As my other reviews confirm; camping in Andringitra National Park is a little basic. One area where we did very well was with the catering arrangements, and our lovely cook Zu certainly did us proud.
The Cooking Facilities
I did stick my head through the door of the campsite kitchen, a very dark windowless stone built hut, which would also serve as a sturdy shelter if the weather turned particularly bad. I imagine health officials in the UK would close the place down as it consisted of little more than places for fires, and stone benches and tables for sleeping, cutting, cooking and sitting. That said, Zu cooked everything very well, and I had no doubt everything was clean and well cooked. The cooking process kills the germs, and we certainly didn’t feel unwell during our stay in the mountains (apart from our travelling companion who had picked up a stomach even bug before we arrived).
During the first night, Zu had set up camp ahead of us, and we were amazed to find a full three course dinner awaiting us. I don’t normally drink tea, but I drank it here, as bottled water was heavy and was needed for our efforts climbing the mountains. Tea could be made from the water in the stream.
I was most impressed with the nibbles; Zu had roasted some nuts and we ate those as he prepared dinner. This consisted of pasta in a cheese sauce, followed by cooked vegetable salad. While I won’t claim it was restaurant standard, I was impressed for camp side food, all cooked from scratch.
Zu actually had one of the worst jobs at campsite, as he also had to get up at 4:00am in the freezing cold to prepare the fires, to boil the water, just so we could have our morning cup of tea, and to make us a bit of breakfast. After we had finished our meal and were relaxing gazing into the embers of the camp fire, or looking up at the stars, Zu was busy washing down all the pots and pans. He did his job cheerfully, and managed to fit a bit of skinny dipping in the river while we were on our hikes.
For our second night’s meal, Zu killed our two chicken companions and we had a very tasty (if slightly stringy) Chicken and Chips the second night. How Zu managed to produce such tasty fries in those basic conditions will remain forever a mystery.
While those really fussy eaters might struggle on the campsite, Zu could certainly cater for vegetarians, and we had a good and wholesome diet, which didn’t leave me feeling hungry (and I am a healthy eater).
In terms of the other facilities in the campsite, my experience was a little mixed. Thankfully our tour company, Mad Trekking had brought new tents and good and warm sleeping bags, so we had somewhere pleasant to sleep, although as it fell below freezing after dark, it is advisable that you try to stay in your tent, rather than need to make nocturnal expeditions to the bathroom.
The bathroom situation overall left something to be desired, but was as good as can be in this very remote part of the world. The toilets were mainly simply deep pits topped with wooden planks; or to be polite squat toilets with long drops. These were best used early in the morning before the sun had risen too far, and you couldn’t be that shy, as the reed walls all tended to have holes in them! It was a place to make friends, although thankfully we were either the only party camping, or there was just one other couple on camp. The long drops were better than the other facilities, which I just couldn’t face.
The campsite on the second ridge was near a large rockpool which was perfect for washing in and cooling down, although of course in such pristine conditions, with lots of rare crayfish and other wildlife relying on the water, strong soaps and detergents were discouraged. We simply splashed in the water, and then cleaned our teeth away from the watercourse. It wasn’t a problem for the three days we were there. This is "rough camping", so go with the flow.
What to take
In terms of taking must haves; in addition to the usual items, I’d recommend a little head torch, lashings of sun cream, perhaps a little supply of breakfast bar snacks in case the fancy takes you, toilet tissue, anti bacterial wipes, a little plastic bag to carry back your rubbish, and a day sack to take your waterproofs and water in the morning. The porters can carry your evening clothes (wrap up warm with a couple of layers and long trousers). Obviously, the porters will especially love you if you don’t take too many clothes and books with you "just in case", and if you have what they have to carry in a handy bag (such as a rucksack).
Obviously, it also helps to take tips for everyone. We didn't tip excessively, and I regret not tipping a little more. We worked on the basis of giving enough for a family restaurant meal per night for each of the party, with a little more for Zu and Florene the guide.
I know we in the west are anxious not to over-tip, but to be honest, it would just put a smile on the face of the locals rather than mortify them.