By Daniella Sachs. Writing in retrospect is not advisable on trips such as these as each day is filled with an overwhelming amount of new sights, sounds and experiences. As such the following is merely a snapshot of memories imprinted in the photo-book of my mind.
The trip from Tana to Tulear is punctuated with stills of stepped rice paddies with flowing irrigation channels, double storey colonnaded brick houses and ambling zebu1 topped with wobbling fat pouches and curved horns. Green hills and flowing rivers gently give way to a landscape of granite and sandstone interspersed with forests and dotted with villages of sand-coloured houses and burial cairns built of rock.
Our first stop after a long day of driving is Fianarantsoa, a jam-packed town filled with street vendors and the mess that is human life. Through the window one’s nose is immediately filled with the dusty, sweet, salty, oily smell of frying food, and sweat overlaid with that of rotting produce. The streets hum and dance with the cries and shouts of vendors proudly showing off their wares: sticky mangoes, tiny fish long dead, piles of grated carrots, string beans, ripe tomatoes and slabs of meat hanging on hooks vie with curtains of mismatched shoes and brightly coloured clothing.
Down a colonnaded ivy-covered grand staircase we are greeted by the mattress sellers and the beginnings of a fairground. A sweaty back pushes a merry-go-round full of squealing children; shouts and the clink of dice abound around crowded tables of roulette. Rum and beers flow around packed streets while the DJ’s call out from their boxes at the four strange white women walking past.
Hot croissants melting with butter await us in the morning in preparation of our first hike in the sweltering hot sun. We travel to the community run lemur reserve in Ambalavao and meet our first grunting family of the famous ring-tailed lemurs lounging in the forest trees. Satiated with photographs and surrounded by mosquitoes we escape to explore the lemur caves, and our first Bara cave burial site. Up the rocks we crawl to stand in awe at the beauty of Madagascar, and then onwards we march to marvel at chameleons both big and small.
New Years Eve finds us at a bungalow resort at the foot of the Isalo National Park, the second biggest nature reserve in Madagascar. Struggling to stay awake we sleepily toast the New Year with THB (Three Horses Beer) and home-made flavoured rum diluted with Sprite, carried all the way for us on running feet from the store in the village.
Bright and early we greet 2010 with a 7 hour hike in the national park. Sandstone ledges and steppes2 of brush with grasshoppers dancing before us give way to ravines of forest and the grunting and leaping of lemurs. A pristine film-like blue rock pool appears as if by magic before us. And thoroughly refreshed for the moment we head off round crags of sandstone gleaming in the beating sun to a grotto waterfall and icy black pool. Brown lemurs show off their cuddling cuteness in an attempt to edge even closer to our shady lunch of French baguettes and grated carrots. Thoroughly exhausted, and with cameras filled with the ‘perfect-lemur-shot’ we toast to what promises already to be an incredible new year.
The next day sees a marathon hooting run over dry planes interspersed with small villages of wood and grass huts to Toliara. Walking down streets pelted by dust storms, struggling to move limbs through the pervading heat in search of the promised shopping we encounter the jocks/machas/macho men on their motorcycles and the push-push runners sprawled out in the shade. Soaking away the grime in the pool/bathtub we await the arrival of Blue Ventures in anticipation.
Minus cell-phone and sunglasses, the next day presents a hunt for functioning and reliable transport to site. After much haggling and stubbornness Bic succeeds in securing us a slow, bumpy, neck-jarring 9 hour ride past villages of reed and wood huts set on white beaches capped off with the never-ending blue of the Indian Ocean. Finally we reach our much anticipated destination, albeit minus luggage temporarily, and are shown round our new home for the next 6 weeks by Nick and Chiara.
Sitting here, perched on my hammock strung up outside our wooden hut I am surrounded by the roar of the crashing waves on the half-moon beach below. As the multitude of stars come out I marvel at the exquisite beauty of Andavadoaka and I feel the need to pinch myself really hard just to make sure it is real.
1 A type of domestic cattle originating in South Asia, characterised by a fatty hump on their shoulders.
2 A grassland plain without trees.