Madagascar, Land fo freedom, Kingdom of offroad adventure

Discussion in 'Epic Rides' started by Franck B, Oct 20, 2013.

  1. Franck B

    Franck B Been here awhile

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    Every other year, I go for two weeks of off-road adventure with friends. We all like tight off-road stuff. We also like racing pace. But most of all we like adventure rides that combine the above and disconnects us from our gentle family European life.

    We found this in Madagascar and much more. A 2000km trip, 11,5 days off-road ride through fantastic landscapes, challenging terrain and the most off-road bikers friendly people I´ve ever met.

    After 2007, 2009 and 2011 being 3500km off-road trips in Morocco, we were looking for new lands for our knobbies. 2012 I travelled with my wife to Madagascar, kids at grandma, and did some soft ADV, a few hundred km, mostly off-road, 2 on a Chinese bike :eek1:
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    No big thrill but still better than a Honda cub, and most of all a good way to get the first impressions of what a larger-scale ride could be with an appropriate thumper.
    Then, when we were in Nosy Be, we met Thierry:
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    Thierry and Andrea had there a number of well maintained Honda XR400 CRF450 with long range tanks, belonging to them and to friends of their MC from all Madagascar. They do local races and occasionally also organise for clients 1-day trips in Nosy Be (check the more detailed map below) and sometimes a few days on mainland. But every year in July/August they leave with the club for several weeks of adventures, discovering new tracks around Madagascar. So they were exactly the right people to organise an ambitioned trip "a la carte" with.
    Well you can imagine the connection was quickly made, so I talked with Thierry and a few weeks later spoke to my friends to build up a team and do it.
    From the usual suspects, the team was formed of I, Patrick, Marc and Antonio. Except Antonio, the other 3 of us had already lived in Africa, so we had an idea of it means to spend a night out in the bush there. Antonio was the rookie in this trip, but he was so boiling excited and overmotivated that he simply belonged to the team.
    The trip:
    If ever you don´t know much about Madagascar, or maybe just know that it´s an island somewhere, here is how our 2000km trip (tracks, north) looks like:
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    So even if you considered doing a 18000km ride from spain to kamtschatka, it should be possible there too.
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    #1
  2. Franck B

    Franck B Been here awhile

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    The actual trip, more in details, looks like:
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    #2
  3. Franck B

    Franck B Been here awhile

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    Thierry was our guide and swiss knife all along the trip. He knew local language, the habits, (most of) the tracks, and always had quick and good ideas how to get out of tricky situations.
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    Patrick "Reverend" is the wise of the group, always calm friendly mood. But he is a bit like, in the Western movies, the former burglar who becomes a preacher.
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    Antonio "El Matador"[​IMG]
    Not only because of :killen:drifbut also the fighting spirit, permanent electric enthusiasm and good mood he brought into the trip.

    Marc (left), myself (right)
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    Marc "stunt man":muutt. For him, any stop means "stoppie", any acceleration means "wheelie", riding steady pace means :splat
    Myself. Franck "the boss". Could be because I coordinated the whole trip from the beginning, and felt like somehow responsible there that we all make it safe to the end.
    #3
  4. 8lives

    8lives Dharma Bum

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    Linked over from Tiffany's page,looks good so far!
    #4
  5. Franck B

    Franck B Been here awhile

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    So we made a plan with Thierry. Coming from rallye we were quite ambitious. But also eager to discover, we wanted to spend time in the western, hot drier climate, in the East and it´s rainforests, in the north peak and it´s sand trails, travel through the mountains in the centre. Thierry is a racer, his heart beats for endure riding, so he put all his networking for sewing the best-fit program for all 5.

    Quite early in the planning it was clear we had to go for an autonomous trip. Where we´d go, no 4x4 would pass.
    This meant travelling as light as it goes, all in a back pack.

