Published: May 20th 2008May 20th 2008
Day 15, Tuesday, May 13, 2008
We set off for the southern portion of our Madagascar visit. We drove to Antsirabe in two 2 hour trips. In the middle, we stopped at Ambatolampy for lunch which was a typical Malagasy affair and took about 1.5 hours. When you combine the slow French restaurant style with Malagasy mora-mora, meals can take forever. After lunch, we went to see an aluminum smelting operation. They bring in bags of metal scraps and hand sort them for the aluminum parts. They then melt them down in big outdoor melting pots heated by wood fire. They make a mold using damp ash dirt, open it, remove the original, close it and then pour in the melted aluminum. They then break down the mold and start all over again.
We were planning to go to a Rotary club meeting that night, but just as we got into Antsirabe, a zebu [zebu are a type of oxen specific to Madagascar that have a large hump at the base of their neck] ran into our van. The roads in Madagascar are just barely two cars wide, and they are used for every type of transport possible: walking, cycling, zebu
herding, ox carts and occasionally parking. On this night, a farmer was running a zebu next to the road when it got spooked and veered into the roadway, and into the van. The Zebu was OK, but it got spooked so it ran off, followed by the owner, followed by our driver. About 45 minutes later the driver and zebu owner returned and then the insurance agent came by to assess the damage. By the time we got to our hotel, we missed the meeting, so we had dinner at the hotel and went to bed. Our driver had to return to Tana with his damaged van so we got the driver we had on the Tomatave trip named Oliver. We really liked him and he spoke english well so we were glad he was the replacement. On the Tomatave trip, Oliver ate by himself but as we spent more time with him, it apparently became OK for him to eat with us - just another exaple of class differentiation here.
Economic Observation: Manpower is by far the cheapest resource in Madagascar. They cut down their forests to make charcoal that they then cart into town to be used as
cooking fuel instead of using gas because it costs money. They rivers carry silt and sand out to the deltas. The sand is valuable for building with so people go out to the delta in dug out canoes, dive to the bottom with plastic buckets and haul the sand back up to the canoes. Once they've filled the canoe, they paddle back up the rivers, dump the sand on the banks to dry and then sell it on the road. The mountain surrounding Tana are granite covered with centuries of soil. In places where the granite is exposed, they cut it by hand into about 10 inch cubes and cart it to the road and sell it for building projects. It's not uncommon to see someone standing by a pile of sand next to someone standing by a pile of granite blocks along the side of the road.
Day 16, Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Since we missed the Rotarians the previous night, several of them stopped by in the morning and we all had breakfast together. After breakfast, we headed south again for Fianarantsoa. On the way, we stopped at Ambositra, the arts and crafts center of Madagascar, where
we stopped for another very long lunch. We ran out of time to be able to look around the town so we headed off again.
On the road to Fianarantsoa there were people selling this brown liquid in reused water bottles. It turned out to be local honey. Once we knew to look, we could see home made bee boxes mounted up in tress all over the forest we were driving through. Also in this forest are Tapia trees where silk worms live and where the locals collect the cocoons for making raw silk products.
We arrived at Fianarantsoa and drove to the house of a local Rotarian named Eric and his wife Beatrice. His house is build on 54 hectares of land his wife inherited. The house is built as a bed and breakfast so there were 9 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms. They took us to a local hospital where the local Rotary Club had installed a rainwater collection system and a furnace for disposal of medial waste. We had dinner with about a dozen Rotarians, gave them our presentation and then spent the night just talking.
OBS: Roadside shops spring up everywhere. Sometimes they are built around a
town or a rest stop and sometimes you'll be in the middle of nowhere and then come across a lone hut with a shack built right on the road. Inside the shack will be someone selling fruit they likely picked from the surrounding forest or fish caught in the local stream.
Day 17, Thursday, May 15, 2008
We woke up at Eric and Beatrice's and they made us breakfast and gave us a tour of their property. They are working on finishing a sustainable farm on the property. They already grow enough food to feed themselves and their workers and are able to sell the extra. They have chickens, pigs and tilapia in addition to acres of farmland. They grow their own rice, potatos, peanuts, coffee and all the vegatables they need for a large guesthouse. This is the kind of place my wife would absolutely love.
After breakfast we headed to Ambalavao to see a native parchment paper factory. They use a local plant which is boiled, pounded flat and then laid out on large cotton screens soaked in water troughs. Once the paper fiber settles into nice flat sheets, the troughs are drained and the screens allowed
to mostly dry. Before drying fully, they are cut into the appropriate size and then flower petals and stems and applied to the paper by hand to form ornamental designs. Once fully dried the sheets are then used for post cards, photo albums and other decorative purposes. While at the factory walking around, Stu almost stepped on a full size adult Parson's Chameleon. Of course I had to pick it up and of course it had to bite me - luckily they don't actually have teeth. I put it down and it ambled off towards the nearest bush to hide.
We then set off towards Isalo. On the way, we stopped at a small forest area that the local people protect and also do guided lemur tours in. We headed into the park and almost immediately found several adult chameleons and soon after a troupe of ring-tailed lemurs. The lemurs were very interested in us and if we stood still they would climb up on us to investigate. Further on in the park we came across some tombs built far up into the cliff walls. Some tribes of Malagasy bury their dead above ground in tombs and then remove the
remains every 7 years or so to pay homage and then return them to the tombs. We had a quick packed lunch and then headed out to Isalo.
