Author Archives: defi2014

A day looking toward new horizons, on the road halfway between Tana and Majunga -

61.8km in 7H48′
If Serge is still heading north, my thoughts are directed more westerly, toward Mozambique. We still have so much to organize and the section north of Beira is not full of expat French or tour operators. The fact that we will not settle there or have access to WIFI will also complicate matters. So today it is my part in the adventure that takes my mind off what is happening on highway #4. René takes care of refueling and I am left to thinking about what will happen next.
Danz covered 15 km yesterday, which was overdoing it a bit, however, this morning he walked 5 km. Congratulations! Serge appears to be programmed, in spite of the heat, the blazing sun and the voracious mosquitoes last night and this morning. I think today’s priority will be to find a shady spot for our camp, which means trees and nearby water, which means mosquitoes. But our preference tends to shade and mosquitoes over blazing sun and heat.
As we go down the mountain, we are greeted by a slight breeze which is not at all refreshing. Since yesterday there are more small villages with very little for sale in the shops. We have found no bread, fruit is rare and there is no meat. This morning we found eggs so this evening we will have an omelet. We still have quite a bit of rice and Danz bought potatoes and carrots. The fruit which is so plentiful in the East has not arrived here. Actually, there is no organization which would allow the four corners of the country to have the food they need. The fruit from the eastern part of the country remain there because there are truck drivers who stop at the roadside to buy from local producers. Bananas, for example, go as far as Tana. It’s a parallel trade organized by the truckers and completely unofficial. We saw fruit rotting on the ground in the East, whereas here there is nothing. Distribution between regions does not exist. Olivier explained that if the roads were in better condition it would be easier to move merchandise and Danz explained that the Malagasy eat what nature supplies, which is not necessarily fruit. We have seen a few very small rice fields at the bottom of valleys. It’s incredible that Madagascar, where rice is the staple food, does not produce enough rice for its own consumption and has to import it. Lychees are exported to the west and we find them in our super markets. It is a production managed by investors, who see to the planting of the trees, which do not grow wild. The fruit is treated before shipment so it will not rot. At the end of the stage we see mangos and jujube trees with fruit which is green because it is not the season.
Our camp is set up near the mile marker 280 km from Majunga; we are half way between Tananarive and Majunga at altitude of 273 meters. God but it’ hot. Serge’s face is crimson and for the first time salt has appeared on his clothes. I don’t know how he can stand the heat of the asphalt for so many hours.
At the 50th kilometer, we go through the village of Antanibary, which stretches out for 2 kilometers. There is a succession of dilapidated and dirty huts, nothing pleasant to see here. Hassina and Danz tell us that it is a village of gold prospectors. In this part of the country mechanized good prospecting is not authorized, only manual search, so the Malagasy come independently to search for a lode. It is worth noting that the Chinese are interested in mining. During the transition period, from 2009 to 2014 (following the putsch that overthrew the president Marc Ravolomanana) the Chinese invested heavily in the island. Some Malagasy speak of the pillage of their island.
But the Malagasy are not belligerent and seem to be resigned to all these transaction at a high level under cover of corruption.
In the end, we camp under 2 mango trees and, supreme pleasure, without too many mosquitoes. Below us the wide Ikopa River runs through two low hills. The scenery has changed again, which enables us to discover this multi-faceted country.

Back to school -

61.3km – 8H01
Mada (Madagascar) – in a few figures:
Estimated population in 2014: 23 millions 210 000 hbts
Population breakdown by age group:
– under 14 years = 40,7%
15 -24 years = 20,6%
25 – 54 years = 31,3%
55 – 64years = 3,2%
65 years and above = 3,1%
Life expectancy = 65 years in 2012
birth rate in 2013 = 13 37,13 per 1000
Infant mortality in 2013 = 46,13 per 1000
Literacy : 64 %
32% of the population lives in cities
In 2007: 0,5 doctors per 1000 people
In 2009: 19% of the population had access to electricity
After the two-week Easter vacation, children are going back to school in Madagascar. It’s now time to tell you some of what we have learned while we traveled several hundred kilometers.
Normally, school is mandatory but for many because of poverty there is no school. Parents are unable to buy the necessary supplies: ballpoint pens, note books or books. Some villages have a primary school and secondary schools are too far for children who live in the bush to attend. There are no school busses.
There are public and private schools. The public schools are often over crowded, for example 143 pupils for one teacher, who is often badly or not even paid and whose absences are not counted. He/she has to have another activity in order to live. Consequently, teacher training is haphazard… Private schools charge tuition and they have a cafeteria (something that is not available in the public schools). The level of education is higher because teachers are paid better and they do their job, which consists of transmitting their knowledge to a reasonable number of children (40 students maximum). For information, Tananarive has a French Lycée, the largest in Africa. There are 20,000 French in Madagascar…

