Four Days to the Veterinarian

Toamasina, Madagascar — January 7, 2016

“Hey, sweetie, it’s time for Jemma’s checkup and shots,” I call out to the other room.

“That’s nice, dear,” comes the reply.

She must be grading papers or something.

Good grief, time to take the dog to the veterinarian. The problem isn’t the dog. She’s a little strange and likes to go to the vet. You know, there are so many new friends there. Until they poke and prod her, that is. Then she gets this offended look on her face like, “friends shouldn’t be doing that to friends.”

Truck And Bicycle on Route Nationale 2 in Madagascar
Narrow road, no shoulder, truck taking up most of the road, and a bicyclist catching a stealth lift from the truck. Oh, the things you’ll see on Route Nationale 2. And, of course, we passed the truck and bicycle pair on a sharp curve shortly thereafter. Photo by Brett Fisher.

The problem is that there aren’t any veterinarians in Toamasina. Well, none that we’d take our dog to anyway. We’ve heard horror stories of overdoses of medicines, botched injections, surgeries gone awry, and worse. For the local veterinarians, there’s a question of whether they are just a technician, whether they’ve been to school and are certified, whether they were merely on-the-job trained, or none of these at all.

Asking around before we brought Jemma to Madagascar, we were informed of a good veterinarian clinic in Antananarivo aptly named, Vet Clinic. They helped us with Jemma’s import paperwork, and are where we go for her annual check up and vaccinations.

Treachery and Scenery

As I’ve mentioned before, getting to Antananarivo is about a 350 kilometer (215 mile) and eight hour drive on Route Nationale 2 (RN2).

The trip to the Vet Clinic and back could be done in two days. Leave early and drive up all day on the hot, humid, winding, sometimes terrifying Route Nationale 2. Take the dog to the clinic first thing the next morning. Then immediately drive Route Nationale 2 back. If you’ve got an iron backside and iron stomach, this is a great option.

Not me. I take four days for this trip. I’ve had more than enough near “meet my maker” moments on RN2. Like rounding a curve and here’s a car coming at us in our lane that’s trying to pass a truck. I’ve also seen more than enough crumpled cars, crumpled trucks, and crumpled taxi-brousse on the side of RN2. A taxi-brousse is an ubiquitous, combination passenger inside and cargo on the top van used by the Malagasy to travel between towns.

I wonder what happens after cars, trucks, taxi-brousses, and people are crumpled on the road? As far as I know, if something goes wrong, there aren’t police, ambulances, firefighters, or tow trucks to come any time soon. There are also long stretches of RN2 with no mobile phone coverage.

It’s about a four hour drive from Toamasina to Andasibe near the halfway point to Antananarivo. Jemma is allowed to stay with us at the pet friendly Vakôna Lodge, which has the added benefit of long walks on the trails in the forest around the bungalows and much dog joy. We let them know the dog will be with us when we make our reservation through their online form.

Roadside Chicken Vendor on RN2
Chicken for dinner, anyone? Feathers on or feathers off? Your choice. Although I’ve probably unknowingly had it served to me, I haven’t yet worked up the courage to by chicken direct from a street vendor. This vendor is in Antananarivo. Photo by Brett Fisher.

The next morning is another four hours to Tana where we can take care of business at the Vet Clinic first thing, check into a hotel, and enjoy a nice restaurant in the evening. There are about sixteen hotels in Tana that allow dogs (listed on Booking.com, anyway). However, we found out the hard way that it’s important to call the hotel and make sure they accept the size of our dog. Jemma is big even for a Labrador Retriever. One hotel where we inquired after we had booked online said they only take dogs up to the size of Yorkshire Terriers. Is that even a real dog size? Why not just have a guinea pig? Good thing we called ahead. We changed our reservation to Le Lotus Bleu. No problem for a big dog there.

That’s the plan, anyway. Getting around in Tana is generally not pleasant. Traffic is generally bad, it’s generally hot, and the air generally smells of burning trash and car exhaust. I start to generally get a headache. Maybe I haven’t been drinking enough water so I drink some more.

Vet Clinic

Fortunately, the dog’s checkup and shots go quickly. Unfortunately, Jemma needs to lose some weight just like me. And she’s picked up a few fleas, which is not like me. I think she got the fleas from dogs that hang out around a restaurant in Tamatave that we frequent. The restaurant has open air seating and Jemma lays at our feet while we dine. Good dog. Bad fleas.

The Clinic is managed by Dr. Delphine Behmann. Dr. Delphine explains about Jemma in English and French. Her English is much better than my learned in high school 30 years ago French. Everything is clear enough despite the drum line thumping on my head.

Dr. Delphine is from France and studied at the Alfort Veterinary School near Paris (l’Ecole nationale vétérinaire d’Alfort). She had her own veterinarian practice in Reunion Island from where she traveled to Madagascar. She enjoyed her visits and eventually moved to the bigger island.

Dr. Marta, the Clinic’s chief vet, studied at the Interstate School of Veterinary Science and Medicine of Dakar in Senegal. The rest of the Clinic’s veterinarian team studied at the Department of Veterinary Sciences and Medicine (DESMV) of the University of Antananarivo. Because there is a shortage of veterinarian equipment at the local school, the veterinarians from DESMV complete their higher level training and polish their skills under Dr. Delphine’s tutelage.

