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 20, 2012

Problems in Madagascar

When we tell people we're going to Madagascar (or, later, have been to Madagascar), their first reaction is "Whoa! That's so awesome!"

And it is awesome. But beyond that, it's really hard to go to Madagascar. Don't get me wrong. It's a beautiful country. There are amazing animals— lemurs, for example, are only found in Madagascar, and there are x73 species. And chameleons are everywhere. Not to mention snakes, spiders (there is a spider here that is huge, completely non-poisonous, and whose silk is used for making Kevlar vests), and a variety of flowers and butterflies.
As well as lemurs. Everywhere.

In some places, Madagascar is like a tourist destination— beaches, books, whatever. In others, it's for intrepid explorers only, who hike through forests where it rains every day, or who go through the forest at night.

It's home to a people who speak a variety of dialects. It's united by one language: French. However, it's not spoken well in the small villages on the side of the Tsiribihina River.

Two words are universal: savon? Bonbon? Soap? Candy?

Also widely used are Bonjour! La bouteille? Non, and au revoir. (Hello, the bottle, no, and farewell)

We reach Nosy Be, at the north of Madagascar, by plane. It's like stepping into a different world— all the cars are old. We're met by Ervais, (Ehr-veh) who, along with his friend, drives us half an hour to Hellville (Elle-ville, named after a general, if I'm not mistaken).

We reach the hotel, say hello to the proprietor… Ervay tries to translate from French to English for us, but speaks in French instead of English. It doesn't matter. We understand French a little, if not a lot.

There are a few things to see in Nosy Be. The Lemurialand— a sort of 'zoo' where they take lemurs from various parts of Madagascar and bring them to Lemurialand. They're on exhibit for 3 months or 3 weeks (the mouse lemur is only three weeks, all others are for three months), then set free in Nosy Be.

I'm not certain how great this is for conservation, since if a lemur comes from South Madagascar it's for a reason, and I'm not sure how long a lemur actually spends on exhibit before being set free… at any rate we were able to feed four Crowned Sifaca Lemurs. And yes, that probably wasn't the most ethical thing to be doing… but their hands are so soft, and they were so gentle! 

So we set aside guilt and fed them bananas until our hands were sticky and we didn't have any bananas left.

We also saw chameleons. Unlike what most people think, chameleons change color according to emotions, not their surroundings— so it's possible to see a pure white chameleon crossing the road. And they're brighter in the day time.

Some people have held a chameleon, but we didn't do that. The interesting thing about a chameleon is the gripping action they use. They have basically two opposing thumbs on each hand— or something like a mitten, with two claws on each side? To confuse predators, they rock back and forth on two legs once or twice before actually gripping the branch in front of them with their 'hands.' And then the cycle starts again.

It's fascinating to watch. If you want a human example… walk like an Egyptian!

Also in Nosy Be my sneakers were stolen and we didn't notice until we reached Diego Suarez, which is on the north part of the mainland.

We also realized that I have no way of walking on the Tsingy (big, tall, pointy limestone stalagmites without any stalagtites on top of them). This is not a good feeling to have on an otherwise sunny morning— trust me. In the end, after a lot of crying and screaming and swearing at the world, I decided— well, actually, we decided— for me to go to the Tsingy Rouge, which are a smaller, red limestone version of the Tsingy Bemaraha, in my Birkenstocks.

I was very comfortable on the long long journey as a result.

But! As if all the spirits of Madagascar had decided that I was not to have an enjoyable day… my watch strap broke off.

We tried hard to smile in the face of adversity.

I love my watch. It was not a nice feeling to suddenly realize that it was no longer on my arm. We were on a gusty part of these cliffs that went all the way down to the Tsingy. Now, I wasn't sure if the watch was light enough to be blown away, but it didn't seem nice to be taking any chances… after sounding the alarm and putting my glasses on to backtrack, and looking everywhere… Dad found it.

I could breathe easily. Thank you, God.