    Marc, Thierry and I managed to keep it to 5kg, Patrick and Antonio had 2kg more, opting for a bit more comfort.
    + each about 1kg spare parts and up to 3 liters of water in a camel bag.
    My equipement list for 2 weeks was sparse: beyond the summer MX-gear (no jacket), I had: 1x MX-socks, 1x MX-gloves, 1xMX-shirt, one silk liner for the night, flippers, 2 t-shirts, 1 long-sleeve shirt, 1 "k-way"-style rain coat, 4 briefs, 1 convertible pant, 1 hat. 1 android tel./GPS. 1 compact water proof FT 25 cam. compact micro-fiber towel, minimalist hygiene kit, one bathing brief, one 3-liter camel bag.
    #5
  6. Franck B

    Franck B Been here awhile

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    We did not want simply to go there, zip through the landscape, and give back only our smiles to thank the locals.
    Back last year, with my wife, we spotted a bush orphanage in Ste-Marie Island. Michelle and her team also built a bush hospital and a school. http://www.zazakely.org/orphelinat.html
    Closer to the start of our trip, I heard about an association who built a school and needed equipment for the pupils. We contacted them. Frederic and Veronique from the association told us what they need http://www.madilo.org/index.php/les-enfants-de-madilo
    As the end we collected, helped by members of our MC-club and work colleagues, 1720€ and 120 school bags.
    So we headed to Madagascar with 24kg of school bags.
    #6
  7. Franck B

    Franck B Been here awhile

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    We were all looking forward to the date... we trained:
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    We were ready:
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    On the start:
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    ..crossing the alps, heading to Milano airport...
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    ... and finally, after a night up in the air, landing welcomed by a fresh morning breeze :eek1
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    #7
  8. Franck B

    Franck B Been here awhile

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    First day was planned for a smooth transition... getting used to the heat, first impressions, recover from the journey.
    Thierry welcomed us at Nosy Be airport with his pick-up truck, we took some local cash a Hellville, the island´s town, where we also had a quick breakfast
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    Finally we dropped our bag 15km further in Dar es Salam, at Andrea who invited us for dinner, and then headed for the beach:
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    At this point, it´s worth mentioning that this beach is THE most touristic public place from the whole 600,000km2 of Madagascar. And there were not much tourists to be seen. These are mostly pinned to all-inclusive luxury resorts in Nosy Be. Madagascar only gets 25% of the amount of tourists visiting neighbouring, 400x smaller, Ile Maurice....

    After refreshing in the Indien Ocean (the Mozambique canal to be more precise), we headed for an 8€ langouste and urchin menu at the beach "gargotte" (= low-tech, local friendly style, restaurant):
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    #8
  9. Franck B

    Franck B Been here awhile

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    After a relaxing day we then headed to Andrea. Nice house, decorated in local style
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    and nice garage...:D...
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    our 5 Honda raid XR400 ready to hit the dust..

    With the sun set over the sea line, we moved to aperitif. A bit of planning was there too. We met there Mauro (2nd from left), a friend from Thierry's MC, who would join us the first few days.
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    Then Julienne, Andrea´s wife, cooked us an excellent Italian-Malgache dinner, with pasta, carpaccio and octopus salad
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    all we then set a meeting point for the next morning, 8:00 ready to ride.
    #9
  10. Franck B

    Franck B Been here awhile

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    ...well, I guess that, at some point, in a ride report, someone rides:

    After a comfortable night at Andrea, Thierry joined us for breakfast. 6AM sun rises over the horizon. We picked our bike in the garage.
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    Thierry showed us some tricks how to kick-start it easily (no magic button).

    This first day was meant as a loop to get used to the bikes, to check that they all run fine, apply some personal settings. But it was also an opportunity for Thierry to check we had the necessary skills to make it to the end. At Madagascar, some places, one is 2 days away from the closest good hospital. A broken leg, there is nothing else than a Zebu to carry you over 50km of single trail.

