La Grotte d’Anjohibe, Mahajunga

Ecolodge info

Ecolodge info

I woke up early,and went to town for a coffee. I picked out a little stall, with an open area, where kids were playing. Scrubby and grubby, dust spraying off with their home made toys, dragged through the dry sand. I left my OM-D at the hotel and was just happy to watch. This would have been some awesome photo opportunity though. An older man sitting to my right and his shy granddaughter, asked me in French, where I am from. Australia I replied. He was here on schoolies with his family. They come up every year from Tana, like so many others. By the time I returned to the hotel, Ninah and Odilon were awake. They left for their rice breakfast and shortly after we set out to ‘Anjohibe Caves’.

Stalagmites

Stalagmites

I accidentally left my iPad in the room, which we use often. In particular the app ‘maps me’, which uses satellite navigation, once the map of the country is downloaded. It is easy to use and always shows the exact current location. Perfect for any environment, and any kind of transport. Asking a few locals for directions, we found out that it’s an 80 + km’s one way trip, to the caves. None of us expected that, but we had all day. It probably doesn’t sound far, but driving a harsh outback trek would have been the same. And it looked and felt exactly like that. The red sand, bulldust holes and extremely hot and dry conditions. I am not the one comparing places or countries, but the only thing missing here were kangaroos and emus roaming the dusty plains.

Local swimming spot

Local swimming spot

Around half way, we found a little shady picnic spot next to a river. A well known swimming spot, popular by locals to cool of. It was another scorching hot day. This north western corner is known to have the hottest climate on Madagascar.
We had coffee and nibbles and hid under a picnic shelter. I thought it was about time, to show Ninah and Odilon the magic of a camera, that speaks its own language. In particular with their fellow countrymen and women, no matter what age, or in what part of Madagascar. People will look up to them arriving in a big 4WD, with or without tourists. They are the ones who show tourists the beauty of this country, with its people, poor, but oh so happy. The dream job of any Malagasy I would think. As long as Ninah and Odilon walk tall, strong, proud and respectful, without arrogance and ignorance, they will receive exactly the same from anyone, Malagasy or tourist.

I explained the basics about taking a good photo; light, focus, background, foreground, colours etc.  But most importantly the smile of people and how to achieve  to take the photo at exactly the right time. Even simple things like a coffee cup, or the roof of this shelter, can look fantastic, if taken with a bit of thought.

Photo shoot

Photo shoot

After theory followed practice. Ninah was first to take my OM-D,  Odilon and I being unsuspected locals. She did well and so did Odelion, taking photos of Ninah. We had a good laugh.

The car and ourselves were covered in red dust by time we arrived at ‘Anjohibe caves’. We picked our two young tour guides up, to guide us through this vast cave system. They are the largest in Madagascar and possibly in the worlds top ten. One could explore for at least 5 days and probably still won’t cover it all. Stalagmites of all shapes and sizes covered the, at times, large caves.

Ninah Clara and myself

Ninah Clara and myself

These caves were used in early days for meetings and dances of all kind. Even human remains from centuries ago were still visible. I couldn’t put my camera down, taking photos of all kind. Maybe too many? I don’t think so.

Eco lodge on red soil

Eco lodge on red soil

We made our way to the Eco lodge, nestled on almost blood red soil, next to a sprinkle waterfall and a refreshing natural piscine. I took the opportunity for some more photos. Both guides are young and handsome, the young Bob Marley look alike was either bored or stoned.

Cool posing in cool waters

Cool posing in cool waters

It was a welcoming cool off, washing the dust from our sweaty bodies.

Floating and dreaming

Floating and dreaming

We had lunch at the restaurant, cooked over a coal oven. The girls are wearing a mask, made out of a tree sap. I have seen that many times before and thought at first it had an religious meaning.

Colourful dresses,shy smile behind a mask

Colourful dresses,shy smile behind a mask

The answer is way more practical, it is a sunscreen lotion. It was time to make our way back to Mahajunga. The sun was setting over the red sandy hills, which looked amazing. We stopped to take a few sunset shots. Awesome.

Palm tree sunset

Palm tree sunset

Ninah, who was sitting on the back bench, got covered in red dust again and so did the car. There was red dust everywhere. But what a day.

Ninah and Odilon

Ninah and Odilon

We went out for dinner to the busy ocean side cafes and sat outside in a typical Malagasy food stall. Some friends from Miandrivazo joined us later, amazing how many people Ninah and Odilon know in various places. We were heading to a karaoke bar, which is immensely popular here.
We passed the fair and someone had the bright idea to go for a ride. The swinging ship was chosen, almost vertigo both sides. I sat up front with the teacher friend from Miriandravazo, his partner Olivia, Ninah and Odilon chose to sit in the middle. I had a great time cheering with the young crowd behind me, the rest didn’t. The teacher friend next to me was sweating and if the ride went on longer, he would have passed out. Much to the amusement of the crowd behind me. Olivia, Ninah and Odelion didn’t look too well either. As we got off, two were spewing and the other two hyperventilating. Ha ha, not such a good idea after all.
We made it to the karaoke bar and all four were quick to fill in their karaoke requests. In contrast to the karaoke crowd on Saint Marie, this was a young ‘cool’ crowd; silver necklaces, brand name T-shirts and denim jeans, tight and short dresses or skirts for the girls. It took ages for anyone off our friends circle to get to sing, which was a nice change to some performances of others.
Still recovering from our joyride earlier, we called it a night at around 2 am.

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