May 20, 2008


The object of our trip was to explore the limestone plateau of Kelifely. There were reports of caves having been found but there were no detailed descriptions. So it was a recce in all senses of the word.

As stated in the earlier album, Antananarivo to Kandreho we were unable to cross the river between Kandreho and Kelifely, so had to leave our car there and start the long walk. This turned out to be the worst 24 hours of my life, and I think Roger will agree.
the river we couldn't drive across
We had been told it was 4 km to the village. So we packed our gear, putting all our stuff in 2 rucksacks for the guides to carry. We took all our caving equipment plus our mosquito nets as we intended to sleep in the village across the river. We had no food, and only had 4 water bottles.

We took off our shoes and walked across the river, which took about 15 minutes. We had one guide who carried one rucksack, the other one the 2 guys took turns to carry. We set off for the village. It was hot and sunny with little shade. This is African HOT and African sunny, i.e. intense. Soon we were walking through sand which became very tiring and very difficult. We crossed another river and came to a village, maybe Anjiabe. It had taken 75 minutes from the big river.

We went to the headman's house which was a mud hut. The hut was divided into 2 rooms. His bed was a pile of sacks. A discussion ensued and it was decided to walk to Kelifely which was about 6 hours away, and then sleep there. I was worried as we had little water and no food. The 2 guys didn't think it a problem and thought I was whinging. I asked if we could buy food and the guide got us some rice and a cooking pot.

We were encouraged to see 2 huge lumps of calcite crystals by the headman's bed. Calcite comes from limestone terrain, and we were seeking limestone and caves. So this was a good sign. However it turned out we never found out the source of these crystals.

I was surprised the people showed little interest or surprise in our visit, although they had almost certainly never seen white people before in their village. This village had no shop, no road, no electricity.


We set off in the heat of the day at 1pm. A young boy acted as second guide and porter. We were carrying nothing. It was so hot and so dry. There was hardly any shade and the temperature about 40C. We walked fast and I hardly sweated at all. For the first half hour we walked through sand, and part of it was in a wood which was a relief. But then we left the last of the trees.

The heat was really getting to me as I missed the humidity of Asia. I was already suffering from lack of water. We could see the hill range way ahead of us, separated by a sandstone ridge, and it seemed to get no nearer. We had a few rest stops and sips of water. The guides were carrying no water for themselves. I began to feel weak from lack of food and water and efects of the sun. We climbed up a ridge and then along the top and down the other side. Roger said I looked quite bad. We asked the guide if there was a cave, and was there water in the cave, and could we sleep there. He said yes to all 3 questions. This kept us going.

ridge separating us from the plateau

We came to a tiny stream and somehow managed to fill our bottles by kneeling in the sand. It was 4pm and we were past the point of no return. I managed to drink a lot and felt better and began to revive. I was really hungry but this wasn't a problem for the others. Martin was fine the whole time. I began to recover as we moved on, but then Roger began to flag. We had to climb up the sandstone ridge, which was like a series of small canyons, with pink rock. It was really beautiful in the late afternoon sun but I was in no mood to appreciate it. I diverted all my energy to my legs and switched off my brain. I've never had to do this before. The others started to develop blisters but I was OK. Roger began to fade and was having problems with seeing double and triple, and feeling giddy. I plodded on OK, feeling better for the water. We could afford to drink more, as the guide kept saying there was water at the cave. Even the older guide was tired, but he was carrying a heavy load and had no water. I felt sorry for him, as I think he had agreed to be a guide but not a porter.

Martin praying to the water god !
We had to climb down the other side of the sandstone range, go through a wood, and then begin the long slog up the final hill. This was a horrible prospect as the hill was so big, as big as one of the Yorkshire Dales in England. I switched off my brain again and plodded on. We got about 3/4 of the way up the hill and reached our "camp site". Needless to say there was no cave. It was a small area of flat ground by some trees and a tiny pool. There was the remains of a fire so it had been used before. We had reached home.
the plateau remains hidden beyond the ridge
Roger strugged up the hill, likewise the older guide. It had taken us almost 6 hours to get here. We got our mosquito nets up amidst much hilarity. I had to tie mine to the branches of a thorn tree which was painful.

The ground was relatively flat but I had nothing to sleep on, no mat and no sleeping bag. I didn't even have any long trousers as I thought we were sleeping in a village. We had another laugh when Martin showed us his shower gel.

The men cooked a pot of rice and that was our dinner. We couldn't eat much. The guides finished the whole pot. One guide had carried our bread all the way but we didn't touch it as it was too dry.

We retired before 7pm under beautiful stars. Roger was bad, he was burning up and was worried he had a fever. I was sure it was just dehydration. I on the other hand got very chilly but was able to borrow his long sleeve shirt which he had been wearing all day. So there was Roger burning up in his net, and I was a few metres away freezing cold. Martin was actually OK and slept peacefully.

I was so cold around 4am. It got light 5.15 and we got up for a few more spoonfuls of plain rice then set off up the hill at 6.20. It took half an hour of slog to reach the top. WHERE WAS THE LIMESTONE. WHERE WERE THE CAVES?
the summit
It resembled a big moor like South Wales, very windy and quite cool. We walked over and looked down onto a valley and across to the start of Kelifely. The Causse de Kekifely. Finally we had made it. It is a huge range, some 8000, of limestone stretching into infinity, and basically flat. There were a few dry valleys facing us. We'd hit the range at the SW corner, at an altitude of 2250m.

