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Published: December 18th 2011
Let me just say it from the outset, because I know so many of you are going to ask: no, there are no singing and dancing lions, giraffes, or other such animated fauna populating Madagascar.Alas, there aren’t even any lemurs belting out “I like to move it, move it.”
It’s sort of a sad fact that Madagascar really only came to be a household name after the Disney film was released. My interest in the country, however, long predates that bit of musical cinematic magic. The childhood biologist in me has longed to see this utterly unique island from the moment I encountered images of its strange and wonderful wildlife and plants in a National Geographic article. It looked like another planet, so I just had to go. It turned out Abby, my fellow history teacher at KAS, also harbored a childhood dream of visiting Madagascar, so this winter we decided to make our mutual wish come true.
But like traveling to another planet, we faced a number of obstacles in our expedition.
We first got an inkling that getting to Madagascar wasn’t going to be a straightforward affair when, shortly after boarding the Kenya Airways
flight in Khartoum, the pilot announced that we would be delayed due to the airport’s computer system “going down”. A little while later, as we were already starting to get nervous about making our connection in Nairobi, the pilot informed us that the plane’s take-off weight had been miscalculated (due to the system going down) and that some bags would have to be removed. Our hearts sank.
When we finally did take off, Abby and I were certain we were not going to make it to Antananarivo that day, nor would our bags. However, we got a spark of hope when we realized that we would be landing just before 8am, twenty minutes before our connecting flight. Perhaps they would hold it for us. We crossed our fingers – and made a mad dash across Jomo Kenyatta International (because, of course, our arrival gate was on the OPPOSITE end of the terminal from our departure). I was stunned to find that they were still boarding, and indeed we weren’t the last late passengers for whom they were waiting. (I guess when the flight only goes a few times a week you make the effort to get everyone on board
that is supposed to be going!)
So now we knew were going to make it to Madagascar, but would our luggage? Had it been on the flight from Khartoum? If it had, did they manage to transfer it onto this flight? We dared not hope, yet couldn’t face the alternative.
When we landed at Ivato Airport, we looked at each other and said: “We’re in Madagascar!” Whatever was going to happen, we were where we wanted to be.
In the airport, we were greeted by a bit of chaos, first at the madhouse around the visa desk (two lines for three incoming flights) and baggage claim (one belt for the same three flights). As the minutes ticked away, so did our hope of a baggage miracle. Still, it looked liked many of the other Kenya Airways passengers were still waiting….so maybe, just maybe…. Then it was announced: no more bags were coming out. I swear half the passengers from Nairobi were bereft of at least one piece of luggage; there was a mad rush to the claims office. Where one lone official began processing (very slowly) the missing bag forms for the restless mob. I wasn’t
sure we were every going to get out of the airport….
So not the most auspicious of greetings to Madagascar, but when finally ventured out of the airport and met our ride to the guesthouse my frustration began to melt away. OK, so I had no clothes, but I was in Antananarivo (or Tana for short). I felt like I could “move it, move it” at last!
Originally, Abby and I been planning on only spending the night in Tana, and then heading to the west coast early the next day, saving the sights of the capital for the end of our trip. However, with our bags lost in transit (either all the way back in Sudan or in Kenya), and without a clear idea of when they might actually arrive, we decided to spend an extra day in the city before venturing forth.
While we still don’t know when the bags will get here (we were told they would possibly be here by Monday morning), I think we are both glad we decided not to push on.
Besides getting to enjoy, in more leisurely manner, Chez Aina, the delightful guesthouse that is are
home for the moment, we have had a chance to get a good flavor of central Tana, making a grand loop of its hills and valleys.
We descended from our hilltop neighborhood down a long set of concrete stairs, entering “lower town” in the midst of the vibrant market day in Analakely. We jostled with other shoppers and vendors selling everything from colorful fresh fruits and vegetables to sandals to woven baskets – and fake Christmas trees. The red tiled market stall buildings served as a lovely backdrop to the commerce.
From the market, we followed the stairs up to the next ridge, up to the Place de l’Independence (where a military band entertained a local crowd of Sunday strollers) and the presidential palace. While in the neighborhood, we stopped for coffee and tea - and of course some French pastries - at Patisserie Colbert near the palace; by this point, we were both utterly in love with the city.
A short walk away, in the Ambatomena area, we discovered a row of funky arts and crafts store and some good restaurants. We were also able to buy a few clothes to get us by until
(or if) our backpacks materialize. Over lunch at Saka Express, Abby and I began planning how to move to this funky, hip, beguiling city….
“I like to move it, move it!”
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