The Perfect Day: Cycling Through the Rainforests of Madagascar
Yesterday, while cycling from the lunch spot to our swanky hotel in the mountainous rainforest area of Ranomafana, I was having such an incredible day that I decided the best way to give people an insight to how things are going on the 2017 Magical Madagascar tour in the next blog was to simply describe the day from beginning to end.
So here goes… it started with the hotel breakfast – an assortment of breads and croissants with butter and jam, fresh juice (Madagascar seems to be sorted on the juice front; I haven’t had a juice here yet that scores less than 9/10!), an omelette, and as much coffee as you can possibly drink (though I wouldn’t advise drinking more than two cups if you’re about to cycle 112km through quite built up and populated areas where a private toilet stop on the side of the road might prove difficult).
From there, the riders cycled out of the hotel one by one until by around 7am everyone was gone. The crew hung back a little before leaving the hotel in the lunch bus, because we wanted to pass the cyclists as they were halfway up the morning’s big uphill climb so we could stop to fill up their water bottles and offer a little moral support through the window.
Everyone was in good spirits as we passed them, and eventually we went ahead to continue towards the TDA lunch spot for the day, which would be at the 65km mark. We briefly stopped in the town of Fianarantsoa to tie some orange flagging tape around a few light poles and fence posts to indicate which way the cyclists should turn… and I may or may not have scoffed down a few samosas at a little roadside vendor while we were there.
We set up lunch in front of what looked like a very old, abandoned church, and once lunch was prepared I took a stroll back down the hill towards town to snap some photos of the riders as they came through.
On the Tour d’Afrique, I noticed very quickly that a white guy with tattoos walking down the side of the road taking photos of anything and everything in small, remote African villages is always going to attract attention, and Madagascar has proven to be no different. However, in Madagascar the locals seem to be a lot quicker to engage and interact.
I’m used to the stares, the kids screaming out at you and the general frowns on everyone’s faces as they wonder who you are and why you’re here, but I’m not used to having the strangeness of me standing here being so readily accepted by the locals.
As I walked through town, mothers would rush into their houses and re-emerge with toddlers, pointing at me and encouraging them to wave and say hi. People crossed the road to shake my hand, while others called out, “Welcome to Madagascar!” Not once have I come across anything but warm hospitality and genuine friendliness in this country so far.
Anyway, moving on: I got some great shots of the cyclists coming through town, and then I headed back up to the lunch spot to get ready for the afternoon ride. As I cycled away from lunch, my legs were stiff and I felt sluggish – I wasn’t really in the mood to ride, to be honest.
There were a few rolling hills at the start and I dragged myself up them, until all of a sudden things seemed to get easier. At around the 80km mark we reached the beginning of a steep climb into the rainforest, which sits high in the mountains, and I must have found the right gear or been listening to the ideal music or something because I was quite happily rolling up the hills, waving to the locals and dodging the herds of zebu that took up the entire road at some points, their giant horns swaying side-to-side as they trudged along.
Of course, what goes up must come down, and the steep climb was followed by an incredible descent through the rainforest on a scenic, winding road hugging the mountainside – I honestly think there was a 7-10km stretch where I didn’t need to pedal once.
There were a group of riders hanging at the back this afternoon so we all stopped at a Coke stop together, and then continued on for only another two minutes or so before we came around a bend to the sight of a beautiful river flowing down the mountain alongside the road, and this particular section of the river had rapids and waterfalls.
It was completely unexpected – I hadn’t even heard the sound of rushing water until I could see the rapids. After a few minutes by the side of the road enjoying the view, we all jumped back on our bikes and cycled the last two or three kilometres downhill to our hotel on the outskirts of Ranomafana National Park, where we would stay for the next three nights.
From the bar/restaurant area of the hotel, you can sit on the balcony and look out over the rolling hills and listen to the noises of all kinds of unique wildlife emerging from the rainforest around you.
It was a spectacular day, rounded off perfectly with a nice meal at a restaurant down the road in town followed by (thank god!) a rather massive sleep in the next day.
Riders have night walks through the national park and hikes to see all the various species of lemurs in the area booked for the next couple of days… in short, everyone seems to be enjoying themselves in Ranomafana after a few tough riding days, and we’re all looking forward to more adventures to come as we cycle into the centre of Madagascar and head west.