Madagascar diary, day 10. August 6, 2010

 

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Again we have to get up at 6:30; we will be leaving at 8:00 for the last leg of our tour. Twelve kilometers from the Hotel we come through the sapphire capital of Madagascar, Ilakaka. Sapphire was discovered here in 1998, and since then the small village has grown into a city populated largely by people from Sri Lanka and Thailand that are buying and exporting the raw sapphire stones. Criminal activity here is very high, so the doors of the car are locked from the inside, and we can not make a stop inside the city area. We are stopped and checked by police three times. Left and right of the main road all the places are called after gems and sapphires, including the local school.

People working in a sapphire pitSieving the sand in search of sapphires

After the sapphire capital we still cross several other smaller places that are largely driven by gemstone sales, populated by people that fled the unfriendly atmosphere in Ilakaka. We also cross a riverbed where we see people washing the earth dug up from a sapphire pit looking for precious stones.

Sandy landscapeLanfdscape with Baobab

The landscape changes continuously: we are now in an area of table mountains with absolutely flat tops. The type of trees also changes towards more dry forests. We pass a last time by car through a reserve where there are wild lemurs. We catch a glimp of a large animal in a tree, but it gets away before we can take pictures. Another village we pass is surrounded by a "forest" of Baobab trees. We make a good speed, and arrive in Toliara at around 11:30. Already 25km before the city, still higher up in the mountains, we get some views on the ocean. The effect of the barrier reef a few kilometers away from the coast line is very visible: the sea in the distance is white with breaking waves, closer to the city the water is calm. In the city it is warm. We make a visit to the "shell market" where we can not buy any sea shells (because export is illegal), but we do buy some other artisan work. When we arrive, we are the only tourists on the market. On such a quiet market, the vendors follow us from the moment we park the car until we close the doors to drive away in an attempt to make enough money to have food for another day. Some of the people on the market have colored their faces. We have lunch in the city in a restaurant that serves very good fish. The dish with fish in vanilla sauce is excellent.

Coconut vendor along the roadMangrove Forest

After the lunch we have a coffee together with our guide, buy and eat a coconut along the street, and then continue our way along the coast towards the north. The road here is a dirt road; there are some remaining pieces of an old asphalt road that everyone avoids to use because it contains many deep holes. The road is used also for cotton transports coming from further north, and some remains of cotton are stuck in the plants that grow along the road. Local buses are formed by huge uncomfortable trucks here, loaded with enormous amounts of luggage on the roof and very many passengers on board. On the way to the hotel we pass fisherman's villages and a village that has a specialty in constructing homes from local materials (costing 10,000 Ariary or approximately 3.50 Euro apiece). We also pass mangrove forests and see the local fishermen at sea (Mozambique Straight) in their "pirogue" boats.

Pirogue at sea

After more than an hour drive for about 20km, We check in to our hotel. Luckily they have mosquito nets here on all beds, because the rooms have open windows and a fairly open construction of the roof. We have a beautiful view on the ocean, a beautiful occasion to take pictures of a red sunset. After sunset we take a drink inside and make appointments for a trip in a pirogue to visit the reefs for some snorkeling on Sunday morning. We have dinner, and go to bed early.

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