Sheltered on what were once mud and sand flats behind straggling stands of mangroves, the port of TULÉAR (also known as Toliara or Toliary) is not the most prepossessing place in Madagascar. This former slaving port has been sidelined by recent history – a fact reflected in the rebellious political stance often taken by the townspeople to matters being decided in Tana. Trash abounds here, especially around the outskirts, and there’s very obvious poverty, with begging quite widespread and frustrated pousse-pousse men looking for fares. Like an island of impoverishment in a sea of destitution, the town is barely able to look after its people, with insufficient support for its basic municipal services from Antananarivo and not enough wealth trickling down through jobs and market forces. There’s a new Chinese cotton factory out near the airport, but people here lament the complete lack of any local enterprises that contribute significantly to employment. The hinterland is barren and dry for most of the year – cotton, cattle and goats and a little subsistence agriculture are about all it can support and the drift of rural migrants to the town is ceaseless.
In practical terms Tuléar is a bit of a backwater, too. Although it’s connected to Tana by the country’s best road, the drive of at least 20 hours just serves to emphasise how dislocated it is from the rest of the country. Assuming the picture that’s forming hasn’t put you off coming here completely, you’ll find that there are one or two things to do in town apart from heading out of it. As you wander around Tuléar, look out for the town’s zebu carts, sometimes painted with bright, symbolic imagery derived from popular culture – typically music and film stars – and whose young charioteers will invariably stop to be photographed for a modest fee.
Tuléar has no real beach to retain tourists passing through. Batterie Plage, on the northwest side of town – site of British gun emplacements from World War II – is a working beach of windswept dunes that has also attracted notoriety for attacks on tourists. One to avoid.