We wake up and it is mildly misting. You can hear the Indri in the background, calling each other.
This morning, we are going to hit the last park in the area before heading our of town, back to Tana. This one is a locally controlled, government park, rather than a privately owned local community or national park (as each of the others had been).
We start out on a jungle path- where we found a Tarzan branch that we each take a swing on- reminds me of my gymnastics days! This is the only flat part- the rest of the trail has us going, up and up and up…and up! Much like the day before’s hike- and it is kicking my ass! How can we keep going up and when will we go down? 🙂
We eventually come to some Indri who are lazily eating. Again, they ignore the calls around them and just keep eating. I was able to get down close to them- one even jumped to a tree over my head, just out of arm’s reach! We spent a few minutes with them and then they were off. I feel like they really wait for us to view them- they give us a chance to see them…when I know others have not had this luxury.
These were the only lemurs we saw today unfortunately, but we’d been so lucky the days before- it was more like our last taste before leaving.
There is an orchid garden within the park so we stopped there. Many of the orchids were between flowering- had just gone or were about to- but a couple were blooming and this was nice to see. We’d seen a couple in the forest as well, which is pretty cool. I love orchids but they are so hard to keep! I have never been very successful with them, sadly. I wish- especially, so I could keep a vanilla plant! Either way, I can imagine how gorgeous this garden must be when in full bloom. It’s be a sight!
We also see a variety of interesting bugs, a small frog, a giant snail and a spider. The red and black bug is called the giraffe neck weevil and it is really interesting- especially that Armand can spot them when we’re driving by. Somehow he can spot them on the leaves without really even trying. They are relatively plentiful- this is the male- but the females were harder to find. We did see one, but the picture didn’t come out. They are brown, plain and with a shorter neck.
Another interesting thing we came across was a sacred tree. This is a tree that is supposed to have either spirits of ancestors or evil spirits in it. It is something the native people typically avoid for the most part and for sure, no one but the Malagasy can touch it- they take this very seriously, like a very strong superstition. There are some rituals performed there on occasion- but not often- mostly it’s a place they respect but don’t intentionally interact with. It certainly intrigued me but I know to leave well enough alone and would never have wanted to offend anyone by getting too close or touching it.
But now for real, we must part ways.
We say goodbye to Etien (wearing the hat), took some pics with him, Armand and Lima- and leave Etine a tip. We have 100,000 which is about $30, which doesn’t seem like enough- but the suggested amount (from whatever Bryan read) is half that? We’d like to give more, but we also don’t want to be way off base, nor run out of money again because we still have to tip Armand and Lima too. We hope this is enough- this is what we gave Lambert and François too…
We parted ways and got in the car for the nearly 2 hour drive back to Tana. We knew more what to expect and got some good pics (we hope). Armand and Lima had asked if it was ok we stop for charcoal, since this is what they use to cook with. This really surprised us because they live in the city…but again, this is how it works here.
People stack the plastic burlap bags in front of their houses and then when you want to buy it you honk and the people come out and they barter for it. We didn’t mind of course, and frankly it was a bit interesting watching them buy it and strap it to the top of the van.
They said it was only 10,000 Airiary here whereas in Tana it was more like 25,000, so that’s a steal. He said with the bigger groups and buses he can never do this kind of shopping but they were grateful we “allowed” it. Armand also stopped for taro root for his kids to eat- again, something we “allowed” but certainly didn’t mind.
We stopped in Moramanga which was established during the slave trade times. I guess “manga” means blue (or mango) and “mora” means poor, but I am not sure how poor blue makes sense…
We stop for lunch at a Chinese restaurant wihch was very good. It had a selection of French pastries too which were interesting, although I only ate half of my rice and veggies and was too full to partake of the sweets. I got a container to go, which can be customary here- makes sense to me- but in Europe they look at you like you have 3 heads if you want to take the remainder of your food with you!