As for Serge, he has no vacation, no homework and he doesn’t have to go back to school. His mission consists of advancing every day in order to reach Majunga, on the west coast of Madagascar. In spite of uneven terrain, 833meters of positive ascent yesterday and 730 today, he proceeded at a good pace. The heat is back; we had almost forgotten it over the last few days. At the 23rd km we were almost at an altitude of 900 meters and this evening we set up camp on the banks of a river on the outskirts of Kamolandy, a village at an altitude of 584 meters. Because Serge had not run enough kilometers, he ran2.3 km further which also took him higher. We try not to use the vehicle to accompany him because with only one vehicle, it carries all our camping material: bedding, kitchen, baggage, food; but that is a detail. Danz and Hassina are super organized. The advantage of camping is that all our baggage stays in the vehicle, we only take out the tents and the kitchen. The truck is also our office. We decided to stop near a village because 1) there was and flat spot and 2) near the dispensary there are big trees which will give us shade and a bit of cool. Naturally, we asked permission from the village chef, Sefo Fokotanay. After a short discussion with Danz, he accepted our request so our caravan spent the night here.
Physically Serge is hanging on, with his right Achilles tendon which has been protesting since last night. It is another weak point we know well. Today he added a small heel pad. Serge is using beautiful yellow running shoes, Pro Touch P 1.0 by Intersport, who recently started a line of running shoes. Intersport is one of our main sponsors. Unfortunately, the shoes are no longer very yellow but they are comfortable and he does not want to change them for the moment. I think this pair will take him across Madagascar.
For the moment he is wearing his anti-UV T-shirt with long sleeves which cover the back of his hands. He was supposed to only wear these shirts on the water but the Malagasy sun decided differently. There are lots of kids who are observing from a distance of a few maters from our camp. We are an attraction and it is certainly a rare treat to be able to look at vasahas. Their beaming faces warm the atmosphere and we melt!

Spectacular! -

60 km – 8H00
This is a typical day on the road
5H20: Wakeup call
Hassina and Danz are already at work folding up camp so they can leave about the same time as Serge.
5H45: it’s time to get up and get dressed. There is hot water for breakfast, for Serge fruit juice, coffee for everybody, soft rolls, biscuits, jam.
6H10: Getting ready: A quick wash, then applying anti-chaffing cream on the feet, something Serge has done by himself for a long time.
6H30 the beacon is turned on and that signals the start. After last night’s storm everything is wet.
6H50: the truck leaves, prepared to stop every 4/5 km to refuel Serge
1st refueling = weak coffee + Madeleine
2nd/3rd/4th refueling = muesli/ crushed bananas/fruit compote + crumbled Madeleines/fig biscuits of La Trinitaine brand.
5th refueling = Chinese soup. Frequently a hat goes on and it’s time for lip balm and most important, Serge sits down for 5 to 8 minutes
6th/7th/8th/9th refueling we need to be creative! Fruit salad/a second fruit compote with crushed Madeleine/a rice cake/a bowl of rice/coffee with biscuits
10th refueling = Second Chinese soup (while sitting down) often application of sun block to the back of Serge’s legs
11th refueling = this is the last refueling and it consists only of liquid.

During this time : the team prepares and provides refueling, does shopping at the roadside, dries the tents if necessary (it was the case today because of last night’s storm), writes, listens to music, tests for network availability with the 3G key!
All day we were at altitude (between 1300 and 1600 meters) and it was spectacular! Serge loved the magnificent 360° panorama of the semi-arid scenery. For the first time he asked for his ear phones and listened to music for the last 20 km. Always alert, he kept the volume low enough to hear approaching vehicles. There is a lot less traffic on highway #4 than on highway #2. And the road is in better condition, at least on the portion we have taken so far.

