Text and pictures © 2008-2014 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2012/12/07
"The first thing you notice is the light. Light everywhere. Brightness everywhere." — Bob Geldof about Africa.
22 years after I started traveling, I finally set foot on my 7th and final continent. Although one may think that Madagascar is to Africa as Corsica is to France (that is to say, nothing in common) it would be a mistake: people there really see themselves as part of Africa. That trip almost didn't happen: 2 months before we were scheduled for departure, Jenny broke her elbow at work and after some medical decisions and ticket rescheduling we left a month later, shortening the trip somehow. As we leave she hardly has the medical authorization to do anything at all with her arm.
Left: Taking a boat to go to the Nosy Hara archipelago.
Right: Kid and rotten fishing boat on the beach. Those boats are build the same way than traditional briton boats.
Left: About 2 hours of slightly wet cruise to reach the island of Nosy Andantsara. Better put the camera in the bag.
Right: First contact with the much renowned tsingy: blades of limestone carved by the elements present all over the archipelago.
So our trip is divided in two main parts: a stay around Diego Suarez (Antsiranana) to climb crags on limestone islands, and a trip down south to climb the much longer routes up Tsaranoro. To reach the archipelago of Nosy Hara, we have no choice but to go through the organization of NewSeaRoc. We first hesitate due to the price of the stay, but it's really a quality stay and well worth it: the organization is top-notch, the climbing excellent and the setting rather extraordinary.
Left: One of the many pieces of coral covering the beach comes in handy to keep the guidebook open at the right page. Michel Piola was here, putting up routes with his usual talent, as well as penning the guidebook covering the islands and the Montagne des Français. Unfortunately it doesn't cover the Perroquet.
The trip from Diego Suarez is an experience in itself. Starting at 6am, we get aboard a huge truck loaded with packs, food, live ducks and lots of dust. Several members of the local team are with us. A girl falls asleep on my shoulder with the excuse "I was dancing till 5am", never mind the fact that we are shaken up like popcorn on this rotten dirt road and Jenny is looking at her funny. One of the supports of the roof snaps right at the beginning, and another one halfway. A brief stop, a metal pole, a hammer, a piece of string and barely 5 minutes later we resume the trip, the incident officially 'repaired'. After two hours of skirting zebus, collapsed bridges, impromptu markets in the middle of the road and branches whipping through the openings, we arrive on the beach where a boat awaits.
Above: Alex on his first route 'Vogue la galere' (6a+).
Left: A little soloing on the short Taliu (5b).
Right: Felix drenched in sweat after climbing 'Jaws' (6b).
The people of the village are gutting fish on the beach while the kids are playing and enjoy being photographed. We pack the boat with all the stuff we had on the truck, including lots of drinking water which is absent on the island. The boat doesn't use an anchor in order to avoid damaging the corals in this national park, but is moored from the beach.
Left: Felix slacklining at night with great proficiency.
Right: Jenny enjoying the beach in the evening (warning, that's when the sharks come out).
The camp is neatly organized: we sleep in tents under small trees and the kitchen and other parts of the camp are in bamboo huts, quite in tune with the surroundings. The first evening we get to try the spicy 'acards', mango or lemon slices fermented in pure red pepper juice. Something we'll come to regret in the morning. We also discover that rum comes served in units of salad bowls. After dinner Gilda and Yole, two young girls of the team, show us some local dances, like the crocodile dance (their advice being: 'let your butt do the speaking'), but they are rather dejected when they see us more interested in talking about climbing than dancing.
Left: An hermit crab crossing the floor of the hut. Those gentle animals are thought to hold the spirit of the ancestors buried on the island and thus deserve respect.
Right: Sharp tsingy. Sharp. This is what you get when you hold onto those razor blades like they were any other kind of hold.
The climbing on those islands is magical. First the tsingy, those thin blades of limestone carved by the elements, are rather worrying to climb on: you can cut your hand easily and the possibility of getting sliced in half in case of a fall is an idea that will cross your mind regularly. But the routes are well protected and it's easy to try and push yourself to try harder grades.
Left: Real men shave in sea water and use sand as aftershave. Well, it could be even more manly, like using a tsingy.
Right: Climbing the profile of the pillar of 'L'ile aux tresors' (6b+).
The orientation of the cliffs vary, so it's possible to climb at any time of the day, but the rock is so harsh that we have to limit ourselves in order to keep some skin on the fingers. This and the rum, whatever excuse works best. And there are other things to do: diving in the sea to look at the corals, walking around the (other) island looking at the mausoleums of past kings, roasting on the beach, looking at the wildlife. From the summit of the island we spot a bunch of whales far in the distance, and while we are having appetizers, Jeff rushes out throwing people out of the way ('bouge, bouge !') because he just saw dolphins passing in front of the beach.