I noticed the table cloth and felt this might make a really nice scarf for my safari. It’s pretty with a map of Madasgacr, showing the different areas and towns and what they are known for. Like a town in the north was known for fabric- so in that area it showed some bolts of fabric; in the north east there were vanilla plants and so on. It became my mission to find a scarf like this…or the one I had seen on a lady sitting on the back of a bike- it has ring tailed lemurs on it and was orange and green (my fav colors).
While we were waiting for our food, a man sat down behind us and sounded heavily French, but turned out her was Lebanese and had come here in the 80’s to build a pipeline. He had overheard Bryan, Armand and I talking about the US and when Bryan got up to go to the bathroom he asked where we were from. He and Armand seemed to recognize each other- and turned out, although for different companies, both worked on this pipeline, which was supposed to bring the nickel and cobalt from the source to refineries.
However, this guy started talking in his heavy French accent about how the pipeline is really for uranium and no one is supposed to know…but this is why it was kept 1k away from the roads (the supposed contamination zone) and why the fish and forests had died nearby- which while Armand was in disbelief, he agreed that things mysteriously died around the pipeline.
It was a bit borderline conspiracy theory but who knows…it was just strange and a bit like a movie. It felt like he was our point person in some covert rendezvous as spies. It really was odd…and left us a bit unsettled!
We left the restaurant with “doggie bag” in hand- which you must pay for (the container). I noticed a very poor looking family sitting nearby the doorway. I mean clearly people here come from different ranges of wealth and poverty, but this family you could tell, really had nothing.
Suddenly they were at our van doors, begging for food. The lady on my side was really pretty old looking- I would have guessed 50-60 but was breast feeding a baby…and just to be clear to my friends, I do NOT think 50-60 is old, but breastfeeding, yes!
There’s an even older lady on Bryan’s side, and I think “Oh man, I wish we could help them”. But then Bryan says, “Let’s give them our leftovers”! To which I think DUH. They were sitting right there on the bench seat. Then I see the chips we bought the other day and then I think of the protein bars in our bags and we begin passing them out the window to them.
While at first Armand and Lima had tried to shoo them away- part of their jobs being not to let people harass us or make us uncomfortable- they quickly softened and visibly showed appreciation for our consideration. Of course to us, this is just what you do- but I can imagine other tourists do not want to see or partake in this and would have been upset…although this makes us really sad too.
I don’t often give money to people, though I will give food if I have it. I have actually been known to give away my food, leaving me sick (for not eating enough)- so I try and carry food in the car just in case. While I have given money before-
and it does occur to me they may spend it on drugs or drink I also think, “so what
?”. A friend pointed out recently, after giving some money to a man in line at the grocery store, if that person really isn’t going to use the money for what they say, does it really matter? If it does, don’t give money to people- but if you can afford it and want to, then don’t worry about where it goes.
If someone really is going to spend the money on drugs or drink- to escape their sobering reality of life- maybe that is the only “highlight” of their day- the one thing that gets them through the day…hopefully to see a day where eventually, they can find change or “improvement” or a reason to live some other way…but the reality is, who are we to judge how they “get by”?
Many of the people we see on the streets at home are mentally ill and cannot find help- I actually spent two years helping someone I met on the streets and was so disappointed in the bleak prospects he had- and how the “services set up to help him, did anything but…he was just “off” enough it makes it hard for him to function, but still with it enough that he doesn’t qualify for most types of “help” you or i could think of. I really believed at first I could get him on his feet and help him find school, work or a job- but in the end, I couldn’t even help him get his ID back (after it was stolen) because of the loopholes in the system…I was shocked at how it is no surprise that people on the streets can’t aspire to more than just making it through the day- life is truly stacked against them and I don’t know what it would take to break through…being poor and on the streets suck, no matter where you are- try not to judge them next time you see someone there, panhandling. If they aren’t mentally ill or affected by some other condition, and they actually choose to live- and struggle- in this way, they are facing battles you can’t even fathom…and you are no better a person because you can’t imagine- rather, you’re fortunate.
