Madagascar: The Tsiribihina River


We had a 90-minute journey to the river and our boat; the first 20km on asphalt and the remainder on a dirt track. The usual departure point was out of action because the river was too low. Instead of a 1km walk to the pier, there was a longer 4X4 drive with payments to each person whose land we had crossed. Once our luggage had arrived by tractor and trailer, we set off; zigzagging through the low water. Nearby we passed a group of people with someone dressed all in white on the riverbank. We were told that this was a spirit cleaning ceremony which occurs every October. Someone who is identified as being possessed by a is cleansed in the river in a ceremony to appease the spirits. I asked how someone is identified as being possessed and was told that they may say unusual things and appear as if they are ‘in a trance’. I did wonder whether some of these people may actually have a psychosis or other mental disorder and I don’t know how this is understood in traditional communities.

Savannah gave way to forest and then we were in deeper water as rocky strata appeared. There were some small communities on the riverbank with a few wooden and straw huts and canoes moored nearby. Eventually we arrived at the sandbank near the Cascade Anosinampela. Some of us walked up to the waterfall for a cool-off and then returned to await tent erection. Our guide was advised that camping on the other bank would be better, so we moved over there and got the tents up just before sunset.

The following morning, we returned to the other bank because Red-Fronted Lemurs had been spotted in the trees.

Underway, we passed into a limestone gorge.

A little further on we stopped at a small village on the riverbank: Begidro. It was market day and school holidays so was quite busy.

The farmers here grow tobacco as well as the usual crops so somewhat surprisingly there is a large state-run tobacco warehouse.

Most people live in huts with a corrugated iron roof with a few being able to afford bricks or even concrete. We spotted to Liverpool FC shirts on the streets

and a fairly recent Mo Salah one. We visited the local state-run school which caters for ages 6-15. Apparently, NGOs only support private schools.

Back on the water we stopped for lunch near the first baobabs we had seen. There are seven species in Madagascar. Six are endemic and the other is the African baobab found on the African continent.

We eventually entered Tsirbihina Gorge, more baobabs and our destination for the night on the sandbank. We watched the sun go down over the water.

A campfire had been planned with musical entertainment being provided by some of the locals. We had singers, drummers and dancers followed by a guy with a ukelele.

The following morning, we woke early thanks to the cockerel. He belonged to one of the crew and was carried with us on the boat. We were told that he was a prize fighter and that cock fighting is not only legal but very popular in Madagascar. After saying goodbye to the boat crew, we discovered that our 4X4s were marooned on the other side of the river awaiting a ferry. Tuk Tuks were hired to take us into Belo Tsiribihina for lunch at the Mad Zebu Restaurant. This is popular with tourists. While our meal was being prepared, we walked around town passing the Kings Palace (surrounded by wood) but photography was not allowed. After lunch we met up with the cars and had to wait for the convoy to form. Since there had been robberies from vehicles on the road, police convoys are the only permitted means of getting up towards our destination. We continued through savannah with baobabs, forded a small river and then a dried up one. Eventually all the vehicles in the convoy had caught up and we could cross the Manambolo River by ferry and find our hotel in Bekopa.