2019 – Magical Madagascar

Below are a few videos that I couldn’t process or upload in Madagascar. They aren’t in any particular order and some of them are quite interesting when you look closely at the road(?) conditions.

crossing a muddy pond – Norman & Liza’s truck is stuck on the left and had to have a few locals pull it out
leaving the hotel in Tana and our first nervous experience of driving in the capital city

5th June 2019

In June 2019 we are embarking on something a bit more different, a 4X4 tour of “The Land that Time Forgot” or MADAGASCAR. More details to follow soon!

Packing is nearly sorted and we are making final choices for our trip to Madagascar. Once we get there, internet access might be very patchy so don’t sit up waiting for a refreshed posting every night, it might not happen.

While this trip isn’t strictly a Talbot event because we are hiring 4X4s, it is organised by a rallying company and we are travelling in company with some old friends we have journeyed with in some odd parts of the world.

this is the organisers compilation video
thanks to Reg Toohey for thsi wonderful video clip of a chaotic river crossing

On the river crossing above, the “ferry” was aground when only half laden so another pontoon was brought over and three cars driven off the ferry onto the pontoon (in the river). Because the pontoon’s motor wasn’t working, a gang of youngsters took up the two and swam the vessel over to the other bank. Then the rope broke and the whole kit and caboodle started heading out to sea. They eventually managed to grab it an unload the three cars. meanwhile, ours was firmly aground and it took lots of manual digging, underwater, to free us. One of the two motors was working but the cooling water poured out of the radiatior as quick as the boys could top it up! Great fun.

9th June 2019

In the Radisson airport hotel, Dublin before we start the trip properly tomorrow. At dinner, which was surprisingly decent, this wee fellow dropped by the window for a while. Bold as brass, a juvenile hare, nibbling the shoots around and about. Made my day. Tomorrow Paris then onwards.

11th June 2019

Left home on Sunday and arrived in Antananarivo tonight at 22.30 local time which, surprisingly, is only two hours ahead of home.

Anyway, glass of fizz as soon as we sat down but being an old 777, space was a bit tight. the second pic is a screen shot from the route on TV so you can see that we’re going to have trouble with pronunciation here. The airport was madness re-defined but we’re in our first hotel which, at first glance seems OK. Mozzy killer plugged in and off to bed.

12th June 2019

When we got up this morning it was cold and cloudy but it is nearly midwinter.
We walked out to the nearest bank to change our euros to Ariary, the nearest thing that passes for money. A very interesting walk along a totally chaotic street to queue for 90 minutes. We thought we were going to need a wheelbarrow to bring the wadge back but it turns out the local traders in front of us were looking for very small denomination notes to suit their customers. €300 turns into MGA 1.2 million and fits in my wallet nicely, thank you very much.
After that a walk to the supermarket for some tonic (G&T), water and a few nibbles for cocktails tonight.
On the walk back we both commented on the local transport. Taxis are Renault 4s and if you spot one without a dented panel, or a full set of wheels, let alone with any tread on the tyres then it is the exception.
One guy honestly offered his taxi to us with one rear wheel up on a jack.
Then there’s the taxi brousses – 12 seater mini busses. Once they have about 20 on board then off they go – flat out to whoever shouts loudest first.
Enough for now. I will describe the bank queue later when I’ve worked it out.

12th June Pt2

Malagasy banks. As I said in the last post, we had to queue for nearly an hour and a half to get to the counter. At the entrance were a pair armed militia, combat camoflage and fully automatic rifles no less so that was a bit off putting. Inside there were about three dozen people I suppose, two or three in a short queue in front of us, about 18 sitting and lined up around the wall to our left and the rest standing in small groups to our right. About four glass cubicles serving as interview rooms and four cashier positions with three ladies and people coming in and going out behind the counter all the time. Once we realised where the queue was, we joined in and waited. And waited. And……….. Get the drift? Mostly nothing happened. Sometimes people went into the cubicles and occasionally whoever was at the head of our queue went to the counter. The odd thing was that folk seemed to join and leave our queue at random and anywhere along the length of it. Very strange. It then seemed that some customers had brought back-up. That way you could put a stand-in in place and go for a smoke or coffee or to do some work somewhere else. It still didn’t make sense because some others just walked into the queue wherever they felt like it. Penny and I discussed this and decided that banking in Madagascar is organised on a combination of Quantum theory and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. If youre unsure what this means, I hope I can explain. We knew there was a queue but couldn’t be sure (a) we were in the right queue (b) where the started or ended and (c) if it really was a queue at all. We did get our cash though.