Anyway, how this family might make use of what we give them is not in question- they are clearly hungry and in need, no doubt, so that philosophical thought of the day is somewhat moot…but I am glad we had something to give them. While I was looking forward to saving money and not buying dinner at the hotel, these people just needed anything to eat. Done. I will spend the whopping $5 it costs for dinner. I have spent more on a latte…
Further along the way, we saw a souvenir stand kind of out in the middle of nowhere. The scarf I had been envisioning was there, waving in the wind: a ring tail with a baobab tree, in orange and green! It said Maki & Baobab- Maki is the Malagasy word for ring tail. I promptly bought it, also glad to support the local people. Armand said the scarves are indeed made in Madagascar, in the north, which made me feel good, because I was a tad unsure that I was buying something made in China…even so, clearly that person bought it to sell nonetheless and the sale would still benefit him and his family. Sometimes this is what you have to remember…
We stopped also for a “friendly bush”- Armand’s version of a potty break. He said it a lot- not sure why I only mention it now- but it makes me laugh every time. I don’t think I will think of a potty break as anything but a friendly bush 🙂
Armand showed us a train car we went by, that he said that the government had locked in people and killed them. I could not fathom what he meant, but after some further explanation, apparently the Malagasy people had been begging for their independence in the early 20th century. The French told them after WWII they would return Madagascar to them- but when they should have been turning it over, instead in 1947, they decided to reneg this long standing agreement. The Malagasy people began to revolt and express their dissent.
As a result, the government seized and jailed people in these train cars- and then gave them no food or water, until they died.
I was astounded. How could a country go from helping liberate Europe from such an oppressive force as Hitler, to then killing people who asked for their land back, especially when promised to them?? It is as though NOTHING was learned from the atrocities of Hitler’s reign- which seems so insanely sad.
During this time, art and poetry were censored as well, to weed out any evidence of this suffering from the population’s memory. I guess this was a dirty secret for a long time and only very recently- like the last 20 years- it came out. Only then did the Malagasy people of today, learn what their grandparents’ generation had endured.
Eventually the French gave Madagascar their independence- I am not sure when- but Armand said this is a false pretense. He said the French still have a very dominant and colonial type attitude in dealing with the Malagasy, which I must say, we witnessed plenty of. It is subtle but there’s an air of superiority surrounding it, especially people in the service industry. I mean such can be said about our own service industry at home, but not like this.
Bryan and I treat everyone like friends- we thank people for everything they do when serving us. We smile and are polite always. It is clear most Europeans, or white people in general, don’t behave that way here. They don’t treat the people serving them like people- they treat them like servants…and this does disappoint us and make us a tad uncomfortable- however, it is clear they can see the difference between us and them too. Especially in our trying to speak Malagasy- this is seems, shows a respect for their culture and this instantly changes the dynamic back to a level which we feel is more comfortable.
It was interesting too that being white, they automatically assume you speak French. Although they speak Malagasy to each other, it’s like a way of showing their respect of the colonial situation, by using French…their nickname for the French as a collective is actually translated to “the mother”- but it’s clear too, many of them resent this. In contrast, when we responded to their French with our small vocabulary of Malagasy, they beamed. Even when we had to tell people on the streets, “Azafady” (ah-zuh-fah-dy)= sorry, they didn’t seem as upset we were turning them down, because we were speaking their language.
I certainly don’t fault anyone or think less of anyone for this situation, certainly not the French- but I do wonder what it is the French really wanted to hang onto all that time? What was worth killing over?
I mean Madagascar is a beautiful land, it is a treasure of it’s own- but it is not overflowing with a wealth of resources like oil or diamonds, or things of the sort. I didn’t want to insult anyone by asking WHY did the French insist on keeping it, but I don’t really get it. The island is a wealth of BEAUTY, but otherwise it doesn’t seem like a strategic move to refuse the people their freedom- just an ethnocentric one. I will have to look into this more, as I knew very little- other than lemurs lived here!
