Ooook. I realize this has taken some time, but that is a good thing. I have been busy! SO let’s track allllll the way back to December. Another volunteer, Christina, and I planned to travel together for Christmas, along with her twin sister (they are triplets). So her sister arrived exhausted in Tana on the 18th, and we called it an early night to head to Andasibe National Park due east of Tana the next day. We got a brousse to Moramanga and then to Andasibe with remarkable ease. Then we had a great night hanging out with a few other volunteers near the park. The next morning we got up early to go on a trek through the forest to see the indri, the largest species of lemur in Madagascar. Andasibe is known for them, and you can hear their eerie called echo throughout the forest early in the morning. That trek was really amazing. The lemurs are wild, but used to loud people walking through their forest, so we could get quite close without disturbing them. A few of us even got them to come down and take leaves from us! Too cool.
However, the next segment of our journey, that back west to my site, was a complete disaster. Little did I know the traffic in Tana around Christmas is worse than LA and New York combined. We did have too terrible a time getting back to the outskirts of Tana, but then it took forever to get to the taxi-brousse station. Then, we had to take a cab to my taxi-brousse station in a completely different part of town, which took HOURS. And, of course, it started to rain. We began to get close to the brousse station, and the usual jackals come out to meet us, trying to get us to go to Antsirabe or get on their brousee. One guy comes up and when we tell him we are going to Miarinarivo, he says he is a driver and that they are only waiting on 3 people, just us. He gets in the car because we are still inching towards the station, and I begin to ask him questions about his brousse, where he is going ect. to make sure we are not getting lied to, which is usually the case. We get to his brousse in the pouring rain, and there are 2 kids sitting in it. I tell him we will find another brousse, but he insists that all the seats are full, people are just getting food, and we must sit in the back because the other seats are taken. 3 HOURS (it takes 2 to get home) of him telling me we are about to leave and I finally get out and yell at him. He says we will leave right then, and that we had been waiting for “my friends.” This sets me off, so I start calling him a liar, and telling him that he knew we had no one else coming, and he can’t blame this on me. So I climb back through the window to get in the car, soaked to the bone. 2 minutes later, he comes up to the window and says we have to change brousses because his brousse is not going up with hill into Miarinarivo, which is a question I specifically asked him 3 hours earlier. Well, I lost it at that point, and yelled at him for probably 5 minutes in Malagasy in the pouring rain. I swear, this doesn’t happen very often, but he was just the worst and that brousse station is my least favorite place in the world, bar none. Christina’s sister said she wished she had been videotaping and that I was hilarious. So we reluctantly change brousses in the rain, and in the process discover that they had not covered our suitcases with a tarp like they should have, so alllll of our stuff was wet. The next brousse finally takes off, but the traffic is still so terrible it takes us another hour just to get out of the city limits.
I thought that was the worst brousse ride ever, and it was close, but the one the Mahajanga was definitely worse. But I will get to that in a second, because the next two days were actually pretty nice. We went to Ampefy, Emma’s town on the lake, and had some nice food and paddled around in the paddleboats you can rent. Then we headed back into Tana. Which, of course, had terrible traffic, again. That aside, we finally get to the brousse station for Mahajanga, a coastal town in the northwest, and they say we will leave at 5. So we go grab food, and sit on the brousse to wait. The brousse ends up leaving around 6, but then it takes us 2 full hours to get out of Tana, so a 10-12 hour brousse ride ends up taking `14.
But that wasn’t the worst thing. A few hours in, the woman sitting in front of us begins to have a seizure! And the brousse driver wouldn’t stop!! She seizes for a full minute and then goes unconscious; and doesn’t really wake up for half an hour when we finally stop for food. We had no idea what to do or if she was going to be all right. She seemed fine later, but that scared us to death. The rest of the ride was long but fairly uneventful.
