A bird’s eye view …

Anjajavy, a luxurious hotel in a spectacular setting, was the ideal place to finish a tour of Madagascar.

From there it was back into the Cessna Caravan for the flight to Antananarivo and the farewell Madagascar by South African Airlines to Johannesburg.

The two trips across country in the Cessna gave opportunities for some aerial photography …


Starting from the west coast in the vicinity of Anjajavy.  Then leaving the coastal strip and climbing onto the central plateau.



OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAApproaching Antananarivo



In the last view we are looking almost exactly due south across the Ivato Airport, Antananarivo. In Google maps the tower behind the terminal is shown as the Sheraton Hotel, but a quick search of Antananarivo Hotels will not turn up a Sheraton. To the immediate right of the tower is the Madagascar International Conference Center built in 2008 for the African Union summit which was to be held in Madagascar the following year. The hotel was to have housed the visiting dignitaries. The 2009 coup put an end to Madagascar hosting the summit. The extravagant facilities have had very little use.

Parc de Tsarasaotra …

Into the bus and back to Antananarivo. Before checking in to the Hotel Colbert we dropped in on Tsarasaotra. This is a privately owned estate surrounded by the city. It dates back to 1890 when Queen Ranavalona lll, the last monarch to rule Madagascar, and her husband Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony, built themselves a fine home here. By 1895 the French had taken over, Rainilaiarivony was exiled to Algiers. Ranavalona was exiled not long after to Réunion.

The estate is now a Ramsar site, it covers 27 ha (67 acres) and has a couple of fine lakes and a good bird list.


Red-billed Teal and White-faced Whistling Ducks can be seen above, Knob-billed Duck and Meller’s Duck were also present. A cooperative Black-crowned Night Heron was sitting near the main entrance.


You can get a good view of both lakes by walking around the one nearest the entrance.


Tickets to the park can only be purchased at BOOGIE PILGRIM: 1st floor Trio Property building, Tana Water Front, in Ambodivona. Their office is open Monday to Friday. So if you wish to visit the park at the weekend you will need to plan ahead.

Price: 12 000 Ariary/person (Mon-Fri)
14 000 Ariary/person (Week-end)

On the street …

As you approach the doors of the Hotel Colbert you are given a warm and enthusiastic welcome. I’m not talking about the staff. By GDP per capita Madagascar is the ninth poorest country in the world. The people that are so pleased to see you are keen to sell you some little cadeau to take home, a musical instrument, an ammonite, a box or even a second-hand magazine. And there are some simply begging, one lady had a baby on her back and primary school age children panhandling for all they were worth.

They will be waiting for you again if you go out. In Australia we are sometimes troubled by the flies. We use the word”sticky” to describe particularly persistent flies. Some of these folk take no for an answer, some are more persistent. My first experience was of a guy who spotted the tourist about a block away from the hotel and wasn’t going to give up whilst I was on the street. Sticky sprang to mind, a good walk spoilt even more than golf.

He was trying to sell me a valiha, a zither like instrument the strings mounted around a bamboo tube. It was the finest little valiha in the universe and mine for a very reasonable price. No matter that I would never get it into Australia, could I not buy it, can you not see that I am in desperate need of a meal, perhaps if I reduce the price …

He circled me as I walked, I several times pulled him from the path of passing cars. The attention was unwelcome, embarrassing, pathetic and eventually beyond endurance. I turned and went back to the hotel. In the last few yards he pointed out the contrast between me who could afford such a nice hotel and himself who could not afford food. Very sticky little pest.

I am an early riser, the following morning I was out before the pests arrived. The streets were already becoming busy, street traders were selling breakfast cooked on charcoal burners. This time I went without a camera. I got little attention.

There are shops, even a small supermarket or two in Antananarivo but the local folk do most of their shopping right there on the street at stalls or at the open fronts of the buildings.

I got back to the hotel at six thirty, the lady with the baby and begging children was just arriving.


Hotel Colbert …

When visiting Antananarivo McGee stays at the Hotel Colbert.

