Places of Madagascar
Many contrasts. It's not called 'The Island Continent' for nothing.
Deeper into the south the spiny forest obscures most vistas as you cross a largely featureless plain. Villages come and go in frequency with the soil's fertility. Vazahas are still a rarity and cause for some excitement. The sea seems far off and the plain unending, until suddenly all falls away. The plain has been a plateau. The coast now stretches out below, from Cape Saint Marie, Madagascar's southern-most point, to unknown locations further up the Mozambique Channel.
On this arid strip the level of hospitality rises in inverse proportion to the standard of the facilities. At Lavanono (pronounced Lava-nu) there is little running water and no electricity. There are few comfortable beds and fewer places to eat. But those who do spend time in Lavanono can find it hard to forget and hard to leave.
The level of hospitality you experience here can be overwhelming, but any embarrassment you may feel is quickly offset by the genuine spontaneity with which you are received. The people here want you to feel relaxed and at home. They want you to enjoy their traditions and to share in their dreams. They want you to come back, and to bring your friends as well. By the time you leave Lavanono their wishes are likely to have been realised.
The road from Lavanono east to Fort Dauphin (also called Taolagnaro) can be a bit of a come down. Gradually the people become more blasé about the appearance of a vazaha. Cultivation becomes more widespread, the villages become larger as the population density grows. By the time the ridges of the eastern ranges appear on the horizon you have effectively entered another world.
The transformation is completed at Fort Dauphin. Tourists are common here and the locals are out to get their cut. Hawkers and touts want to sell their services and wares. Hotel owners have their eye on the next chance. Even the bank will take you down with miserable and potentially illegal exchange rates. Fort Dauphin was a good place to leave.