Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Gently Down The Stream

“I want to go to that place with rocks sharp like a knife!” Mihai draws a blank. He stares at me like I’m an alien. I can’t say how many times he asked me what I want to see or do, never giving a straight answer, and now that we are in Madagascar I tell him about a place that I read several years ago in National Geographic’s magazine. Looking for it, we found that it is called Tsingy de Bemaraha (tszeen-ghee deh bem-ah-rah-ha), it is in the west of the country and to get there it would require several days and a 4WD. Unfazed by the difficulties and the price I claim almost two weeks from our time, not to mention the strain on our bodies and nerves.

We chose to go down the Tsiribihina (tszee-ree-bee-hee-nah) river in a motorized boat. We could have chosen to go on a pirogue, quieter, closer to nature, but, oh, so cramped and exposed to the force of the elements. No, thank you, I have good memories from going to Lokobe. Ernest, our guide for this trip, picks us up from the hotel and takes us to the police station, where we have to register. At the end of the trip we will make a similar stop, confirming that we didn’t disapear along the road. We drive toward the embarcation point on a road fit for motorcycle rodeos. And we were not the only car, there were locals too. In the end I got my answer why they were going that way: it was market day! Such a density of people and stuff, to get through they had to lift poles and move carts!

The moment that we stepped down we were surrounded by children, wide eyes and open mouthes. “Bon jour!” they greeted us. Knowing that there are no toilets on the boat we asked for one before. We followed the line of the gesture, walking between the fields and the brambled shore line. The children followed us, talking and laughing. Seeing no construction, eventualy it dawned on me that we were supposed to go in the nature. The children were glued to us. What to do? We took pictures, and that interested them more!

 Later we will stop the boat in the middle of nowhere to walk a long distance to hide behind some bushes. I ask why don’t they build a pit toilet, at least for the tourists, they would feel infinitely better if they don’t have to watch for snakes in the grass, or crocodiles, or for a matter of fact, for another human being. The villagers don’t like it, it smells. And after six months, the rains wash everything away. I try to tell him about contamination, he assures me that everything is OK, under control. I doubt that.

The boat will be our home for three days and two nights. We could go up on the sun deck where there are some chairs and matresses, or stay below, at the table, but in the shade. In the beginning we are taken by the views. The river snakes through a sandy valley, hemmed by narrow rice paddies or a few sweet potatoes. There are long stretches of nothing but sand banks, elevated. The waves eat them from underneath and there is nothing else for the sand to do, but fall, leaving sharp straight edges. Sometimes there is a tree still holding onto the muddy bank, though the majority of it’s roots are naked. Sometimes the battle ended with the leaves in the water.

From time to time we see people. They wash themselves or clothes. 

The children’s faces light up, start waving with frenzy their hands and yell greetings. Sometimes they run for a short distance, their eyes on us. We learn that in the dry season people move in little shacks close to the river to tend their crops, to fish (they salt it and dry it for later). In the wet season they talk and sing the rain and time away, weaving palm baskets, in their villages on higher ground, getting together in somebody’s house, bringing something edible to share. The crops are not always good, because their land is not good, too sandy. They could rent a parcel of a better land, but they don’t have the money. 

We stop for lunch and we get to know better our Canadian companions Daniell, Chantal and Edith. They have been friends for a long time and brought with them the camaraderie. We all had a good time together, talking about our normal lives, about our travels and plans.

In the afternoon we reach one of the highlights of the trip: a waterfall. We climb a little hill, enter the forest and look at some lemurs leisurely feeding themselves. Then we have to cross a stream blue milky waters with thick dirty foam floating on it. We jump from big rock to big boulder and reach a blue pool fed by the waterfall itself. From a distance it doesn’t seem much, now that’s in the shade, but it’s a thrill from upclose. The water ripples on huge calcar layered mushrooms, growing them longer with each drip (the acid water dissolves the calcar, that explains the foam). It reminds me of the Canary Springs (Yellowstone National Park) with their feathery fragile formations. We were promised a bath, but now is late, and we still have dinner and camp, so we return to the boat. Only it doesn’t want to get started. The men jump in the knee high water and push and pull. In the end we’re tugged by another boat and just yards away from the moorage spot, the engine starts again.

Dinner is served at the torch light. It contains beside white rice, zebu meat cut into small pieces. I presume is the leftover from lunch, it has the same taste and tough as a leather shoe. On the shore the crue assembled the tents and made the beds. In the night we hear a man singing while playing a rhythmic tune on a guitar. I look at the sky. Plenty of stars. And some white clouds that impair my view...My logic tells me that if they were clouds, I wouldn’t see through them and they wouldn’t be white, as there is no light to illuminate them (it’s new moon)... soooo meet the Milky Way. We go to sleep, but I wake in the night time, bundle up and go outside. If you have memories of a starry night, a quiet one, of darkness surrounding you, of peace, of water wisper, mix them together and imagine yourself there, my words fail me. 

