I arrive in Madagascar!

Trip Start Jan 12, 2008
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Trip End Oct 01, 2008


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Flag of Madagascar  ,
Sunday, February 10, 2008

(Note: this is a long entry... I think because I am now alone at night my thoughts will come out more as I have more time to write.)
It's hot!  Not quite as hot as South Africa, but a stickier heat for sure.  I'm in Madagascar!!!  I keep thinking about how crazy that is and how I don't think I know anyone who has been here.  I feel lucky to have this amazing opportunity to travel.  Just as I begin to remind myself of how lucky I am, I run smack back into the African mentality that everything will be alright regardless of how fast things get done, and that tourists are suckers!  There are no more border control cards to fill out and I must wait as one of the guards goes to get more, and proceeds to stop and chat to friends for ten minutes.  Once through security I'm swarmed by about four guys offering me cabs, money exchange (despite there being banks in the 'airport'), weed, and extensive tours of the island.  I start practicing my French with perfecting "non merci" and quickly realize that this phrase will be beaten over the head by the time this leg of the trip is done. 

I change money and feel like a millionaire with the huge wad of bills that I get in exchange for just 200 Euro.  522,750 ARIARS(????) seems like a lot but for some reason the stack didn't feel right.  The lady was shocked to discover that I could count that high and that I realized she had shorted me 20,550.  After nearly back handing her I pick the least obnoxious cab driver to take me to a hotel (I found one at the airport and phoned them to make sure they had a room) and he asks for 50,000 for the ride.  I just about punch him before realizing that it is only about $30.  As a result of the South African propensity to bargain, I inquire as to why it is so much (I heard it was really cheap here) and he flashes some card and says that it is standardized by the government in French.  Of course he was flabbergasted to find out that I understood and could read French so he apologized for "making a mistake" when I pointed out that the trip should only be 40,000.  I think about really punching him this time, but refrain and take the ride in his taxi that somehow outdid the one in Jo'burg in terms of the vehicle in which I've felt the least safe!

The drive is eye-opening as I see the level of poverty that is prevalent here.  Rice paddies are abundant and I distinctly see one guy fishing from one no more than 10 meters away from where another guy is peeing in the same paddy.  I presume downtown must be a bit better, but am astonished to find that it isn't.  Hotel Colbert (www.colbert-hotel.com) is nice, but not by American standards.  I put my stuff down in my room and quickly leave to explore the city and figure out what I'm going to do while I'm here. At the entrance to the hotel, I'm once again swarmed by guys trying to sell me maps, magazines, newspapers, vanilla sticks, marijuana, and tours.  After using my now patented phrase "non merci" about 100 times, I stop as one speaks English to me.  We talk and I he says he will meet me at the hotel later in the day for him to try and sell me on a guided tour as he is a guide.  I fully expect never to see Mr. Florent ever again.

Everything, besides the bustling street market, is closed as it is Sunday but the streets are packed with people.  I quickly realize that I'm the only white person around and apparently that makes it quite alright for little kids, mothers and young men alike to harass me for money and/or offer me various shit I don't want. For some reason almost every person is offering me marijuana... I refuse everything using "non merci" another 3,764 times as I make my way around the entire downtown area in less than an hour.  Antananarivo is large but spread out and the downtown is very small and extremely run down.  Even the closed U.S. Embassy looks like it is in disarray and untouched since 1960 or so. 

I happen upon two guys playing cards on a side street of the market and sit down to watch. My French is coming back to me already and I am able to communicate quite easily with these guys.  They are playing a version of rummy and I pick up on the different rules from the version I play with my father.  I ask to play next and the loser obliges, however, the winner tells me I must wager a bet against him.  Figuring that he's a card shark or this is a scheme, I wittingly agree to a small wager, 500 bucks or whatever the currency is (~$0.30).  Imagine his surprise when I beat him rather quickly.  The other guy sits down and gets up a loser even faster than the first!  They are laughing/crying at this point and we have a crowd as the first guy goes down in flames again. At this point, I decide that I actually feel bad as they have been extremely nice and fun to play with and talk to.  I take the money I've won and give it back to them and then take the two families that have been on looking (presumably theirs) to the corner and buy all the children a little sausage sandwich from a street vendor who's surprised to sell to someone who turns and hands to another person.  It really seems like a tale of two types of people here as many are extremely nice while the others are so desperate that they come off as being harassing.  The interesting thing is that it is hard to distinguish between the various levels of poverty but it certainly appears as though each and every person is dealing with being poor.