We arrived at dusk so we didn't get the full affect of Isalo, but we did get the full affect of the Hotel. The Hotel is built of rock and has several bungalows tucked in amongst the cliffs. The effect is beautiful. We had dinner and then off to bed.
Day 18, Friday, May 16, 2008
Josh and I woke up and dawn and went for a hike in the park. We scrambled over two ridges and up the third before we ran out of time and did some trail running to get back for breakfast. After breakfast, I showered and then we all headed to the Isalo Park. We hiked about 3 kilometers to a natural swimming pool called Piscine Naturelle. Isalo is a desert so it felt great to take a dip in the cold water after our hike. We hiked out of the park, had a picnic lunch and then headed to Tulear. During our hiking, we saw stick insects that were about 10 inches long, a spiny
tailed iguana, and got to investigate a callapsed termite mound.
We got to Tulear late in the day and found out that the local Rotary President was out of town, so all Rotary events were cancelled. Josh, Stu and I wandered around the town and then headed back for dinner. About 6 months ago, Tulear was hit by a cyclone and the town still hasn't recovered. About every other building is abandoned or in significant disrepair.
Day 19, Saturday, May 17, 2008
I got up with the sun and headed to the beach to take pictures. The tide was out so there was a vast expanse of sand heading to the water. Fishermen were coming in with their catch and little kids were driving ox carts out into the shallows to meet them so they could unload the catch.
After breakfast we drove to a Botanical Garden set up by an amateur biologist about 40 years ago. It's in the middle of nowhere but had a great collection of native plants. After the Botanical garden, we dove to what we were told was the Oceanographic Institute. In reality it was the Museum of the Ocean which is a small
building near the port where they had ancient displays of mounted shells and sea life in jars filled with formalin. The highlight was a coelacanth specimen and two almost full term coelacanth babies in formalin. This was apparently the first specimen caught in Madagascar, just off Tulear. Several previous specimens were caught off South Africa and the Comoros.
After lunch we did some wandering around town and then back to the hotel for dinner and bed.
I'm not used to guided tours when I'm travelling so I didn't realize how much time is spent eating when some people travel. During the beginning portion of our trip to Tulear, we spent more time eating than travelling or sightseeing. We'd eat breakfast from 7:30 - 9:00 or so, drive until 12:00 then have a 1.5 - 2 hour lunch then drive until sunset at about 5:30, rest, unpack and then dave a 2 hour dinner. I'm used to a light breakfast, quick lunch on the go and then an early dinner and early bedtime to be able to get up with the sun and get going again in the morning.
Day 20, Sunday, May 18, 2008
We got an early start
for the long drive back to Tana. We are basically retracing our path down from Tana because Madagascar only has one drivable north/south road. Even up in the north of the island this road is apparently in severe disrepair making road travel in the north slow and often necessitates a 4x4. We spen the day watch the rolling yellow grasslands of the south morph into the central desert of Isalo and then change again into the central mountains. There are road markers every kilometer that look like white and red toumbstones. The road markers tick off the distance to both the next small village and the next large town.
People here are every shade of tan, yellow, brown and black, but almost no white. also, the average Malagasy is under 5.5 feet tall. We stick out as foreigners everywhere we go, especially with Kris who's almost 6 feet tall and blond and Stu who's over 6 feet tall and built like a football player. Every time the van stops we are swarmed by people, often childern, selling whatever local trinket is available or begging for money. We were even approached by a group of boys with Chameleons on sticks for
us to photograph in exchange for some small amount of money. When we're in town, we're asked for money whenevr we stop and stand still for too long, but not when we're walking. When walking we're usually left alone except for the occasional pushy rickshaw driver trying to get us to pay for a ride or the venders at the touristy shops who constantly try to entice us to come in and buy something.
Just before we arrived in Fianaransoa for the night, we stopped in Ambalavao to go to the paper factory to get Eric and Beatrice a gift to thanks them for their hospitality. While there, a local Rotarian gave us a tour of the grade shool he and his wife run. He owns the paper factory and some of the money he makes goes to fund the school. He also receives contributions of money and supplies from France. They have over 400 students, some of which come from as far as 8 kilometers to attend school.
We arrived after dark back at Eric and Beatrice's house. They had an additional guest, Jean Michelle, a very old friend of Erics. We spent the night taking and having dinner
and then Eric and Jean Michelle showed us pictures of their 40 day motorcycle trek around Madagascar that they went on 30 years ago. At that time, Madagascar was a Communist country and there was no money spent on infrastructure so getting aound at that time was even harder than it is today.
Day 21, Monday, May 19, 2008
Spent the day driving from Fianarantsoa to Tana. It took the whole day so there wasn't time for much of anything else. We arrived back in Tana and Kris went to stay with Rontu and the guys went back to the Ivato house.
Musing during a long van ride: Terraced rice fields creep down narrow valleys like a gentle green waterfall. Rice is how this country brings food from the land, but rice fields are also what's killing the land. Deforestation for rice patties allows the precious dirt to run down from the hills and into the sea. Someone here told me that Madagascar used to be known as the green island but because of deforestation and erosion is now known as the red island.