“That’s freaking hot!” I pull my foot out of the hot water and check for burns. My foot is all I put in the tub. At least I braved that much. Lori says no way is she getting in. We drove out to Betafo for the hotsprings and are apparently going to get a good scalding.
The lady who talked us into soaking in her hotspring bath offers to put cool water in the tub. Yes, please. I check it. It’s not cool, just less hot. There’s a difference. Taking a hot bath on a hot Malagasy afternoon? What were we thinking?
Betafo is a small town of about 31,000 people 14 miles (22 kilometers) west of Antsirabe. It’s on Route National 34, the road that goes to Morondava and the Avenue of the Baobobs on Madagascar’s west coast. Some people get here by taking a taxi-brousse (minivan bus). Others rent a bicycle and ride. The guidebooks agree that Betafo is off the beaten track for most travelers.
Betafo was once the capital of one of four ancient kingdoms of the Betsileo people. These people developed terraced rice paddies and an irrigation system to water them in the 17th century. They left their mark in the terraced hillsides that frame the areas red brick villages today. The area was nominated to the Tentative List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Madagascar in 1997.
To find the hotsprings, Misa, our driver, stopped in town to ask directions, and stopped on the way to verify the directions. None of the websites or guidebooks I looked at were very specific about how to get here. After driving through town and a few kilometers west on the tarred road, we turned off on a hard-packed, potholed dirt road. We followed the road uphill past what looked like was once a nice hotspring swimming pool facility. The pool is now empty and cracked and the building is falling apart.
Misa pulled off the road beside a couple rows of unadorned, doorless, dilapidated concrete huts. We had arrived at the the Betafo hotspring. Inside the huts were tubs. People were washing clothes in some of them.
While we looked at the tubs, and discussed whether they were sanitary, a middle aged woman offered to show us the spring where the hot water comes from. She tried hard to get us to pay her to show us the spring. But it’s only a couple hundred meters up the road. We didn’t need a guide for a short road walk.
The spring has been developed. People were washing clothes there as well. I hoped their wash water wasn’t what runs in the pipes down to the bath houses. Our self appointed guide had followed along. (Sorry, I forgot her name. That happens). She told us she has a nice place for us to take a bath. We agreed to take a look.
She and her husband have built a bath house next to their home. The inside is clean, the tub is tiled, and the door works. The plumbing is a bit improvised involving black pastic pipe, green hoses, and blue water barrels. Looked okay to us.
As the tub filled, we changed into our swimming suits. I put my foot in the tub. No way. Hot, hot, hot.
I force myself to it again and this time put both feet in the water. Too hot. Maybe I’m a slow learner or like pain. I run the less hot water over them then try again. After awhile, I can actually keep my feet in the water. Either the less hot water is making the temperature bearable, or I’ve burnt the nerves in my skin and can’t tell how hot the water is anymore. I sit. Then submerse myself. Strange. Even on this hot day, it’s nice to relax in the hot water. Lori sees that I haven’t killed myself and gets in too. Slowly.
Antafofo Waterfall and Lake Tatamarina
After our bath, our hostess tells us about a “cascade” we should see and that a crater lake in town is also worth going to. She would happily be our guide. Okay, okay. We barter with her and agree on something like 20,000 ariary for the bath and guiding to the waterfall and lake.
We’re not really sure if we’re driving to a lake with a waterfall. Driving a bit then hiking to one or the other or both. It’s late afternoon so we’re hoping it’s not too far or too long of a hike.
We drive for five or ten minutes back towards Betafo. Our guide says to turn off and stop by a school. We walk along a gravel road then scramble downhill on a dirt path. We arrive at the waterfall maybe a whole five minutes walking from the road.
The waterfall is actually quite nice. Especially the shade. I think it’s called Antafofo waterfall. Water is being diverted from above the falls to an irrigation canal leading off to rice paddies. Some people swim here. There’s a story of ghosts in the pool below the falls that grab swimmers’ legs. We look around, take some photos, then scramble up hill back to the car. No swimming with ghosts today. Not after our scalding bath. That was enough.
In town, our guide directs us to the north and we stop at Lake Tatamarina. This is supposed to be a crater lake. I see terraced hills around the lake but not really a crater. Volcanoes shaped the landscape here and there are hotsprings, so, sure, it’s a crater. We walk along the shoreline a bit. We’re told you can walk beside the water diversions all the way to the waterfall. It’s allegedly three kilometers away (not quite two miles).
We take a look at the red brick Catholic church before dropping our guide off at the taxi-brousse stand. That’s how she’s getting home. We thank her for the splendid afternoon. I wish I’d written down her name because now I can’t remember it. She’s a nice lady and has a nice bath house.