    First part of the morning we then headed through rocky trails to mount Passot from which we get a panorama on the 20x25km volcanic Island. Several crater lakes surround the peak
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    #10
  11. Tiffany

    Tiffany Airhead Adventuress

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    Hi Franck
    loving the ride report already, :lurk and feeling very excited as that is an area I'll be reaching later next month. Currently heading south and east in Madagascar on the Suzuki DR 350 that I've bought here.
    maybe I'll look up Thierry when I reach Nosy Be.
    #11
  12. Franck B

    Franck B Been here awhile

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    Hello Tiffany,
    Just PM me, I´ll give you all the necessary data. Watch out for the climate getting worse in the North now that summer comes, with it´s rain... there are definitely many river crossings involved, most had low level when we were there, some still upper thigh. Also mud. Also don´t rely too much on what people say if a road can be taken or not. Most don´t realise what a DR350 is able to cope with. As a rule of thumb, where Zebu with trailers go, you can go. You may need help at some places, may suffer from the rough terrain (a Zebu with trailer is a, albeit slow, but very capable vehicle), but with time and efforts, you´ll get through. Where only Zebu go is like following a hiking path in a mountain: at some point, you´ll get stuck. You have a very good machine for Madagascar, going into the bush and outback is a very rich experience there.

    #12
  13. Franck B

    Franck B Been here awhile

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    We then rode down mount Passot into forest trails
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    , crossed a few tiny villages and arrived at Bertrand.

    Betrand is situated at the centre of the Island. There he fixed an builds anything out of wood or metal... without electricity. He has about 20 different processing machines, all run by man power:
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    Time as well to change customize bike settings:
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    After a refreshing Mango-Break, we then rode on volcano crests
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    and then down to the fisher village of Ambatozavavy, where we had lunch:

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    This is on this very first day of riding, out in this little village, that we understood that, despite our plan to travel through the outback, that this adventure will also get it´s GASTRONOMIC dimension.
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  14. Tiffany

    Tiffany Airhead Adventuress

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    Franck
    thanks for the offer of the data, however...I do not have a GPS so I don't think I'll be able to follow your routes! Though I will be going up and around the north east coast - and yes, I know it's going to get rainy, however I'm in the southern and western part first where the rain starts earlier.
    #14
  15. Franck B

    Franck B Been here awhile

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    Being relaxed and energised by this rest and nice lunch, we took off through path connecting villages, we crossed a few slippery rivers where local were washing and bathing.

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    I had initiated the first crash fro the group there, a hole deeper than thought to be, between two large slippery rocks at the end of the river, front wheel got caught and my bike landed sideways on the rock... bent hand guard, quickly straightened back.

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    The last part of the day took a completely different nature... bye-bye the scenic and quite relaxed enduro trail... we headed to more extreme things, with always raising difficulty, trails getting thinner, steeper, inclined sideways, rocks, roots, large holes and deep ruts, up to 3m deep. Lots of body work to find the necessary traction, sweat, higher rhythm... and resulting in less pictures taken..

    Steep up
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    steep down
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    BTW: a well maintained bridge... always stay focussed over bridges
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    Antonio started boiling and getting exhausted, when he fell with his bike into a hole, bike upside down. I was behind him and helped him to kick the bike and cheer him up. He continued to fight up the mine field.
    It all took an end when Thierry almost fell into a 3m deep hole, he hit a hidden tree stump, bike upside-down hanging over the hole... that was close :eek1.

    Thierry showing us how not to fall in his hole:
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    Rest of the ride, we had some steep inclines downwards with big steps, more scenic hill trails, and a rocky dusty single trail back to the town. It´s the place Marc chose to show his stunt-man skills when his bike flew as he hit a hidden rock while chasing and overtaking Patrick.. couldn´t stand the somewhat slower pace of Patrick. One finger thorn and a first warning :deal

    Some people breaking large stones into tiny ones and selling this building material along our trail back
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    So the appetitive right when we arrived back at Dar Es Salam was more than welcome:
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    #15
  16. TemeculaRider

    TemeculaRider Been here awhile

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    Looking forward to more! :freaky
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  17. Franck B

    Franck B Been here awhile

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    Now a few words about our bikes: 5 Honda XR400.

