A Travellerspoint blog

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Day 5

1st January 2012

sunny 36 °C

It’s starting to feel like Survivor. And a New Year’s hangover doesn’t help.

Where should I start?

Two buckets of joy have just arrived on our Bungalow stoep. We’re back at Mahalina. It’s hot. And if it is going to rain, it’s not happening soon. Fresh water is a commodity; a sacred and prized possession. Deciding when to use it is a skill.

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Lunch was positively disgusting. It consisted of Malagasy rice- again; bland red sauce – again; and in the red sauce - this is the most exciting part - was not fish (since we still haven’t caught any), it was egg. It looked like the contents of most of our stomachs over the past few days. I ate a spoonful of rice and sulked silently (before secretly tucking into some Provitas and Pick 'n Pay tinned mussels). I suspect that the cook’s hangover had something to do with it. I just honestly do not know how a hung over person could prepare that without getting sick themselves.

Anyway, the dhow is out of sprite, coke and tonic water, which leaves us with local rum, local lemonade and bottled water. To quote Mike, the local rum “will take the hair off Witblitz’s chest”, likely make you blind and will probably instantaneously kill any bug that dares try suck blood from you. The local lemonade has an identity crisis; it is nowhere near lemonade or anything lemony for that matter, and instead tastes distinctly like bubblegum. It doesn’t work well on its own or as a mixer. Bottled water is dull and we get a complimentary bottle each day anyway.

Things are not looking good. With any luck, Weather Gods will send in another seasonal downpour, so I can at least shower and be happy.

Day 4:

Let’s backtrack to yesterday, which was New Year’s eve. Our trip to South Africa island got cut short by the approaching band of clouds and what turned out to be a 7-hour torrential downpour. This was by no means tragic. We were spared another sticky 37 degree day; salty items of clothing got hung in the rain to rinse clean; and we could have a substantial freshwater shower that didn’t involve rationed brown water.

Then we tucked into many bottles of bubbly, wine, some local rum and some beer, and Mike and I ended up celebrating with our boat crew and the entire village population at what I’d guess is the Tavern or “club”. Thanks to some blaring and distorted Wawa (a renowned Malagasy popstar), I believe it was definitely one of my better New Year’s celebrations!

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Posted by JayneHol 11:25 Archived in Madagascar Tagged rain madagascar new_year russian_bay dhow_trip Comments (0)

The Flight

Air Madagascar on the 3rd January 2012

rain 31 °C

Throw out any rules you know of air travel back home.

  • You may not make it to the airport on time. Your taxi may be running on very reserve and may lose all power on a wet uphill, which a thousand revs and a near exploding engine will not remedy. In this case, your replacement driver may very well be eating hallucinogenic leaves and driving at night in the rain with dim, blurry sidelights (as opposed to headlights).
  • But fear not, your plane will never be on time anyway.
  • You may be locked out the airport, unable to speak Malagasy or French, waiting for what, you aren’t really sure. When a kind man in white-ish uniform approaches you with already-printed-and-customized boarding passes, fear not. Just say, “Wi,” and enter the airport.
  • If you were sweating in fear because of the amount of alcohol and liquids in your hand luggage, fear not, there is not security check. Board with a red wine papsak dribbling down your leg and I'm sure you'll be fine.
  • You may spend two hours in a tiny airport swatting mosquitos, killing biting ground-crawlers and playing a sweaty and sticky game of Presidents and Assholes on the waiting "lounge” floor
  • You should, by all means, sit as close to the gate door as possible, even if you do have the luxury of a choice of a chair or are worried about airport etiquette. You see, he who boards first, sits first - ignore the seat number allocated to you on your boarding pass and sit as soon as you see a seat.
  • You may not have much room in the overhead locker for hand luggage. Actually, if you are not amongst the first twenty people on the plane, you may not have any at all.
  • If you feel that any of these things offend you, remember that buses are the Great Equaliser, despite desperate pushers and a lack of any formal queuing system. And if in doubt of this, remember that baggage reclaim is an even greater equalizer and you may very well walk out before those that pushed in front of you two hours earlier AND that got their bags into an overhead compartment.

Posted by JayneHol 12:04 Archived in Madagascar Comments (0)

Road Trip: Day 1

4th January 2011

rain 20 °C

We altered our itinerary and decided to get long drives out of the way first, which meant today entailed a 7 hour drive from Antananarivo to Fianarantsoa. It was spectacular. I can’t quite compare it to anything in particular, but I get blended reminders of Mpumalanga, Rice-paddy-rich and rural Asia, Tuscany, and speckled bits of certain bits of the Western Cape.

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Fano organised us a fabulous driver, Zina. He is brilliant, informative and very chilled. We are also in a perfect car for 4 people- A Hyundai van (Jetstar) of some sorts. We all have ample space, including the alcohol and boxes of snacks that we familiarly bought from Shoprite in Antsirabe.

