May 20, 2008

MADAGASCAR Tsiribihina Gorge

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.

buying bread
Tana is built between 12 hills

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.
zebu roadblock
Our next stop was Antsirabe , a town full of pousse-pousse or rickshaws. We went to the hot springs but they are being renovated so there was nothing to see. We walked round the market then had lunch of zebu and chips. The market and station area of town was much busier, and we saw the THB brewery, the famous Three Horse Beer.

chickens for sale



pousse pousse
That afternoon we drove on, past many villages, all of which have one or two communal water pumps. Much of the landscape was bare, Malagasy means people who burn and they have burnt the forests which haven't been logged. That night we stayed at Miandrivazo near the large Mahajilo River. Flying fox was one item on the menu but we didn't try it.
dinner with THB
The following morning we went into town to do the shopping for the next 10 days. We had to buy rice, fruit and veg, basic groceries and of course a crate of beer, and rum for the ancestors. We got about 10 days worth of bread, and surprisingly it didn't get too stale. We also bought 3 chickens which were christened Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

the main shop in town

buying our chickens

buying rum for the ancestors

Miandrivazo market
the tea man
The next 28km took 2 hours as the tarmac road was very broken. We stopped at a village for lunch but there was no food, so the guide made sardine sandwiches from our supply whilst Roger filmed the locals.                                                                                           

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
 The following morning we moved onto the boat which would be home for the next few days and set off for the Tsiribihina River.
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.


the gorge

 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.

cavers relaxing

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
  Next day we set off once again with some extra supplies (beer) -
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

small tsingy
dry river
blue pool

tourist boat
 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!

more bats

picnic lunch

my new caving team
cluster of bats
Martin surveying

an entrance


We went to another village

locals looking at the video

ducks water bowl made from tortoise carapace

our doctor treating the villagers

our boatman models a caving helmet
We had lots more adventures but this blog has got rather long, so that's all folks!!!

See more on the ACG site.

© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

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