I head back to the hotel but only to shower before taking the advice from the card players of going to a bar to watch the African Nations Cup final between Egypt and Cameroon.  On my way out, I run into no one else but Mr. Florent!!!  He's been waiting in the lobby for me for about 2 hours.  He says something about marijuana as well and I have to ask because this is getting ridiculous.  Turns out, people have been saying "manawana" which means hello here???  Scratch what I said earlier about everyone offering me weed!  After hearing his five/ten minute sales pitch I decide that I like him.  I tell him that I'm on my way to watch the game but that if he meets me at 8 am tomorrow morning at the travel agency he says he works for, that I will work with him to set up a trip to one or two of the national parks!

I enter "Thibaut" at Hotel Glacier, as recommended, and look around to see a great band playing traditional music as patrons generally sit but a few dance and sway to the tunes.  The game is about to start and I order something off the menu that is MALAGASY.  I think I order a fish appetizer and a beef main course, but subsequently realized that I got a chicken appetizer and a fish(y) meal.  I didn't eat too much, but that wasn't a problem because by the time I got my food there were at least three girls surrounding me asking me questions.  I spoke French (trying to practice) while they struggled to ask questions in English.  I let them polish off my meal while making a quick exit after realizing that they all want me to take them back to my hotel room and pay for sex.  In retrospect, I need to be more aware of this sort of thing!!!  Back at the hotel, I watched the game in the comfort and quiet of my room and begin to fall asleep as I write...
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Comments

cyura
cyura on

Great trip, by the way...
have you heard of the Russian historical novel of the 1920s, in which Madagascar is the main subject? It's called The Land of the Sun and was only recently translated into English. The story takes place in the 18th century and is based on actual events in Madagascar's past. I recommend it to anyone who's interested in that big island. Currently, it is only available at the following site: www.geocities.com/maxmakc

Solveig on

My mother is from madagascar ^^ funny to read your blog. have you been in Antsirabe? you should check out the golfclub.

Grzegorz L on

Did You know, that Madagascar once almost become Polish colony ? http://anglopolish.com/index.php/archive/11-polish-interests/107-madagaskar-as-polish-colony

Sam on

Yup, that's MADAGASCAR, where I worked in for around one year. Nice island, kind people, beautiful but small downtown.., really nice & unforgettable memories.

anton on

What is wrong with you? No sex?

anton on

Forgot to say: I actually spent 6 months in Mada. Got out of Tana fast, as cities are not my thing. Spent 3 months near Antsirabe on a farm and the next 3 I spent in the malaria infested interior. Took the bus to Mananjary and from there headed to the interior until the road ended at a lonely outpost that catered to goldminers, then continued on footpaths that I aptly named bushpaths. Got to see amazing scenery, things one only sees in N.G. I lived on wild cassava and boiled green bananas. Slept in my one person tent. Drank straight from the river. Never had any problems other than constant hunger. Took no anti malarial, the natives routinely had malaria, I never got it. I was the only white in the area since the end of colonialism. Little kids hid from me until they got used to seeing a live vazaha. Yup, the girls in the cities will come to you, but most are happy to have a foreigner as a boyfriend, even if it is for a few days only. Money is not so much an issue unless you are very old, fat and ugly. Girls are happy with food, entertainment and taxi money. Personally I went to Mada to test myself. I wanted the whole French foreign legion experience and came out alive from the area that was once called 'white man's graveyard'. My next will be the Congo and after that maybe I hit the Sahara on a camel.

T101 on

very encouraging !! so was there any weed anyway?

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