13th June 2019

Easy start to today. Nice breakfast then a leisurely pack up, pay the bill and then we were collected for the 12Km drive to Antananaviro – better known as Tana you’ll be glad to hear. Now, 12 Km doesn’t sound like much but we were warned that it is market day, and that means it is a street market. The main road is about as wide as Holywood High Street, the bit you drive on after all the cars are parked. It is rammed with buses, bikes, barrows, market stalls and thousands of people so that the actual space for driving doesn’t really exist. The stalls did diminish a bit in places but it was completely mad just about the whole way. Anyone remember my postings of the markets in Peru, well, a bit like that but possibly more intense, if possible. 12 Km took two hours!

We finally made it to our rally HQ hotel, met up with the organisers, John & Sarah and have started to bump into other participants. We’re all getting together for dinner tonight so it might be a temperance meeting later on.

The first pic is the view of Tana from our 12th floor window, the next two are of the laundry which was set up beside the road and the video clip is from Reg and Don and gives you a very short impression of the city market madness. There is an excellent, slightly longer but really worth watching video from the same two guys at:

Tomorrow, once everyone has arrived we collect our cars for the trip to begin on Saturday.

Our cars have arrived – Ford Everests

14th June 2019

This morning we went out to stock up on bottled water and more tonic because we will be away from shops for a few days. The diesel fumes are almost overpowering and there is a constant press of people around the hundreds of street stalls. Beggars, urchins, vendors and hawkers all seem to be happy when we say no thank you and smile, returning more often than not with a toothless beam from the adults and a huge grin from the youngsters. The stalls are selling everything from second-hand flip flops to radios or car components and of course lots of varieties of mostly unidentifiable food.

At about lunchtime we gathered to be given our GPS kit and a wee device that lets us connect to the internet anywhere, then out to the cars for the important process of putting on the stickers. Big, hefty 4X4s, we had to complete a very detailed damage assessment and then we thoroughly cleaned lots of surfaces in ours. It was very grimy.

Thanks to Fen Aird for her pics.

17th June 2019

OK. Sorry we’ve been quiet for a while but I did warn you that the wonderweb is a bit patchy here.

We left Tana at a decent time and it wasn’t too bad getting out of the city. We had a longish drive on the main RN2 Eastwards to our billet for the first couple of nights on the road. The road was basically OK but with crazy, car-breaking potholes lurking everywhere so my eyes were out on stalks when we finally stopped for the night. The entrance drive needed full, 4X4 low gear for the last 7 km then an hour’s boat ride but worth every second.

Yesterday we were taken in small goups to see the wild, rain forest Lemurs and then over our lagoon to a coral spit and a fishing village to see the Indian Ocean and finally to a special reserve to see the rare, nocturnal Aye Aye. Today’s drive back west was in torrential rain for part of the way but now we’re here at Mantadia Lodge and will be searching for more different species of Lemur tomorrow at high altitude. All great fun.

