Sorry again for the extended intermission between posts, but this time I have a good excuse. Well, two excuses. First, I was out of town. I went to Tana to work on writing some funding proposals with my friend Shayla and then to Antsirabe for our regional VAC meeting. Second, when I was in Antsirabe I came down with strep throat...and scarlet fever. “Scarlet fever?” you might be asking yourself, “wasn't that eradicated decades ago?” And the answer is yes, if you live in a lovely developed country. We don't even vaccinate for it in America anymore because it is just that irrelevant. However, if you live in Madagascar you can still experience all the joys of a sandpapery, itchy rash, bloody throat, and total inability to eat or drink for days! Come one, come all. I'm happy to report that after a few heavy injections of antibiotics and days of sleeping I'm fully recovered though, and just waiting to see what the next disease is that I can add to my “sicknesses of the Oregon Trail” bingo card.
I'm going to fairly quickly summarize the rest of my vacation here, and then I'll be able to start posting about current stuff that's going on.
When I left off we had just left Fianar and Amber's site to head to the west coast. Our first stop was a few days in Isalo though. This was my favorite hiking of the whole trip. I don't really care for the rainforest I've found out, because it's just way too freaking humid. Isalo, on the other hand, is rocky, hot and dry. Perfect! We stayed at a cool lodge called Isalo Ranch, which is a collection of solar-powered bungalows with a pool and restaurant. We did a couple different hikes while we were there. The first took us up to the top of the plateau where you could see for miles and miles. We saw a lot of tiny plants since there's not much water in the rocky desert, including some two-foot-tall trees called "Elephant Feet" because they look like, well, what they're called (you can see a picture to the right). There wasn't much wildlife up there, but the scenery of the sandstone cliffs and canyons was really beautiful. We stopped for a picnic lunch, and were soon interrupted by pests...lemurs! They were habituated to people, so they were hopping right up on our table, trying to steal the food out of our hands. It was actually pretty annoying, as I was hungry and wanted to eat my egg sandwich and fruit.
Our second hike was my favorite. We hiked down from the plateau into one of the canyons that ran by a stream, so it was really lush and pretty. We followed it all the way to two natural pools that Matt and my dad swam in. My mom and I chose to sit that one out since there was no place to change into swimming suits and I didn't want to finish the hike in freezing, soaking clothes (and thankfully I didn't; we learned the pool was home to three-foot long eels!). Then we took another short little path to a 40 foot tall waterfall through a very colorful rock formation.
After Isalo we continued to the southern Malagasy coast. We had to make a brief stop in Tulear, where we had a pretty nice lunch at an Italian place (lasagna at last!), but other than that it was a pretty gross town. The people had a fairly hostile attitude, even toward our driver because he was from the highlands. Everyone wanted money for the smallest things, like saying where the bank was, or you know, being a policeman and just doing their job. Sorry, but you already get a salary for that, it's not my business to subsidize your drinking hours. Once we got to the bank the ATM ate my mom's bankcard, and the manager refused to give it back. It was quite a hassle, and I think everyone was happy by the time we left Tulear.
From Tulear we had to rent a different car to drive us the 27 km to Ifaty because there is no road, just sand dunes, wet and dry riverbeds, and lots of ruts. At this point it was dark, our driver was a sketchball, and everyone alongside us was carrying spears, so I don't blame everyone for thinking we were going to be sold to one of the local villages. We made it to our bungalows at Au Soleil Couchant after an hour and half and were greeted with the most glorious seafood buffet you could imagine -- shrimp, fish, lobster, you name it! In fact, I mostly associate our few days in Ifaty with eating lots and lots of lobster. So delicious!
The first day in Ifaty we went to the Reinala Arboretum and saw lots of baobabs (the iconic tree of Madagascar) and then went to a radiated tortoise conservatory (they are a very endangered species). From there we went to the beach were we walked for about .5 seconds until we were hounded by vendors and beggars, and then proceeded to sit in a beach-side restaurant. We had a good time talking with the owner of our hotel, although since he only spoke French I use the word “talking” to also mean pantomiming and drawing. We went snorkeling that afternoon on his son's boat, and the water was so lovely and warm. We stayed in an area with lots of coral and fish, and I didn't even freak out too much when the fish got close to me. Just a little. I actually really liked some of the prettier fish, like the parrot and angel fish.
The second day my parents and I went on a pirogue excursion. These are just about the most primitive boats you can imagine -- dugout of tree trunks, sails made of whatever fabric they can find, and an outrigger made out of a really bouyant tree trunk. We sailed a little ways down the coast to the skipper's village and then he gave us a tour. The kids of course were so excited that vazaha were there and were showing us their best dance moves and songs, we visited a grade school, and our guide's family gave my mom and I some seashells as gifts for visiting. It was pretty cool.
After Ifaty it was back to Tulear to take a plane back to Tana. From there we did a quick little day trip to my site in Ankazobe where everyone saw my little room, garden, kabone, and ladosy. We had dinner at my french-fry omelet hotely which everyone enjoyed, and on the way back we ran into my friend Lea. Since it wasn't work hours they didn't meet any of the doctors, so I was glad they met at least one of my Malagasy friends. Then back to Tana and on to Isle St. Marie, my most favorite place in Madagascar.
Ile St. Marie is essentially "Fantasy Island." Absolutely gorgeous with sparkling turquoise water, palm trees, and grass huts. We toured the island by bike our first day there and it's just so pleasant. As opposed to my town where people barely say hello, the people on ISM were quite friendly. Everyone passed with a “bonjour” or “salam.” Our bungalows Le Libertalia were super comfortable, and the food at their restaurant was delicious. Every night was cocktail hour followed by a three-course meal followed by a food coma. I think I would go back for the food alone! The hotel also had it's own tiny little private island which had a hill you could climb up and pretend you were a pirate (at least, I'm pretty sure that's what we all were doing, right dad?). There was a pier leading out to "Pirate Rock" with beach chairs and ladders off the side so you could swim and snorkel around the little island. In short, it was relaxation heaven.
On one of our days on ISM we went to the much, much smaller Ile Aux Nattes which is just a stone's throw from the southern point of the big island. IAN is pedestrian only, and is so quiet. We walked around the whole island with our friends from the hotel, a couple from Switzerland, and Jean, a charming (and entertaining) 84-year old man from France. We really had a great time together and had lunch and cocktails there. We also got to spend the afternoon swimming in the most beautiful water I've ever seen. It's salty enough too that you just float...float and dream and forget that the rest of Madagascar -- er, the world -- exists. Mmm, bliss!
I guess Air Madagascar must have known I wasn't quite ready to leave paradise, so our flight was cancelled on the last day there. Fine by me! Air Mad put us up back at Le Libertalia, so free dinner, drinks, and breakfast before we actually left the next day. Once back in Tana it was really just enough time to reorganize, sleep, and then say goodbyes (boo).
It's amazing that almost a month flew by that quickly, but we covered so much ground and saw so many incredible things and ate SO MUCH delicious food. It was a vacation I will never, ever forget and one that might never get topped! I hope you enjoyed my recap of it, and if you have any interest in visiting this country, DO IT NOW. It's rapidly disappearing as people continue to clear-cut the forests and global warming messes with the ocean. I feel really fortunate that we were able to see it while there's still so much wild and beautiful nature, but I know it won't last. So come see it before it's too late!