However, the low, bare mountains were not always treeless. Massive deforestation over the years and which continues today is a real ecological disaster. There is even talk of looting varieties of rare woods such as rose and palissandre, which of course endangers the ecosystem. In colonial times, pine and eucalyptus, which we saw along the road as we left Tana, were imported and planted: they are not indigenous to Madagascar. Brush fires and slash and burn agriculture are also a plague that contributes to the ecological catastrophe.
The countryside we are crossing is rather verdant because we are at the end of the rainy season. As Danz says, the countryside will become yellow and red before finally turning black and red, completely burnt during the austral winter.
In the meantime, we are enjoying this sumptuous scenery, which Serge is enjoying with music. A truck driver near his stalled vehicle hails Serge and asks what he is doing here, where he is from, where he is going and if he is alone? He is rather astonished to hear Serge’s story; it is all unbelievable.
We have no problem locating a camp site since Serge gave us a 2 km “gap” in which to look for it. This evening we have a spectacular view and we take delight in our good fortune to be on the road in this country and in such good company.

A different country? -

60.7 km en 8H28′
We are still in Madagascar but the scenery is completely different. Highway #4 is a narrow asphalt ribbon which winds over peaks and around hills. There are no villages along the road but you reach them by taking small paths. There is a succession of hills and dales as far as the eye can see. The roofs of the houses are made of small tiles or thatch and there are rare plantations with terraced fields which are as well organized as the villages.
Merina is the dominant “highlander » Malagasy ethnic group, one of the country’s 18 official ethnic tribes. Each tribe had its king and queen. Today, there are descendents of royalty but their only power is to manage situations between clans and encourage tribal traditions. Two ethnic groups are polygamous; they are located in the Deep South. Each group maintains its identity and for a long time inter-tribal marriages were unthinkable. With time, the change of customs and ease of movement, thanks to the automobile, there is now mixed blood in the tribes.
The French entered the history of Madagascar in 1885 and « the submission » of the Malagasy took place in 1895. Colonization ended in 1960. French remained the official language for speeches and in the administration, however, between 1975 and 1990, the president, Dider Ratsiraka proceeded to free the country from French influence: the French language was no longer taught in schools, cities were given Malagasy names, for example Tamatave was changed to Taomasina. Today, the French city names are still used by the people and French is again taught in school.
This April 11, 2015 a Frenchman is running east to west across the country. Like every other morning the day begins at approximately 6H30. The time it takes to say goodbye, Momo, Bob and Tahina leave us to return to Tana. We continue on our route with the truck driven by Danz and Hassina, who are also attentive to our needs. We are becoming “spoiled children”. Danz is on a diet following a physical checkup which was not good: high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high triglycerides so he is taking his diet very seriously. Olivier suggested that he run every day so his training started yesterday with 5km, today with 8km and tomorrow he plans to run 10km. It is indeed serious!
The end of the stage will be rather steep; with a 300m elevation gain over 5km (I let you work out the percentage). Just after milestone 459 (from Majunga or Mahaganga), we set up camp on a vast clearing at an altitude of 1600 meters. Serge is not short of breath but his legs hurt and he heaved a great sigh of relief as he sat down to eat a portion of rice and ham before going to take a shower. Then it’s time for a nap. He doesn’t sleep, only rests before dinner at 17H00, which is not really Malagasy time. At 18H00 he is in bed because the wakeup call is set for 5H00 am. As Serge says, “I need a lot of sleep and I feel that I don’t recuperate like I did a few years ago”.
There was constant wind today, with sunshine and a few clouds. The air is dryer now. We will come to our next town in about 226 km and maybe Serge will be able to watch the PSG-Barcelona football match on April 15.
In the meantime, the route heads North West on highway #4

