The Grand Tsingy

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Things to do


Date of travel

September, 2018

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After visiting the Grand Tsingy in Madagascar’s Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, my Facebook post read “I have just completed the most dangerous and challenging activity I’ve ever done: climbing the 50m Grand Tsingy. It’s something I should have done at 19 rather than 59”.

Our journey from the Hotel Le Soleil du Tsingy took an hour along a rutted, dusty track. We arrived at 8am and, the vehicles already parked in the shade, indicated we were not the first visitors.

We were accompanied by our guide and a local guide, Velo, who strapped us into climbing harnesses whilst we wondered what we’d let ourselves in for. However, we were told we were taking the Andamozavaky route, the easiest at 3.1km which Velo said should take around 4 hours.

For the first hour we walked through the savannah, an open grassy area with a muddy track due to the previous night’s rain. We stopped to see lemur: the nocturnal sportive lemur nestled in a tree trunk, a white Decken’s sifaka, a red fronted brown lemur and then to great excitement, the rare Western bamboo lemur (our guide told us that in 8 visits, she’d never spotted it). The initially flat terrain soon became full of ups and downs but we took it slowly, or as the Malagasy say, “mora, mora”.

We eventually entered the cool, green rain forest area with much taller trees covered in creepers and vines. The steps and the rock outcrops increased and the going got tough.

The first challenge was to hook our caribinas onto a rope running along the side of a deep gulley. It was a relief when we’d negotiated this first hurdle, little knowing what else was to come. There were some good view points and we took it slowly, but it was hard going. We started climbing up, which involved using man-made foot holds, clamping and unclamping onto the ropes and clambering up ladders. Having just done a steep section, I looked up and found I still had two more sections to go. From this point on, I decided not to look up or down, or ask how much further it was.

It was hot and sweaty, but eventually a ladder took us to a wooden decked view point where we could see the skyward pointing shards. I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking it must be all down-hill from now. However, we had to traverse the tsingy, which included crossing a long hanging bridge that only took one person, but this turned out to be one of the easiest parts. Clambering and climbing up and down ladders continued until we hit a cave which was so low, I had to climb through on hands and knees. A second narrow cave followed which led into a small open-air area where we stopped for our picnic and were joined by a ring-tailed mongoose waiting for scraps.
After lunch I thought it might be all over, but was told we still had one ladder up, one cave and two ladders down and then the forest walk. Our legs were tired and starting to ache but there was no going back. The final cave was the longest and very dark, so we needed our head torches, and although it was very wide, it was low, and I was back on my hands and knees.

The entire trek took 5 hours and it was no surprise I fell asleep in the car on the journey back to the hotel for a well-earned rest. Eight days later my thighs were still aching despite a nightly application of Deep Heat. If I’d known more about it beforehand, I’d have checked my travel insurance and probably never embarked on the trip. However, having completed it I do feel a sense of achievement.

Helen Jackson

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