I’m not too sure how to describe it all…

I just know that I am stupidly glad today was chilly with persistent Cape Town-like rain.

I have a thought. Liz Gilbert divided a specific period of her life into 3 phases: Eat, Pray, and Love. I think a world of women has identified with what she wrote and how she described and worked through her own grief. I think what is missing, is silence. Obviously praying, in Liz Gilbert’s sense, involves reflection, introspection and silence, but I like to consider silence without feeling like I should get something out of it, like it has this goal I’m meant to try and achieve…something as stressful as enlightenment or personal emancipation. I think that there is a time for simple, uncomplicated silence that doesn’t demand any particular outcome. That’s how I feel right now. I think that I am in some kind of mental slumber or subconscious contemplation. I like it, even though every now and then I worry that I should be thinking and feeling more.

Tomorrow we are taking the train- the one and only running Malagasy train- from Fianarantsoa to Manakara. With any luck, we will get there in 7 hours.

Posted by JayneHol 23:52 Archived in Madagascar Tagged travel madagascar driver fianarantsoa antananarivo Comments (0)

Bon Voyage: Part 1

5th January 2011

overcast 21 °C

I suppose it is the only “running” train for a reason. I’m not sure how sustainable a country of buggered trains would be, whereas one should be easy enough to manage...

I have what we have named Makily kily belly. This is a tragedy on a day like this spent in transit. In between nowhere. A beginning no longer relevant, an end no longer believable.

We woke up at 5am to be at Fianarantsoa train station by 6 to get tickets and the train by 7. After about an hour and a half of waiting, someone inconspicuously erased the departure time off the blackboard and chalked in its place 10:30 instead.

We called Zina to come and fetch us, had breakfast at the hotel, walked around the old town for an hour and then made our way back to the station.

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We eventually got tickets five minutes before the train was due to leave and then waited another hour and 45 minutes for the locomotive to return from its mysterious disappearance. Five hours late, we left. Luckily I felt too sick to celebrate and was informed after my effortless, albeit uncomfortable, one hour and fifteen minute sleep that we’d been stopped at the second station for 45 minutes already.

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We’re still here, now probably closer to an hour and fifteen minutes after arriving. Sadly, I’m fully awake now and fantatsising about phoning Zina to drive five hours back from Manakara and come and fetch us. During this fantasy, the engine stopped altogether.

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Humour and I are strangers today.

In a normal state and under normal physical and mental health circumstances, I’d take Julian’s suggestion to get smashed quite seriously. But I can’t even escape this situation with the aid of alcohol.

The engine started.

The whistle blew.

But we are still stationary.

Posted by JayneHol 00:49 Archived in Madagascar Tagged travel train madagascar fianarantsoa manakara Comments (0)

Bon Voyage: Part 2

Still the 5th January 2011

We remained stationary for probably another hour. During this time, the engine stopped again. More local kids hassled us through the windows or while we wandered the redundant tracks.

A few Vaza (white people) had decided to leave the train by this stage. They looked ecstatic when their driver arrived. We felt insecure. We only had a few hours of light left to see the supposed exquisite views , the train engine had been dismantled on the track, the local kids had now boarded the train to hassle us there, and Manakara felt like a distant 2am dream.

We made the decision to call Zina to see how far he was and to discuss the possibility of dissing the train idea and heading back to Fianarantsoa. By chance, he had left late and was two hours away, so we agreed to call it quits…just as the train engine came roaring to life, the whistle blew and the horn sounded. Panic. To stay or go. Go. Leave it. Walk away quickly and watch the train start chugging again, subtle regret seeping into our decision.

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The train was going backwards. Brilliant.

It went backwards for 20 metres, stopped, the locomotive was detached and it drifted off into another distance. It returned with an extra train, got reattached, and started moving in the right direction. By that stage, we chose to ignore what we might miss, until we saw the locomotive come chugging back - AGAIN - without the carriages attached. They’d been abandoned 100 metres in the right direction while the locomotive made its determined way back towards Fianarantsoa.

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We decided to start walking in the direction of Ranomafana until Zina spotted us.

Plan B. A good one, I believe. We got to see the villages slowly, got greeted by every villager, got laughed at by every kid, and we got some exercise.

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The real victory, however, came along our walk…the train had only gotten about 10km out of Fianarantsoa after all that. I don’t recommend it to anyone who travels through Madagascar.

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We’re now sitting at our new guesthouse in beautiful Ranomafana and we’ve claimed the title as the first group of people in 11 years that Zina has allowed onto the train, one that he fervently distrusts.

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Posted by JayneHol 05:59 Archived in Madagascar Tagged travel train madagascar ranomafana fianarantsoa manakara Comments (0)

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