Visiting Madagascar’s Petit Tsingy was meant to determine the route we would take the following day when climbing the Grand Tsingy.
But firstly, we had a trip on the Manambolo river in a pirogue, a long, narrow canoe made from a single tree trunk. However, we had two lashed together at the front and back for stability. Hand in hand we walked gingerly into our individual canoes. It was a little nerve racking, particularly as Roy’s was much narrower and there wasn’t much room for his size 10 feet when he had to turnaround to sit down on the wooden plank. Our guides joined us and we set off down the gorge with an old man stood paddling at the rear.
The river was reasonably wide, and marks in the rocks showed how far the water level rises in the rainy season (November to March). Although the water looked murky, when we dipped our hands in, we found it crystal clear with the colour coming from the sand. Some stretches were shallow, and rice had been planted on the fertile sand banks.
We stopped to clamber into caves to see the stalactites and mites with our head torches and, at a site where coffins had been laid in the rocks, we saw three exposed skulls. As this was a sacred place, we were instructed to point only with a bent finger. We spotted various birds including white egrets nesting on the rocks to avoid predators, a black and white stilt bird with long red legs and black parrots.
Having clambered safely out of the pirogue, it was time to visit the Petit Tsingy. A tsingy, meaning ‘the place where you cannot walk’, comprises of jagged grey limestone razor sharp pinnacles. To reach the tsingy we walked through a small village where women, sat outside, were plucking fowl and a small boy was plucking what looked like a sparrow. The village led us into a forest where we scrambled through a narrow gap between outcrops of limestone. We climbed our first ladder that took us straight up to the viewing point: a wooden deck which gave terrific views of the tsingy field. A couple more ladders followed, but we were soon back in the forest. If this was a taste of things to come, we didn’t know what the fuss about the Grand Tsingy was. How wrong could we be?