The pics in order: 1 – A Citroen Traction Avant being restored in the workshop – actually out on the street where everything happens. 2 – Us about to set off and 3 – John Bridgen the rally diredtor. 4 – pretty normal city traffic in these parts. 5 – Out in the countryside, which is very mountainous, you’ll come across these things, like jumbo skateboards but made from bamboo tied together. The wheels are just old steel bearings that are no longer usable inside machinery but good enough for this. Stuff is delivered downhill at scary speeds and other things are hauled back up by a gang of kids. In the first picture you can just see the pilot’s hat sticking out on the right and then he’s waving us through to pass. 6 – Accidents are all too common. About six trucks all burnt out in one tangled mess and 7 – maybe this taxi has finally met it’s end. 8 – The drive to our hotel. 9 – This wee chap was on our verandah in the morning. 10 – you have to be very careful where you’re walking! 11 – can you see the baby peeking out? 12 & 13 – Lemurs are incredibly inquisitive. 14 – Penny’s new friend 15 – Pitcher plants – insectiverous. 16 – a beautiful dragon fly. 17 – Sunset coming to the fishing canoes on the beach 18 – Our childern entertaining us. 19 – The indian Ocean. I have some vidieo which will take a bit longer to post but – stay tuned!

17th June 2019 Pt2

Many thanks to one of our Aussie chums, Reg Toohey who is much better than me at this sort of thing. Whoever has small children might recognize the music!
If you can hear the music, the following is not for you.

Facebook have just told me that they’ve muted the music in some regions. Then, and for your information only, it is the theme tune to that wonderful film and source of all our research, “Madagascar” – “Move it, Move it!”

https://vimeo.com/user29328696

18th June 2019

This is the seven Km entrance drive to the hotel, before we took the water taxi to our hotel

19th June 2019

As Corporal Jones used to say “Don’t Panic!”

A bit of an upset gut last night so P took to her bed and skipped dinner. I wasn’t feeling too sharp either but went and got her some bread rolls and water then had stir-fry veg and rice to be on the safe side. Didn’t work. I kept P up for a couple of hours while the world fell out of my b****m. We both went for the Immodium in the morning and things improved as the day went on. There is a handful of other victims too.

We had a longish slog of about 290 km to get from the east of Tana to tonight’s stopover at Antisirabe (I think). Mostly an OK drive but naturally very slow behind trucks grinding up to about 1600m in first gear and grinding down the other side. We’ve been breathing thick black diesel smoke all day. This place is on the road south out of town and as usual, traffic is completely indescribable. Even in cty centres, we are competing for space with trucks, busses, tuk-tuks, rickshaws, bullock carts, dogs, chickens, cycles, and pedestrians of all ages and the whole blooming lot are wandering around all over the place – mostly dodging potholes.

One good thing is that we’ve left the Eastern tropical rain forest (cold and damp) and are now moving towards more tropical areas in the South and East.

No pics tonight because the wonderweb is only just hanging on. We can only link one ‘phone to pick up the WhatsApp messages from the organisers about dining matters & etc.

More soon…………..

20th June 2019

250 Km today: Antsirabe to Ranomafana, a mountain rain forest well south. This morning we tried to set off early and as I was loading our bags, Penny was squaring up our very small bill, I was accosted by Didier, the guy who has rented all these cars to us. He wanted to check everybody’s oil and water which is fair enough. I was leaning in and about to put the ignition key in when he opened the door fully to release the bonnet (hood) catch I straighened up to pass the time of day and he closed the door with my keys on the seat. One of the tricks of these cars is that they lock themselves within about 15 seconds unless the key is in the ignition so, we were locked out. He had to call his mechanic team running at the head of the field to turn around, come back and sort things out. The organisers had requested copy keys in their truck but that wasn’t the case I’m afraid so, out with the wire coat hanger to manipulate the wee door catch inside. He could probably have done it in five minutes but once about a dozen folk were gathered and all giving assistance in three different languages, it naturally took a bit of time. Anyway, off we finally set, well last.

As before, our biggest hazards were the street markets. I have my fingers crossed that I can upload a video later when everyone else has signed off the internet. It might make your hair stand on end!

Potholes big enough to eat trucks are easy now and we are able to miss about 90% of them but when you don’t – wow, your teeth rattle, along with the windows, doors, interior trim and everything else.

This afternoon there was a plan to give us a guided tour of the nearby village but the torrential downpour sort of discouraged everyone so tomorrow we’re off for a walk in the National Park.

