Madagascan Adventures (Part Three)
Madagascan Adventure (Part One) can be found here
Madagascan Adventure (Part Two) can be found here
Tana to Anstirabe
We left the relative luxury of the Hotel in Tana and hit the road. Our friends from Australia had connected with us in Tana and we planned to spend the next week or so of the trip with them.
A drive south to Antsirabe (3.5 hrs) for a bit of cringe-worthy touristy stuff. Rickshaw rides where you feel very much exposed and unnecessarily carted around.
The only thing that makes it better is knowing that the people need this tourism as their livelihood and a generous tip goes a long way. The average wage in Madagascar is around $2-4 USD a day. We would later see how much even budget tourists like ourselves could make people happy.
Anstirabe to Miandrivazo
The next morning we left Antsirabe for Miandrivazo (4 hrs) where we would stay overnight and begin our river journey the next day.
We made our way to where we would board our river craft. Which would just be 2 hollowed out logs. One for each couple as well as our guide and the rivermen. There are some places in the world where tourism is normal and tourists can even blend in pretty well. Not so much in Madagascar. You stand out as wealthy outsiders wherever you go and sometimes that gets uncomfortable. The land we had to cross to the river was private land. Meaning the guide had to get permission for us to go down to the river to meet our canoes. We were stopped by a dozen or so teenagers/early 20's, some of which were talking to our guide as we waited outside our 4WD, while the rest hovered around looking us up and down and looking inside the car. This went on longer than it should and the guide briefly mentioned that they weren't letting us through with the car. More discussions went on as we awkwardly waited. Looks from the group turned to comments and laughs, making the whole thing even more uncomfortable.
You can't help but be on your guard and wonder what's going to happen next. We're pretty much in the middle of no-where in a surrounded by enough people that, if they wanted to, could take all our shit and leave us there and there wouldn't be a damn thing we could do about it. The stories of guides and tourists being beaten and robbed clashes with the urge to stay polite and smile and try not to offend people in ways you might not understand.
After a lengthy discussion we are told the river-men will come up to us and take all our bags to the canoes while we walk the rest of the way to the river. New people arriving and taking our bags away doesn't do anything to help ease the tension of the moment. It isn't until we are on the canoes, with our bags at our feet and parasols in hand, does the tension ease and we can focus on what comes next. And what comes next is something I was not expecting or prepared for.
10 hours of sitting in a hollowed out log in the heat of the day with the sun bearing down on us. 10 hours of shifting position, trying to take photos, staying hydrated, adjusting a life saving parasol and wondering whether the dizziness and lethargy are from the sun or food poisoning. 10 hours without stopping until we reached our destination.
Don't get me wrong. This was a tremendous experience. I know I'm making myself sound like a whining soft westerner here. But it was challenging. And all that time, for those 10 hours, there are two river-men sitting at the back in the full sun paddling the entire time. I really want to get the point across of how these guys are complete machines. Not only did they row us while we sat there, they even whipped out a stove and cooked for us. And did the dishes.
Our first camp was by a beautiful gorge with a very welcome waterfall. After the canoe trip, photography was difficult to focus on. I snapped a few shots, more so to capture the moment than to be a portfolio worthy image.
Day Two on the River
The second day on the canoe was another 10 hour trip. This time it was easier to manage. We each even grabbed the spare paddles and tried our best to help out. Our destination was the opposite bank of a small village where we would be taking a zebu cart into town.
From the opposite bank we looked over at a giant mango tree and little scenes unfolding. We saw the locals catch and kill an owl, because an owl is seen as a bad omen. A group of boys would sit under a tree with exposed roots and suddenly break out in a fight, occasionally jumping on a canoe and coming to see the strangers camped across the river. I found the whole thing very interesting and kept trying to capture these little moments.
River Journey's End
The river journey was over. 20 hours of sitting in a log is something I will never forget. We were on the village bank of the river awaiting our zebu carts when we put together our tips for the river-men. The men that rowed continuously in the heat for 20 hours to carry our rich arses on our tour. We ended up giving them 30EURO each. We weren't super rich ourselves and had a long journey ahead of us. But 30EURO each was more than what we were "recommended" to give and watched as they stood off to the side, after our thank yous and good-byes, and jovially patted each other on the back and genuinely seemed thrilled with the outcome of the 2 day journey. Even to this day I wish we could have given more. But I know that money would go a lot further there than it would here.
The zebu cart trip was a shorter experience but interesting none the less. You could see why it was better to take a cart than try and get a car to the village. Some roads between popular places are barely accessible by 4WD, so out to a small village is definitely not an option for a car.
I'll leave this part here. Even though we didn't see any major sites over these few days. The whole experience was more memorable than seeing most famous attractions. It's hard to express how much travelling can tangibly affect you as a person without having a single moment or location to attribute it to.
Can a moment last 2 days?