In the morning we have an ad-hoc photo sesion with the people who live on that bank. They have a lemur pet leashed with a string and a kitty. The guitar is just a driftwood with different sized fishing strings and the voice is a teenager.

A zebu cow and its calf (the hump on their back is just fat)

We go back to the waterfall. Ioan is the only one who really wants to take a bath. We follow his example. The sun makes its way over the top of the waterfall. We scream as we take the plunge in the cold water. But wonder of wonders, the one in the cascade is warm! We just sit there for a pounding massage.

The day goes the same way, meandering through the deepest part of the river, getting stuck sometimes, pushed by the crew, waving at children. We stop at a village, where they cultivate tobacco. Immediately as we step out from the boat, children surround us, hold our hands, greet us with “Bon Jour!” and ask our names. They smile, and they are happy just to be around us. 

We hear “Photo Wah-zah” and take their pictures. They all want to be in the picture, so the tall boy steps in front of the little girls and I have to stop and rearange them. They wait patiently to take as many photos as I like, but when I show them the pictures they crowd to see themselves, and laugh, laugh with no worries. 

We are showed the tobacco deposit where bundles of dried leaves are bagged in burlap and after that we return to the boat. 

A boy jumps to hold Mihai’s hand as he takes it out of his reach. They play for a while... Suafamil holds my right hand and I squeeze hers to let go so I could take more pictures. She moves to my left and feeling my wedding ring she looks at it as if it’s from the moon. 

My Suafamil...

On the side I see a boy, around 12. His face is not trained to hide his feelings, and I read his battle: he would like to see himself in a picture, but he thinks an aspiring man doesn’t have this childish wishes. From a food shack I hear a shy whisper “Photo Wahzah.” 

She was so happy, sooo happy...giggled with her friend.

We ask Ernest, what does it mean wahzah? White man. It feels awkward to be labeled, like I’m not myself anymore. Yes, for them I am just another wahzah, another white tourist, this moment here, next one forgotten. They asked shyly for soap, I didn’t give them. But I took with me their example of openness.

The scenery is mostly the same, we look for birds now, we see two alligators. 

This picture was taken by Ioan.

Let's see what's new and tasty....

We just take it in, sunset and all. 

After dinner we have a cultural show. At the fire light girls dressed with red pleated skirts dance. They all follow the lead girl, imitating her movements, shaking their bum, stomping the ground, undulating their arms. Sometimes the movements are called by the guitar player, sometimes by the dancer.

 We are invited too and have the time of our life. We’re not that good, we get out of breath, but in a take turns dance, we make the girls blush and laugh trying to follow us. When they get tired they sit next to the guitarist and sing about their country (Ernest records it on his phone). The small and tired children sit in their mothers laps. They join a particular dance, men come too, becoming children once again. We go to sleep on the sounds of the guitar and merriment.

The guitar that enchanted us.

The last day on the boat dawns sunny. We’re a bit nostalgic, I could have lived on the boat. Talking about last night, Danielle is upset because these people live in the darkness for a long time (the day here is 12 hours). The night’s images bring me the memories of evenings at the farm, when there was no electriciy and we would eat at the lamp light, gathered around the small wooden table, we would play shadow games and tell stories. “Maybe we live in too much light.”

The girls where 15 years old

We talk a little bit more with Ernest. Why doesn’t he marry? He doesn’t have the zebu. To marry a girl he would have to pay to her family a zebu upfront, and another one after a year. If a child is born, another zebu. If he doesn’t pay, he becomes the talk of the village, saying that he is good for nothing. He can’t earn enough money, because he works only in the winter, in the tourism business. He wanted to go to university, to have a better job, to work as a nurse, but everything requires either funds or bribes. He asks us about our country. Do we have cyclon? No, neither in Romania or where we live in USA. He envies us, in his country cyclons wreak havoc yearly. Do we have snow? Yes. Now he doesn’t envy us anymore, for him cold starts at 80 F. 

It’s time to say good bye to Ernest and the crew, to our companions and the river. 

And to you too, this blogpost is long enough, and you have other things to do, more important than to read my reminiscences. I’ll tell you the rest in the next number.


  1. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your world with us! The pictures are really great! Ioan's picture is AMAZING! And that gorgeous sunset behind the tree silhouettes will be my new mental happy place. Ileana

  2. Thank you Ileana! It comes with a slow rhythm of life, cherishing little things.

  3. i love that you did what you did, and so sorry for you leaving our community .

    i love the pictures and what a wonderful thing you did for your children, your a great family and a great man.

    i know you will have great success and i wish you all the luck in the world

    thanks again

    diana (eric's mom)

    1. Thank you Diana for your words and wishes. I'm glad that you liked the pictures from our blogs. There is a Romanian version at the . At the end of the trip we will be back, once again, in our community.


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