Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Grand Circuit

Since July I’ve been planning a grand voyage that would take place around the holidays.  I would start in Antananarivo (the capital), then pass by Morondava to the west, head down by sailboat to Tulear in the Southwest, then travel up to Isalo, Fianartsoa, then finally end up back in the capital before returning to my site in the Northwest.  My partner in crime: health volunteer Ryan Farkas.  I choose him as a travel companion based on the fact that he pronounces bag the same way I do, being a fellow Minnesotan.  The travel would occur within a three week time frame under a Peace Corps budget: a great adventure was in store for us. 

December 23rd: After being told that the taxi-brousse was already fully reserved the other day (a lie) I was told to come back the next day before other passengers filled the car.  I ended up waiting five hours in the most foul-odored taxi-brousse station in Madagascar.  After two years I still can’t outwit the mpaneira’s (middle-men who are responsible for finding passengers for taxi-brousses).  He wanted a guaranteed customer was all.  

sitting in an empty taxi-brousse waiting for it to get full 
Since the more direct route to Morandava has not been renovated it requires that I go far south of Tana past Antirabe before heading northwest.  As I was lingering between a half-conscious state and peaceful sleep I felt the driver plunge the van into a ditch, attempt to dodge boulders, and trees before coming to a complete stop.  Entana (passenger items in the van) are being flown astray all around us.  There seemed to be little shock amongst passengers as they climb nonchalantly out of the battered vehicle.  I on the other hand am outraged.  There appeared to be a fatalistic acceptance of what just happened as I asked people around me their feelings towards the situation.  “It’s understandable [he just risked our lives] he’s tired,” was what I was getting.  After expressing my opinion in the most courteous manner… I’m sure, the sofera (driver) compromised that he would rest and in the meanwhile someone else would take his place. 

Finally I arrive in hot, hot, simmering hot Morandava to Ryan’s place, but not before my taxi-driver attempts to hike my fare up.  No matter, I’m in my desired designation in one piece on Christmas Eve.

December 24th:
Ryan taught me how to gut and scale a fish.  He’s become somewhat of an expert after living several months in a northern coastal city.  Our Christmas Eve dinner was delicious although being not-so traditional.  We had eggplant and potatoes; with steamed fish; topped with a cold, crisp Gold (Malagasy brand) beer.  I feel that half of the goodness of travel comes in the form of food. 

We join Ryan’s neighbors at a Christian service this evening.  I wasn't quite sure but there seemed to be a reenactment of the nativity scene, equip with costumes and props.  The female church group, who all made matching outfits, lead the congregation in song and prayer.  It was a bit nostalgic sitting in church that evening, since it brought back memories of many past Christmas Eve’s at mass surrounded by festive décor and poinsettias and listening to the choir being accompanied by bells.  It’s nice celebrating Christmas with another American.  It helps mitigate feelings of homesickness.  

to be continued...

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