The lemur hunt begins

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


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Monday, February 11, 2008

"Don't worry... about a ting... cause every little ting... is gonna be alright!"  I'm awake and on my way to the travel agency for my 8 am appointment, half expecting Mr. Florent to be late/not show.  He is there waiting for me and we decide to do a driving tour to two national parks not all that far away.  I negotiate what I think is a good price and he says that besides expenses, I will pay him what I think is fair based on my experience.  Too good to be true maybe?  I think I like this guy though and give him an advance to get the "petrol" and we agree to meet at my hotel at noon to give me time to walk around the one neighborhood I missed yesterday. 

I stop by my favorite little market and find my favorite two guys trying to sell me some books from 1960 (it seems as though everything here is from 1960).  I graciously decline but tell them that I will be back on Wednesday or Thursday if they want to play cards again or try again to sell me one of the few English books they have in their store. Moving on, I stop in at a Coiffure stall and finally have my hair cut.  It costs me 1,500 at the hands of Martin Touva, a 22 year-old "qui etudie d'argent" (who studies money).  He has rented this stall out and clearly is excited to have me in his shop.  I am his first white customer ever and he takes his time trying to get my hair just right.  30 minutes later (longest haircut I've ever had) and I give him 4,000 (~$2.50), to his delight, as I think he did a great job and was much more attentive than any barber I've ever had, including you Mother Dearest!

Hiking up the hillside with my new 'do, I discover that the Queen's Palace is closed for reconstruction. However, this doesn't stop four tour guides from swarming me and offering to give me a tour.  I'm confused because the sign clearly says it's closed, but they all follow me and begin giving me my own guided tour of the city I never asked for. Turns out, they know a lot about the city and offered me some great insight into the society, customs, language, problems and even thoughts on Bush and the current presidential candidates!  We stop to eat some local mini apples and fried bananas which are amazing.  2 hours later I wind up back at my hotel with the four guides still in tow, and I've actually had a great tour. I offer to give them each some money and three of the four are happy but the other gets pissed!  I explain to him in clear, slow French that I had not asked for a tour and that had there been only one guide, the cost would have been significantly less than I had offered.  He continues to say "excuse moi" and "ecoute moi" and actually grabs at the money I'm holding, at which point I get pissed.  I tell him: "Je suis desolee et je ne vuex pas dire ca, mais tait toi!"  (I'm sorry and I don't want to say this, but shut up!)  I give his share to the others and tell them that they are welcome to share it with him but that is their choice.

Side note:  2 days ago my Mother informed me that my Grandpa had a fall and was in the hospital awaiting surgery.  Today, my Father updated me that the situation may be a little worse than I had previously understood.  I think about having just seen him for my grandparents 65th wedding anniversary (see one of the first entries) and realize how far away I really am.  I feel horrible and useless but know that there wouldn't be much I could do even if I was at home.  My thoughts are with him and I hope that he wakes up and makes a swift and full recovery! 

Mr. Florent is right on time and we snag a bite to eat and hit the road.  He has his own driver named Harry!!!  We load up a brand new chevy and I'm excited to have my very own driver and guide!  The three hour trek is windy as all hell (heck?) but the views are spectacular.  Mr. Florent says that he thinking it will rain unfortunately as it is rainy season, but I tell him that I'm the luckiest man in the world and not to worry.  The country side is poorer than the city, however, everyone seems happy in the places we stop and no one asks me for money or to buy something in these smaller towns.  Rice paddies are to Madagascar as strip malls are to New Jersey.  A few dirt roads, pot holes and some good wildlife later (we see the largest chameleon Mr. Florent has ever seen), we reach our destination without a drop of rain falling: Vakona Forest Lodge (www.hotel-vakona.com).  I drop my bag in my room and we head right out for a night bush walk.

On the walk, Mr. Florent (I love saying Mr. before his name cause that's what he says) is disheartened by the fact that we don't see anything for the first 20-25 minutes.
I remind him that I'm the luckiest man on earth and to be thankful that the weather is so amazing.  He agrees and within 2 minutes we spot our first frog.  Four minutes later we see a troop of 8 or 9 lemurs even though Mr. Florent had just got done saying that they usually travel alone or in packs of 3 at most.
I think he finally believes my luck as he is more animated than Mickey Mouse when Harry picks us up at the end of our walk, telling him how many lemurs we saw.  Back at Vakona Lodge for dinner, I eat a real meal alone for the first time and realize how much fun this year is going to be but how lonely it could get.  Bananas flambee and I fall asleep under my mosquito net wondering how my Grandpa is doing...
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