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 22, 2012

Tsingy and Baobabs

Road, what does it mean? “A wide way leading from one place to another, especially one with a specially prepared surface that vehicles can use” says the dictionary. I like that part with specially prepared surface. Here is missing. We have almost 5 hours to travel to the “Parc National de Madagascar, Tsingy de Bemaraha”. The wide way is just one lane that resembles red mountains and valleys at a smaller scale. On the sides there are walls of vegetation, grass, or bushes, or young eucalyptus trees (they grow rapidly, when they are five years old, they cut them for charcoal, and from the stumps will grow new shoots). If two cars meet, one will squish itself on the side and the other will pass.

It feels like we’re training to become astronauts or we have a particular contest for fitness. In order to keep our heads not bobbing we need to move our bodies, and soon enough we feel all our muscles. After one hour we take a break, I’m so nauseous. The only relief comes when we’re passing small bridges, when all four wheels are on the same level, and for an instant we glide. It’s briefness makes it more precious. At some point there are children shoveling dust from the sides back in the holes. They are repairing the road. But every passing car, and every gust of wind sends in the air half of their work. It doesn’t matter, they wave happily.

At the entrance of a village, under a shade tree, women and children are gathered. Three women, long poles in their arms, are taking turns in pounding them in a tall tub. They are “grinding” rice. From their looks this work is back breaking. They don’t have the money to buy a machine to grind it or to pay for the electricity that it would consume.

Sheltered by the vegetation our hotel looks like it descended from a high life commercial suddenly affordable for everyone. Flowers in bloom everywhere, a pool, gazebos and tucked away in more flowering bushes the condos. In our rooms we have, beside embroidered sheets, two types of switches: the big ones work from 6 pm to 10 pm (generator time), and the small one for the rest of the time .

Next morning: Tsingy. Yay! I finally get to tell you about tsingy. They mean tip toe, explains Tata (TAh-tah), our guide. To walk over them you have to go on your tiptoes, there is no room to put the whole sole of your foot. The guidebook says they have this name because of the sound they make when you poke them.

We start at their base, walking between walls of grey stones. There is sand between them and large white hibernating snails. Tata waits for all of us to notice he is going to turn a corner and he is right to do so, we could easily get lost in this maze of stone. 

An ebony tree

We climb over metal ladders or over stepping stones, 

we cross narrow path or rope bridges.

 From a belvedere point we see the myriad of points. The rain chisels away 1 mm every year.

They don't know how that clay pot got up there, or when. Archeology doesn't have the money to find out.

Because we’re such good walkers, we made a good time and we have a bonus, a walk through the forest. After trudging an hour without seeing a thing, we saw it more like a punishment. Suddenly, a male paradise bird, twittering while twirling his feathers. Now this is a reward!

A coua (koo-ah)

This a short day, we go back to our hotel for some relaxation, and in the evening the parents and Ioan go for a night walk, to see the smallest mammal in the world: the mouse lemur. It is the dusk time, when just a little bit of light hems one side of the sky. The lemur gets out to eat and Ioan is the first one to see it, walking on his “street” of branches. We caught him in a cross-fire of lights and he stopped, looking with his big eyes, but not seeing a thing. After taking the photos and filming him, we let him go. 

As we return to the hotel we see some more chameleons, fast asleep and with faded colors. Looking at a pregnant female, with her sides bulging with eggs, she started coloring herself in pink and black under the flashlight. 

Did you see the mosquito?

The next day is Grand Tsingy. We’re given harnesses and we start walking through the forest to get to a group of tsingy. We have to climb them, and that’s where we find useful the harnesses and the knowledge from Tree Top Adventure. We click the carabiners onto stainless steel cables and carefully walk between holes. 

They are just a few yards deep, very narrow and at their bottom are more tsingy, as sharp as any. Actually, we don’t know how deep they are, but there is no help under two hours, so we are careful. We get to our first point of belvedere with tsingy and pachipodium (plants that look like an elephant foot), trees and red flowered cacti.

Again forest to get to the caves. They are under every tsingy, made by the pouring rain, but here they are big enough. We put on our head lights and follow Tata. 

