the street and the style of dress, with far more African textiles. And the old cars serving as taxis in Tana were replaced by tuk-tuks here.

The Royal Enfield café

French Mountain

After relaxing over our drinks for a bit we left for the city tour. That at first proved to be a bit of a misnomer, as we drove out of the city to visit an area called French Mountain. There we had a walk with a local guide to see some baobabs. But before we set out we were able to see and photograph two Oustalet's chameleons.

Oustalet's chameleons

The path was uneven and quite steep in places, hardly ideal for my bad leg (which I had told Laurent about!) The landscape however was worth seeing, with dried up trees waiting for the summer rains and interestingly shaped limestone rocks.

Chris and our naturalist guide on French Mountain

Landscape with baobabs

At one point I spotted what looked like a seashell, incongruous in this setting. But our guide told me it was in fact a snail, and quite a small one, although it looked big to me!

Snail shell

The first baobab we stopped at was huge. The guide told us it was a species endemic to Madagascar and named for the island. A little further up the path we came to a second one, of a different species. Apparently there are eight species in total. One lives in Australia, the others are African and several of these are endemic to Madagascar.



The path looped further up and then down, with views of the mountains above. I was struggling a bit and glad to get back to the car. On the way back to town we stopped for photos of the bay and Nosy Longo, known locally as the sugarloaf island and considered sacred by locals.

View of Nosy Lonjo

Commonwealth War Graves

Having not properly done my homework I was surprised to see this cemetery on the edge of the old town. Had I read more of this area’s history I would have been less so. After the fall of France to the Nazis, Madagascar came under the control of Vichy France. The Allies feared that they might allow the Japanese Navy to build submarine bases in this strategic bay. This would potentially have cut off British supply lines to Egypt, and to remaining Asian possessions. By early April 1942, British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill was convinced of the need to capture Diego Suarez. Operation Ironclad was launched to take the city and secure the bay for the Allies. From here they continued to attack the Vichy forces and eventually to take the island, handing it to Free French control in 1943.

But the battle here had already taken its toll. After three days of fighting, the British and Commonwealth forces assaulting Madagascar had lost 107 men in action. A further 108 died from disease and 280 men were wounded. 116 casualties of Operation Ironclad are today buried in Diego Suarez's Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.



The Commonwealth war graves cemetery, Antsiranana, Madagascar

Laurent had explained that in this part of the country everyone takes a siesta from 12.00 to 3.00, so he dropped us back at the hotel for lunch and a rest. Our itinerary had said that lunch would be included today but that seemed not to be the case, so we went to the hotel restaurant for a salad and cold drink.

Street art

When Laurent picked us up again I mentioned to him that I’d read that Antsiranana had plenty of street art and that I was keen to see and photograph some. He took us to this particularly impressive mural. I did also spot some other pieces around town, but on the whole there was less than I’d hoped for.



Colourful street art

Local market

Laurent then proposed a visit to the market. I do love a market when I travel. It’s a great place to get a feel for a country, not just its food but its culture and people too. And this one was no exception. He took us on a thorough tour which I spent largely shooting photos ‘from the hip' and also asked permission for a few others.

In the market (Laurent in the check shirt and hat

It was very busy and Laurent had warned us to be on our guard against pickpockets but we didn’t encounter any trouble and on the whole people seemed friendly.

Local girls keen to pose

Note the live chicken

Shoppers in the market

No customers here


Selling mattress foam

Many women here use a yellow paste smeared on their faces. This is the pulp from a particular wood which they grind with water and use as sun protection and skin softener.


In the market

When we reached the far side Said met us with the car and slightly bizarrely they took us for a drive through the university campus. This was very run down, with crumbling blocks for student accommodation which Laurent said was overcrowded. He studied there himself and now his two sons are students, so he was very aware how much the place has declined due to that overcrowding. We didn’t stop here and I didn’t take any photos.

Along the Rue Colbert

The city’s location on a strategic bay meant that this was the first part of Madagascar to be colonised by the French, in 1885. Queen Ranavalona III was forced to sign a treaty ceding the bay and surrounding area to the French after defeat to their invading troops. The rest of the island followed, and it remained under French control until 1960. The influence of the colonial architectural styles can still be seen in the city centre. I enjoyed the walk through this area which gave us a chance to take some photos of a bit more street art and the sometimes crumbling colonial French buildings.






On and around the Rue Colbert

I was very taken, from a photographic point of view, with the ruins of the Hôtel de la Marine not far from our own hotel. According to Laurent this was once one of the grandest hotels in the city, and it looks it. It has clearly fallen on hard times, however. I hope someone will come along and rescue it; in the right hands it could look amazing!


Ruins of the Hotel Marine

Back near the hotel Laurent took us to a new shop specialising in recycling objects into art, although most of what was on display looked new to me. There were some nice black and white drawings of local wildlife, some framed and some not. We liked best the stylised baobab but it was one of the framed ones and in a heavy black frame that wouldn’t work in our house. But the lady was happy to sell it unframed and although it was a struggle to release it she offered to do so later and for Laurent to fetch it to the hotel, which he duly did. We paid a little over the very low asking price for her trouble!

Once we reached the hotel I tried to cool off in the not very strong A/C. But it was a little cooler, or at least less hot, by the time we went to dinner. We’d reserved a table on the terrace where we could benefit from some cooling breezes. My maigret de Canard with pineapple was disappointing but I loved the mango bavarois! And we were treated to a beautiful moonrise over the bay. A nice way to end what had been a very long birthday!

My mango bavarois


Posted by ToonSarah 19:54 Archived in Madagascar Tagged trees architecture history views market flight cemetery africa birthday street_art baobab

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What a wonderful pictorial - as well as written - trip you took us on Sarah. Thankyou.

by Yvonne Dumsday

I never knew there was any fighting in Madagascar in WWII.

by Nemorino

Thank you Yvonne and Don - and I'm glad it wasn't just me who was unaware of that bit of WW2 history!

by ToonSarah

When I used to live and work in Turkey, I was always being asked if London was really foggy. (I'm not even from London, I'm Scottish.) I once asked why they thought this and was told they were taught a song called 'Foggy foggy London Town' in school. Maybe they learn this in Madagascar, too.

by irenevt

That sounds very possible Irene, thank you :)

by ToonSarah

Happy birthday!!!
Early rise and shine on your special day, but on the other hand, it was quite an interesting day so it seems. Love the pictures and the mango bavarois looks more than yummylicious!!!

by Ils1976

It was very early - i'm an early bird but it was too early even for me really! But we had a good day and I managed to stay awake to enjoy that bavarois 😁

by ToonSarah

that's the most important thing!

by Ils1976

Happy birthday (belatedly)! :)

You said you didn't celebrate but isn't travelling the very best kind of celebrating? :)

by hennaonthetrek

True Henna 😄

by ToonSarah

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