Left: My attempt on 'Tafo Masina' (8a). Well, I did reach the top, but not in clean style. I guess the image justifies the means.
Right: While we climb, others fish with great success: a large grouper and a bunch of squids. The islands are in a national park and thus fishing is severely restricted to only harpoon and line.
The food is excellent: some of the team members go fishing with a harpoon during the day and catch squid and big fish that end up in our stomach in the evening. This and the live ducks playing their own game of 'survivor' on the island: every day there's one fewer in their rock cage...
Left: A strange toothbrush-like flower growing on the summit of the island.
Right: Felix following in our footsteps (barefoot) during a stint of night climbing after too much rum.
Left: Mathieu, the big boss and organizer of the Nosy Hara trips.
Right: Meta on Vatorange (6c).
Left: Back on the island of Nosy Anjombalova, a mere 10 minutes boating trip from where we are staying.
Left: Leaving the island of Nosy Anjombalova.
Right: Meta climbing at Grand Large.
Left: Meta climbing at Grand Large.
Right: A strange conic flower growing in the middle of the trail.
Above: The island of Nosy Anjombalova in the evening.
Left: Jenny on Papango (5c), right above the kitchen.
Right: In the canyon right above the kitchen, Papango and Tinah Dalle.
Right: A climb for the lazy: easy, full of holds and you can belay from the bar. And very nice too.
Left: Alex figuring out the boulder move of Ankoay (7a+).
Left: The scenic 'Pirates of the Carribean' (7a+) in the sunset.
Right: Above the 8b roof. Deep water soloing anyone ?
For the last route of our too short stay, I want to take pictures in the sunset light on the scenic Grand Large area. The famous 8b is... well, 8b. The 6a is already in the shade and the 7a+ would be perfect except that nobody wants to get on it with various excuses: too much rum, broken arm, too hot, no skin left in the hand, etc... So I end up on the damn thing, where the crux lays in holds full of brine and salt crystals on the first 10 meters.
Left: Coming back from the roof, trying to stay dry.
Right: The fakir Alex on his way down.
Left: Slacklining is hard. Slacklining at night is harder (no visual reference). Slacklining at night after 3 salad bowls of rum is... well, whatever, but you can see the results here.And finally, there are a few selected images which you can find on the wallpapers page.
Right: Climbing 'L'iles au tresor' (6b+) on the island of Nosy Anjombalova
Right: Sunset dive off the cliff (best time to feed the sharks !
Above: A general panorama of the Diego Suarez bay, the 2nd largest in the world, after that of Rio.
Right: Alex climbing at the Montagne des Français, Ice FLute area.
Diego Suarez is well worth a stay and not just as a gateway to the islands. There's some very good climbing nearby at the two sites of the 'Montagne des Français' and the Perroquet. The first site is easy to find, any taxi driver can drop you off and pick you up later during the day. Once at the base it's pretty obvious where to go for the approach: just follow the crosses. But except fo a few minor spots, most of the site is in the scorching sun in the afternoon, so it pays to start really early.
Right: A gecko showing Alex how to seriously hang onto the rock.
Another good thing about staying in Diego Suarez is the food. There are plenty of excellent restaurants, probably due to the fact that there are 2000 vaza (white people, most of them french) installed in the city, many of whom have opened up restaurants. OK, the bills are multiple times larger than if you eat in a suburb 'hostely', but where else can you have a full lobster dinner for 10$ ?
Above: Climbing on the Aloalo area, with the rest of the 'Montagne des Français' climbing area visible in the background.
Left: Eric climbing next to a baobab at the Perroquet.
Right: Monica coming down a 7a at the Perroquet.
As for reaching the Perroquet, you have to drive around the 'Montagne des Français' on dirt roads and even the locals get easily lost in trying to reach the tiny village at the base. And the walk from the tiny village is not too obvious either. The first time we reach the village we have to parlay for a while to find two guides to take us to the cliffs.
Right: Jean on one of his routes (6c) in a remote sector of the Perroquet.
After a few hours of climbing alone, an ancient but still impressively active french climber shows up with a friend and their taxi driver (who also climbs and can take you there if you want: Eric Mongou +261 (0)32 0432006). Since we have no guidebook they give us a tour of the area and even better, the next day they take us to a more remote area where they've only recently opened a bunch of new routes. Excellent climbing all around, but now that we've had fun on those short crags, the main part of the trip starts at the Tsaranoro.
Left: Jenny on the 6a crux of the best 6a of the Perroquet, a 40m arete with plenty of huge holds.