More soon!

20th June Pt2

rabbit for dinner anyone? – a typical roadside stall

23rd June 2019

I’ll try and provide a brief overview of the last few days. Obviously we haven’t been able to post because of a lack of connection but we expected that.

At Ranomafana we both didn’t venture too far, preferring to stay close to facilities, just in case if you know what I mean. There are about four others down with various bugs, none serious and all of us gradually recovering. The weather here was cold and steamy, the room was fine and the shower was superb – most are just a dribble. Two nights here and the place ran out of Gin but it wasn’t all our fault. We had to swap from the local brew at .90p a large measure to the expensive imported stuff at £2 but it didn’t last either. It rained and rained.

From there we headed to the Tsaranoro Reserve where we had a little hut, about the same size as a home for six. It held our bed and a bit of space around two sides and unlike the locals, a sink, toilet and shower. The last was redundant because there is so little water pressure and besides, no sun to heat the water. We had a superb BBQ last night with Zebu (local type of beef), chicken or fish and it was all delicious. Mind you these are all that is on the menu anywhere so we also keep an eye out for spaghetti, noodles and such for a bit of variety. The scenery is spectacular with huge rock formations soaring 3,000 feet sheer from level ground.

Today was quite relaxed with a 250 km drive across a high plain. Only one smallish town to negotiate and because it is Sunday, very little traffic. Best church clothes everywhere, with a lot of very bright, garish satin shirts, trousers and dresses. The ladies round here all seem to wear pretty hats much of the time so that didn’t change. Most of the road was the best yet, straight and very few of the monstrous potholes and of course a lot less of the local busses to push you off the road. I forgot to mention the the entrance to Tsaranoro was another dirt track. 20 km that took about an hour – 12mph. Lots and lots of very happy, laughing children waving to us everywhere and not too many beggars.

Tonights place is absolutely top drawer. We are now heading South West properly and the climate is becoming much more pleasant. I’ve got shorts on for the first time!

I will try to post some pics but it really is very difficult.

23rd June Pt2

new chum

24th June 2019

Super supper last night in the hotel. Free rum at the end! This morning, we decided to stay close to the “facilities” again, just in case. Most of the rest of the group have driven out to be guided around some of the extraordinary rock formations hereabouts. Eventually, we had a dander in the jungle at the end of our garden. Past the stables so Penny indulged her habit then over a stream and up towards some rocks. About an hour and a half all in and we’re back at the right time for coffee on the terrace.

24th June 2019 Pt2

Here’s a selection of photographs from others in the group. Apologies for not providing credits

26th June 2019

Today is Independence Day for Madagascar. Since we arrived flag sellers have been peddling their wares all over the country and last night our hotel decorated the garden with paper lanterns in the national colours – beautiful. The local town, about half a mile away partied all night and we think the dance music finally stopped at around 06:30. Heavens, it was loud. This afternoon we’re heading out to see the famous “Avenue of the Baobabs” then tomorrow we’re leaving Ifaty and heading a bit north to Andavadoaka; only a short drive of about 140 km but it will all be off-road, driving up the coast on sand.

Our car was a bit down on power yesterday but nothing catastrophic so the travelling mechanics had a look this morning and reported that nothing was amiss. To get here we drove through the sapphire region with lots of panning in the rivers for these blue gems. I suppose there were about half a dozen roadside villages that seemed to have nothing else but gem dealers sheds. We weren’t tempted. Later on the villages grew visibly poorer – not even mud huts but very roughly made wooden shacks. The land was so thin we couldn’t figure out how they could farm anything and we even saw water being delivered by tanker to some places.

We’re staying here on the beach at a beautiful rustic hotel with all mod cons but, as usual, the electricity is turned off at night and there is no hot water for a shower in the morning. You can’t have everything, even in Paradise.

Small correction to the earlier post. We visited a Baobob forest that has a few Lemurs too. A very interesting walk well described but not the Avenue I suggested. That’s a bit later in the trip

As I’ve said before, connection to the wonderweb is very patchy and I don’t think it will be possible for the next couple of days.

