21 thoughts on “Madagascar Updates: Chapters 1-6

  1. Chris Inman says:

    On page 102 of the guide in the car-hire section there is still (though somewhat shortened from previous editions) the “advice” from reader Paul Kolodziejski that “stopping at police check points seems to be optional.” I really hope that this will disappear from the next edition.

    From my own experience of self-driving many thousands of kilometres in Madagascar, I can assure readers that stopping is not “optional”, and Paul’s “advice” is very bad. What is true is that at the vast majority of checkpoints, the police or the gendarmerie (each have their own checkpoints) are simply not interested in stopping vehicles driven by foreigners. They know that normally their papers are in order, the vehicle is more or less roadworthy and there are no obvious handles for extorting a bribe. They therefore either ignore the vehicle or wave to the driver to continue (in which case waving back is a normal gesture of courtesy – I recommend it). If Paul stopped at a checkpoint where he wasn’t required to do so, I’m not surprised that it was a “waste of time”. As all Malagasy drivers are happy if they don’t have to stop, I can imagine the cops would be quite puzzled as to what to do with a driver who stopped “voluntarily”.

    On the other hand, if the people at the checkpoint do want you to stop, the gesture is quite unmistakeable and you ignore it at your peril. Some of the checkpoints are equipped with stingers to destroy your tyres, all of them are in contact with the next checkpoint down the road, many of them have fast motor bikes, and whether or not they actually have ammunition in their machine pistols is something I really wouldn’t like to put to the test. The conversation when they then do stop you would be a very interesting one!

  2. Helen Jackson says:

    Air Madagascar – I’d worry more about Air Madagascar’s scheduling than its safety record: we were told it was known locally as Air Maybe due to its track record: maybe it will take off on time, maybe it won’t.
    The security demonstration, in three languages (Malagasy, French and English) is laborious. Complimentary soft drinks and nuts are offered. Leg room isn’t great, but the flights are short.
    Flight 1 – Antananarivo to Morondava – delayed by 30 minutes.
    Flight 2 – Toliara to Antananarivo – on time but we waited 20 minutes for luggage.
    Flight 3 – Antananarivo to Antisiranana – after two relatively painless journeys, our luck ran out. All appeared to be going well until an announcement said the flight to Tamatave was cancelled but there would be another flight in the afternoon. Phew, not our flight! A few minutes later, we were told our flight would be delayed by 3 hours, but vouchers for a drink and sandwich were made available in the next-door international terminal. Here we chatted to passengers on the Tamatave flight and found their original flight time was 7.15am with a revised time of 3pm. Suddenly, three hours didn’t seem too bad.
    Flight 4 – Nosy Be to Antananarivo – once again, we landed on time.
    The allowance is 20kg for hold luggage and although we’d been told it was 6kg for hand luggage, signs and scales told us it was now 5kg.
    Due to our varied experience I’d never trust Air Madagascar if I had a connecting flight or an important appointment on arrival.

  3. Helen Jackson says:

    Prior to our trip to Madagascar, I was checking out Rainbow Tours website on Responsible Travel, and discovered that they would welcome donations of embroidery threads. As I had a huge amount of threads and other items, a visit to Centre Fihavanana (page 177) was arranged whilst passing through Antananarivo.
    On arrival we were led up steps, passing an empty school room, and were met by Sister Annamma. As she didn’t speak English, and our French is poor, our guide translated.
    As I unpacked the bag of threads, books, cards and material, the Sister seemed very impressed and as we were surrounded by cross stitch cards for sale and a huge cross stitch sampler hung on the wall, I knew it was going to the right place.
    In the next room we were shown table cloths which the older women embroider with local scenes of lemurs and baobab and heard how exports abroad are down, as they cannot compete with cheap machine-made Chinese products.
    I left feeling pleased that my gifts would be well used and would urge others to visit, donate or simply buy.

    • Chris Inman says:

      Air Madagascar has now transferred all domestic flights to its subsidiary Tsaradia.

      This has advantages and disadvantages for travellers.

      Firstly, on the downside, Tsaradia is discontinuing the practice of offering discounts to Air Madagascar’s long-haul passengers. Very much on the upside: the online fares on Tsaradia’s website are (currently at least) if you book well in advance, at the level at which the discounted tickets were offered, and not at the exorbitant rates previously charged on the Air Mad website. This also means, at least at present, that passengers flying into Tana on another airline can now get domestic flights at a reasonable rate.