My headache is getting worse. More water has not alleviated the pounding. More water makes me want to pee. A headache and full bladder on the circuitous route to our hotel. Just great.

Hurry up, hurry up. Let’s check in so I can pee and then lay down and quit moving forever. Lori says I must have a migraine. I tell her I don’t. I just have knives stuck into my brain. Maybe I do have a migraine. There’s a first time for everything. Lori takes the dog for a walk. Then takes herself to a restaurant for a late lunch. I try not to move at all. The city out the window is loud, the ceiling fan is loud, my breathing is loud. This would make sense if I were hungover.

Lori says our friend Franka is joining us for dinner. I chance getting up to eat. I muddle my way downstairs, and sullenly drink my water and eat my pizza. The headache is still there but not as severe. After dinner, the stabbing picks up where it left off and I promptly head back to bed and lie as motionless as possible all night. Maybe I slept. Maybe I thought I slept.

People Working in Rice Fields Along RN2
The green in the January rice fields is stunning on Route Nationale 2. Photo by Brett Fisher.
Family and Traditional Home on Route Nationale 2 in Madagascar
A family outside a traditional home on Route Nationale 2 in Madagascar. Yes, we have a very big dog. No, she won’t eat the children. Photo by Brett Fisher.

The next morning, there is time for exploring Tana and shopping. My headache has somewhat receded but still flares up now and then. I think I should give it a name. Franka is taking us to a shopping mall, La City. I’m not much for shopping, but shopping malls are not very common in Madagascar. Here is air conditioning and a small ice cream shop selling Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Good ice cream is not very common in Madagascar either. I come away with a packet of flower seeds. That’s some bold shopping on my part. Lori comes a way with a few shopping bags full, and some bottled water for the drive back.

After lunch at City Grill in the mall, we start the journey back. With only four hours of driving to Andasibe again, there is time to gawk at, umm, I mean watch the panorama of Madagascar out the car window, to stop, to buy fruit from roadside stands as plums and pineapples are now in season, and to talk to people.

Pineapple Village on Route Nationale 2 in Madagascar
These fruit and vegetable stands are in the village of Ankarefo along Route Nationale 2. I call it the Pineapple Village. I bought some pineapple, and it was so good. Photo by Brett Fisher.

Victor’s Pottery

On Route Nationale 2 just west of Moramonga is a pottery stand in the village of Andranokobaka. Many times I’ve passed it and many times I’ve told myself I should stop and look. This time I stop.

In front of a home is a display of various vases, and replicas of Malagasy houses, mansions, and palaces. A man and then his entire family greet us. The children are terrified and fascinated by Jemma. We go through our dog ambassador routine. She won’t jump on you. She doesn’t bite. She’s a good dog. Watch, see how she sits and shakes my hand on command? That’s enough display for two girls to overcome their terror and pet the monster.

Victor is the artisan. He learned his craft from his father who learned it from a Frenchman. I see a kiln behind their home and ask if I might take a picture. We are invited to an impromptu tour and demonstration.

Victor shows us a pile of dirt. This is his clay. He gets it in the rice fields. He adds that this is not a good time of year for getting clay because of all the rain. He shows us some bags where he’s wrapped up the clay to keep it moist. He may have added water to it and worked it as well since it doesn’t look anything like the pile of dirt. Victor then shows us his wheel and demonstrates how he runs it with a foot pedal while he makes a small vase.

Pottery Stand on Route Nationale 2 in Madagascar
Victor’s pottery vases and replica houses. Photo by Lori Fisher.
Pottery Stand on Route Nationale 2 in Madagascar
Brave girls petting the monster. Photo by Brett Fisher.
Pottery Stand on Route Nationale 2 in Madagascar
Victor demonstrates forming a vase on his potter’s wheel. Photo by Lori Fisher.

We’re then introduced to Victor’s brother-in-law. Brother-in-law (I didn’t get his name) does the detail work carving windows, doors, tiled roofs, thatched roofs, brickwork, stonework, and woodwork on the replicas.

We buy two replica houses and take pictures of the family. Once we get them printed, we will send the pictures to them via taxi-brousse. The locals don’t use FedEx, UPS, or U-Haul. Need to send a package, send a live Christmas goose, move your furniture? Make arrangements with a taxi-brousse.

After another night at Vakôna Lodge, Lori heads off to ride horses. My head feels a bit like day three of recovering from a massive hangover. It’s one thing to overindulge and earn a hangover. It’s another to have the hangover and not the overindulgence. I elect to hang out with Jemma on the porch of our bungalow and grouse about it, silently, to myself.

After Lori returns, we drive the final four hours back home.

Brett and a Lemur in Madagascar!

Thanks for reading. Before you go, I was just wondering, have you driven Route Nationale 2? What was your drive like? Do you use the Vet Clinic or someone else for your pet's care? How has the care been? Tell us about this or any other thoughts you have on this post in the comments section below.

Click here to buy the Bradt Madagascar guidebook!

If you're planning a trip to Madagascar, I use and recommend the Bradt Madagascar guidebook. You can click on the book cover image or click here and buy the guidebook. Thanks much if you do.

Happy wanderings!

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