This was my second caving trip to Madagascar, this time in 1999. Following our recce trip to Kelifely in 1998, Kelifely and Antananarivo to Kandreho we planned to return to the Kelifely area as this seemed a good place to look for caves as it had never really been explored before. Our original plan was to fly up on to the plateau, and our supplies could also be dropped off this way, thereby avoiding that awful walk we did last year. But as it turned out, it was impossible to fly as no one was willing to land there, despite having previously said yes when we were in the office.
So the next idea was to boat down the river from Kandreho. Then there was a major cholera outbreak in Madagascar. But we were forced to change plans for another reason - bandits were causing problems in the Kelifely area and it would be unsafe for us to go. So with just 5 weeks to go before the expedition, we had to completely change our area.
We decided we’d go to the Tsiribihina Gorge to the south of Bemaraha, in the west of the country. Maps from Kew Garden showed limestone there and that was what we wanted.
The expedition members met up in Madagascar's capital Antananarivo. We had to buy carbide for our caving lights and got some in a repair garage.
After leaving Tana we drove through the fertile Antsirabe valley which is a major crop growing area – carrots, potatoes, cassava. We stopped at a village to take photos -
Because of the cholera outbreak, we had to stop at the military roadblock for the cholera checkpoint. All southbound travellers had to take 3 x 100mg doxycycline (tetracycline). This is compulsory. There is even a belt with nails in the road to ensure all vehicles stopped.
After half an hour we all felt queasy and had to stop the van to recover. We stopped at a good place as locals were making and selling wooden models of lorries and trucks such as Coca-Cola. The whole family takes part. They apply the paint with wooden sticks.
|making the toys|
Herds of zebu, the Malagassy cattle, went past. We stayed there for quite a while until we all felt OK. As soon as we started driving we went through a big swarm of locusts.
|chickens for sale|
|dinner with THB|
|the main shop in town|
|buying our chickens|
buying rum for the ancestors
|filming the locals and letting them see the screen|
We reached Masiakapy and set up camp on the banks of the river Mahajilo, a tributary of the Tsiribihina. It was dry season so no fear of flash floods.
|lemurs check us out|
|a wild brown lemur|
|campsite the river Mahajilo|
|crossing the river on pirogues|
|loading the boat|
|breaking camp next morning, always being watched|
|on the Tsiribihina River|
Saw our first limestone soon after in the hills ahead [only it turned out not to be limestone after all]. The Tsiribihina Gorge was quite beautiful and we saw our first crocodile sunning on a rock. We also saw some lemurs and some big birds. We stopped to walk up to a cascade which was like tufa in places.
We were excited to do the first cave, Bat Cave, but before we could enter, we had to pour some rum on the ground to appease the ancestors.
Then the boat broke down and we drifted downstream a long way in the current before we could get near a bank and stop. The younger boat boy jumped over and tried to act as an anchor. No one could fix the engine. We wanted to set up camp whilst it was light.
|studying the maps and gps|
We decided to walk to a nearby village so set off. The village was miles away and we had to trudge through sand, memories of Kelifely. Roger turned back at some swampy streams. The full moon was up and it was beautiful. There was a fire up on the opposite hill – the Malagasy were burning again. Our guide assured us we could go back by boat, I wasn’t convinced and the walk went on and on. I wasn’t enjoying the trudge. The village shack had some plastic bags from Asda in UK!
The next day our boat was towed back to Masiakapy and we camped on the river bank again. The lemur came to say hello.
|back to Masiakapy|
|view of the river, we had climbed the hill to look for a cave|
|beautiful pool inhabited by crocs|
|is this a cave?|
|there are crocs here|
|fish for lunch|
|my early morning shadow|
We did some more caving and had a few adventures.
|relaxing on our boat|
|bundles of grass|
|we found some bats|
|our cave guide in the middle|
|nice to be in a cave again|
|cave temperature 24C|
|boys being silly!|
|my new caving team|
|cluster of bats|
|locals looking at the video|
|ducks water bowl made from tortoise carapace|
|our doctor treating the villagers|
|our boatman models a caving helmet|
See more on the ACG site.
© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission