Africa 2017- Madagascar- Day 7: Headed back to Tana

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Francois, Bryan and Lambert

I was up at 5am again of course, and the generator turned on for the day.

We got up and went to breakfast, sad this would be our last few minutes at Berenty. The lemurs were chased off by the staff, which is really for the best for them (both the staff and lemurs), but we wanted our friends to come over and have the entire brekky if they wanted it!

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Breakfast here was always very good- fresh fruit, sometimes with honey- croissants, jam…one of the jams was so unusual, we had to ask what it was. It seemed almost like cherries, but lighter and less cherry like 😉 It turned out it was tomato jam- sweetened and preserved just like any fruit jam- and it was actually very good!

We also got fresh, homemade yogurt, which was very delicious as well and we added the honey and fruit to it often. The coffee here is very good as well as the fruit juice- often guava or passion fruit. In all, I find breakfast is one of the most universally appealing and enjoyable meals. I always love breakfast…maybe it’s always a somewhat European style one though too. I guess I haven’t been asked to have sushi for brekky either…so maybe it’s just me 😉

We went back to our room to finish getting ready. I went outside on the patio to call the ringtails over, hoping they’d come visit one last time. I did a few calls and nothing…I was starting to feel disappointed…but then they came!

Their tails bopped along as the troupe strolled over to our patio, just as though it was a planned meeting. I couldn’t believe it! Of course I don’t know that my calls really did it, but they had never visited us at that time of day before either…I do have to think that my desire to see them- and my attempts to call them over- were somehow “heard” and understood.

I saved banana from breakfast, especially for our goodbye meeting- which they were super excited about. My brave, teenage, female friend again jumped right in my lap and was eagerly enjoying her snack.

Off to the side, two of the reserve workers stopped to watch me- I don’t know if it was to see if I would freak out when they swarmed me, or whether it was interesting to watch- or maybe it’s because I wasn’t supposed to be feeding the lemurs in this way- but they seemed entertained, and wore smiles, so it couldn’t have been too forbidden.

Alas, now I was out of banana and it was time to go, for real. I was so sad; we’d had so much fun…but we knew more adventures awaited us too.

As for the Berenty Reserve, it is an amazing place and I cannot recommend it enough. In terms of a review it gets 5 stars for sure, with the only real improvement I can suggest is to get some better bath towels 😉

I actually remembered reading about the scratchy towels on Trip Advisor and I thought, “Really? That’s what they had to say about such an amazing opportunity and experience- the towels were scratchy”? But they were right: they are the scratchiest towels that exist!

Beyond that, the only other thought I really have would be having wifi and maybe a pool would have made this place better…but honestly, a pool could have been environmentally and culturally awkward in that environment- and being disconnected and without the pressures of the first world, sans wifi, is awfully refreshing too.

The only serious suggestions is switching from the generator to solar power- to be far more efficient and eco-conscious! The generator has to be ridiculously expensive to fill and keep going- but solar power (after the initial investment) would pay for itself many times over…and perhaps create power that could be shared.

My red bumps had become more plentiful and despite being primarily on my legs, I had a couple on my hands now and just one on my forehead, kind of like a bindi. Thankfully though they still did not itch nor hurt- and were not noticable anywhere but my legs (which I could cover)…because yeah, they don’t look good there.

This time for the ride, Lambert would be with us so we could talk more with him and François, which was nice. Lambert had to pick up new clients he’d be bringing back to Berenty coming in on the plane we’d be leaving on.

The 3 hour ride was different this time- 1. We knew what to expect and 2. We had someone to translate and ask more things of. I wrote down some other Malagasy translations and Bryan had drawn a sifaka for Lambert (as they nicknamed Bryan, sifaka). He and Francois were really impressed with the drawing, which was nice because Bryan, being his worst critic of course, was not super happy with it…but it went over well and that’s what matters.

I didn’t yet get to mention some of the other cultural things we found interesting- at least in regard to the people who have more of a western influence and or are otherwise employed outside of their own town.

For one, their movie preferences date back to the 80’s (not necessarily by choice of course), but they like action movies, particularly VanDamme, Jackie Chan and Schwarzenegger, to name a few. Even in these tiny towns there were influences and evidence of movie things- maybe posters or dvd’s for sale (though I am not sure where many would get electricity for watching them?)…

Music seems to linger there too perhaps, although they were familiar with more current artists like Beyoncé, Rihanna, R. Kelly and some others. Even the ones who don’t have western influences, all wear western clothing- second hand pieces that vary from newish, somewhat normal things, to tattered, shredded and seriously worn out pieces that don’t seem to fit, like threadbare suit jackets, puffy coats (even in the heat), winter hats…many are pretty dingy and many say really weird things they probably have no clue what they mean. One guy’s shirt said “I’m not drunk, I’m still working on it”, which I imagine may have been from Australia.

There are a lot of Asian influences, Japanimation style images and such. Many wear fedora/ old man type hats too which is interesting…some have shoes- lots of jelly shoes and flip flops…while many people have no shoes at all, despite walking miles and miles everyday. They just go without. THAT I found hard to imagine and understand…HOW can you walk 20k one way and 20k back each day, barefoot on this broken down, gravel and dirt road? Many were kids, some were really old people…I don’t know how they do it.

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We stopped on a bridge in one small town not far from turning onto the main road. People were coming and going in all directions on this one lane bridge. We got out to take a picture and see all the hundreds of people coming to the river (here, there was some water) to do everything- from bathing, to washing, to collecting the water they would drink. Others were going to school or work, maybe in a factory nearby.

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We learned from Lambert that there is little point and motivation to go to public school because much of the time the teachers don’t show up. This is a government job and they are on salary, so why go to work? Therefore many of the kids don’t go either because who would walk 10k there and 10 more back only to find you haven’t got a teacher to instruct? This was disheartening because the only way any of them could ever get out of this impoverished life would be from education, but even that while presented as an opportunity, is really nothing more than more disappointment and harsh reality for them to face. Maybe some don’t know or even dream of doing anything more- again, they do seem happy in many ways, but I think it depends on how extreme the life is- and how connected to the western lifestyle you are too.

At one point, Lambert asked us if we wanted to get out and look at one of the marketplaces- which made us pretty nervous. I would have liked to, sure, but this would be where we could run into some trouble with not only possibly encountering sick people, but we imagined that it would be really hard for us to look at, shop or want to buy anything really anyway- especially without possibly being surrounded by so many people possibly asking for money or food. There were just too many people and we couldn’t eat the fruit (or travel with it)…we certainly didn’t need second hand clothes…so we said thanks but we’re ok.

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We also began to see men wearing a green outfit with an emblem on the shoulder. LOTS of them. Then we see they are carrying guns and hatchets and there are hundreds…thousands, as we drive on. Lambert tells us they are an army of this guy captain Faneva (spelling?) who was able to bring some semblance of security to the area when there was a terrible problem with zebu thieves and a lot of killing over it all.

Captain Faneva created an army of these men- and each keeps watch in their different areas to prevent things getting too out of control. Apparently to manage them he is equally as strict. If you are not at your post by the determined moment of whatever day, you could be killed for it. So these guys were called from their area to meet up with the captain in some town to get an assignment or something of the sort- many going hundreds of km to do so…on foot. A few were running the groups and chanting (which isn’t the right word, but I can’t think of it). Some were on bikes, but the vast majority were walking. They may have a bag, which probably had a little rice, they had a bottle of water and their weapon- and that was it. I think they all had shoes, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if no.

Lambert said he didn’t like the army of men, but for some reason still liked the captain- I am not sure how that works, but while initially we were a little concerned we could be in danger, we just smiled and waved at them and most were all too happy to wave back- especially to a purple haired white girl. We started to see uniforms of different colors too- and one lucky group got their own bus. The guys were singing and when they saw me they waved and cheered and gave thumbs up, so I waved and thumbed up right back. It is interesting what a smile and a wave can do.

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Lambert or Francois must have seen someone he knew, I can’t remember though, but suddenly we were stopped in a group of the army. Lambert was asking them what they were doing and how many people there were going to this meeting: 10,000! This is why the line of them went on and on and we passed them for what seemed like hours. Some of them came to our windows too and we said “salama” which is hello in Malagasy, but they asked for food and they were just smiling and looking at us. We just shook our heads and said no- I mean even if we had a power bar or whatever, we didn’t have hundreds of them and certainly it would not be an easy situation to manage no matter…so we just smiled and said no, but it was hard. These people really are hungry- and just traveled many km to get there…but we had to press on.

We stopped in another town because we had some supplies for François family- his nephew met us and took them home. He showed us a small house up on the hill which was a town where he was born and lived, right near there. He has been working as a driver with Berenty for more than 20 years- which is a pretty great job to have, really.

We tried to get a wrangle on the exchange rate, but it was really hard. Basically, a 10,000 bill is worth about $3- so we asked about how much land was, or a phone or car. The land around there was 5mil Ariary per hectare- but considering we are not sure how much a hectare is (with little time to look it up), it is hard to say. A new car was about 60mil and a cheap phone, 100,000- but an iPhone more like 2mil. I will do some more math when I have a chance, but when Lambert said he spent 2mil on a wedding and that’s what an iPhone costs, it made me even more uncertain.

Tipping is hard too- we didn’t read up on the customs before we left, but we figure at least $3 for anything is good- probably actually really great…the $300 we had lasted a long time, especially as the room included meals, just not drinks. Dinner would have been about $20 for us both- each having 3 courses.

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Going back down this crazy bumpy road, I asked when they were last paved- because perhaps this land is just harsh and the heat and rainy season and cyclones etc really do a number on the roads…but he said 1958! No wonder the road is SO bad!?

Then Lambert told us about his grandmother’s funeral- his family had just left to go to Tana where they were going to do the ceremony- and it takes FIVE DAYS of driving around the clock to get there…and it couldn’t be more than a few hundred miles! How can a main road leading to the capital- the only road connecting the south (Ft. Dauphin) to it, be so bad that it takes that long??

It makes me sick to think how they pave roads that I don’t even think are that bad, every year where we are. One little pot hole and we have Pothole Pig reporting about it and demanding it be fixed. There could be a missing bridge here and the government just doesn’t care and probably wouldn’t do a thing about it unless they specifically, needed the road for something…

But clearly, this is why many of them have never been anywhere and probably never will be either. The flights within the country are hella expensive too- $650 for the round trip from Tana to Ft. Dauphin, so that isn’t really an option either…but really, what are you governing if the people you govern are so inadequately able to navigate from place to place? How hard is it to have control over people who are poor and can’t go anywhere?

In the 90’s there was a revolution where when they went to the presidents palace, the bathroom was plated in gold- everything. WTF. It’s too bad no one gauges power based on what they can accomplish for their people and how they create a nation of educated individuals that can harness their unified power to create greater strength and wealth for their country.

At the airport, the same guy who sold me the little tiny wood lemur was there again and this time he wanted me to buy a little round box, carved with lemurs on the side. I wanted that too- how does he know me so well?? But when I turned around Bryan and the guys had brought my stuff in- including my money so I couldn’t yet…but that guy waited at the door for me to go get some.

I only had small bills which was less than he asked, but he took it. I felt bad but when you only have so much money and there’s no ATM, that’s what happens! The ladies selling silver jewelry and beads and such were so annoyed with me that I didn’t want their things- they just couldn’t believe I didn’t want it…but I don’t wear a ton of jewelry and I have enough for the most part…it just isn’t my thing apparently as much as carved wooden boxes.

Our time in the south was over. We were so sad to leave both Francois and Lambert, but we had many more adventures to come yet too…

The flight back to Tana was pretty uneventful. Boarding the plane, they are checking people’s temperature with a laser thermometer (so it doesn’t touch you). She had to read mine a few times, which made me a bit nervous! Also as you have to give up your water, it’s a bit frustrating because there is no place to replace it- just a waiting room with chairs. So the entire time we were sitting there, I was not feeling great because I was pretty hot and thirsty. I actually had to ask the airline attendant for a glass of water before we even took off because I was dying without.

Armand and Lima picked us up again and the airport was a bit crazy, but not as bad as the first time. There was still a lot of edging up and touching other cars with bumpers as well as honking, but here they honk a lot anyway, and not always just for bad stuff. At least out in the country they honk to tell you to move over as a pedestrian or biker, to pass you, to say hi (so basically every car, you honk at)…their horns are a little lighter sounding, more like a toot than a wail as well so it seems more friendly, but it’s a well used part of the car, that’s for sure!

We had asked Armand about vanilla and where it’s grown, etc- as this is what most people I think, know Madagascar for. He said the plantations were all over but the northeast had the best (we were not going there). He has a friend whose family has a plantation there, but she sells the vanilla in Tana and so he made arrangements for us to go there and have a little presentation about it as well as to buy some.

We go straight there from the airport, driving through busy markets and such. It is CRAZY how many people there are, how close the cars come to each other and the people…all the chaos and the differences in the people (namely the quality of their clothes). Many are barefoot, which makes my skin crawl, thinking of how dirty the streets are…

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We get to the building which has a huge metal gate and a concrete wall with barbed wire and glass shards sticking out of the top. This is a compound. There is some vanilla growing in the little alley way, and when we arrive, she’s finishing up a presentation for a French couple. We wait outside and Armand tells us how dangerous Tana really is, that there’s a lot of random crime- and although much of it is related to survival *getting enough to eat), many times it isn’t. Anyway, clearly it isn’t very safe at all, but people still have to live there!

She invites us in and it’s just a small shop with some spices and vanilla products, plus a couch and tv. We sit down for the presentation which is really pretty interesting. Vanilla is actually an orchid and each flower just blooms once, only for 12 hours- and each flower only makes one vanilla bean/ pod.

It gets crazier when they tell us each flower has to be hand pollinated because there is only one kind of bee that does this- and as vanilla was actually imported from Mexico (which I had no idea), they brought the plant, but didn’t know to bring the bee. So it has been done this way for ages- and usually by women. They have to lift the little tip of the flower, push another little tongue up and then bend down the two parts to pollinate- and they can do 1500 in a day!

Unfortunately, last year’s crop was damaged by a cyclone and apparently thieves have been stealing the goods and selling it cheaper on the black market, which has dramatically affected the prices and profits- enough that she said he family might not farm it anymore?! 80% of the world’s vanilla comes from Madagascar- and vanilla is one of my favs…so I hope they can figure that out and keep the plantation going. It would be a shame to see one of the major exports suffer.

Madagascar also has a rum that it makes, which is special because of the ground- it creates a unique taste- and they had a vanilla flavored one in a small bottle so we got that, some tea bags and some vanilla pods, vacuumed sealed. It will last longer this way and she said that like wine, vanilla gets better with age! So we will keep it sealed and when we use it we will make it worthwhile.

We leave there satisfied and head back to our hotel- Le Relais des Plateaux

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It’s the same one we were in before, so we have internet mostly (sometimes it says we’re connected but not to the internet)…we decide to crack open the rum with a Coke from the “mini bar”- which is somewhat expensive but more like gas station not mini bar prices.

The vanilla rum is delicious and I settle in to start typing up the story we had seen so far- and Bryan starts looking for his phone. He decided he’d check in with work, make sure all was well and then also make sure the shark dive place hasn’t contacted us about something. But he can’t find it.

He keeps looking and still can’t find it. He starts to get upset and then worried and then panicked. He doesn’t have a password on it so if someone found it they could in fact start using it…so now we’re pretty freaked out as it had been over an hour and he has looked and looked and looked. I email Carolyn at Motley Zoo to ask her to please call and either put his line on hold or cancel it because we’re worried.

Naturally the next thing that happens is Bryan finds his phone…but not before Carolyn called Tmobile to cancel.

It was between the two solar charger battery things we have for keeping our phones and the tablet charged when we’re out in the bush- so I can keep writing, even if I can’t post. Also to take some vids with my phone- although when I can’t connect to internet the images fill up very fast, so if we don’t connect a lot, then I will only be able to use it a short time.

We’re further into the rum now, but just glad he found his phone so that we don’t have thousands of dollars from someone else talking!

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Shortly after we head up to dinner, which is next to the pool. It’s always very good and always 3 full courses- which we definitely don’t need. In the future, we realize we can do this trip much cheaper if we do not do the “room and board” which is what the travel company set up- but rather buy a la carte.

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I take pictures of just about all the meals just to remember them. We have not had any trouble thus far with the no meat aspect and honestly we have been so full, its ridiculous. There was only one dish at Berenty that I could have done without because it was mostly cooked peas with some cooked carrots in a sauce and rice. I pretty much hate cooked peas. I always have. When I was little I had to eat one for every year old I was- so it made having a birthday somewhat bittersweet in that regard! I was able to eat some of it, mostly because I made sure every bite had a carrot and I just had some bread too, which was offered at every meal.

We were really tired at that point so we went to bed- I think I was asleep by 8pm!

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