27th June 2019

As I said yesterday, only about 140 km but it was nearly all in second and third gear, low ratio with the diffs locked. We left this morning turned left through the village and shortly after left the tarmac for the last time. The tracks are loose, incredibly fine sand that flows like water and when it isn’t that, jagged hard very random bare rock poking through. So going was slow but not unpleasant. Thankfully we had very little traffic coming the other way but, as you can see, the Romao de Sousas met the local pop heros on their way back from last night’s gig, wherever there was enough electricity I suppose.

No major problems for us thank goodness but Nicholas Proir and Lesley Stockwell had their brakes sieze on in the fine dust and shortly after we came across Barbara Shooter and her son Henry with the hood up. All the low gear crawling had sent the water temperature rocketing and their truck had blown a hose. In pretty quick order, the following mechanics had things sorted and even recruited some local herdsmen to dig us out after we bogged down having stopped to help Barbara.

Super stop off for the next couple of nights at Laguna Blu near nowhere in particular. There’s a couple of fishing villages close by so supper should be good.

I’ve tried and tried to get some videos up but I think I’m going to have to concede defeat until we either get to a big town or even home.

Tonight’s pics: Us n tonights verandah, a Baobab we visited last night, a sand road and a musical traffic jam.

Very rarely is one lucky enough to see the Milky Way at home in Northern Ireland. To see it in it’s full magnificent glory is even rarer. We have been blessed with the full spectacle three times now, from horizon to horizon. Tsanganuur in Mongolia, the Alto Plano at Atacama in Peru and tonight in Madagascar. Life is good.

thanks to Liza Yeung for this fabulous picture

28th June 2019

on the beach, in front of our cabin

1st July 2019

I’m typing this on Sunday afternoon but goodness knows when I can post it; probably when we’re next in a city in a few days time.

Laguna Blu was a delightful spot for a day’s recuperation. A few folk had a four hour trip in a Pirogue (hollowed out tree canoe with a balsa log outrigger) to have a look at some whales or one pair went fishing. One of the catch was substantial enough for the chef to prepare it as ceviche for the whole tour while the other tiddler went straight to the hotel cat!

From there we had a toughish off-road slog to Manja (some called it Mangy) which is a thoroughly typical Malagasy town where tourists are a very rare sight. No major incidents except for one couple who missed a detour in the bush to avoid a broken bridge. They were stranded for a while but were eventually pulled out and arrived safe and sound in time for the night’s session. We also had a bit of excitement with a river crossing. There was a pontoon raft that could take three cars and was dragged across by about 18 young fit men, up to their chests in the water. For our turn we drove onto a proper motorised contraption with five other cars but it turned out this was too many. We were aground for about an hour while all the locals pulled and pushed to try and get it to float. Eventually the pontoon was maneuvered and positioned under our bow ramp and three cars were driven onto it. We all crossed safely, thank goodness.

We stayed at the Hotel Kanto on Main street and I think I can honestly say that we and probably you have never stayed anywhere like it in the world. Our rooms were wee ten foot square cabins behind the bustling main street and while they did have a shower, basin and toilet, there was no water. There were however legions of ants, cockroaches and other varieties of wildlife. Cocktails in the bar, on the street provided lots of entertainment for the locals, especially when one of the group, a great big bear of a bloke called Reg from Australia popped over the road and bought dozens of freshly fried vegetable Samosas for the whole party and for sharing with the kids. Incidentally, Reg is getting a reputation for being a bit of a party animal. On Independence night, he and a couple of the girls discoed the night away until four thirty and in Kanto, they were out until three. Stamina of an Ox!

So, dinner at the hotel was surprisingly good. Simple grilled Zebu or chicken with veg & chips. The bar didn’t have, or had heard of G&T so Penny and I made do with local rum and coke and there was plenty of wine brought in just for the rally.

