Obviously one does not come to Madagascar to see the capitol city. If one does, they are pretty silly and won't have much of a vacation. No, what most people come to this island to see is the wildlife. That's the boat my parents and I were in, so our first venture was to Andasibe, a national park about 3 hours east of Tana. We got an early start, jumped in our brousse and hit the winding road (see pictures at right below).
We reached our hotel, the Feon'ny Ala ("voice of the forest"), around lunch time so we ate and settled into our bungalow. I think this was the closest to “roughing it” that we came on the whole trip, as there were no fans, no hot water, and fairly lumpy beds. No matter though, I think everyone managed. One benefit of being in the middle of the forest was that we could actually see the Indri lemurs in the trees across from our bungalow. Our first hike of the day was at an NGO run park called Mitsinjo. We arrived at their office to pay for park permits, and I discovered that one of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers actually works there which was a fun surprise! We took a short 2-hour hike through the dense humidity and saw a few different types of lemurs, including more Indri, which are the largest of the lemurs. They also have a cry that will give you goosebumps and that you can hear from miles away.
Day two in Andasibe went similarly to the first, but we did our hiking in another national park called Mantadia. We saw more lemurs here, and much more closely than on day one. We even saw the Diademed Sifaka lemur, which are supposed to be pretty hard to spot. I thought they were especially cute because, as their name suggests, it looks like they're wearing little crowns. Aww...We also saw a pretty large family of them flying through the trees which was really neat. Our hike on day two had an end goal though- a waterfall and natural pool. We found them after a couple more hours, and had snacks by the waterfall and then continued on for a swim in pool. Well, “swim” is maybe overstating it. It was more a quick hop into the freezing water and quick hop out, with a frantic bit of doggy-paddling in between. It was pretty though!
The next day we drove back to Tana, where Matt was waiting for us at the Sakamanga. It's pretty crazy to see people from home after being here for almost a year. It feels like your brain gets shaken up a little because these people very clearly belong in your ideas of “home” and “America” and what the heck are they doing on this dirty, weird island?? That isn't to say it wasn't fantastic to see everyone, just kind of funny at first. We had a bit of downtime that day just to hang out in Tana, drink some Three Horse Beer, and catch up. Then the next day it was on to Antsirabe.
I had been to Antsirabe one time before going there with my parents, and I think it's one of my more preferred cities in Madagascar that I've been to so far. It's very clean and quiet, and almost slightly European feeling (probably because it was founded by Norwegians). Through the 'Gasy friends my parents have in the States, they know the son of the mayor of Antsirabe, so we met with her for a little bit. She turned out to be a good connection because we wanted to tour the THB brewery which is notoriously hard to get into, but after dropping a little hint she called the factory and got us a private tour! Guess it does pay to know people in high places. Other highlights of Antsirabe included eating terrific pizza at our hotel's restaurant which overlooked a beautiful lake and garden, touring a workshop where they make hand-made paper products and weave silk, and eating ice cream. Eating ice cream is a highlight wherever you go here. I doubt anyone would say it was their favorite part of the day, but riding in the pousse-pousse was quite an experience too. Those are the rickshaws here that take the place of taxis in Antsirabe. Some foreigners have an ethical problem with pousse-pousses because they're pulled by people, but I don't really see why -- they're environmentally friendly and provide jobs. People here don't see them as demeaning, and why should they? It's a sensible way to get around where cars would be too expensive and dirty. Although, I will say they aren't exactly comfortable if you aren't 'Gasy sized, which no one over five feet tall or 100 pounds is, really.
Next post: more rainforests, hiking, and meeting other volunteers