Maroantsetra gave us hard cover and a good nights rest to charge our batteries and sort out any blisters/sores. With a few local shops around we were able to buy some non descript sugary drinks and a few snacks giving us the sugar that our bodies craved. We met with Paulin and another chap that would come with us called Dodi. We awoke early to walk the coast down to Rantabe and on to a place called Morafrno, from looking at the map it should have been as simple as tarmac road all the way until our destination Rantabe where we would cut inland. Hours later we found ourselves trudging though ankle deep sand in the midday sun. Although we were surrounded by some of the most beautiful coastline you could imagine, the only thing that will stick in my memory was the energy sapping sand and burning heat of the African sun. We pressed on and eventually made it to a river junction where local people were waiting for a raft to take them across to a settlement.
“Rantatbe?” Ant asked one of the locals as he panted for more oxygen.
“Oui” he replied.
The nice coastal yomp had turned into a desert nightmare! We still needed to push on another 10km to meet our target for the day and arrive in Morafrno. After another two hours of steady incline from sea level, we heard a loud town in the distance. We arrived to see crowded shanty style buildings, everyone staring as we passed, it was starting to get dark and was somewhat intimating. We needed to find a safe place to rest. After asking for some accommodation we were lead to this little wooden shack deep within the shantytown. The smell of raw sewerage was in the air as was the sound of rats scurrying around. This African town didn’t prove to be the best place for a relaxing nights sleep and drunken locals banged on the door and windows. We decided an early start was a good idea in order to get out of this place ASAP. Just before the sun came up we were gone hopefully never to return.
We continued on the old track that would take us all the way to Mandritsara, more or less every step was up hill as we made our way up to the Plateau de Makira. The track also became tougher under foot. It got progressively wetter and muddier until we found ourselves knee and waste deep in mud. The remainder of the day was a constant battle against the oncoming zebu (buffalo) herds and the mudslide bogs that made every step hard work. Cracking on best we could we eventually called it a day at Ambidimanga. Following our normal routine of a river wash and a bowl of rice we found the normal wooden shack to sleep in. Being particularly tired and higher up in the mountains, we thought the chance of getting hammered by mosquitoes as we slept was minimal. We decided not to put the tent up inside (as we had been previously doing) – a huge mistake as the whole place was infested with fleas. We both tossed and turned and scratched all night long. In the morning we were, I am sure, the most grumpy white men in all of Madagascar. We both agreed to avoid sleeping in settlements where possible and camp out near one of the rivers. We left early knowing that this could be a big day, my feet by this point were in a world of pain just walking down the river for a wash, I questioned in my head how they would fare. After around four hours we hit a steep incline and the ground changed in an Instant from jungle to desolate and dry landscape, a bit like Dartmoor (minus the rain). We took a rest in some shade under a tree and Paulin said we have to be very careful of the bandits and that he was scared. It was coming up to mid-day and was once again incredibly hot, to top it off my hands tingled with sun burn at day and night at this point. Dodi pointed over to the distance were we could see a shimmering reflection of a tin roof. ‘Mandritsara, Mandritsara’ he said. It didn’t look to far away, maybe 10 or 15km. We continued the incline until the ground below us fell away and opened into a bright red Grand Canyon-like land scape. Ant turned to me and said ‘Bloody hell, that was a lot of dead ground’. What looked 15km now seemed more like 30. Moral dropped through the floor with the prospect of another 5/6 hours of yomping but we both had set out sights on Mandritsara tonight so we continued on. After a incredibly steep decline we stopped at the first settlement we came to. It reminded us both of the villages in Afghanistan, extreme poverty, mud built houses with no electricity or running water. We had a rest and ate some rice, most of the settlements children running scared from the two strange white men setting out on our final death yomp in to Mandritsara. It was exactly that – I can’t recall too much of this leg of our trip, just my body screaming at me to rest and the dodging of the odd heard of zebu coming toward us. At around 2030 we made to Mandritsara and hoped to find a place to rest. We had arranged to stay with a local charity called ‘Friends of Mandritsara’; a British and Malagasy hospital and charity who run a hospital in the town. Our salvation came in the form of Matt Linley. A tall Brit who took us into his home for a steaming hot bowl of curry and a good old cup of English tea. Another leg of the expedition complete!
The heat from the sun on this leg has been incredibly tough, lack of water and food is taking its toll and huge blisters engulf my feet, both of us are covered in mosquito and flea bits and horrible open sores. What some of our service men and women go though for our country would make this expedition look like a 5 star all inclusive. Get over to the just giving page and support our two incredible charities.