Off the Beaten Path in Vatomandry, Madagascar

You could live in Madagascar – for as long as three years – and have trouble getting to see all of the on the beaten path things there are to see in that country–in fact, that’s what I just did, and I can confirm this. But for one of my final posts on traveling in Madagascar, I’d like to share one of the places we visited in Madagascar that’s off the beaten path.

Vatomandry is roughly on the midpoint of the east coast of Madagascar. It sits on national road 11a, between the smallish towns of Mahanoro and Brickaville, each with less than 50,000 inhabitants. The road is sometimes good, sometimes completely covered in potholes. But traffic is pretty sparse and it’s a pleasant trip as long as you keep a watch for the potholes.

Vatomandry sits astride the Pangalanes canal, a series of waterways, lakes and canals that stretches 645 km along Madagascar’s eastern coast. While the actual canal runs west of the town, an inland waterway about 300 meters wide runs to the east of the town, separating the town from a thin band of land approximately the same width.

it is on that thin band of land that Ms. Jeanine and her husband decided to retire some years ago. I suppose things got a little too quiet, and so they decided to build a handful of bungalows to house guests. They have two brick-and-mortar units, each with a couple of bedrooms, and a half-dozen smaller units modeled after traditional family homes, made of locally-harvested building materials and thatch roofs.

The facilities are a bit rustic – don’t look for a hot shower or multiple outlets to charge all your devices – but it’s clean and comfortable…and absolutely quiet. Some of the local women are employed to prepare fresh meals – which were excellent, and more than we could eat. There’s no need for shoes, and if you walk east (away from the mainland) about 50 meters from the house, you see the open sea across an expansive beach that extends in both directions. When it gets dark, there’s not much to do but go to sleep, and you wake up again when the sun comes up, rested and refreshed.

If you’d like to stay here – it costs 120,000 ariary (about 35 dollars) plus a bit for meals (30,000, or $8, to include dinner and breakfast) and tips – you can give Jeanine a call at (+261) (0)34 94 787 81. If you’ve got your own car, they’ll have you park it at the Shell station on the mainland, and someone will get your suitcases and paddle you across the water in a traditional pirogue. You’ll find less expensive places to stay, but they won’t be anywhere as nice or as charming as this one. And Jeanine loves to chat, and speaks a bit of English for those who are French-challenged.

Be sure and bring mosquito repellent if you go. The breeze keeps them away much of the time, but once things quiet down you’ll be grateful you did.

We ran into a French couple there who were visiting the place for the second time in as many years. They said the peace and quiet was exactly what they had been looking for, and they planned to stay in one of the traditional huts the following year. Asked where they were headed next, they answered, “We have no idea.” 

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