Silence and Nature on the Tsiribihina River
Three or four days the sailing on 150 km down the Tsiribihina River, travelling through an ever-changing landscape of sandbanks, cliffs and mangroves, in accompanied by the whisper of the breeze drawing wavelets on the river surface, the ruffle of branches after the jump of a lemur. Nothing but silence and nature around you.
Descending the Tsiribihina River has become one of the most popular adventures in Madagascar, but it is no recent invention. Tours on the river have taken place since colonial times; well-heeled French colonists were taken to visit the tobacco plantations near the riverbanks with pirogues, as there was no way to travel other than by river. Fast-forward about 100 years, and the situation hasn’t changed much, The river is still the lifeline of the territory. In the absence of roads, daily life happens on the river. The Tsiribihina is – at the same time – highway, marketplace and playground. However, between one hamlet and another, the river is tranquil and impossibly beautiful.
One of the main rivers of central Madagascar, the Tsiribihina is born near the village of Miandrivazo, at the confluence of two other rivers. It flows through a surprisingly diverse landscape, until it reaches the Mozambique Channel. Just like its alter ego Manambolo, majestic Tsiribihina takes you along to the heart of the vastnesses of the Malagasy West. Sometimes it takes its time and traces its meanders in a lunar landscape, sometimes in a grassy savanna where giant acacias, kapok and jujube trees are detached, sometimes in the luxuriance of a vegetation sheltering fauna swarming with life. A true 'bath of nature' awaits those who choose the experiment of this trip leaving the beaten tracks.
The departure points to descend the Tsiribihina River is a dusty place called Miandrivazo. It is here where travelers embark through the wild landscapes, leaving behind small Sakalava villages of untouched authenticity, white-sanded river banks lined by trees where lemurs jump playfully from one branch to another and chameleons wait patiently for an insect lay down nearby.
There are two means to join this adventure. Either on pirogues or aboard a "chaland". More demanding travelers choose a "chaland" a motored landing craft which were originally used to transport tobacco and have been now completed readapted to tourism. They are equipped with a kitchenette and several important amenities like an awning, which is really useful as a protection from the intense austral sun and a solarium on the roof. These vessels recall somehow the Mississippi boats of the 19th century or the Nile boats of the early 20th century, and are, therefore a both pleasant and charming way to cruise on the Tsiribihina. It is an excellent means to observe the deciduous vegetation, the important variety of birds lying on the sand banks, or the colonies of fruit bats hanging on to the rocks.
The cruise passes by some dense vegetation along the riverbanks, towering cliffs and baobab forests. Hills of red earth and rice paddies. The malagasy West scenery, in its austere beauty. Small trees and reeds on the riverbanks. Pirogues loaded up with people and a products. Endemic species of birds such as pigeons, herons and egrets, as elegant as damsels going to a ball, and chameleons.
The “highlight” of the trip is the Gorge of Bemaraha with its steep rocks and at Anosin' Ampela, a wonderful waterfall, where intrepid travelers can refresh themselves. The passage of the Gorges through the solid mass of Bemaraha is one of the strong points of the descent. Fantastic landscapes, a deciduous dry forest, a diversified fauna where one will recognize in particular the lemurs which should not be missed such as propithèques verraux or fulvus lemurs, very rare Pygargue Madagasikara or 'Ankoay', or large parrots, chatterers with wish. You will see lemurs watering themselves there, if you're lucky.
Everyday our cook will concoct for you something with meat certainly - based - on zebu, fish, chicken, and vegetables. Only fresh foodstuffs! Each evening, sunsets constitute magical moments of this cruise. Every evening before sunset, the bivouac is set up on a sand bank under the curious sights of laughing children. Usually, the gang leaders will come up to you after a little while, asking for bonbons and pictures, and giggled like crazy when they will see themselves on the camera screen.
What’s the sound of silence? Nothingness doesn’t exist. You may escape cities and towns and run to the darkest corner of the Amazon, or the deepest reach of the Sahara, but you’ll never find total silence. Insects will keep chirping, branches falling, the wind blowing, shifting sand dunes. Perhaps silence is the sound of nature. When you leave ‘civilization’, leaving the sound of engines and electronics behind, nature is all that is left. And it is never ‘silent’. Sounds travel with you. Keep you company. Soothe you. Exit the stress. Meditation guaranteed by listening to the whistle of the night insects and by contemplating a beautiful starry sky... when the stars shone like beacons from above, and the Milky Way crossed the sky like a path of light. You've never seen anything similar. Perhaps you've seen amazing stars in Wadi Rum, in Western Mongolia and in the Thar Desert, but nothing compared to the Milky Way of the Tsiribihina River.
This cruise ends at Belo-sur-Tsiribihina. From there, one has the choice between going to Morondava (106 km of trail in the South), or go up to Bekopaka, the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park threshold (90 km up North).
When choose this trip, be careful with the guide you choose. Cheap means mostly a cheap and poor, miserable service too! NDAO-i-Travel ensures a high quality and full service for the corresponding reasonable cost.
For those who might think that the descent of the Tsiribihina river has become a little too popular for solitary and real wild nature experience, the Manambolo river might offer a good (but more expensive) alternative. The descent of the Manambolo River is a quieter, although things are changing. It is the best way to reach the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park - to float the calm and scenic section of the river from Ankavandra to Bekopaka, far from any roads and vehicles.
Watch more photos about the Tsiribihina River here.