We leave the beach at Ifaty behind and continue our journey around the island of Madagascar. We are heading to Morondava further up the west coast of the island. So you would assume it would be a straight forward drive along a stunning costal road where you can take in the view of the ocean as you drive the 700 kilometers. There is just one problem with this plan. The road along the ocean is pretty close to impassable due to deep sand – so the main route would mean you drive back for two days until you reach a city 3 hours south of Tana where we started and then drive for another day to Morondava. But there is a little used alternative.
You can follow a road up north going a bit inland. The road is pretty good for the first hundred kilometers or so – and the asphalt disappears. It may still be a national road but it is unsealed and it isn’t a good dirt road it is a pretty rough road. So the journey becomes slow and the number of cars is limited.
After driving on the bad road for a while we get to a turn off – the bulk of traffic turns left going back out to the coast – but we are turning right and going further inland. After a little further driving we arrive to a small village which is pretty much at the end of the road. We drive off the road and into a sandy beach which goes down to a big river. The river is deep so we have to catch a ferry going across the river. The ferry isn’t like the ferries I have been on before – it is tiny and can only take 3 or 4 cars. Fortunately it is a quiet day and there is only one car in addition to us so we don’t have to wait for a return trip of the ferry to get onboard. We still have to wait for a while since the crew of the ferry has to do some strange maneuvers to turn the ferry so it is actually possible to drive onboard.
The other car in front of us will drive onboard the ferry first. It has to drive into the river a little bit before it gets to the ramp leading up to the ferry. And the river bank is really muddy. So when the car reach the ramp it get the front tires up on the ramp but the rear tires are still in the mud – and the car gets stuck – it tries one more time – still no success. So a group of men has to help push the car up to the ferry. Then it is our turn to go onboard – and we almost make it but the tires skit and we get stuck so the men has to push us onboard the ferry as well. Onboard the ferry we are ready to go across the river – the journey isn’t long and we reach the other shore – the drive looks a bit dodgy and we are nervous about getting stuck at the river bank. But we make it to land.
After the river bank we have to go down a sandy track. It turns out our idiot driver really has limited experience in driving in sand it is apparently the first time he is driving this route. So after a minute drive he manages to get us hopelessly stuck in the sand – he has buried the car down to the axel. We try to push but it isn’t helping. After a little wait help arrives – a zebu cart comes by and they try to pull us out of the sand. When the zebus put their strength into the pulling the rope breaks so we are still stuck. The zebu cart drivers start finding another rope to tie to the car and pull us out of the sand. Another man arrives and he gets down in the sand and start digging. He manages to get lot sand away from the tires and maybe we will be able to get out of the sand. We try starting again this time around with four men pushing the car – and in the second try we have finally got enough sand out of the way so the car can make it out of the sand. We decide to tip the two drivers and the third man 5.000 Ariary each which is about 1¼€ which they seem to be happy with.
Then we are ready to go – it is still about 4-5 hours driving along pretty bumpy roads so we are in a bit of a hurry to get to the main town of the region. We have some candy to pass out to the kids along the road – which isn’t really working too well for us since giving a couple of pieces of candy somehow produce a pack off kids fighting for more candy. So the candy gift disappears surprisingly quickly.
We manage to arrive at the main town along our route a little before dark. It is fortunate to get here before dark since you really don’t want to be driving on these roads at night where you can’t see the rocks and potholes you might get into. The day’s journey has taken 10 hours of driving and ferry crossing – and we have made the whopping distance of 350 kilometers. So we have made half of the 700 kilometer trip through the wilderness.
We get to the best hotel in town – which basically qualifies to this title just by being here since there are no other hotels in town. So everybody stays here – and it is pretty clear there isn’t a lot of western travelers here – we are the only ones not from Madagascar. We have a choice of a room in the hotel or a bungalow. The room supposedly has a fan included and hot water so we spring for the room. It turns out the water is terrible and the power goes off during the night so we really don’t get much for the extra money we are paying. Though we might have the most expensive room at the hotel but the total bill for the room, dinner and breakfast for two is only 100,000 Ariary or around 25€ so it isn’t really breaking our budget.