It was a Saturday and I had travelled constantly since Monday to get here. What a trip. We stayed about 30 minutes and then left. It was the start of the long trek home. There was no time to spare as the car was meeting us at 4pm. Martin wanted to go on and look for caves, but Roger and I were too tired. The guide kept telling us of a cave he knew over on the plateau. So much for him saying we could sleep in a cave last night. But I wondered why these guys come here, surely not to graze their cattle.

We agreed that any caving expedition couldn't come in this way, it would have to fly in or come by boat along the river at the base of the plateau. I had already decided not to join any future expedition.

We began the descent. It was chilly on the top but warmed up as we descended and by 9.30 was decidely hot. Somehow I developed a blister on my heel going downhill. Both guides were barefoot and were amused that all 3 of us now had blisters. So much for western shoes.
 barefoot, laden guide
so tired

zebu watching us
Roger had recovered from last night but both he and I were weak from lack of food, though Martin was still OK (and the oldest!). Again I had to switch off my brain to divert all my energy to my legs.

I decided we were mad walking in such heat. It was a great relief to climb the last hill and then reach the flat. Then we had to negotiate the sand and thorns. It was hard. I was weary and getting dry again. We had frequent stops whenever we could find a tree. The sand was tortuous. Somehow we finally reached the village at midday. What a relief.

It was market day in the village and quite a different atmosphere. As soon as we arrived, everyone came over to the headman's house to look at us. It was the first and only time in Madagascar that we attracted any attention. It was so strange. I wondered if it was because we had successfully made the walk to Kelifely, or just because it was market day. The chief's house filled up with spectators and kids were crowded outside the door all trying to peer in. A welcome -
watching us watching them
 Village elders
 lady with gold teeth

Lunch was prepared and we realised the cook was the lady from Kandreho who had prepared our dinner last night. What was she doing in this village. We recognised her by her gold teeth and wondered how anyone could afford gold here, and where had the gold (and the dentist) come from. She was cooking a pot of chicken in the market and it was DELICIOUS. We just ate the chicken with no rice. Our guide who had carried our bread all the way and back again expected us to eat it with the chicken, but it was 3 days old and toasted in the heat. We paid the lady for lunch and wondered if she wouldl put the money towards more gold teeth.

We then had to wait an hour at the chief's house before we could leave. It was uncomfortable sitting on the mud floor when my body was so tired. I was dreading having to put on my shoes again for the walk back. Roger and I were really thirsty and we had several stops, and even the older guide was slow. I kept looking at my watch to see how far we had to go as I knew how long the outward journey had taken. This was a mistake as it was a never ending journey. Finally we reached the river and our car was waiting. Such relief. But we still had to cross the river. And this time it seemed much further and the current felt stronger.

Our driver came over to carry one bag and we paid our porters $20 and they were speechless, as we had only agreed to pay them half this. But we thought they deserved it. We filled up our water bottles using our filter. The sad thing is we couldn't plunge into the water to wash as there is the danger of Bilharzia etc in African rivers. We couldn't actually immerse ourselves. Bilharzia is carried by minute worms which can penetrate the skin and any openings. We did however wash our hair which was still full of dust from the drive 3 days ago, and the 2 guys shaved, taking care not to cut themselves.

Back in Kandreho the driver stopped outside the shop and asked if we wanted a beer. What a stupid question. British cavers never refuse beer. We knew it wasn't a good idea in our dehydrated states but we were beyond care. We ordered 3 bottles (they are large) and Roger couldn't face his after a few mouthfuls. I drank most of mine and Martin finished his. We took Roger's bottle with us and Martin and I finished it later. I didn't feel too bad after the beer, maybe as I had managed to drink a lot of water earlier.

The headman had gone away so the driver asked if we wanted to drive on, but we needed to rest. So he asked around for accommodation and negotiated rooms in someone's house. We were relieved as we didn't want to sleep out. It was so hot in the rooms and the house opens right onto the street so there is no privacy. There was no toilet at the house but I was told I could use the one at the chief's house. I think it was one of the longest walks I have had to use a toilet. Consequently I didn't want to drink too much in case I needed the toilet in the night.

Dinner finally arrived, Malagassy style chicken with tomatoes and rice, with rice water to drink. Roger couldn't face eating and promptly passed out at the table with his head in the chicken. We pulled the dish of chicken away as we couldn't waste it, and the men managed to carry him to bed. He was dehydrated again and burning up. The driver fanned him. I think the locals thought he was drunk from the beer, but I tried to explain it was the sun and heat. We went back to finish our dinner and even ate all the chicken Roger had put his head in, luckily there were no hairs.

We found out the beer and other supplies come to the shop by Land Rover. We had an early night in the hot rooms, but I had my best nights sleep for a few nights. I only woke once when a herd of bullock carts came past at midnight.
bullock carts and raffia

raffia on bullock carts
 Our lodging and our car
No reproduction without permission

© Liz Price