Zoma mahafinatra -

61.2km – 8H16’
I leave it up to you to translate these 2 Malagasy words, which describe the end of the week at Malagasy Tours, as well as in Tana and in all of Madagascar. The end of the week is celebrated but that’s not counting this Thursday, because Olivier gave all his staff at Malagasy Tours the day off to celebrate Serge’s arrival in Tana. Yesterday Serge ran a short stage of 48.7 km, which he did without blinking an eye. Our stay at the Grill du Rouve was a dream: we at exquisite food, we slept in a soft bed and this morning our laundry was clean and dry. The Holy Spirit must not be far from here! After 7 hours of sleep we had to leave our sweet dream. At the summit of the high town, overlooking a bustling capital, time stood still on a whiff of air that we hoped would not dissipate. But the dream ended at 5 AM with the wakeup call.
Nathalie and Olivier prepared our breakfast, and then life went fast forward. 5H30 our dream team arrives and at 6H00 we leave for the By Pass and Alasora intersection. Dream In TV is there, Momo and Tahina run with Serge to guide him because it is not unusual for pedestrians to go faster than cars. Paul, the motorcycle messenger is also there for the first 20 km, when we reach the main highway #4. Tana is a unique capital with 12 sacred mountains. There is a series of small hills, rice fields, the famous road along the sea wall and the village of Andranomena, which is a permanent bottle neck. There is something I find crazy here: in a city of 2 million people there are not traffic lights, only traffic cops who do the best they can to manage the horrific traffic with a whistle, in an atmosphere of dust and pollution. Something else incredible: there are not horns blowing. Busses stop whenever and wherever they wish and apparently are part of the game; the Malagasy remain stoic. How do they do it? As Momo says « They have no choice so why get excited ». Serge runs at a good pace, remains alert and smiling. The dust doesn’t weight heavily on his shoulders or affect his morale. At approximately the 20th km highway #4 appears and we will not leave it until Majunga. The scenery changes dramatically. Finished the fruit trees and lush foliage. Here the hills are flatter and bare; the famous red earth appears in contrast to the green of the rice fields. The houses of brick and daub are red like the earth and the mountains and they provide a different picture of Madagascar.
The night was shorter than normal and even if we were tired we admired our surroundings. Olivier hopes that the change of teams will be smooth and today we leave with 5 people, Danz, whom you know and who is the “nursemaid” for Middeton and Hassina, who will replace Momo, and Tahina. Bob, Monika’s guardian angel is here too. He and I ran the errands for the next 9 days we will be on the road bivouacking, for there will be no place to say after this evening at Andranovelona. The spring that supplies Eau Vive mineral water is located here. Serge will stop at milestone 519 at Majunga. These milestones will form a pattern of our daily progress until we reach the west coast.

Tana here we are -

Just a few words:
The Run and Row World Tour caravan has arrived in Tananarive.
Olivier Toboul’s enthusiastic team gave us an extraordinarily warm welcome, a typical Malagasy welcome: efficient, discreet and smiling, so typical of this multifaceted country. Extraordinary hospitality was reserved for us by Nathalie and Olivier at the Grill du Rouve in the Haute Ville next to the queen’s palace.
This evening we are on top of the world, thanks to Malagasy Tours:
To be continued…….

1 month already -

60 km in 8H15
It was yesterday, and yet the departure from Barachois in Saint-Denis seems a long way away. There is always this notion of time that dominates our journeys. Living the present with intensity and planning the near future makes our daily existence a rich experience with lots to say. The blank page will not be for tomorrow.
We are getting nearer and nearer to Tana. Yesterday the scenery change; there are more forests, pine trees and eucalyptus but also fruit trees and small plots of cultivated ground on the hillside and rice fields on burnt land. For the first time we can see high-voltage power lines and the houses are different too, more wood and cement, more cellular transmission towers and more villages.
Serge seems to be rested after yesterday’s exhaustion. But he had a good appetite and ate roast chicken and homemade French fries. That’s all but it’s not bad because fatigue often means loss of appetite. This evening and in the morning the team wore long pants and long sleeved shirts because the temperature has cooled off. You can’t say it is cold but it’s not hot. The variations in temperature are noticeable because during the day it is hot. Our bodies have to acclimate and yesterday evening Serge was cold.

