Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Antsirabe, Madagascar

The sun is up so early in the morning that it is easy for us to get up at 5.30am and get on with the day. In keeping with our plan for more exercise we walked the steep 2 kms to the taxi brousse station to get our reserved seats. Like all the stations here it is chaos. People who want to get a bus have the taxis drive in amongst the porters and the minivan taxi brousse. Porters carry huge loads on their heads or lug them around on these home made trolleys. At the back of the trolley is a steering wheel to steer them. Beside is a lever that has a bar covered with old tyres that is used as a brake. John reckons they would carry up to half a ton of gear on them. The wheels are usually made of wood and covered with old tyres and wobble all over the place. Some take the time to decorate their trolleys while others are bare wood. We often pass them on the highways where they get pushed up the hills by 2 or 3 men and then they sit on the load as it races down the hills. Often they are loaded with bricks from the kilns or huge sacks of charcoal.

Amongst all of this are the peddlers trying to get you to buy fruit, tea, packets of biscuits, baguettes, newspapers or souvenirs.

Passed through Ambositra city, which is the arts and crafts centre. Most of the stuff made here is from timber and the hills are pretty bare of trees which are felled for the crafts or charcoal. In fact the whole southern half of Madagascar we have seen is completely cleared of large trees. There were numerous stalls set up on the side of the highway, selling wooden trucks painted with Coca Cola or petrol company logos and painted in bright colours.

We ran out of petrol about 10kms from the city and the bus driver had to flag another van down. They found some plastic water bottles floating about the van and undid the fuel line of another van and filled the bottles with petrol. One and a half litres later we were on our way again.

At Antsirabe bus station we were besieged by rickshaw Kangas imported from India. The rickshaw pullers tried to talk us out of using them saying they were unsafe. We had heard that they are unstable if driven too fast. Luckily we have learnt that 'mora mora' means slowly slowly!

Checked into the place recommended in our guide book and luckily they had rooms. It was an unusual place with small round brick bungalows set out around some lawns and ponds.

We wandered into the city which was known in the 19th century as a spa town. It has wide boulevards and once had a railway, but now the huge station is empty.

Near the hotel was an enormous cathedral and we could see people on the lawns of the huge Thermes hotel which would have been magnificent in its day.

People seemed to have a lot of time to sit around in the shade in the streets. Peddlers tried to sell us beads and packets of small gemstones. They all complained there were no tourists to buy their wares. We couldn't step out of the hotel without a flood of rickshaw pullers calling out their names and wanting to take us places.

We found an internet shop to catch up on internet banking and get an e-ticket from our daughter for Kenya to Ethiopia.

Found a bakery to buy some nice bread and a cafe to eat with all the other French tourists and their families who were in town. It also had a Shoprite supermarket so we could stock up with nibbles for our trip back to Tana. Antrirabe would have been a lovely place in its heyday, but one night was enough for us.

On the roadside on the way back to Tana, locals were holding up live rabbits for sale.