Manao ahoana (hello in the highlands)! Sarah has asked me to be a guest blogger and tell you about our family trip to Madagascar. It was a great trip! I will try to be concise, but it will be hard. We flew from Detroit to Antananarivo (Tana) via Paris. There were some last minute flight changes on our way out of Detroit, but in all, the travel went smoothly, it just takes forever!!! 24 hours from the time we left Detroit until we landed in Tana. So we ate, slept, read and watched movies.
We left the Tana airport around 11 pm, so we went straight to the hotel and to bed. Sarah has a friend whose father is a taxi brousse driver, so she arranged for him to be our private driver while we were in the highlands. I am so grateful for Clark, he was awesome! Driving in late at night, everything looked dark and deserted. I asked Sarah if the buildings we were seeing were deserted or just closed. It is winter in Madagascar, and Sarah had told us that it gets cold in the highlands, but we called her a wimp and told her she had been gone from Michigan for too long. It was sunny and nice during the day, probably in the high 60’s, but it was in the 40’s at night and the hotel did not have heat. We made sure we booked places with electricity, private bathrooms, and hot water, but we did not ask about heat! Oh well, after the 1st night we were in places with thicker blankets, so it was ok.
The next morning Sarah took us to a buffet so we could sample some Malagasy dishes. Everything was very good and nothing was particularly odd. There is a lot of French influence, so there is bread, great jam, eggs, and a stew with Zebu meat. When we headed out, things in the city looked very different than the night before. Lots of people and activity. Tana is large, busy, and crowded, but it was neat to see.
As we drove out of Tana for Miarinarivo (Sarah’s town - about 2 hours west), we quickly came upon rice fields, brick making fields, and zebu. There are zebu everywhere! Zebu carts are very common in the highlands, the zebu also graze beside the road, and small groups of 4-5 are often in the road being moved to a new area by their owners (or maybe to market). We were driving through the mountains, which are beautiful and even though it was the dry season, things were still pretty green. I was surprised that a lot of the highlands are primarily clay, even the mountains, so lots of things are red, but they also use the clay to make bricks. Between cooking fires, baking bricks, and burning the grass on the mountains to prepare the pastures for the rainy season, the highlands smell like a campfire all the time! Most of the houses in the highlands are made of bricks without mortar, and have thatched or tin roofs. Also, most people in rural areas do not have electricity, and even in towns and cities most people don’t have washing machines, so every river and lake has people washing clothes in it. Then the clothes are laid out on the bushes or the ground to dry so the country side is very colorful.
We spent the next few days in the highlands. We met Sarah’s rock sculptors, the people at Prosperer and CCI, her minister and his family, her friend Toky and his family, the people at the youth center, other friends, some of the other Peace Corps volunteers, and some of her silk weavers. Everyone was so welcoming and friendly. They also all wanted to feed us, so Sarah warned them ahead of time that we would not be able to eat everywhere we went, it would just be too much food! We got to see her place, which has electricity, running water (cold only) and a propane stove, so she doesn’t have to cook on an open fire. We also saw her church, the youth center, the market in her town and lots of other interesting things. It’s a very pretty area in the mountains.
One day we drove to Ampefy to meet Emma, another volunteer, and visit Chute de la Lily. It was market day in one of the towns we drove through, and it is a sight to see! Local people walk or taxi brousse to town for market day to buy, sell, or just be there. You almost can’t drive because of all the people and stuff. There is furniture, chickens, zebu, fruits and vegetables, clothes. It’s amazing. Thankfully we had Clark to drive us, and we were just passing through.
Ampefy is pretty, and Chute de la Lily, the waterfall there, is beautiful. We hiked down to the bottom followed by an entourage of young girls trying to sell us souvenirs. Everywhere we went, at the airport, outside the hotel, on the beach, we were surrounded by people, primarily children, trying to sell us stuff. Sarah would talk to all of them, and often they would hang around chatting with her. A group of 5 Vazaha or “white people” was a quite a sight, so we drew attention wherever we went. Sometimes when we were driving through a town, people would wave at the van full of white people! At one restaurant, a little boy at the table behind us was turned around backwards in his chair watching Brian eat.
We traveled east of Tana to the rain forest and visited Mitsinjo and Andasibe National Park where we saw our first lemurs!!! We did a night hike in Mitsinjo. We didn’t see any lemurs, but we saw chameleons, a gecko, and frogs so Nicole was very happy. The next day in Andasibe we saw 4 different types of lemurs including the indri, which is the largest species. We heard the indri calling when we started our hike, it is a very eerie sound that can travel several kilometers. Maybe because it was chilly, the indri were slow to come to the areas where the guides expected them, so it took a long time to find them, but it was worth it. They are very cool looking. Later we heard them calling while we were having lunch at the hotel. After lunch, we headed back to Tana to prepare for our trip to the coast.
Donna (Sarah’s mom)