I would have sent out a series of tweets on the following experience but I just didn't have the energy to dig around for my local sim card, especially since I wasn't sure if I had any credit left from my last trip. So here goes:
- Flying from Mauritius to Anntananarivo, Madagascar is always a treat - first because SSR international aurport in Mauritius is just about the perfect airport to transit. It just the perfect size and is very efficient in handling in-transit passengers; second because you get a great view of the island of Mauritius after take-off and then fantastic view of the Madagascar's eastern coastline, followed by eastern rainforest and the high plateau while arriving into the country (see my instagram posts for some shots from the plane).
- However, once you arrive at the Ivato international airport in Antananarivo, travel nightmare begins in earnest. First they are always changing the way they process incoming passengers, so even after a few trips to this country, you are never sure how your arrival will work. One of the best advise I usually give (and follow myself) is to sit towards the front of the plane so you can get off early and run to the arrival hall to be among the first on the queue for upon-arrival visa. So, thinking I got this covered I ran to the visa desk this time, only to find they have changed their rule again and were charging for visa regardless of the length of your stay (before it used to be free for up to a month's stay) - so I was sent back to the counter where I had to pay the visa fee. I didn't mind paying the fee (£20 for up to a month it seemed), but once you are being charged for something that used to be free, you do expect better service in return - at least that was my expectation.
- What followed was certainly not what I was expecting. Getting the passport stamped with the visa was not the problem - credit to them they were efficient. But after that the wait began for the checked-in luggages. I have had some pretty long waits at the international airport in Kathmandu, and have experienced and seen the chaos there, as well as in places like Bamako and Ouagadougou, especially after the landing of 4-5 flights in succession. However, the wait for my luggages on this trip beat all those. Sadly I had no pictures to show because the authorities have completely banned taking photographs within airport area - inside and out! I had to wait for more than an hour to get my luggages even though there was just our flight that had landed - so there is no reason to think the baggage handlers were overwhelmed by too many flights. They just seemed to enjoy making the passengers wait as I certainly couldn't work out why it took so long just to transfer luggages from the plane to the conveyor belt.
- While waiting for the luggages, you get an airport staff every now and then coming over to you asking for money in return for smoothing the process of exit from the airport - somehow they couldn't smooth the process of getting the luggages though! I was approached at least five times during my wait, but that didn't really surprise me as I have never passed through Ivato airport when someone hadn't asked me for money!
- Once I got my luggage, then there was another long queue at the supposedly 'nothing to declare' channel. I don't know if it was just this time or they have now started to do this for all the incoming flights - they were basically asking every passenger to open every luggage so they could rummage through - I don't know what they were trying to find. Anyway, I had my luggages rummaged after another 20 or so minutes in that queue.
- After this there was one more 'check' where two immigration officials stood just before the main exit to check every passport passing though. I think they do it just for fun - sort of playing the 'which country the passenger might be from' game. As I handed in my passport, those two officials just said 'Nepal' and then I got my passport back!
- Of course you get a few taxi drivers trying to
lure pulldrag you into their vehicle as soon as you exit, but I don't blame them - they have to make a living in a country where earning a living for an average citizen is still extremely tough. Luckily I had someone waiting to pick me up, so it wasn't too bad once I was out.
- An hour or so drive from the airport, which occasionally reminds me of driving through parts of Kathmandu - both the surroundings and the traffic - I arrived safely at my place of stay, a sort of 'home away from home' place to stay here in Antananarivo.