Today we only had just over 100 km but again it was all off-road and quite tough hence slow going. A bit over six hours driving through the bush, over rivers, along river beds and up and down some very steep embankments was fine but we all got fed up when the locals started erecting “toll booths”, i.e.a simple sturdy branch across the road and charging Ar10,000 for the pleasure of passing. Some of these tolls are completely legitimate but the others were obviously the local hoods out to make a quick buck. By the way, Ar10,000 sounds a lot but it is only just over two pounds but it is still annoying when we were stopped about seven times when we were expecting half that.

Tonight at Belo Sur Mer in the Ecolodge du Menabe on the coast so fresh fish again tonight.

The pics in order: A Pirogue passing our door in Laguna Blu and the sunset from the same place.The next three are of the goings-on to get us afloat. The bar in Manja and Penny with (GI) Jane followed by our luxury accomodation and some street snacks. An ordinary little bridge, a couple of girls on the way back from the laundry down at the river and finally, tonight’s lodgings.

this is our cabin

3rd July 2019

Here we are in Morondavia, still on the West coast and our last day before we start the trek back to the mountains, heading towards Tana and the finish.

Our stay at Belo Sur Mer promised a lot with straw cabins and quaint cooking pot water heaters and, as I said, we were all looking forward to fresh fish. Our first night’s meal looked excellent but it transpired that the fish came from the freezer! Breakfast next morning was fruit juice, two slices of bread and one of cake. No fruit which has been just about universal everywhere else. Fried eggs, omelettes or scrambled eggs – that looked identical to the omelettes – were extra but boiled or poached eggs were not on the menu because “they take too long”. Naturally, this didn’t go down too well with the group so we all decamped to the establishment next door for lunch which was superb. Mountains of crab claws, calamari, fresh fish and all sorts of other delicious things, and served with a smile. For the next morning’s breakfast, eggs were not available. Apparently our hostess had been to the village and had only managed to buy two!

From there we had another shortish day’s drive of just over 100 km but with lots of off-road and river fords. After the to-do with the rogue toll booths, the organisers had sent out the advance party of our Malagasy tour ‘fixers’ to warn the toll-booth operators that ours was an official government inspection tour and that, under no circumstances, were we to be delayed, interfered with or in any manner discomfited. It worked. In our group we also had our font of all local knowledge, JJ (or Jean Jules) who made the point quite forcibly on several occasions with some of the more determined toll-booth operators. The river fords were quite interesting too. One was across a dark, smelly bit of flooded bog. The local children were already helping out Norman & Lisa from Hong Kong who had become stuck but we crossed without drama. There were a couple of other smaller ones too but eventually we came to quite a big river. We watched a couple of other cars make the crossing and it looked OK except for one small section near the far bank that seemed a bit rough and a lot deeper. When we finally got there it certainly was. In general the depth was just about over the wheels but suddenly we hit a couple of boulders and went into full dive mode. The bow wave that was normally at the top of the radiator suddenly swept up to and around the windscreen. By typing this you can see we made it safely.

Soon after we reached lovely smooth tarmac for the first time in ages and gently rolled into town. Like everywhere else in this crazy country, traffic was chaotic but, so what, we’re old hands now. The hotel is another beach resort but a bit higher up the food-chain from some of the last few with proper cold AND HOT running water in the shower and even a TV. It doesn’t work but who cares. Today we had a wander round the town and it stank. Fish decaying on the stalls and more flies than I’ve ever seen on one bowl of some sort of food. A few souvenirs bought and we’re back for a bit and a bit of a rest before we drive out to see the Giant Baobabs at sunset.

Tomorrow is a long drive of over 450 km to Antisrabe to the wonderful (not) Royal Palace hotel again.

