leaping_lemurs: (Lemurs Looking by the_reverand)
[personal profile] leaping_lemurs
Up early for breakfast, then on the road, It was National Route 2 again, and the first couple of hours in particular were very windy as we kept going to Tamatave aka Toamasina on the central East Coast. It was raining when we left and for much of the drive, and Terry and I were incredibly glad that for logistical reasons Vy had suggested we do Lemur Island yesterday afternoon instead of this morning, when it would not only have been muddy and uncomfortable, but we couldn’t have used the cameras. And speaking of Lemur Island, I did capture a couple of shots of leaping ringtails in the background, so you’ll get to see them after all. Anyway...

We passed lots of children walking to school – some for 10 or 12 km (5 or 6 miles) each way, and since school starts at 7:30, that explains why they were on the road so early, all wearing backpacks just like schoolkids everywhere. A lot were also carrying bundles of sticks, firewood to keep the school warm and dry. They finish by lunch and go home, and another group of students comes in the afternoon. There was very little traffic, including many fewer trucks than on our first drive from Tana. (I forgot to mention that we saw a jack-knifed tractor-trailer at a curve that first day, though it didn’t look as if anyone had been hurt.) There were fewer of those bus-vans that far out, too, though we saw more as we got closer to the coast.

The houses were very different, too, and I realized that our bungalow at Eulophellia was modelled on the traditional style: a raised (because of all the rain) small one-room building made of narrow boards, with a peaked thatched (or very occasionally corrugated iron) roof. No chimney, so smoke from cooking just slips out through the thatch. Most were built within a few feet of the road and were substantially smaller than our bungalow. The only other structural difference I saw was that the bungalow had a small front porch and the door on the narrow end, while the real thing all had their doors on the long side. I also wonder if they had bathrooms.

Keeping things close to the side of the road seems to be the norm here. On the first day the railroad tracks paralleled the road much of the time, usually only a couple or three feet away, so when the train comes through, it must practically brush the cars in passing.

One of the saddest things as we drove was to see huge swaths of land covered in traveller’s palms, because they come in as secondary growth once the old-growth rain forest has been stripped away. They’re lovely trees, though, and the symbol of Mad Air. (I think they’d do better to paint lemurs on their planes, but maybe that’s just me.) They’re flat, with a short, thick trunk and a fan of leaves like a peacock’s tail. Water collects at the base of the leaves, the leaves themselves can be used for salads or as an umbrella (as we saw several walkers doing today), and the trunk can be built into shelter, hence their name, since they provide everything a traveller needs.

We hit the flatland shortly before Tamatave, and at that point we started noticing a lot of royal palms, the huge straight-trunked ones everyone knows. There are 190 kinds of palms here, in case anyone ever asks you. The traditional wood-and-thatch houses were still prevalent, but there also started to be more 2-story bungalows, some small and some clearly the homes of people with money. But even some of the bigger ones were cheek by jowl with the poorer houses.

Tamatave itself is a bustling port. As we drove into town, not only were there suddenly lots of people again, we saw the most common form of transportation there: the rickshaw, with an occasional pedicab insterspersed. There were also lots of bikes and scooters and the occasional car, and plenty of people walking. Everyone was all over the roadway, since there was no sidewalk and not much shoulder, and both sides of the street were lined for a good mile or so with all kinds of open-fronted shops selling everything from local produce to bicycles to clothes to meat to pharmacy items. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I wasn’t driving, because it was craziness personified, yet no one seemed cranky. Maybe it’s the mora mora “slow down, take it easy” culture, or maybe everyone’s just used to the mixed traffic, but everyone’s polite. When you’re going to pass you give two short honks, then another when you’re going to pull back into the lane, which is answered by an acknowledging toot from the person you just passed. A couple of short honks also serve to warn bicyclists, rickshaws, etc. that you’re coming up on them and they should get over, but it’s never aggressive, and that only happens if they haven’t heard you behind them.

For big chunks of today the road had actual markings, too, which was a first. Dotted lines along the edge, passing and no-passing zones, and pass-with-care sections with a more tightly compressed dotted line. Those can be between passing and no-passing zones, or just between two no-passing zones. Frankly, if it were up to me, I’d reclassify most of their passing zones as pass-with-care, but maybe I’m just a weenie.

No zebu carts at all today, and precious few gas stations – none in the mountains that I saw, not even in the relatively built up town where we stopped for a comfort break and to wander through the market for a few minutes. And still not a single traffic light and only 1 or 2 stop signs.

We went into the center of Tamatave to change money (we had to be buzzed in by the outside guard, and the inside guard was very intimidating, with his legs wide, arms folded watchfulness) and pre-order lunch at a pretty posh hotel restaurant – yummy fish kabobs, with veggies and fries and local fruit before and after – than went to a chocolatier, because Madagascar is known for chocolate as well as vanilla. (Just a little ice cream pun. Hee.) I bought a bar of milk chocolate that’s very smooth and perfectly sweet.

We also wandered the market for a while before lunch. It’s not a tourist market but where the locals shop, so there were all the practicalities: food, toiletries, clothes (quite stylish) and shoes, linens (I considered a tablecloth with embroidered lemurs) and dishes, and even a hardware section. Lunch followed, and then we got a little driving tour of town. The main street has a huge esplanade down the center and is populated by things like the biggest bank, the Mad Air headquarters, the Post Office, etc., many contained in impressive buildings left from the British, then French, colonization. There are also a couple of supermarkets, Score and (I kid you not) Shoprite (though whether it’s the same Shoprite as in the US, I have no idea), the latter pretty much directly across from the beach, where the road ends at a T-junction. Somehow it seems very funny to me to have such prime real estate occupied by a grocery store. We drove parallel to the beach, which gave us a view of both the port and some big houses on large fenced lots, obviously where the monied class live. One huge, very squared-off white stucco (or maybe concrete) home was flying the national flag and is where the president stays when he comes to town.

