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AKA: Baobab Alley
One of Madagascar's more famous scenes to the rest of the world and quite appropriately titled ‘avenue’ as the trees do line the route long past it and continue for much of your journey.
This is the closest to a Disneyland experience that Madagascar has as nearly every photo you see of these magnificent trees has twenty people behind that camera taking the same picture. Groups are ferried here everyday for the sunset and are encouraged to leave exactly when the last spark of red is unable to flitter above the horizon. It's not that isolated at only twenty minutes from Morondava town on a route tourists have to pass through anyway if visiting other popular destinations in the area.
But it doesn't matter. It really is breathtaking. There are more impressive baobabs elsewhere but none orchestrated along such a charismatic stretch of track. This is a pure treat to watch and enjoy. Just don't rush off when the sun dips down.
If you're here to photograph you'll have better conditions when organising a trip here before sunrise. That's when you're likely to encounter the rising mists and light quality that peppers the more memorable photographs.
It doesn't make a difference to accessibility but the vantage point where tourists gather for sunsets has a seasonal, large pond in the middle. Depending on what time of year you visit, you may be sharing a large field with tourists and zebu, be gathered around the periphery of the water's edge, or watching your step in a soggy marsh.
Baobab Alley is just [6km] from the turn off near the entry point to Morondava (the [RN35] and [RN8] junction) and nearly [20km] from its main hotels by the coast. As the highway is in pretty good condition it's only about a 20 minute drive back and should be easy enough to flag a passing car or taxi-brousse heading out of town to get you to the junction, which is walkable from that point if you have the time. Regular taxis can manage the journey on the dirt road pretty ok too.
For the majority of the year there'll be tourists here each sunset driving back into town. The odds of there being a space in one of the cars is good enough that it may be worth asking around and offering to pay your way, but be prepared to walk back. If you have your own transport you're required to pay a fee of [MGA2000] to park here.
Most tourists in the area take the opportunity to visit Tsingy de Bemaraha and Kirindy Reserve which are both, conveniently, on the same [RN8] road as the baobabs. Kirindy is about an hour or two north at [35km] and the tsingy averages seven or eight hours in the dry season to travel [160km], including two river crossings by barge and the waiting involved in boarding. Tsingy de Bemaraha is unreachable for most of the rainy season which falls somewhere between November and May each year.
There are nine species of Baobabs (the Adansonia genus) in the world and a whole six of them are native to Madagascar, explaining the popular link between the tree and nation. A seventh, Adansonia digitata is the most widespread of baobabs in the world and is also found in the country. Outside of Madagascar they can be found in eastern and southern Africa, as well as Cape Verde, Australia, Oman, Yemen and Malaysia.
The species of baobab lining this avenue, Adansonia grandidieri, epitomises much of what those who've yet to visit imagine when they think of Madagascar (well, before that movie came along. Thanks Dreamworks).
Drive nearly [7km] north-west from the avenue and you'll reach the Baobab Amoureux (the baobab lovers), a pair of Adansonia za baobabs intertwined and on view in a manner that would no doubt have appealed to Keats. The land around the trees is now quite open and a few simple market tables have been set up. Although they'll be priced higher here, you can purchase baobab fruit if you're curious about its taste—and you should be.
Baobab fruit, about the size of a smaller coconut, has a surface even softer than the velvety texture of a kiwi fruit, but a firm inner shell to lessen the blow from a high drop. On cracking one open you're presented with the contents that look, feel—and taste—like polystyrene. Not sold? Well, the polystyrene texture is only brief and it soon begins to melt in your mouth, releasing a sweet flavour not unlike sherbet and pear. This swollen, soft texture beautifully cocoons the seeds inside, which you'll encounter while the fruits flesh dissolves around them.
If there's one thing baobabs and giant Aldabra tortoises have in common, it's the wild stories about their supposed age that have never been verified. It's not unusual for larger baobabs—particularly if they're a focal point near a village—to have claims of 3,000 years or thereabouts. Others will tell you that they're likely not much more than 1,000 years. Whatever their genuine age, it's incredible that they've been growing even this long and seen this many suns emerge and retreat through the calmest of seasons to storms you cannot fathom. That they're still standing when their neighbours around them have come and gone multiple times shows the value placed in these flora.
Small veranda next to the baobabs selling drinks and providing several seats under a roof.
Avenue of the Baobabs, Morondava
Am I imagining that there used to be an unplugged vending machine dragged here every day to disperse drinks by the roadside? He doesn't turn up these days but there was a bar built at the end of the trees around 2014. This might not sound like the most appealing amenity to stumble across by those idealising baobabs out isolated in the wilderness but, in its defence, it's quite small and discrete.
I was surprised (but thankful) that drinks were priced at near standard rates for such a tourist mecca. Why am I nervous that isn't the case these days? Inside the raised platform there's about three or four long seats against the walls and a bar serving standard, unchilled, beers and soft drinks.