From Antananarivo to Miandrivazo
First, you will travel south on the well-known RN 7 from Tana in the direction of Antsirabe. If you do not stay overnight there, you have to calculate at least 5 hours drive to Miandrivazo, which should be done in daylight.
The wild Bongolava mountains were already notorious in the past for the quite numerous robbers and highwaymen here. Therefore, you will leave Antsirabe shortly after noon at the latest in a westerly direction on the RN 34 towards Betafo. The road is well developed and allows a quite speedy driving.
The landscape around Antsirabe is still characterized by fertile soil and intensive agriculture. After about 120 kilometers of driving, you will reach Mandoto ("where it's dirty"). The fertile landscape has given way to a monotonous grass steppe. You see much less fields, but all the more cattle. In the villages you have to be careful when driving through: not all animals can be warned in time by a horn! Especially feathered cattle and the ubiquitous dogs are in constant danger of being run over.
Along the street, Betsileo women offer their magnificent weavings: for relatively ridiculous amounts, you can buy beautiful tablecloths and napkins made of hand-woven cotton. Mandoto, however, is not as the name suggests: rather, it is an ideal place for a stopover with a snack in one of the hotely. In the meantime you have left the highlands of the Merina and Betsileo behind you and are now already in the land of the Sakalava. You can recognize them by their distinctly African appearance and the traditional, colorful hip scarves of the women.
The winding drive continues through the grassy mountains - the last foothills of the Bongolava massif. The panorama to the west is impressive despite the barrenness of the landscape: on the horizon the mountains of the Bemaraha massif stretch out and blur in the haze. Above and behind the mountains, powerful thunderstorm fronts build up mostly in the afternoon, decorating the sky with incredible cloud formations. In general, thunderstorms in this area are something that can't be compared to anything here in Europe. Due to the vastness of the landscape and the tropical weather conditions, thunderstorms discharge here with almost improbable intensity: countless lightning bolts - vertical and horizontal - illuminate the horizon and bathe the mountains in a multicolored, beautiful and flickering light...
The journey continues through Anjoma-Ramartino before you come - about 200 kilometers after Antsirabe - to a river. From the elevated road you can see numerous men and women (and unfortunately also children) standing on the shallow riverbed under a bridge. The men and children have wooden poles in their hands, about 160 cm long, which are covered with sheet metal at the lower end. With these they poke depressions into the granite rock that forms the riverbed. A gray, fine granite dust is produced during the laborious procedure. The women, on the other hand, have wooden gold pans in their hands with which they wash out the rock dust and separate the gold particles it contains.
A laborious task, but one that pays off: about 2 grams of gold per day and worker are the result - a remarkable result for local conditions and based on the internationally valid gold price! If one also considers the fact that only relatively small amounts of rock can be processed by the archaic method, the suspicion is obvious that the gold deposit is extraordinarily high. However, the people do not do the gold panning on their own: the owner of the gold mine is the mayor of the village of Dabolova, which is located behind the next hill. (The house of the said mayor, standing in the middle of the village on a hill, is moreover of outstanding splendor and size!) A little further south of the road, behind a bend in the river, you can see a large building with a corrugated iron roof: here PAM, a Canadian company, is doing exploration on a larger scale!
Miandrivazo ("I expect a woman")
The city of Miandrivazo has about 20,000 inhabitants and represents a fairly significant settlement in the otherwise deserted west. This is due to its privileged location: although Miandrivazo is one of the hottest places on the whole island, the land around the city is very fertile thanks to the volcanic soil and abundant water, and feeds many people. Corn, vegetables, fruit, tobacco and also rice thrive here. In part, there are also extensive plantations - today mostly in Greek or French hands. One can certainly say that Miandrivazo is a beautiful place: picturesquely situated at the foot of the mountains, at the edge of a wide valley in which the rivers Sakeny and Mania flow into the already mighty Mahajilo, which, however, only 50 kilometers west of Miandrivazo bears the name Tsiribihina.
The river, especially the popular river cruises, make Miandrivazo quite a well-visited place. In the meantime, there are quite a number of decent accommodations and restaurants. On top of that, the town has at least two prisons - especially the rampant robbery of zebus here seems to explain this amazing fact in this relatively small town! Miandrivazo is otherwise quite poor in sights. In the past, the hot springs were quite famous, but nowadays they are no longer used. Ask for this place. The springs are located not far from the entrance of the town on the right side of the road.