This morning at the start there was a fine mist which was to Serge’s advantage because he made good time and we were late for the first refueling. I spent time on the computer because there was WIFI, which now we won’t have again until Tana. There were e-mails to send and responses to be given, bank accounts to be seen….and the road goes on. Serge has trouble understanding why I spend so much time on the computer but since I am following his progress all day in the vehicle I don’t have much time later. It is an organization he is not used to and I think he would prefer that I have more time to dedicate to him when his day is over.
Tahina left to run ahead of Serge for 15 km, the time it took for the mist to give way to a blue sky and a blazing sun. The climb of la Madraka is waiting, at kilometer 38 it starts going up to an altitude of 1,460 meters. Heavily loaded trucks strain to climb whereas Serge, like a metronome, trots along and is even smiling. At kilometer 51 we pass our stopping place for the night: a dorm with double deck beds for 10 people. We will be 4 and the height of comfort is a toilet in the dorm. As for the shower, it will be cold and on the ground floor, just enough to clear your head.
At 17H39 we have finished dinner and Serge heads for bed; it is not quite dark. Tomorrow we will arrive in Tana and will be welcomed by the whole Malagasy Tours team. We will leave Momo, Bob and Tahina but also Monika tomorrow evening. Friday we will take another main road to reach Majunga, in a region which is more arid than the western region we have just crossed.

Approaching Hautes Terres -

64.7 km in 9H10
A slight correction concerning nature here which is so generous in fruit, vegetables and water, which I spoke about several days ago. We are in a region where the vegetation is lush but that is not the case in the southern part of Madagascar, beneath the Tropic of Capricorn, which is arid and subject to drought. In that part of the island there are no rice paddies, fruit trees or water. There is famine in that southern part of Madagascar, and consequently more relief work than elsewhere. I forget that we must not make generalizations in a country that is 1,500 km long by 500 km wide at its largest point. Madagascar is a country without borders because there are 5000 km of coastline.
This year the capital also suffered serious floods, due to ceaseless rain during the first three months. Several NGOs have mobilized to bring aide to the stricken population and when we arrived in Tana we could see a great number of tents and makeshift shelters along the road. Living conditions are very precarious and the government is unable to cope with all these problems.
In today’s photos you can see some nice shots of lemurs, which Monika was lucky to see in the nature reserve of Perinet (d’Andasible), 1 km from the RN#2. The reserves are protected and the animals live freely. The Perinet reserve is one of the most frequently visited in the country because of its proximity to Tananarive. In addition to the vasahas, the park is also visited by schools and the Malagasy from the capital. I will let you do your research to see how many species of lemurs live in Madagascar. Each species has its own geographic territory. In this park there are 3 species which you can see in the photos, the biggest of which, the Indri, has no tail. Thanks, Monika, for these beautiful photos.
Serge hankered all day yesterday for a chocolate bar and he kept seeing lavender cows. Our mouths were watering. It must have had something to do with Easter. Serge slept well and since it was complicated to go out for a pee, he urinated in a mineral water bottle that acted as a chamber pot. This morning there was more than one liter of urine in the bottle, which shows how much he drinks and eliminates!
Today the first 25 kilometers were difficult. 500 meters from the start there was a climb of 3.5% over 7 km and it announced a tough day. Serge went over several passes, one of which was at 1000 meters. The sea seemed awfully far away.
After the 25th kilometer, Serge explained that he breathed in deeply several times, inhaling “the positive,” the good energy,” and exhaling “the fatigue”. It’s a technique of sophrology that he applied while running and it worked. He told me that when I said that I found he had run a more relaxed and laid-back race, in spite of the difficult terrain.
Tonight we are staying in a small hotel in Moramanga, which has a hot shower with water pressure. The notion of luxury is relative and it is a real luxury to have running water in these conditions, like electricity, which at home means we can have a refrigerator and freezer. Traveling means we can become aware of the value of things and enjoy them. Things are so easy at home, in France, that we don’t even think that you can live differently and yet, we enjoy taking life as it comes, a big passion fruit which we ate at the roadside, a smile, or a handshake and during that time Serge is following his route to Tana, where he expects to arrive on Thursday. We will meet with Olivier and his team from Malagasy Tours; the time it takes for Monika to take some photos and then board her plane for Paris. On tomorrow’s program there is a 6% climb for 10 km!
Middleton is waiting for Serge at Majunga – delivery was made and she is fine.
There is a video on line where Serge talks about his 12 day sea voyage between Reunion Island and Madagascar.