I carried the watch around in my pocket for the next few days.

(The Tsingy, by the way, were beautiful.)

Later, we had the black plastic watch strap replaced with this lovely brown leather. The woman doing the work was very quiet. We put in a new hole on the strap, since it was just a bit too large (now, about two months later, the watch constantly slides because the leather has stretched).

We also got replacements for my sneakers. We went through the entire marketplace and found a great deal of very pretty shoes and very ugly shoes. The problem was that none of them had arch support or ankle support… which meant that everyone was staring at us as I tried pair after pair of sneaker on.

In the end we finally found some black Nikes men imitations for the equivalent of about $20. I don't like them very much. (I wore sandals whenever possible) But they were the best thing in the entire marketplace. 

After reaching Antananarivo, the capital, we stayed in bed for a while and just surfed internet. I also took advantage of this (and my newfound semi-obsession with Civilization V) to stay up till all hours of the night. I think it's healthy, in some cases, to pull an all-nighter. It educates you to the hardship faced by millions of first-world teens. However, compared to the hardship faced by the people of Madagascar, we look like spoiled children in comparison.

They're destroying their country to plant rice, because that is the staple food. At the same time, all most of the populace eats is rice. And rice doesn't have much nutritional value after a while. When we were on a boat cruising down the river, children would run after us asking for soap. When we said 'no, we don't have any,' they asked for candy.

And whenever they saw our waterbottles, they'd ask for those too. 

While Madagascar was beautiful, it was also exhausting. Roads are really bad, with enormous pot holes or irregularities. The drivers probably try to go slow to reduce some of the pain of bouncing up and down… but it doesn't help much. Even the asphalted roads are falling apart at the seams.

In fact, despite the amazing scenery and the beautiful things we did, by the end of Madagascar, I was exhausted. Exhausted of the trip, the country… I flat-out had a major/mini temper tantrum and sank into a 'this whole thing sucks' for a few days, all the way into the second edition of South Africa.

But on to happier things.

We spent time on a boat down the river, with three lovely ladies from Canada. Danielle, Edith, and Chantal. 

One of them, (Danielle, I think) had the option of going to Madagascar. She emailed Edith to ask her if she would like to come. Whereupon, "Sure!' was the answer, and Chantal came along too.

I want friends like that! Danielle acted as an alarm clock by clucking like a chicken, we spoke in a mix of slow English and rapid French, translated one of Ileana's songs, and talked over zebu meat at dinner.

(Zebu, by the way, I hope to never see again. It is quite possibly the toughest meat ever to chew in the world. Though maybe that was just how they cooked it).

Anyway. This was our day house:


And this was our night house:


Yes, we slept on the beach in tents. It's a lovely thing, especially since we fell asleep very quickly every night (awesome!). But! The beach does not include toilet facilities.

At night, you walk around to a place on the middle of the beach where you hope no one will shine their flashlight. In the morning, you notice the lovely pile of bushes that everyone uses as a toilet and walk over there hoping that no one will come around looking for their own private toilet spot in the bushes.

All in all, after two days and a half of peeing on the beach I was heartily sick of it all. I wanted walls! WALLS!

You have no idea what great technology walls on bathrooms are until you don't have them any more.

But, with all that… there was one awesome experience I'd love to have again:

At the Tsingy Bemaraha, our guide, Tata, kept saying, "muramura fa malama." What does that mean? "Be careful, because it's slippery."

And, because walking and doing nothing has never really been my style, I managed to get him to tell me 50 more words in Malgasy. (Including enough to be able to sing 'head, shoulders, knees, and toes' in Malgasy, which I think might be the funniest video ever filmed, because I forget how to say shoulders in Romanian.)

Among these words is sarabe, which means awesome.

We walked the Tsingy Bemaraha, but it's really pointless to talk about it in words. Here are a few more pictures:

Madagascar sarabe! Msoutra, Tata!

Msoutra fa 'reading!'

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