“Where do you come from?” said the Queen. “And where are you going? Look up, speak nicely, and don’t twiddle your fingers all the time.”
Alice Through the Looking Glass
After surviving the super strenuous and exhausting week in Mozambique, it was off to Madagascar for the Egypt crew- or at least three of us! One night in Johannesburg, forcing me to once again say goodbye to this place I love so much led to an early flight to Antananarivo, a city with a pronunciation that still challenges me. We had hired a guide for our six days and he and our driver met us at the airport. I immediately liked this town- dirt roads, kids playing in the dirt with huge smiles on their faces and adults hanging out together on the sides of the roads. Don’t get me wrong, Madagascar is one of the poorest countries I have visited. But, as I have observed over and over again, the poorer the country, the happier the people. The Malagasy were no exception. Many of the ladies wash their clothes in the river and rather than it be a regretful experience, it appears to be a community gathering. And a happy one at that. I immediately regretted not having a suitcase full of toys to share with the children.
A quick stop at the hotel to drop off bags and run through the itinerary for the week and it was off to stop number one- a crocodile farm, complete with lemurs (didn’t see), turtles (Cecil the 60 year old turtle followed me all over his enclosure after I climbed in to scratch his head), lizards and chameleons, and snakes. If you know me, you know I am genuinely terrified of snakes, like I cease breathing terrified. I informed my guide of this which caused him to chuckle. So I took out my “Grown Up- I An Not Messing Around” face and voice that served me so well years ago when I worked at a day care center and reinforced my statement. I believed he had gotten the picture when our local guide pointed for me to go past several exhibits and wait for the rest of the group. Crisis averted. Zoo type places are quite different in Madagascar- our guide kept hopping over the fence or having us join him over the fence and pick up the animals- something we would see quite often. And, despite us staring into the trees for a bit, the lemurs declined to show their faces. No worries. We would soon be in lemur heaven.
We got up early the next day to sit in the famous Antananarivo traffic jam, a literal standstill that rivals many I have seen in the rest of the world. As we set in traffic and marveled at the lift happening around us, we learned a bit about the country and its people. 85% of the people are farmers, which is a bit misleading as they farm enough to feed their families and survive, and 5% work in industry. Rice is eaten at all three meals and farmers grow enough to support their own family. All non farmers must purchase imported rice. There are 22 million people, French is the official language and Malagasy is the tribal language, unfortunately a threatened with extinction language.
After a few hours, we were near the eastern coast of Madagascar near the town of Andasibe and headed to Lemur Island at the Vakona Forest Lodge. I had done little research about this trip, so I had no idea what to expect. Needless to say, I was quite surprised when a Verreaux Sifaka lemur jumped on my head. These are the bigger, black and white ones and this one bounced back and forth among the three of us, heading to whoever might be closest to a bite of banana. This lemur was cute, but I was soon to meet up with my new best friend, Frank. Frank is a brown lemur and my favorite of the species. Frank hung out with me for a long time, posing for a lot of bad selfies and generally keeping my neck toasty warm. After a tearful goodbye, we parted ways and hopped in a canoe to see a few more specie, actually a good thing as my neck was getting quite sore from staring up at the trees. Cruising up to a smaller island, we spotted a bunch of Ring Tailed lemurs high in the branches. Our guide told us that, unlike the brown lemurs, we could not pet these guys. Clearly, the lemurs do not share the same obedience as we were covered in lemurs in no time. This species liked to camp out on your head or sit on your shoulders and use your head as a table. In total, we saw five different species of lemur here. Kicking and screaming and convinced to leave only by our growling stomachs, we headed out.
After sunset, we got to do a night walk through the jungle. This being Madagascar and not the United States, rules and the threat of litigation are far less prominent. So we grabbed our flashlights and hit the woods. We were rewarded with chameleons, lizards, frogs and home sapiens sightings but the highlight was a rarely spotted nocturnal lemur, all seen by once again, staring into the sky.
After surviving a slightly scary hotel which required mosquito nets, sleep sacks and fingers crossed, we hopped back in the car for a drive to Antserabe. We stopped at a reptile farm along the way where I befriended Veronica, my future pet. She was a super soft lizard who looked like she was smiling. When the guides weren’t looking, I may or may not have dropped her in my bag and she is watching me type at this moment. We also stopped for some koba, a Malagasy cake that looks like a giant roll cake. We were told it was a lovely cake make of peanuts, sugar and flour and rolled in banana leaves. I was beyond excited to taste this. After, I was beyond excited to never taste it again. Antserabe is the city of rickshaws and they are plentiful, with guys pulling them in their bare feet across the dirt roads while yelling to you in French. I must have been convincing because after the few exchanges we made, my driver prattled on as if I was quite fluent. Oops.
Next stop was the town of Morondava, for the Avenue of the Baobabs. This was a long drive, where once again, my music and headphones provided the soundtrack to another journey through a nation. On this drive, I developed a serious distaste for my driver’s passion of honking at everyone and everything and making it his personal mission to force every pedestrian into the bush rather than share the road. My tongue was sore by the end of the drive from all of the biting I had done on it. We arrived at the Avenue in time for sunset over the baobabs. I have seen a lot of sunset over the past year, but this was one of the more spectacular.
Another dinner of either spaghetti or pizza (two of the three main foods in Madagascar with zebu (beef) being the third), a trip to the Kirindy forest (two hours spent staring into the sky looking for lemurs and at baobobs) and a night at the local Malagasy reggae bar rounded out the rest of the adventure and my last activities of this long journey.
Madagascar is one of the reasons I love Africa. It always comes down to the people. While it is unlikely I will ever return to this place, it made an impact, even if most of it was me, on the ground, looking up.
And now, this journey has come to an end. Back to the States I go.