So I am here finally all landed at the Ivato International airport (IATA: TNR, ICAO: FMMI) at Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar and the heart of the Malagasy language and their people. The welcome included my first interaction with African Corruption right at the airport where a USD 20 bribe was demanded for the visa official’s stamp on my passport. Being Indian and with a desire for adventure, a bribe is not much of a price to pay!
After my smooth exit from customs I breathed in the air of the city for the first time. I found myself a taxi driver Londry and with who I immediately forged a friendship “I take you everywhere sir , show you the city , the palace the wildlife even massage and woman. “
His English wasn’t half bad for a local taxi driver or so I thought, but then I may have been prejudicial!! He mentioned he had been in this business for fifteen years now. After changing my money into the local currency Ariary with an exchange rate of 3125 of them to the USD or about 46 to the Indian rupee. Feeling richer than I did at Mauritius I hopped into the taxi with my luggage in tow.
As we drove past busy street and tiny cobbled alleys I began to get a feel for the place. Its two major cellphone networks are Airtel (our own in their African expansion) and Orange and yes my hotel and most places have wi fi here.
That solved a lot of my problems as access to the internet now seems like very important! It is not a rich country with shacks and roadside vendors with rag pickers and beggars in plain sight – something I definitely did not see at all in Mauritius.
But the distinctive French architecture is evident in the government buildings, cathedrals and the villas.
The City of Antananarivo is at a hight and is surrounded by mountains with a natural lake in the middle.
It was winter here and cool and people were walking with their winter wear on. I was booked into my Hotel de L’AVENUE at the heart of Tana City.
I took some time as I usually do to acclimatize myself and get into the groove and started the next morning with breakfast in bed of eggs and sausages and toast. It was time to see the city and I started out.
I ventured out in the street taking them in with my camera and photos, sharing my cigarettes with the locals as I meandered into a local lunch outlet for meal of spaghetti and vegetable samosa which is a street delicacy here.
Then my dear new found friend Londry arrived and I treated him to a large peg of Bowmore Single Malt Whiskey that I had carried in from the duty free.
We started off shortly driving up towards the Queen’s palace on the top of the hill.
Here i meet Cezar my tour guide around the palaces and Cathedrals of the city . He was a thin short Malagasy man with a beard and reminded me of Haile Selassie.
He jumped up and said “ you see the symbol of the Eagle at the top of it’s gates , that was gifted to the Queen of Madagascar by Napoleon and those are the Royal Tombs”.
We climbed up to the garden and the balcony of the Palace where I took a panoramic view of the city with my phone.
After some indulgent photography, I ventured towards the many Cathedrals of the city.
Cezar was constantly yapping in my year, as he pointed toward a pillar made of stone in the shape of a circumsized penis.
“This is where the circumcision festival takes place and all infants are ritually circumcised.” he said with a grin on his face. Their was a cool breeze blowing as we walked towards the local football ground with kids playing the game with passion.
” At first we were a Polygamous society but now people have no money so only one wife for one man , what they say no money no honey .”
Cezar kept talking about the history of Antananarivo and I did my best to get pictures to match the tales.
At the end I rewarded him with 5000 Ariary and thanked him for his enthusiastic service.
I ventured out into town after that and it does have a whole European feel to it, reminiscent perhaps of it’s colonial past. At places and reminded me of a hill station rather then a capital city.
With the promise of Malagasy food for lunch the next day I bid adieu to Londry and headed back into my hotel room.