We learned too, there have been many revolutions in Madagascar’s history. I already spoke of one in the 90’s where the president’s bathroom was gold plated- but Armand noted as many as 4 or 5 in the last 20 years, which is a bit shocking…they are really just waiting for another as well, because the current president is trying to forgo elections to stay in power longer- while others are trying to hasten it. There’s bound to be conflict.
One thing I failed to mention about the vanilla trade is that the first lady and her family are trying to corner the market on the vanilla- forcing the others out, to create a monopoly as well. This adds a whole different spin to the plight of the vanilla trade as well.
Thing began to get busier, the towns closer together and we knew we were arriving to Tana. It was a bit more clear this time as we entered the outskirts of the city. The rain must have done them some good here, so it was nice because we could actually see more and see the colors of the homes and such, vs just the smog of before. It was a little bit comforting to know it isn’t always as horribly smoggy as it was on our exit- but I still think that the pollution is really bad…and even out in the country you can always smell smoke.
We saw more of the brick builders and kids carrying bricks on their heads; more of the lavage stops where the cars stop randomly along the road to be washed. More of the tiny little tables and stands people pop up everywhere…a lot more honking and traffic.
This time it felt we could see the city more, as we were not just trying to comprehend the poverty.
This time while ugly in many ways, we could appreciate the beauty of it…we could observe more, not just see with wide eyes. It is interesting though, again, so many people are ready to smile and wave when you do. Others do just stare, but I get it- I am just a vizadhy waving from a van, going home to a cushy life- while they will remain there, living a pretty tough one of survival, in contrast.
Both Armand and Lambert really expressed their desire to travel, and I can see why. Day in and out they guide people from all over the world, while they have not traveled very much- at least Lambert. Armand did study aboard and has been to a few places, but there are still many he wants to see.
I would be thrilled if I could win the lottery and offer them and their families trips to wherever they wanted to go. To bring them to the US and show them the things of beauty we have- that not even enough Americans get to- or want to- go see. I grew up travelling and it is one of the best gifts I was given, and clearly, it remains a priority still! There’s hardly ever a place I wouldn’t want to visit…
I asked Bryan if there where anywhere he just wouldn’t want to go and neither of us could think of much. I could only come up with Afghanistan, where I didn’t think there were enough wild animals for me to see- but he countered with the many rock types he would photograph and use for reference for his job…touche.
So far Bryan has taken no rock pictures, which is surprising, as normally he could fill an SD card with them. The ground was mostly clay and mud- and flat- so not really “photo worthy” I suppose. There were a few rock formations that he took images of from afar, including Gorilla rock- a big sloping rounded bald rock face on a mountainside which looks like a gorilla hunched over and you’re looking at it’s back. Armand joked it was the only gorilla Madagascar has. I imagine on the safari he will find some rock pictures, but in that case, we’d better get an extra memory card just for that…
We finally arrive back to the hotel, sad that our time in Madagascar is nearly over. How can this be?? It went by so fast- but to think we still have more than 3 weeks left of the entire trip is even more inconceivable.
Armand tells us we can sleep in and he and Lima will leave their house at 10am and they will hopefully get to the hotel at 1230. Wow you live that far, I say? He said “Ah no, it’s only about 10km but traffic- you know”. I am stunned. Two and a half hours to go 6 miles? There are so few roads into the city, it is just bumper to bumper…they need a passenger commuter train. Wouldn’t that be nice and solve so many of their problems, all at once?
At the hotel we go to the pool and I sit down for the pain in the ass-ness that is trying to load the photos to choose select ones that can be uploaded and to port them back and forth between devices. My iPhone keeps saying it’s full, which is ridiculous because I have 200G of storage in the cloud…so why doesn’t my phone upload the images there and leave me room? I don’t know. I tried to figure out how to force an update, but perhaps my connection to the internet has just been too spotty for the images to upload…but what a pain it is to try and figure this out while on vacation too.
With the laptop I could have just downloaded and erased things…but again, this can be charged with a USB and our solar powered chargers…the laptop can’t…this is best- but really painful and time consuming!