Madagascar became independent in 1958 and was recognized in 1960, and it’s ruled by a president. Traditionally, there are 18 tribes, and the previous president appointed people from all the tribes to government positions, whether they were qualified or not, and the country fell into a mess. The current president appoints qualified people and doesn’t care about looking “fair,” and things are looking up as a result. Most of those people are from the highlands around Tana and the coast, because before colonization, Malagasy was an oral language only. The British, followed by the French, turned it into a written one, as well, but most of the people they taught were in those 2 areas, which have remained the best-educated, leading to more qualified appointees.

We said goodbye to Jocelyn when he left us at the (very small) airport for our flight north up the coast to Maroantsetra. It’s also very inefficient, so much so that even Vy commented on it, then laughed when I reminded him of mora mora. It took forever for the people in front of us to get checked in, but we went much more quickly. Hanging out in the departure lounge *g*, we ran into Elly, my seatmate from the plane, and her husband, and the British couple who’d sat in front of me on the flight. He’d gotten a gorgeous mouse lemur shot on a night walk, and now I’m very envious.
The flight was short, comfortable (plenty of room and leather seats on a modern prop plane) and not at all full. It was open seating, but there was no need to scramble.

Maroantsetra Airport is even smaller than Tamatave. We were met by a representative of the hotel, and Terry and I waited in a cab while Vy sorted out the luggage. (Apparently it’s a bit of a scramble.) We saw geese narrowly miss being hit by a car, and two (separate) adorable little boys who looked around 4 or 5 and were wandering from a path skirting the airport lot (and passing a few houses) through the airport and back and forth, totally unescorted. I guess it’s normal, but we were a little worried for them. One looked like a little old man, very serious in plaid overalls, often standing with his arms crossed and looking consideringly at what was going on. I took this picture of him out the car window while we were waiting.

The main road to town is a paved-but-aging plain old street, and it ends at a footbridge over the river. A rather rickety footbridge, I might add. A few hundred feet away are the remains of the traffic bridge, which was destroyed by a major cyclone a few years back and hasn’t been rebuilt. Possibly that sentence should end in “yet,” but possibly not. Our luggage and that of all the people from the cabs that pulled up behind us was loaded onto a motorboat, and we were all buzzed along and across the river to a landing site near our hotel – or should I say “our resort”? – Relais de Masaola. (Masaola is a national park, and it’s pronounced MahssWAHlla, or sometimes MahshWAHlla, though the last “a” is kind of swallowed, as happens with a lot of words here. “Ariary” tends to becom “ariar.”) But I once again digress.

The hotel van, which can no longer get to the airport because of the dead bridge, met us. It ended up taking all the luggage but none of the people, because Vy said the hotel was only about 300 meters away, so we all decided to walk. We approached up a driveway past outdoor (but under cover) ping-pong tables and a pool, then entered reception, to be given a welcome (in both senses of the word, imo) glass of cool apple juice. There’s a beautiful lounge, the waves of the Indian Ocean lap at the shore, and we’re in Bungalow 1, the nearest one to everything. It’s big, lush, with electricity even during the day (it went on at dark and off at 10:15 at Eulophellia Lodge, as is common throughout the island), a big bathroom and a wide porch to keep any rain (this being the rainiest part of the country) from getting in our windows. It’s windy today, so we’re getting a gorgeous breeze right now, I can see blooming things from my bed, and the waves are urging me to nap before dinner, an order I plan to resist. It’s too windy for ping-pong or a river excursion, and our night walk is tomorrow, after our day trip to Nosy Mangabe (No-see Mangabay), a very nearby island, so this is our chance to relax, and we’ve got a perfect place to do it in. We’re here for 3 nights, and what a treat that is.

An interesting note about terminology, since I was waxing poetic about our current home. Some hotels are indeed hotels as we think of them. But we’ve passed a number of places called “hotel” or “hotely” that didn’t look as if they could possibly accomodate guests, so I asked Vy today if sometimes a hotel/hotely is just a restaurant, and he said yes. Which explains why many tiny villages boast a place to eat but not a place to stay.

As an aside to [livejournal.com profile] jenlev, you’re going to love your photo vest. I’ve been using it instead of a bellybag, in addition to sticking extra batteries and things in the pockets. It can be heavy and a tad warm when forest walking, but its convenience more than makes up for that.

And that, ladles and jellyspoons, brings you up to date on our adventures. More to come post-Nosy Mangabe.

Date: 2007-11-04 10:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jenlev.livejournal.com
What a totally amazing description, thank you so much for putting this all together.

As for the vest, I do love it and should have worn it into the woods today....but I was in such a hurry to get downstairs I totally forgot.


Date: 2007-11-05 12:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] the-reverand.livejournal.com
I am thinking Mad Air is maybe not the best name for an airline.

Enjoying this!

Date: 2007-11-05 10:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] victorian-tweed.livejournal.com
This is all so fascinating, Nutmeg. I'm really enjoying your descriptions, and all the information about a place I clearly know so little about!


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