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...

Friday, July 6, 2012

This Is Life

After 15-20 minutes in a speed boat, we are headed toward a beautiful beach. For a moment we think that we are there, but we realize that only a couple of children get down, maybe they just go to school, this is not our stop. We are headed toward the proper island of Madagascar, the little port of Ankify, where we are booked through an agency on a 4WD Nissan Patrol toward Diego Suarez. After another quick stop, we finally make it and we have to brace for it.
Ankify, loading place for the taxi brousses that travel the country

It is a mob, worse than anything we've seen in India. People ask us many questions and grab our luggage. They all know our car (?) and get a little disconcerted when we refuse any help and take our bags back. I head straight to a cafe, ask my family to take seats and take out books to read. Seven or eight men are watching us, but after a few minutes they give up and one by one turn toward the landing dock. They would still keep an eye on us and when I move I get questions. I thank politely and refuse to give any information. "Why don't you want to tell me where you go?" asks a young man, disconcerted. "It is our job to know where you go, if you have to go to the hospital wouldn't you want people to know where you are?" I cannot follow the logic and my French is not good enough to explain that he has the right to ask all the questions in the world, but I don't have to answer anything. I find one car that fits our description, there is no driver, but somebody tells me not to worry, this is not my car, my car will come in five minutes. And it does, but now the driver ignores any approach from me, locks his car and disappears. My man knows, this is my car. I watch it from a distance and after a while I see the driver again. We manage to have some conversation that stretches the limits of absurdity and finally I shove my receipt in his face. He takes a while to decipher all the signs on the paper and hands back the paper to me. I ask three-four times if he is my driver and he reluctantly admits that he is. He takes a few more minutes to make a call, hands me the cell, I talk with a lady in English who asks me if I am me and if I really have three children, then she talks some more to the driver and we get up to get in the car. The driver prepares the sixth seat in the back, but ignores us and the helpful guy from before shows up with a helper to tie the bags on the top of the car. We try to explain to no avail, that we don't need that, no chance. When we finally get going, an hour would pass before our driver would say anything: "do you want to see a plantation?" We say no. Two hours later, another few words. He informs us that we have another three and a half hours to our destination, maybe we want lunch. No, we just want a toilet. We stop, and he lets me know that we are passing by some really nice places, maybe we want to see the National Park of Ankarana. Yes, we want to see that, we even thought of stopping there for a couple of nights. A deal is made but when we get to the park the fees are outrageous and we decide not to enter. I lost my temper there a bit. They had some announcements with prices, locals pay 1000 ariari (46 cents), foreigners pay 25000 (11.5 USD). Plus we have to pay a mandatory guide 40,000 and our driver wants 60,000 just for two hours. My problem was that they had prices for foreign students at 10,000 but they said I had to go somewhere in some city and get an approval, for now my children would pay as adults. No thank you, bye bye.

Our reference is Taj Mahal. While we had to pay 15 times more than locals, the price there was just $15 with no other taxes. I love the idea of National Parks and Madagascar has immense values that should be guarded and protected, but there should be limits. I cannot pay more than $100 for every park that we come across. It makes me reconsider our future plans for traveling here. But everything makes me mad today. The road has short stretches that are acceptable, but for most of if is outrageous: it is a national road, connecting the most important cities in the country, there are rusted signs that it was a good road onetime. I didn't believe Lonely Planet when they said there are potholes to loose an elephant in. I was wrong. The landscape is OK and at one time there is one good lookout, but besides that what we see from the luxury of our car is horrendous. People living in small huts made of thin branches of wood tied together. They make me mad. They live their life in the most abject poverty. Their most valuable possession might be the hammer they use to break small rocks into smaller rocks. We were told some of these are used for gravel, some of these are used to make cement. Human beings spend their lives breaking one stack of brick-size rocks into a pile of gravel. Their politicians make me mad, they've been fighting for some years and meanwhile all the international aid to the country has been suspended. And everybody else makes me mad. In one country they spend billions of dollars for a meaningless presidential campaign while they beg for $10 to feed a child for a month. And we all think that it is normal and it makes me mad.
The national road

Diego Suarez, at the northern tip of Madagascar has an amazing location, one of the best gulfs in the world, translated that means it has military value. The best part of the town with the best views is full of old decrepit military barracks. There is hardly any decent spot. Surprisingly the properties between the military places are in shambles, there is no way to get through. There are some good hotels, some good French restaurants. Plenty of old nice French guys hooked up with younger, beautiful, puppet size local women. At least the women are adults and they seem to be in love, in control or both. It is a rusty poor place, but worlds better than what we saw on our way here. It is also the gateway to a couple of National Parks, some beaches and a place called Tsingy Rouge. That is a unique geological phenomenon, worth the trouble, the reason for our visit here. We take an eight hour trip, very difficult road in a 4WD, we cannot believe that some tiny Renaults 4s still make it here. Amazing views of the hills, sea, canyons and finally a short walk to see the tsingys from up close.
That is the Indian Ocean in the background

View over the canyon

Tsingy Rouge, final take

Besides that we spend a couple of days in the warm weather, waiting for the power to come on, eating out until we get sick of French food and not much more. After our 4WD trip from Nosy Be, it is clear that we will not take the 1000km road to Antananarivo. We will have to fly there. Somehow.
The front view of the beautiful gulf

School bus in Diego Suarez

The airport in Diego Suarez

I go every morning to the store to buy fresh bread and some pâté. As I pass by a pile of garbage there is one man, sat comfortably in it, digging for scrapes of food. He is still there 20 minutes later, still digging, tasting various things. He deserves a picture, but I decide not, it is just life, nothing interesting. Instead I go two streets further to photograph zebus in another, bigger pile of dirt. As I leave, a local guy asks in French: "êtes-vous satisfait avec vos photos, monsieur?"

A very poor picture of a very poor place

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