The countryside varied, but one of the prominent features was rice fields, in various stages from planting to harvesting. We stopped at one local vegetable market, and had lunch in Antsirabe. M. Vevé had rather odd ideas of what sort of hotel we should stay in, but we rejected his choice and had him drop us off at the Mania, where we had a 'family' room decorated with local wood carvings, while he and Owen set off back to Tana.
We took a taxi-brousse to Fianar and booked into Hotel Cotsoyannis (Le Cotso), then had a look around the market before heading back downtown to book our taxi-brousse to Ranomafana and the train ticket to Manakara. We had rapidly determined that pre-booking the taxi-brousse was a good idea - it guaranteed a seat, and we could determine where in the crowded vehicle we would sit, the seats up front next to the driver being the best for photography and ease of access.
We spent the first day at Ranomafana walking around the town, visiting the women's weaving co-operative and exploring around the old thermal baths, where we saw a small snake. We were staying at Centrest, and they organised a guide who would pick us up from the hotel and take us out to the National Park in the morning. Despite two (different) car breakdowns on the seven kilometre drive to the park it all worked out as organised.
The National Park is In a very hilly area, heavily vegetated, with a number of different routes your guide can choose from. We did a four-hour walk and saw four species of lemur, including golden bamboo lemurs, the reason this park was created. The walking wasn't strenuous, and the views were fantastic. As we left the park our guide found giraffe-necked weevils on the bushes.
Our taxi-brousse picked us up as arranged next morning, crammed full with 23 people, and we drove back to Fianar in a mystical swirl of mist for most of the way. At one stage there was a loud bang from the front of the van, and we stopped to see what happened, but surmised that it was a bird and since nothing was broken we carried on, arriving in Fianar in time for breakfast. We had reserved a room at Le Cotso so could settle back there, leave our gear, and go up to the haute-ville to see more of the town. Fianar is amazing; it is a city, but has rice fields and animal yards in a protected valley right in the middle of the built-up area. Fianar also shows signs of the hard times that have hit Madagascar. Although the touts and sellers aren't as aggressive as those in Tana they are fairly desperate and there are a lot of them. There are a lot of homeless people. Again I particularly despaired for the women with small children; their lives seemed to be totally without hope.