      Secondly, on the downside, the baggage allowances on Tsaradia’s flights are fixed and the previous practice of granting Air Mad’s long-haul passengers the long-haul allowance on domestic flights no longer applies. Possibly on the upside, I have received reports of domestic passengers nevertheless demanding and receiving the long-haul baggage allowance at Ivato. I will be trying this out for myself in February.

      Thirdly, also a downside, (either deliberately or due to bad programming – who knows!) the Tsaradia website cannot display every journey where a change of aircraft or flight number is necessary. That means that unless you happen to know that there is a connecting flight from an intermediate point, and where that intermediate point is, the site will tell you that there is no flight. Also, in these cases they have gone back to the bad old practice of charging each leg of a flight with a change of aircraft separately, which leads to a good hike in the overall price.

      An example of this is Maroantsetra, the jumping off point for Masoala National Park. There are flights into Maroantsetra from Sambava and Tamatave, if you happen to know this, and you can of course connect to these destinations from Tana. But if you search for a flight from Tana to Maroantsetra on the respective days, the site tells you no flight.

      All this is due to the effective takeover of Air Mad by Air Austral. Air Mad’s lease on its two Air France Airbuses runs out at the end of June and Air France is apparently fed up with Air Mad. Air Austral has demanded the hiving off of Air Mad’s domestic flights. The merger, if that is what it is, is taking shape – my Air Mad frequent flyer programme has now been transferred to Air Austral’s.

  4. As of yesterday, 15 November 2018, the option to obtain a 90-day-duration visa on arrival has been suspended. Now it has been confirmed that only 30-day (€35) and 60-day (€40) tourist visas are obtainable on arrival at Ivato Airport in Madagascar.
    Border police at the airport are vague about the reasons, saying only that it is a “government decision”. The fact that this change has happened without warning, and without any official announcement from the tourism ministry or tourist office, is leading some to suspect that the reasons for the suspension may have some shady connection to the currently ongoing presidential elections, in which case we may expect the 90-day visa to be reinstated in due course. For now, there is no official word on the reason for or duration of the suspension.

  5. When buying fossil ammonites and nautilus as souvenirs, you must ensure to get a receipt from the seller. Be aware that, before leaving the country, it is necessary to take the receipt to the Ministry of Mines desk in Ivato airport to receive an export authorisation. The desk is usually unmanned, but the telephone number of the officer on duty should be displayed at the desk so that they can be summoned. There is no cost for the authorisation document. Attempting to pass through the customs checks, where all baggage is scanned, without an authorisation paper is likely to result in the fossils being confiscated or a bribe being demanded. Note that there is a limit of three ammonite or nautilus fossils per person, although there is some flexibility in this and more pieces may be permitted if they are not too large. Quantities deemed to be commercial are not permitted.

  6. The octopus tree family, Didiereaceae, formerly comprised 11 species that are all endemic to Madagascar. However, following some recent taxonomic revisions, the family now also includes nine further species from the African mainland.

  7. Moramora West Adventure (mob 032 70 676 92; email mg.mwa@yahoo.com) is a local tour operator specialising in western Madagascar but able to organise tours across the island. They organise tailor-made ecotours with ‘Malagasy authenticity’, focusing noit only on nature but also history and culture. Run by Faratiana and Bruno Rasoanaivo, former owners of Tsingy Hotel in Bemaraha.

  8. Ethiopian Airlines (www.ethiopianairlines.com) is to add a thrice-weekly service to Nosy Be starting next month. The destination is their second in Madagascar after they opened a route from their Addis Ababa hub to Antananarivo last year. They will fly on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings from Addis Ababa via Comoros to Nosy Be, then return direct to Addis Ababa on those afternoons.

  9. Far and Wild is an Africa-specialist tour operator offering quality tailor-made tours for individuals and for small groups. When it comes to Madagascar, their expertise is unrivalled in the UK. Programme manager Derek Schuurman has worked with tourism to the island since 1992 and has long been a co-author/contributor to both Bradt’s “Madagascar Wildlife” book and the Bradt Travel Guide to Madagascar.
    They say “contact us for your Madagascar experience: we’ll take you to the island’s most spectacular places and help you to see its most unusual wildlife”. Tel: +44 (0)1768 603 715; email hello@farandwild.travel; web http://www.farandwild.travel .