At least it seemed like a routine by the time I’d checked in for a single night for the fourth time. And a very pleasant routine at that. The rooms were fine, the restaurants were fine, the ambiance was fine, the staff were fine and the location is perfect. I’m told there is an older and a newer wing. I stayed in the newer wing each time and it might be a good idea to request that.

Tripadvisor has this little gem …

When I arrived in my room I felt it was dusty and dark. I had also requested that they do not have any feathers in the room as I am highly allergic. Unfortunately they could not change the pillows as they only had pillows with feathers so they suggested I move to the La Varangue down the road which was a far more acceptable Hotel.

… just a snippet of an extended whinge, I assume by the owner of La Varangue. If not the whinger will have found Madagascar almost beyond endurance.

Next door is the Ambohitsorohitra palace, built by the French, it now serves as a presidential office.


This is illuminated at night, suggesting some encouragement to look at it, but if you look at it for long during the day you are quickly moved on by a man with a machine pistol.

Hotel Colbert is in the middle town which is the commercial centre. From the terrace you look up to the high town which is where the nobility had their palaces, the view is dominated by the Queen’s Palace, the Manjakamiadina, currently under repair.


Queen Ranavalona l ruled from 1828 to 1861, a time when missionaries from London were introducing new and dangerous ideas and European powers were itching to take yet another colony. She did a pretty good job of absorbing what was useful whilst fending off the colonisers and enforcing the traditional Malagasy values. An edict issued in 1835 made life rather difficult for the missionaries and by twelve months later they had all left town. The cliffs below the palace came in rather handy for an early form of bungee jumping. Those who possessed a Bible, worshiped in congregation or continued to profess adherence to Christianity might find themselves dangling up there. Those who recanted the new fangled faith would be hauled in, those who refused would have the ropes cut.

Not far from the front door are the steps to the lower town.


I enjoyed the Colbert, but I am easily pleased, I’ll even put up with feathers in my pillows. Bearing that in mind let me recommend a couple of restaurants, not that there is anything wrong with the food at the Colbert.

Villa Vanille … if the French left anything useful it was the food, absolutely fabulous, good service a bonus and the trio of musicians were very very good.

La Varangue, cordon bleu in the midst of the weirdest collection of antiques, rated number one in Antananarivo and it wouldn’t surprise me if it deserved it.


Antananarivo …

I left Johanessburg’s sprawling and, it seems, rapidly expanding airport on a South African Airlines flight.

The airport at Antananarivo was quite a contrast. So too were the roads and surroundings on the way into town. Whereas South Africa has multi-lane highways and electronic tolling, even if most drivers are refusing to pay the bills, Antananarivo has a very modest airport and narrow streets. Even though July is the start of the dry season the countryside is green unlike the dusty brown highveldt around Jo’burg.

Both cities are cooler than you would expect for their latitude because both are quite high, Jo’burg 1750 meteres, Antananarivo 1280 metres.


Once again, I travelled with Zegrahm Tours, the map, which I shamelessly filched from their website, shows the places we would visit.

One theory is that Antananarivo comes from the Malagasy for the place where far too many ans arrived. It is far more likely that it translates something like the city of a thousand (the strength of the force deployed by King Andrianjaka 1612–1630 to capture the town formerly known as Analamanga), although it is now home to a little over two million. It sprawls over the hilltops in all directions, the intervening valley bottoms are agricultural land mainly given over to the cultivation of rice.

Antananarivo was a major city before the colonial era but was built from wood and thatch.The Malagasy believed that a place to live in should be built from living materials. Outsiders brought in the practice of building in brick and stone from about 1820 and they were used to construct the foreigners small number of churches, schools and factories. In 1869 Queen Ranavalona II lifted the prohibition on the use of brick and stone by the Malagasy and the new materials rapidly replaced wood.


Much of life is conducted on the footpath …



Because of the very poor state of Madagascar’s roads the tour would fly to most of its various destinations. Because Antananarivo so dominates the country’s economy this would entail radial flights to and from the capital. So every few days would bring me back to the Big A. Each time I stayed at the Hotel Colbert. More of that next …