Easter Monday : Holiday -

64km in 9H15’
Sun up around 5H30. It’s time for breakfast. At 6H30 the whole team is on the road and our routine begins. Tahina opens the door of the Sprinter and that means it is the time for the first refueling. The sun is already hot. A small coffee for Serge with “madeleines” (sponge finger cakes) and then it will be 4 to 5 km before we will stop again, if we can.
Twice we have to drop René with his ice box (there is still one small piece of ice left from the big block we bought yesterday) and we park further on or in front of him for security reasons. The main road « twists » and « turns » and there is no shoulder. It’s the end of the Easter weekend and cars are going back to Tana. There are few trucks but lots of traffic. Some villages are very festive and we see a small disco with about a hundred kids who are dancing to a frenetic rhythm. It would appear that a lot of rum has been drunk here. How do they do it in this heat?
Serge wets the bandana around his neck and his hat every 4 km and in the time it takes to say it, everything is dry. We are literally baking on the road where there is little shade today. There is no place to bivouac but luckily we have seen a grassy platform at the entrance to the village of Beanandrambo: at the home of Mr. & Mrs. Thomas. We are welcomed like kings. Mr. Thomas is a retired teacher who is most impressed by Serge’s endeavor. He offers us the main room of his house so Serge can sleep in a bed and this exceptional hospitality reminds us of the hospitality we experienced in Iran.
At 19H30 we have finished our meal. Bob takes up his guitar and sings to us with Momo about the joy of living and being together. Sharing can we written with a capital “S” today, April 6th. All we have to do is have sweet dreams before tomorrow, when we will climb to 900 meters with lots of hills and dales which are hard on Serge’s legs.
PS: this evening Middleton arrived in Majunga with Danz, Rivo and Patrick. Unpacking by a Vasaha named Daniel will take place tomorrow.

Severe heat on a rough road -

60km in 8H24
This Easter Sunday traffic was relatively calm. In addition to school holidays, it is an important weekend for the Malagasy and Easter Monday is a holiday. With the exception of the small town of Brickaville at km 48, we crossed only tiny villages and a few bungalows. The roadsides are not suitable for parking vehicles; bush taxis stop in the middle of the road and are always in a hurry. So our feeding stops are not always easy; between hills and rivers the terrain is rough.
Having to stop every 4 to 5 kilometers, once again allows us in a rather untypical way to discover things about this country which is new to us. It is amazing how much you can learn if you spend time at the roadside. Meeting natives is genuine, whether they are disinterested or casually curious. You are not assaulted (I would add a warning for the large cities and sites for tourists where the Washes “foreigners” gather). That is why as we leave Brickaville and stop in front of hotely François (hotels are in fact holes in the wall, small cafés at the roadside), we raise curiosity but it is up to us to make a first move because the natives say hello but stand back and don’t stop what they are doing. At Maraomamy, we have the time to talk. Young Stefa is learning French at school and she is happy to try to speak with us. There is always a bit of restraint and discretion because the Malagasy are not enthusiastic about contacts with foreigners.
Serge arrives, the whole family applauds. He sits down, takes two minutes, shakes hands and leaves, with a woman from the stall opposite, wearing flip-flops, hot on the heels of our runner. It’s the source of great hilarity.
Another Malagasy quality, they are « cool ». In the land of mora mora (everyone takes life slow) some say that occasionally they can be excessive but I have yet to see signs of aggressively. And lastly, music is a second religion; the Malagasy adore music, which blares from the radio all day long when possible; don’t forget that electricity is rare and often nonexistent, but with a battery to supply power the trick is performed. They love to sing, to dance and to play an instrument, like Monika’s guardian angel, Bob, who is never without his guitar. And on this long Easter weekend, there are all sorts of banners announcing a variety of musical festivities. They brighten up the scenery, which is always very green.
Serge is not listening to music so his iPod is not in danger of overheating like he is. After 5km he is soaking wet. Today the humidity is uncomfortable, even for us who are not moving around much at the roadside. It is a sticky day with heartburn, two toe nails which hurt at the nail fold, a classic with Serge, and rather painful muscles after the second, consecutive 60 km day.
We see the ocean for the last time just before Brickaville. Tomorrow will take the RN #2, always the same road, which turns east and which we will begin to climb gradually. Let us hope we will find cooler temperatures. Aside from that, everyone is fine and in case you are asking yourself, there were no chocolate eggs hidden here. They must have melted before they arrived in Madagascar.