The trip, however, was not for nothing. We arrive at our adorable little hotel with an incredibly clean pool and amazingly friendly staff. My favorite hotel in Madagascar for sure. We spent most of our 7 days in Mahajanga walking around the town, going to the beach, eating amazing food, and swimming in the pool and the Mozambique channel. Mahajanga is the hottest city in Madagascar and we went at the hottest time, so we spent a lot of time in the pool, the ocean, or the shower haha. There are also a ton of little restaurants and places to get fish kabobs along the boardwalk overlooking the channel.
One of the days, we took a boat out across the sound to a little fishing town to tour around and get some lunch. Another, we went to see natural purple and red clay rock formations that are absolutely stunning at sunset. We also had the best fish burgers in the world. On Christmas, I got to skype my whole family in Arkansas and Alex in Michigan. I had forgotten to bring my hard drive, so unfortunately I didn’t get to watch A Christmas Story, but I was included in the Nielsen family tradition of watching Home Alone, another Christmas classic. We also went and got amazing Italian food and heavenly gelato, so all in all not a bad Christmas. I am, however, incredibly jealous that the one year I am not in Arkanasas they got amazing snow! Too bad the power was out though!!
I ended up staying in Mahajanga one day longer than the Nielsen sisters because I intended to stay for a wedding of a friend from PROSPERER in Miarinarivo and Christina’s sister had to catch her flight back to the states. So I moistly hung out with the staff of the hotel, a Swedish girl, and some hilarious Italians. There is a lot more Italian influence in the north. There are even direct flights to Milan from Nosy Be and Diego. So then the next day I decided not to stay another day by myself for the wedding, but to visit a Peace Corps friend on the way back to Tana. So I caught a brousse and wound up running into my German friend who had been traveling around with his dad for a month! Small world! Also, the guy sitting next to me was from Mauritius and incredibly chatty in English. For those of you who have been on long car trips with me, you know that I prefer to sleep, especially when the trip is 10 hours long. So I finally arrived in my friend Travis’ town about 100 km north of Tana and we spend the night doing another Christmas tradition: watching Die Hard.
We then head back to Tana where we are meeting up with around 50 volunteers for New Years. That was an absolute blast. There were volunteers there from all over the country. Early in the day my friends Jessie, Amel (who is from Michigan and we have the same birthday) and I decided we wanted to dye our hair. So we went to a beauty store and bought the cheapest hair dye we could find in a deep dark purple, for around $1.25. Jessie and I did streaks at the back of our hair and Amel dyed her bangs and the entire underlayer. It looked awesome! So I can no longer say that I have never dyed my hair. Also, the box said it would only last a couple of weeks but it is still there haha. Probably because my hair is so light and healthy right now because I am not swimming or blow drying it.
Anyway, then everyone got all dressed up for our night on the town. When you see PC volunteers most of the time we are dirty and in old clothing, so it is particularly fun when we all shower, do our hair and makeup, and look nice. We started the night at the Malaria volunteer’s apartment in Tana for potluck snacks. Then we headed to a bar in the main street of Tana where we had rented a room. We enjoyed some drinks, pizza, and dancing, and celebrated the New Year there. Then we headed to another bar for more dancing and finally called it a night. I think it was a great success J
I decided to stay a few days in Tana to hang out with the people I rarely see and then head back to site, bringing my friend Jackie with me. My last night in Tana, my landlord calls me at about 8 at night and tells me that I have to come home right away because my door is open and they think someone broke into my house! Of course, I can’t go home because it is already night, but I call the PC security officer and assure my landlord I will be home as soon as I can the next day. When I arrived home, a few guests in tow, I had to go to my landlord, and we had to get the police and the head of my neighborhood. When we get to my house, I take a look around and nothing seems out of place. Now this is embarrassing, because now it looks like I just forgot to lock my door, which definitely wasn’t true. I am pretty sure the lock popped open, probably due to changes in humidity with the wood of the doorframe. So we filled out the police report and that brought an end to my crazy December adventures and replaced it with a much calmer January.
I hope you all had an amazing Christmas and New Year, and I can’t wait to spend it with you again in America!