Overall we had a great trip, absolutely memorable.
Our guide was called Vola (?) and she looked after us very well In Andasibe and Mantadia. There with a local guide, we saw 6 species of Lemur; Indri, Common Brown, Sifuka, Red bellied Black & White, Bamboo and Easter Woolly. Having IS binoculars helped a great deal and with a new camera we got some good photos of Lemurs 30m or 40m above us. In fact we could see things the guide could not. The night walks were less successful, but interesting all the same. Orchids & birds were a tad disappointing due to the season. The Orchid Park was devoid of any blossoms on any of its many orchids due to the season. It must be wonderful when they bloom.
The Andaside Hotel was comfortable and the service good. We experimented with Malagasy food with varying success. Zebu steak was good; a chicken curry mostly bone! Rice with every meal! Vola took us through the village to see how the locals live and Di bought some small locally made Indri lemurs.
The road transfers were most interesting seeing the paddy fields and brick making and the washing. More alarming were the mountainsides cleared and planted with Eucalyptus for charcoal production – but that seems to be the main fuel. We came across a 100 or so people singing and dancing with a body taking it for re-wrapping; later we saw a second just as we were leaving Ste Marie. We also saw the freight train; pity it does not carry passengers.
The transfer to Ste Marie began slightly bizarrely. It was a very early take-off, but we had been directed to a back entrance to the airport, where we sat in the car for almost an hour as the aircrew gradually arrived. Eventually we were admitted and processing the 10 or so passengers was pretty quick.
The arrival in Ste Marie is memorable as is the transfer to the Princess Bora in a wagon drawn by two Zebu. We very much enjoyed our stay at the hotel which was outstanding in a number of ways, although we do have one or two adverse comments which I will come to later. What was excellent was the staff service who were all extremely friendly and helpful. Despite the restaurant having burnt down a few months ago, the food was wonderful. For the evening meals, there was a choice of two for each of the three courses. Often Di had one choice and I took the other as the quality and presentation was so good. Breakfast was an extensive buffet with plenty of choice of fruit and pastries and a chef who was pleased to cook you eggs any style. We always ate breakfast outside the restaurant tent with our binoculars. On many occasions we were able to see whales as we ate breakfast! Not many hotels can offer that!
We liked our villa; it is wonderful to go to sleep with the sound of the waves on the beach. You might note that they do provide separate beach towels, so we brought our own towels back unused. Also while there was one ordinary bike available free (another under repair), but there is a charge for a mountain bike – 30,000 Ar. for a half day and 40,000 Ar. for a full day. We hired for a morning to cycle to Ambodifotatra to get more of a feel for the local life. We had previously been into the town by Tuc-Tuc, but they travel at such a speed you cannot see much. We walked to the Pirates Cemetery which was most interesting. The sign says you can go without a guide, but we were compelled to take one and he was thoroughly worth the money.
After a lecture one evening by a young American on whale research programme, we went out the next day and had plenty of sightings including mothers and their calves. Again lots of photos and videos. We then got absolutely soaked in a torrential downpour, but that’s life....
The swimming and snorkelling are rather oversold. While it is a major diving centre, the sea between the beach and the reef is only about 3 feet deep, is pretty polluted with a lot of weed and sea urchins and almost no fish. We did borrow snorkelling equipment (good quality) on two occasions. Locally we were told that you had to swim out through the gap in the reef used by the boats, about a 100m. I did this, but felt uncomfortable that with no safety boat and a long swim back. Di did not attempt it. We were advised to try on the Ile aux Nattes and at the southern end of Ste Marie near the crossing. However, we found the same. Despite looking ideal, it is not a swimming or snorkelling beach.... The pontoon has a swimming area, but that is also not very deep. If the pontoon had reached beyond the reef, it would be much easier to snorkel. Another thing for your information, they offer Wi-Fi in the library/lounge but it is pretty slow and intermittent. They also have it in the reception area where it is much faster, so we usually went there before breakfast each day.
As you know, our return flight time was changed and we are very grateful that it was re-arranged that we stayed a further day at Princess Bora rather than waste two days in Tana. The flight in the Bora 4 seater was also memorable as we flew quite low.
On the final day, Lionel took us to the Craft Market, which was rather overwhelming – the relentless sales pressure is not for the faint hearted, but there is a fantastic range of souvenirs. We had in fact bought most things we wanted from roadside craftsmen and vendors In Ste Marie. After lunch we had a walk round the high town and visited the Queen’s Palace, where again we had an extremely good guide, who was an Anglophile. He showed us the George III cannons and the positive influence Britain had from Mauritius before the French invaded. Rugby is their second national game and his heroes were Jonny Wilkinson and Lawrence Dellaglio; a bizarre conversation to have in Madagascar.
Many thanks for helping us have a memorable and enjoyable trip; we saw plenty of lemurs and whales. We had excellent guides, but we also saw how local people live e.g. when we visited Andasibe village and when we walked across the middle of the Ile aux Nattes; how despite their poverty (by our standards) there are plenty of smiles around and many are colourfully dressed.
PS I am still going through photos; if I find any good ones I will copy them to you.'