Having had a fair amount of time stuck in the office, I was excited to learn that a large group of 45 British ladies were coming to Madagascar for a sponsored charity ride with us. We would be travelling to the east of the country, through a national park, and ending up on the beach at Foulpointe.
Before their arrival, a significant amount of preparation had to be done. A week was spent testing and restesting the bikes, doing minor repairs, making sure that the bikes were ready for the next two weeks.
Considering the large number of clients, a monster shop in the market had to be done, which was a great experience and required eight of us just to carry all of our purchases. It was amazing to see that everything we bought was so fresh, and this is evident in the taste.
All spare parts for the bikes were also bought at this market, in a special section dedicated to derailleurs, tyres, sprockets, and anything you would ever need.
It was in this market that I caught an overfriendly local in my pockets, we exchanged awkward eye contact as I realised he was looking for my money, luckily with no success, before he ran away into the maze of the market.
The ladies were doing this challenging cycle in aid of genesis research trust, a charity dedicated to providing more funding for valuable research into anything to do with female fertility, and miscarriages. Each person had a personal reason for the cycle, and it was amazing to see their dedication to the cause. The group was accompanied by a lovely charity rep, who we managed to persuade to get on the bike a few times, and always kept everyone’s spirits high with her bottomless supply of jelly babies and hand gel.
The first group was a special group, as it was accompanied by the Genesis Trust patron and ‘this morning’ celebrity Fern Britton. Sadly this would be Ferne’s 8th and final ride, after many years of successful fundraising for this important charity.
It has to be said that this is an extremely challenging, definitively not flat route, with lots of climbing and descending on a sometimes challenging road. The ladies managed however, and I am extremely proud of their strong, can do, resilient attitude that they showed daily. There were even some cyclists on this tour who had only learnt to ride a bike in the past 8 months; an incredible feat demonstrating their dedication to the training.
The route is very special, taking riders from the undulating rice paddies, through rainforests, and ending up on the tropical eastern coastline at Foulpointe. It is an incredible route because of the diversity of wildlife, scenery, landscape, and people that can be observed from the road. It also includes several sections of offroad riding that are not to be missed, with spectacular views.
One section includes a great river crossing, that I was impressed that all riders wanted and managed to do, even though a few metres away there was the option of a bridge. There were a few unfortunate falls, but most made it across unscathed.
A highlight was the morning hike at Andasibe national park, the home to the famous Indri lemurs. These lemurs are famous for their unique ‘sad’ cry that we were lucky enough to wake up to in our bungalows set in the middle of a rainforest paradise. This cry is so powerful it can be heard over several kilometres, and when heard close by it is almost deafeningly loud. The Indri lemurs are the largest species of lemur, and are often described as the most humanlike because of the way they walk on their two bag legs and the lack of a tail.
There are in fact many local legends about this specific lemur, each of which I find wonderful. One of which goes along something like this:
‘Once upon a time, many many years ago, a father and his son were out deep in the forest, gathering food. In the maze of the rainforest, they somehow got separated, and after several hours of not finding his son, the father climbed high up into the trees, calling for his precious child. Refusing to come down from the trees until he found his son, the father stayed there year after year, calling out with his sad cry, until eventually he turned into what we know now as the Indri lemur. The locals have always refused to hunt this type of lemur, in the hope that one day the two can be reunited.’
Another describes how there were two brothers living in the forest together, until one day, one brother left the forest and went and lived by the coast and became man. The other brother stayed in the forest, and became the Indri lemur, calling out to his brother to come back to him.
This post is incomplete without you being able to actually hear this terribly sad cry so I have attached a link to a video of Fern Britton featuring the Indri. Even through the speakers, you can hear how sad and loud this cry is.
As soon as you approach the coast, the appearance of traveller’s palms becomes more and more common. These huge trees, with their palm leaves spread out in a fan are the national tree of Madagascar. They are so called because of the collection of rainwater that gathers at the base of the leaves; a potential emergency supply for travellers. Many local guides, and even wikipedia will try and tell you that they are called traveller’s palms because the plant grows on an east west line, which from experience seeing hundreds of the plants all pointing different directions, is definitely false.
Diverse trees, filled with fruit start to appear on the journey, hosting bananas, mangoes, soursop or custard apples, coconuts, the monstrous breadfruit, jackfruit, loquats, and so many more. Each mealtime, the table is filled with different varieties of fruit that have never been tasted so fresh, some tastier than others. My particular surprise was the difference in taste of the bananas here to back home. I like to eat the smallest bananas here which are so full of flavour, and so creamy. I am not sure how I will go back home and start eating imported bananas again.
After 4 days of heavy cycling, we arrived in the busy port of Tamatave for the evening sun, and we could taste the finish line as everyone relaxed in the idyllic pool before dinner.
The last day of cycling was a shorter 50 km that was completely flat with no traffic at all, and is a great section to ride, as it follows the coast all the way to Foulpointe.
On arrival at our beachfront hotel the ladies were greeted with champagne, medals, a soothing wet cold towel, and a fresh coconut, and the celebrations began.
The afternoon was spent either having massages, scuba diving in the warm Indian ocean, swimming in the pool, or drinking G & Ts. I chose the scuba diving option and was extremely impressed with what my 2 hour boat trip that cost me five pounds, turned out to be. We were taken out to the reef, a mile out to sea where we managed to see all sorts of underwater wildlife.
Loads of colourful fish, several bizarre looking starfish, sea cucumbers, many different coloured sea urchins that we let crawl up our hands, sea snakes, un-named blobby creatures that inked everywhere, and a view of the beautiful coral that makes up the reef.
In the evening we were welcomed to a rum party on the beach around a beautifully set up bonfire. A local band joined us, playing several Malagasy style UK hits, with renditions of boyzone and westlife, that got some of the ladies up for a boogie.
After a busy day and a busy week, and tasting the large selection of ‘rhom arrangé’ on offer, it was time to hit the hay and reflect on what a wonderful week it had been, and prepare to do the same thing again!