The walls are made of white cauliflowered chalk. Sometimes high windows let in a filtered sunlight. We go one by one, crawling through small spaces, taking off the backpacks and putting them on. Tata guides us with his words “Mora-mora, fa malami!” (slowly- slowly, it is slippery) and he is there to help us over the crevice. We climb a steep wall holding onto a rope. Ioan looses his footing and rolls away and returns like a horizontal yo-yo. I was proud of him that he kept his cool, didn’t let go of the rope and got up with no help. When we emerged from the caves we were all dirty with white dust and ready to go home.

A moth, hiding from light, big as the palm of a normal hand.

No such luck. Forest, climbing tsingy, this time much higher, more scarier, we are tired and we are very careful not to make a mistake (I physically separate Ileana and Ioan who tend to make jokes and talk, and not pay attention where they’re walking).

 But when we get up there at 70 m (76 yds) I don’t feel tired at all. I would just stay there and watch. Eventually we have to get going, the rock reflects the sunlight and is baking us.

On the long walk back to our car we eat jojoba, a fruit slightly bigger than an olive, sweet and sour. We even see a fossil of a coral, proof that long time ago this place was covered by a sea.

At the end of the day Maria, who was not too happy about going over rocks (“couldn’t you take us to a museum?”) knew 43 words in Malagasy, she even sang “Head, shoulders, knees and toes” in it. This was her way of making acceptable the trip, by pestering the guide and learning. On the other hand, Tata knew only two Romanian words: left and right. Eventually we told him that his name means "father".

I don’t know if you liked what you saw in our pictures, but for me it was worth the trip. And it was not done yet. We had to go back the same way and even longer. In the beginning the car picked us up from the Tsiribihina river, now we had to cross it and drive some more towards Morondava.

We stop at the Kirindy reserve, where it was said that we could see some fusa (foosa). Watching the Madagascar movie I thought they invented the bad guys, as they portrayed them as some smaller lions. But as Mihai walked the grounds he saw two of them, just lying in the shade. One had a tracking collar. As a specie they are somewhat between a dog and a cat. In the beginning I thought they were tamed, but no, they were just hungry, so they hanged around the camp.

We take another night tour, and see the giant dwarf lemur (what a name!), who eats flower bugs (they drink the sap of plants, have large colonies and when clustered together, they look like white flowers). 

Mihai goes in the day tour also, we sleep in. He brings back a fruit of a baobab, big as a baseball, velvety brown, with an edible meat and bean like seeds. I look at them and it seems incredible that such a mighty tree can grow from a such a small seed.

On our way back to civilization we would stop to see them better. First stop: the holy tree, people believe it grants wishes.


Would it grant these children a real soccer ball and not one made of plastic bags tied with strings?

Second stop: the loving couple. For some reason two trees that grow close to each other become intwined (but not all of them).

Third stop: just some big trees in the middle of nowhere and people who were weighing rice.

Last stop: L’avenue des Baobabs

It is said that the baobab looks like it has its roots instead of branches. The Malagasy story goes like this: one day the baobab went out with his friends and seeing them, he wanted to be like them. So he went to God and asked to be as tall as one of them, and God made him tall. Then he wanted to be strong, and God made him strong. Then he wanted to be big, and God made him big. And then he wanted beautiful flowers, and God gave him beautiful flowers. And then he wanted different leaves, and God uprooted and turned him upside down! 

I look at the trees, and I find them beautiful. It’s like they grew so tall that their branches are blocked by an invisible ceiling. Every part of them is useful for food. You can’t destroy them by taking their bark, they’ll just grow a new one. We go around them, touch their bumpy and smooth bark. No one knows how this avenue came to be, baobabs grow where the conditions are good for them, but now it is a must stop for tourists, especially at sunset. On the outside of the road there are small enclosures, protecting one year old baobabs. They are securing the future.

We say good bye and leave. After half an hour we get on tarmac, and the children’s faces light up realizing that we have a smooth ride, that we’re on our way to civilization.

I didn’t know when I chose this destination, that it was going to be so emotionally taxing. Now that I know, I would still put it in the schedule, but I would come better prepared. It took the simplicity of the beach to come to terms with what I wrote in Bitter Sweet.

One last image: I am on the boat down Tsiribihina river and I see a newspaper kite. A little boy was running and keeping it aloft. Someone took the time to make a toy for the child. And the child had the time and freedom to play with it. There is hope for a better life!

Misoutra shi Veluma Madagascar! (me-sue-trah shee veh-loo-mah) Thank you and Good bye!

Polka dot butterfly

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