Layover in Antananarivo

Trip Start Mar 26, 2012
Trip End Apr 29, 2012

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Monday, April 9, 2012

I working this morning and then repacked for the day's travel, checking out at 10:30. Leaving my luggage with the doorman, I went to bring the car around, and was on the road by 11:00 which was what was planned. The drive to the south tip of Mauritius takes about 45 minutes, and I needed to stop to put gas in the car.

Some rental agencies, including Budget, from whom I rented this time have taken to renting the car with a less than full fuel tank. The attendant tells you, "just bring it back 3/4 or 7/8 full". Of course that’s very hard to judge at the pump. If you bring it back full or with more in it than when you left, they don’t reimburse you anything. But if you bring it back with less, they hit you with a hefty surcharge, which happened to me since I misjudged at the pump and ended up with 1/8 of a tank less than what I left with (lost between the filling station and the airport). So for the equivalent of gasoline that should have cost about 2-300 Rupees, around 6-10 US dollars, they surcharged me 1100 Rupees or $33. This is not the first time this has happened, and it’s clearly a scam. Dishonesty and deception are not only the realm of corrupt dictators…. I don’t think I’ll use Budget any more if I can help it.

Anyway, we got all that sorted out and I made it quickly through formalities. As I waited in the departure lounge, I saw the Prodigues who were headed back to their home in Reunion. We sat together and talked for several minutes, our last chance to discuss in person things that for the near future we can only discuss through e-mail.

Then it was time to board for Antananarivo, where I would have a night’s layover. My original travel plans to Rwanda were changed by some changes to Jim Franks itinerary, so I had to make some changes that required me to spend a night in Tana. The Air Madagascar flight left pretty close to on time. The aircraft was an ATR prop plane, so the flight took over three hours. Once or twice we had to detour around storm clouds that rose beyond our altitude.

The woman next to me was a young Mauritian professional who works in Southern Madagascar. She told me she has 4 weeks on site and a week to spend home in Mauritius. “It’s a relief to go home” she said “there’s nothing to do down south!”

On landing in Antatnanrivo, I received a five day visa, of which I only need one and picked up my suitcase. I asked at the information desk what a taxi into town should cost: 50000 Ariary, I was told. That sounds like a lot; it’s about 20 dollars. A taxi hustler came up and ask if I needed a taxi. “In a moment” I told him, “I just need to change some money.”

“Par ici” (this way) he motioned me to an area where there were bank counters, but as we got there I could see they were all closed. There were just a few guys standing in a dark corner with wads of bills. I saw on the sign and I had double checked the rate for Euros (better than dollars here) was around 3000 Ariary to 1. They quoted me 14,000! I asked again, 14,000? They said “oui, oui.” It was probably just the usual, reasonably safe, black market, but something didn’t seem right with that much of a difference.

I said no, and the taxi hustler lead me through backroom corridors to the departure area where there was an official counter that was open and I changed enough money to take the taxi. It took half an hour to drive to Antananarivo, the Easter Monday (a big holiday in much of the Catholic world) crowds were only now dissipating at 5:30 in the evening.

I asked the driver Pascal, what people did on the holiday. “They walk around and don’t work” he said. There were indeed hundreds of people lining the roads not apparently doing much of anything except not working. We all appreciate a day off! The crowds started moving more quickly as a rainstorm began. Driving toward the city we passed the giant flooded rice paddies that surround Tana, and are one reason the capital was founded here. The views of the fields and mountains behind are fascinating, and the colorful mud houses covered in plaster are interesting as well.

The little hotel I booked is in the same general neighborhood as the Presidents palace which looks just like a large French prefecture or other official building in France (it dates from the colonial period). In fact large parts of Antananarivo look like they could be in an old French city quarter. It even has many cobblestone streets.

It was nearly dusk as we arrived and I checked in for the night and enjoyed a truly French meal for a fraction of what it would cost in France: Carpaccio of beef, followed by magret de canard (steak of duck breast) in a pepper corn sauce. It was delicious and an excellent value.

Tomorrow I’ve arranged for Pascal to pick me up at 8:00. I’ll have a quick look around town on the way to the airport for my flight which leaves just after noon heading toward Nairobi, connecting to Kigali where I should meet our Church president Jim Franks who will visit the members in Rwanda and then Burundi. They are very much looking forward to his visit.
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Tess Washington on

Mr. Meeker, you have a lot of experiences that are quite out of the ordinary! May you have a pleasant layover experience in Antananarivo, Madagascar! Thank you for giving us a vivid picture of the sights and sounds of all the places you've been in to-date and the people in those places...fascinating but hair-raising at times!

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