Well! Another long absence from the blog, but at least this time I have a good excuse. I've spent the last almost-month traveling the country with my parents and Matt, mostly away from the grip of modern technology (and sometimes plumbing). The iphone/ipad/laptop addicted among us survived surprisingly well, and with a commendable lack of whining! Since it was such an epic trip, I'm going to divide it up into sections of places we went to make it a little easier to follow and for me to write. I'll try to post pictures for each section (see right).
Ah, Tana. Favored destination of so many of my banking weekends, cultural hub (relatively) of Madagascar...and center of grime and chaos. I guess you could say it's the New York of Madagascar. That is, the NYC of the 80's, the pre-Giuliani one with rats and high crime rates. For better or worse, this is the first glimpse of Madagascar that most foreign arrivals are met with. I went to the airport to meet my parents, and from there we went straight to the hotel, the Sakamanga. The Sakamanga is now my favorite place in Tana, and quite possibly Madagascar. We passed in and out of the Sakamanga throughout our whole trip, but the first room my parents stayed in was out of this world...actually, it made us feel like we were out of this world, or at least on some very powerful medications. There were murals and drawings covering every surface of the room, giant fish and turtle sculptures hanging from the ceilings, and hidden nooks containing miniature whimsical creatures scattered throughout. In short, it was amazing. Between the room and having a lunch of beer, pizza, and paninis in the secluded garden patio it was almost as if we were in another city altogether. But they came to Madagascar to explore this one, and so that we did!
We first ventured to the Avenue d'Independence, essentially the main street of Tana. The streets are bordered with travel offices, restaurants, and ice cream shops, then littered with vendors who will persistently try to sell you vanilla, musical instruments, and assorted junk no matter how many (hundreds) of times you tell them you aren't interested. I really wonder if there are people out there who after being asked consistently for fifteen minutes if they want vanilla just decide “You know what, I didn't for the last fifteen minutes, but now...now I could really use some vanilla. Thanks for asking.” Of course, no journey to the Avenue is complete without attempted pick-pocketing, which we experienced in spades. As soon as I saw the first kid approaching with an outstretched baseball cap I immediately started yelling at him and knocked his hat down, causing my parents to wonder how just ten short months here seemed to have erased any manners I may have once had. Valid point, maybe, but I actually had a reason for doing this- kids will hold out hats in an attempt to distract you from the fact that underneath them they are undoing all your zippers and cleaning out your pockets. More soon joined the first wannabe thief and actually managed to get my dad's pack opened, but they weren't able to get anything out before we shook them off. Around this point the Avenue lost any sort of appeal and we headed back to the wonderful haven of the Sakamanga. Welcome to Tana!
The next day we met the driver we hired to take us around the country, Andry. He ended up being a great guide and fun guy to be around, and fortunately (for me as the would-be translator) spoke excellent English! We explored a bit more of Tana that day and took tours of the Queen's and Prime Minister's palaces. We also got a tour of the area around the palaces, which is the highest point in Tana. Great views of the city from there! Later in the day we went to Tana's little zoo, Tsimbazaza, which has a small lemur park in the center where you can feed the lemurs. I had been there during our training, but it was still fun to pet the lemurs and have them jump around on us. I definitely was not used to having so much activity in one day, so I was ready to go to sleep around 7 pm, and my parents were still adjusting to being in an opposite hemisphere's time zone, so we had some early nights in Tana. Actually, that was kind of theme of the whole vacation. I think I'll pin the blame on the hot Malagasy sun.
Next post: the rainforest!