The takeoff was smooth and luckily we commanded magnificent views of the island from our window seats. As we flew the two hours across the water to Madagascar however we weren't quite so sure what to expect. We had heard some weird things about Madagascar to be honest:-
6% of the population have syphilllis.
15 people have died of the plague recently.
90% off the population earn less than $2 per day.
Crime is rife.
90% of the wildlife is endemic.
Two tourists were lynched last year.
Don't wear red on a Thursday.
Tattoos are considered evil.
And twins are hatred and often killed at birth.
So... we were somewhat prepared for the worst. But as it turned out we weren't really prepared enough for even our arrival at the airport.
When we entered Antananarivo terminal we had forgotten two things which were even more important than either our passports or the money for our visas. Whatsmore these two things we had forgotten were in pretty short supply amongst most of our fellow travelers too. Luckily we soon gained them. Because if we hadn't we might have both had meltdowns. These two things? Why a sense of humour and some patience.
It was utter chaos in arrivals. Packed with people. Very few officials. Queues for this, queues for that and then even more queues just for giggles. And boy did we encounter queue jumpers! We were first off the plane but last to leave the terminal. At the luggage carousel there was so much barging we felt we'd gone 15 rounds with Mike Tyson. In the end we did laugh though. I even shouted "Bingo" when our visas finally appeared at the window after waiting little short of an hour. Such fun.
We were met outside the terminal by Thierry our driver and almost immediately set upon by beggars. No, not beggars. Locals who had no money but wanted to do something for money. Carry your bag, offer you directions, escort you to your car. They didn't want handouts, they wanted to do something for a tip. To earn it.
We asked Thierry if he knew a good place to exchange Euros for the local currency (ariary). He did.
We got 3400 per Euro which wasn't too bad.
We were then driven to our hotel- the 3-star Relais des Plateax. It was basic but serviceable and it was perhaps best remembered as the site of the first battle in the war that was to continue throughout our trip. The War with the Mosquitoes.
Each battle involved cunning, timing and chemical warfare. We both slept with one eye and both ears open. Put that light out! Incoming! Buzz, buzz, round one.