    Our XR were stock XR modified with a 15liters IMS tank, 3-5 cm bar risers, renthal conical bars, hand guards and a case guard (my phone/GPS holder in the middle):
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    Well coming from my 12' KTM EXC500, I was not especially excited with the idea to spend 12 days on a bike designed in 1996. I have memories of my DR350, it was a very capable offroad bike, but was nothing to compare with the pleasure I found zipping through Morocco on my EXC 450.

    The first thing I mentioned riding the XR what the lack of precision of the front end. After half a day it came clear that the XR likes to be steared by the feet, it´s very sensitive to that, and like to be leaned in the curves. Probably the steering angle, maybe a long bike. So the bar risers, allowing to stand on the bike for hours, were the perfect combination.
    Also the XR is quite a tall bike. Taller than my EXC. But it is not heavy, it´s about the same work to pick it or an modern big bore competition enduro,
    No magic button, but kick starting the bike worked fine when warm and was reasonably easy, so appropriate for this kind of trip.

    The suspension lacked definition on small rocks and bumps, but the XR400 can take any abuse hitting big holes at high speed, and:clap IT HAS A FANTASTIC ENGINE. I was puzzled how much elastic torque it has, my 500 EXC is a torquey bike, but the XR just hangs on gas at ANY RPM. Amazing.

    The above qualities, combined with the fact that it can take car-quality oil, no oil change for 2000km, low quality gas, and I understand why so many riders were choosing this bike as first choice for finishing a Dakar Race.
    #17
  18. Franck B

    Franck B Been here awhile

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    Second day of the trip had several highlights we were looking forward to:
    - Give the 24kg bag of gifts to the kids of Ankify Doany
    - Put the bike on the boat to eventually ride of the "big Island"
    - Our first night in a village out in the bush

    We woke up 5:30 (it became our usual wake time, twilights) to pick the 7:00 boat.
    15 km of Road to Hellville harbour, the rims of the 24kg bag was working its way through my shoulders. Marc was carrying my back pack.[​IMG]
    The boat was loaded to the limit, they managed to bring a truck in after the bikes, the truck had a few cm only to the wall. We had nowhere to stand but on the already busy side railings.
    We were happy on that boat. Somewhat we knew the real stuff was there, on the other side.
    1:30 later we arrived at Ankify:
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    Still 5km of gravel road to Ankify Doany, we reached the school. A warm welcome from the kids. Their teacher Souadry gathered them in the classroom and the kids sang small songs in French to thank us. We remitted the 120 school bags, and offered us some presents we would pick when we return.
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    All kids gratified us with large smiles[​IMG]
    When the time came to say goodbye, all the kids gathered in the yard to wish us farewell for our trip
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    We then headed north to Beramanja, 100km away. We reached a cross section where the trail to Amaborano started, it was time for lunch. The heat was on, and after the nice food from the gargotte, we fell into a deep summernation (the other extreme from hibernation) sleep.
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    So, up on the sandy trail, crossing numerous villages at the beginning, and progressively less
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    #18
  19. Franck B

    Franck B Been here awhile

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    When we arrived, at was not yet 4 (bear in mind the sun sets at 5:30 PM). Leo, a young guy with perfect French (he studied at the French school of Diego Suarez, north extremity of Mada) welcomed us on his Chinese motorbike (it was pretty recent, what is the sign of a comfortable life there).
    We had to leave our stuff at his pension 5mn away, a job for restless Marc, who carried our equipment in the mighty Zebu-Trailer offroad vehicle :roflwhat an extreme multi-talented rider :D...
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    we had time left for trying some refreshing times:
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    good try, but the water was body temperature, too much of a soup for me. But ideal for cleaning clothes or dishes... or for the local kids fun
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    #19
  20. Franck B

    Franck B Been here awhile

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    After the relaxing time, time to go to the pension.
    Leo welcomed us.. he presented us two gentle fellow who should become our next day´s lunch, since next day´s track would not cross much villages:
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    We then had a fantastic dinner. Highlight of the dinner was "Sarcelle" that Leo hunted. It is a species of small wild duck, cooked long time in a pot with spices.
    #20