  10. Donal Conlon says:

    A much more important development for visitors to Madagascar is the newly announced possibilty of obtaining a visa on Internet

    • Hi Donal, what have you heard about this recently? In 2014 the Madagascar ministry of tourism told me that e-visas bought in advance online would be obligatory by 2017. But when I enquired three years later, no advancement had been made with the proposal…

      • Donal Conlon says:

        I believe it is going to happen this time. Details are emerging. Supposedly for 1st April but I must go back and check my sources. It is true that in a dysfunctional state nothing is ever sure. This is supposed to cut down on corruption in the immigration sector. Will check and update.
        I have checked out the visa-on-line for France, in any case. It is operational in a sense but costs: if you do it via internet, €90 for one month (about double what you pay at airport and it seems quite ponderous).

      • Good to know, thanks! I understand from local tour operators that they have been advised that the “e-Visa fees for 2018” are €35/40/50 (30/60/90 days), which suggests the plan is indeed to launch them this year, but this is the first I’ve been made aware of such a specific date. I’ll try to find out more. Let me know if you hear something more concrete.

      • Chris Inman says:

        The e-visa website now exists at http://www.evisamada.gov.mg/# in French English and Italian and the online section is headed “available end 2018”. However at the present date (25.01.2019) the link to the application form has not been activated, so the airport and embassy options are still all we have.
        Still, it does look as though they’re serious about the e-visa, and they will eventually get around to it.

  11. From April 2018, Air Seychelles plans to scale down its operation by a third to concentrate on its domestic network, and will no longer fly to Madagascar or Paris. British Airways is expected to start operating from UK to Seychelles in March.

  12. Should we be eating foie gras?
    Foie gras is a popular French delicacy produced by force-feeding ducks (or sometimes geese) until their livers swell between six and ten times their natural size. The result – which tastes far more lusciously buttery than regular liver – may be dished up whole, but given its expense and rich flavour is usually encountered as a pâté, mousse or parfait served as an accompaniment to a dish such as steak.
    Madagascar has produced foie gras since colonial times, but the country has seen an explosion in production levels over the last decade, and with that have risen the number of concerns being expressed over the ethics of consuming it. Some 25,000 tonnes are produced globally each year, around 75% of that in France, with Hungary and Bulgaria responsible for most of the rest. Madagascar’s output is currently some 60 tonnes per annum, most of which is exported.
    But so controversial is foie gras that its production is illegal in 22 EU states as well as several other countries including Australia, Turkey, India, Israel, and Argentina. The sale of imported foie gras is not outlawed in the UK, but it is not easy to find as the product is boycotted by all UK supermarket chains following animal welfare campaigns and customer complaints.
    The state of California enacted a law in 2004 forbidding both the making and selling of foie gras, but included a provision for an eight-year grace period before the implementation of the ban to allow for a humane method of production to be developed. No such viable technique was found and consequently the law took force in 2012.
    Animal welfare organisations have described as cruel and torturous the process to induce disease and thus swelling in the liver. They say that the force-feeding tubes – essentially metal funnels through which up to 1kg of corn and fat is pumped daily into each duck – which are necessary to overcome the birds’ natural gag reflex, often cause injury to the oesophagus. The animals become overweight often to the point that their legs can no longer support them. They need to be slaughtered within two weeks of the start of fattening process, as mortality from infection, stress and injury skyrockets after that period (one in 25 birds does not even survive those two weeks).
    In southwest Spain, a variety is now being produced that is claimed to be more humane as it does not involve force feeding. However, the product does not meet the French legal definition of foie gras, and at €1,050/kg is nearly ten times the price.
    In Madagascar, there are currently no laws restricting the manufacture, export, sale or consumption of this delicacy, and consequently it is widely available in restaurants in Tana and beyond. Delicious though it undoubtedly is, it is good to be aware of where foie gras comes from before making your choice from the menu.

  13. A fairly new route to Madagascar – and currently often the cheapest from the UK and some other European countries – is with Ethiopian Airlines (www.ethiopianairlines.com) via Addia Ababa. They currently fly to Antananarivo by Boeing 737 three times per week.

  14. Madagascar’s Embassy in London is to be reopened. Following two years of rumours, the decision has just been made official by the Malagasy government. It is no coincidence that the reopening of the embassy coincides with the 200th anniversary of the Treaty of Friendship signed between Britain and King Radama I, and it is expected that president Hery Rajaonarimampianina will be in the UK to mark the occasion and attend the reopening in early September 2017.
    The reopening comes five years on from the reestablishment of the UK’s embassy in Antananarivo, where Ambassador Tim Smart’s term comes to an end this November and Dr Phil Boyle, former British Ambassador to Mali, will take his place.

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