Antananarivo, also known as Tana, is the capital of Madagascar. A destination I would normally fleetingly glance over on an airport departures board while thinking: “I don’t think I will ever fly there”. Then, after locating my flight number I will proceed to the check-in counter for a flight to London, Frankfurt, Livingstone or even Sao Paulo.
The morning of Saturday, 8 March 2008 was different however. I arrived at O.R Tambo International early in the morning and proceeded to the check-in counter for Air Madagascar where I checked-in for flight MD123, leaving at 10:20am, direct to Antananarivo.
After take-off our plane had cruised over the clear blue waters of the Indian Ocean for almost two hours before the coast of Madagascar came into view on the horizon. Without a cloud in the sky the view of Madagascar from the air was staggering. Crystal clear rivers were gracefully winding past never-ending green hills while small rural villages and the occasional lone farmhouse were dotted across the landscape. I felt my anticipation built as we started our descent into Tana Airport and I looked forward to see what this intriguing country had to offer.
If you are a foreigner, passport control in Madagascar is no simple affair. It is lengthy, tedious and can test the patience of anyone. My entry visa cost me US$83 and an hour in a slow moving queue in front of the only available visa counter. An hour and a half after landing I presented myself to the immigration official and received a stamp in my passport. I was finally able to collect my bag which was standing alone in the corner of the deserted arrivals lounge. I was very relieved to find that my driver had been patiently waiting for me in the arrivals lounge all this time.
The sun was already beginning to set when we left the small airport parking lot and started our drive towards the city. The narrow, dusty city streets were lined with tiny shops and kiosks of which some only consisted of a small wooden table and a few flickering candles for light. There were countless people wandering the streets, some on their way home and others getting ready for a night out on the town.
I noticed a distinct contract in this city. On the same street there were groups of stylish young friends, talking, laughing and flaunting the latest mobile phones and designer labels while only a few blocks away a frayed old man with a small torch rummaged hopefully through a rubbish skip for anything of value.
My taxi continued to wind through the narrow streets until we finally stopped in front of my hotel near the outskirts of Tana. Twenty minutes of hand gestures and broken English later I was fairly comfortable that my driver understood he needed to be back the following morning at 7am.
The Sunny Hotel was quant and comfortable with very friendly and helpful staff. Unfortunately the hotel’s restaurant had already closed when I arrived but there were lovely fresh fruit available in my room. After a comfortably night’s sleep I woke up early to find my driver waiting for me outside the hotel just before 7am. He drove me to the airport where I was getting a flight to the coastal town of Fort Dauphin in the south of Madagascar. I have only caught a glimpse of Tana but already liked Madagascar and was looking forward to see what my next destination has to offer.