Sunday, February 10, 2013


December 25th (Baobab Delight on Christmas day):

 We woke up around 6 am in order to make it out to the Avenue de Baobabs before the sun rose to its full strength.  It was easier than we thought to flag down a taxi-be (local bus) to the famous baobab lined road.  Venders grouped around the entrance propping up stands which sold carved baobab statuettes and children presenting us with baobab fruit in their small hands.   This is a round fruit with a hard fuzzy brown outer shell.  The inside contains nuts which are covered with a white tangy substance.  These trees were enormous, with trunks measuring at least fifteen feet.  Herders wearing lamba hoanys (colorful sarongs) passed by with large knives steered their cattle on barefoot.  I tried taking pictures of them, but not without being asked for payment.  I wonder if there’s an association in charge of protecting this tourist area.  I was surprised that tourism wasn’t more developed at this site since all the travel guides rave about le avenue de baobab.  Tourism is an infant industry in Madagascar.  Infrastructure remains the largest barrier.  The roads to the Northeast are practically non-existent in order for the Chinese mafia to hold on to their monopoly on rosewood and other precious commodities. 

By nine it was far too warm to continue on our walk.  We hailed the first 4 x 4 we saw and hopped in the back.  There were other hitchhikers.  We get good at hitchhiking in Peace Corps, despite what our mothers told us.  The owners of the vehicle had on their Christmas finest, being that they were on their way to church.  We held onto dear life to the closest stable looking piece of metal since we passed many bumps along the way.  

We picked up as many ingredients we could find to make a spicy Vietnamese soup called Bun Bo Hue, again a not-too-traditional meal for being in a not-too-traditional place for Christmas.  We took an evening stroll with Ryan’s counterparts at Mehefa (a health sensibilization NGO) and picked up coffee along the way.

December 26th (Beach day!)
We spend the whole afternoon at the beach with Ryan’s neighbors who are all around our age.  The boy was doing some free-style flips, telling me that there’s nothing to it. The water was warm and the bottom was sandy, great for swimming! We spot French hippy couples with dreads and old men with young Gasy women under their arms, typical crowd in a place like this.  Afterwards we got the runaround from different ship hands trying to figure out which sailboat was leaving the next day for Morombe in the Southwest.  

December 27th (ships ahoy matey!)
That night we stand at the sandy shores of the beach with a headlight as a small canoe paddled up to us to take us to the sailboat.We woke up to a sail that had been dropped on our bellies.  The sailors were preparing the sails with the awakening of the sun.  Drowsily I hear garbled speech that I didn't recognize, the sailors were all Vezo,  a fishing tribe in the southwest, also experts at boats and maritime navigation.  I realized that once taken out of the north I could barely function with language.  Having become very confident with my abilities with Tsimihety, this was very humbling, especially when the sailors were able to speak a combination of the northern dialects to me.  I look out, all around us was blue, blue, ocean.  I asked them how they didn’t become lost at sea without the use of any navigation instrument.  Their answer was simple, “I am Vezo, the sea is my home.  One does not become lost in their home.” They’ve heard of tall tales of Vezo living inland who became insane without the proximity of ocean to them. 

There are only a few other passengers on the boat.  Under the deck they are carrying a couple tons of rice gunnies.  Some of the crew were nice and pulled up a tarp, made out of old USAID sacks over the wooden plank we were to live on for the next four days, in order to shield us from the scorching sun.   We pass our time reading and dozing off in order to combat seasickness.  I tease Ryan since half his bag was being used up by Tolstoy’s War and Peace and a mini chess set.  I suppose everyone finds different items indisponsible when they travel. Relieving oneself is also quite an ordeal on the water taxi-brousse.  I would have to squat behind the front sail and hang on to dear life on the iron latter on the side of the deck.  The  waves splashing up and down acted as a bidet...enough said.
We stop in Belo Sur Mer, a seaside town famous for its national park and collecting sea salt.  This is the first-mates home.  Since rainy season had begun tourism was low.  The first-mate explained to us that since the boat was out of firewood for cooking we would have to stay docked all of the next day so that the crew can go in the woods to search for some.  Even though we understood everything he was telling us was tay-omby (BS) we were trapped in paradise so we let it slide.  He was actually going to a funeral procession which we viewed the next day.  Passengers were being carried across the water with the body to the place of burial.  Malagasy people will stop all activity when someone in their community passes away as a sign of respect, no matter how distant this person was to them. 

The resorts on the beach were very quiet.   the sand was scorching hot outside so we took shelter in a hotely as a young woman with a yellow argile mask prepared fresh grilled ocean fish and rice for us. The town was small and built on the sand.  Vendors were selling baobab fruit outside and we took rest at a local epicerie with outdoor seating and enjoyed a refreshing beer.

During the evening we took rest ontop of the deck with some inibriated sailors singing along to a radio. I never expected it to be so chilly compared to the shore. 

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