Though it was fun to spend a week with our Russian friends, Antananarivo was setting me up to hate Madagascar. I just assumed that if there was so much filth and misery in the capital, it must be like this everywhere. Once we started cycling south out of Tana, things immediately became idyllic after only about 10 km or so.
The RN7 road winds its way through gently rolling hills where rice is cultivated. Everything is in green and ochre shades. There’s no pollution, very few other vehicles on the road and always reliable asphalt. People here must be poor (there was no electricity in some of the villages we passed through), but they nevertheless keep their environment clean and litter-free unlike the Tana shantytowns. Children inevitably shout
Bonjour vazaha!, but of the many dozens delighted by seeing two foreigners pedaling down the road today, only two asked for something, one money and the other candy.
We left Tana at 0630, what we thought was an early start. However, that required that we continue cycling through the heat of the day to reach Ambatolampy, the closest large town where we could surely find a hotel. We arrived quite tired and sunburnt, and we wish we had left at 0500 instead. Cycling in Madagascar requires an early start, even in the highlands! An elevation of 1400 m means nothing in the tropics.
Once we got to Ambatolampy, we ate what you always get if you ask for the menu item akoho (chicken): a huge plate of rice, two boiled pieces of some old hen still in the broth, which can be spooned over the rice, salt and a Malagasy hot sauce I still haven’t dared to try.
We then spent a while cycling around trying to find Manja Ranch, an American-owned establishment recommended by our Bradt travel guide that offers rooms and separate bungalows. All the signs pointing the way to it were very faded, and when we finally arrived, we found the place in a ramshackle state. The caretaker announced that the owner had gone back to the US for some undetermined period, there was no running water, and electricity would be available only in the common area and not in our room (and the power went out across the whole town in the early evening anyway). So, we looked forward to an evening of showering from a bucket and sitting in the dark, which cost us 15,000 ariary, but it is better than being out under the torrential rain that falls each evening and lasts deep into the night.