4th July 2019

500km, near enough today and apart from the usual Malagasy potholes that never, ever give up, it was a pleasant enough drive from sea level to Antisribe at nearly 5,000ft where it is quite a bit cooler. Throughout this trip our wee truck has thankfully only thrown up minor grumbles but sadly, Nicholas and Lesley have endured more than their fair share. On one of the “deep sand 4WD” days, they had a pretty serious problems with a locked rear brake. Same thing happened again today and thankfully on a quiet section of road. Our travelling UK fixer, Toby identified the problem PDQ and they were only about an hour late getting in – albeit driving without using the brakes!
It also has transpired that we’re not staying in the sterile and very cold Royal Palace again but with it’s neighbour, the “Couleur Cafè ” where things are definitely looking up as regards the accommodation. We’ll see what dinner looks like soon.
Tomorrow we have the last 300km to Tana and a bit of a ‘ beano’.

6th July 2019

The final day’s drive was very entertaining to say the least. As usual with Malagasy cities, getting out into the countryside is a but of a challenge; something to be endured because once away from the manic driving, throngs of people, dogs, chickens, Zebu, crazy bus drivers, suicidal cyclists and motor scooters, it is worth all the effort. Today’s route took us by way of a new road being constructed with Chinese funding. It will be a truly modern dual carriageway (possibly the first in this country) over a mountain range towards a beautiful lake district at Ampefy. It was a bit daunting to turn off the main road in a village and onto a rough unmade track. We began to be a bit more concerned when two huge quarry lorries came down the track towards us. It seems the road has been dug and roughly levelled but has no finished surface yet. In places rough, in others still being scraped after recent land slides and some places even had a really good gravel surface. Still, it was mostly a slow crawl in second and third gears for about 50 km. Towards the end, the going became quite narrow and sticky. On the good bit of surface, up at about 4,500 feet, Barbara Shooter suffered a collapse in the front left suspension arm. She and her son had to stay with the car until the back-up crew arrived and as she was carrying Nicholas and Lesley Prior’s luggage, we re-distributed the various bags and cases between us and another car. The back-up crew were able to fix the problem quite quickly but for safety’s sake, sent her and Henry on in their car and drove her’s to tonight’s hotel.

I think we then had a lovely drive up and down a couple of mountains and along a very quiet valley in-between. The inclines were so steep there were no heavy trucks so the road was quite quiet. Apart from the busses that is; twelve seat mini busses, modified to carry about twenty people and with roof racks piled high – perhaps a metre and more. These vehicles charge around at top speed and absolutely own the road. When you see one coming your way, slow down and get as close to the edge of the tarmac as possible because these drivers certainly won’t! On one left hand corner I vividly remember, the green monster coming towards me, in the middle of the road, had smoke coming off the rear tyre because it was leaning over so much and so heavily laden. I don’t think there is a MoT test or equivalent in this country and treaded tyres are a luxury, as are lights or even doors or windows so it certainly sharpens your concentration.

Through another village and the road changed again to rough, viciously potholed broken tarmac but not for long before lunch beside a lake at what seemed to be a tourist resort in the mountains. As we got closer to Tana, the traffic, as expected, became denser but roughly the last twenty km took two and a half hours believe it or not. Instead of getting in at about five thirty as expected, it must have been nearer seven. There are no street lights or traffic lights here. Very few vehicles have a full compliment of working lights, some with no rears, others fronts and yet more with none at all. Add in the scooters and cyclists with no lights and I hope you’ll agree that we all deserved a stiff drink after we all safely parked up for the last time.

Dinner was a bit of a riot. Everyone let their hair down and organisers, John Bridgen and Sarah Morgan handed out lovely wee mementos to one and all along with a selection of gentle digs about everyone’s personalities. Running with the number six on our car, we were hailed as “Thunderbird Six” (from the children’s TV puppet show) and Penny became Lady Penelope and I was dubbed Parker after one of the main characters and her faithful chauffer!

Today we handed back the cars and negotiated as to how much damage we’d done aqnd how much we should be charged then set-to to sort out all our rubbish and laundry for re-packing. We finally leave this incredible country at about one o’clock on Monday morning and get back to Belfast late in the afternoon so there won’t be any more posts until I get back to decent internet access and post some more pictures and videos

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