We arrive on a smooth, yet, nonetheless, nerve-racking flight on Air Mad. Customs is painless and we are able to purchase our visas on arrival. We have to wait about an hour and a half, though, to change some damn money with the slowest banker this side of Ethiopia, but we are rewarded with some of the coolest looking currency I have ever seen. Aren sorts a convoy of taxis to haul the entire group in the center of Tana. We arrive at the prearranged hotel and are treated to a room with a view. We eat a warm dinner at the Hôtel Glacier—an ex-pat restaurant and hotel across the street—and after a couple of drinks in the bar a feeling of “having arrived” emanates my psyche. I made it to Madagascar—the furthest land mass on Earth both latitudinal and longitudinally from where I live in California. We eat a dinner of Spaghetti a la Marinera (what else is new!) and Potage Aux Légumes (vegetable soup). The menu is all in French (with no English subtitles) and I realize that I am going to have to learn basic French fast if I am ever going to order what I actually want and remain a somewhat beef-free eater. We end up at the hotel and are treated to some fine Malagasy television, but I fall asleep with the TV on.
For breakfast we eat Oeufs Brouillés (scrambled eggs) at the Hôtel Glacier and have a nice walk around town. We stroll slowly down the main avenue towards the alleged market. On the way, I meet several small men and buy two cool crystals from one of them; these soon become favorites. We head south at the train station into a maze of markets. People are selling everything imaginable both used and new: tools, out-of-fasion-clothing, tropical fruit drinks (sanitary?), murky and viscous liquids in refilled bottles, multicolored plastic ware, rusted plumbing equipment, food stuffs, souvenirs, bottle caps, broken car parts, hand embroidered blankets and table clothes, various rain gears, hats, music cassettes, and all types of exotic looking instruments. Aren somehow buys a wild looking Malagasy stringed instrument (left) called a valiha. It is a piece of polished bamboo with raised strings of various length all around it. It seems impossible to play and Aren’s attempts do no justice to the instrument. We later learn that the valiha is Madagascar’s national instrument. Mark is talked into purchasing a small djembe.
The bustling market scene eventually takes its toll on the gals so they head back to the hotel for relaxation, but not the men; we instead walk up the inviting hills behind our hotel. We hike to a large church and Aren, Todd and Mark play basketball at with church boys. I am not interested; I want to explore the cobblestone streets behind the church, so I continue up the hill for a ways and explore the winding alleyways. I am instantly in love with Antananarivo.
We have an elaborate dinner at the Hôtel Glacier, including marinated raw meet, soup and fish. I stay away from the raw meet. Post dinner finds us at the bar and we meet woman with curly light brown hair, blue eyes, and chocolate colored skin. Her name is Natalie. We have several more drinks with Natalie admiring her figure and the idea suddenly surfaces about going to a “night club.” We hop in a taxi and Natalie instructs the driver in an exotic language. We arrive at a club and are bullied by some guards, but Natalie argues with them and we are eventually escorted in. We dance, drink and suddenly Todd is parallel to the floor facing up. His right arm is down holding him up about 12 inches off the floor and his left arm is waving wildly in the air. His waist is bouncing up and down in an erotic manner with his crouch getting closer and closer to a strange woman’s crouch who is simultaneously dancing in rhythm with Todd’s moves. Wow, I never knew Todd had it in him. I grab a women with beautiful hair and we start dancing, the whole time the woman saying “otellee, otellee” which I translate to mean “take me to your hotel you brute manly man.” So I smile and am quite turned on by the whole spectacle. Meanwhile Natalie and Aren are dancing away, quite freely. Aren suddenly disappears and then Todd follows in an urgent manner. I, frankly, am staying where I am because two girls are arguing over me: the otellee girl and now a new, rather large African woman. I love the singles-ex-pat life.
After about five large beers each, we try and leave the place, but all the girls stick to us like flies on shit. We are frankly too drunk to plan an escape, so we willingly let the girls follow us. We stumble back towards our hotel, walking through the most dangerous parts of town. We are too loud and too many in number to be messed with. I notice Todd is suddenly paying his girl to leave him. The other girls have already followed Aren and Mark into our hotel and I simply run away from my girl. I desperately want to bring her up in my room, but I realize she is wearing a wig and I get freaked out by the idea of wigs and exotic STD’s.
I walk in my room a minute too late. There are two girls with Mark; one on his bed caressing him and the other one is going through me stuff.
“Hey!” I shout. “Get out of there!” I look down. The girl is wearing my shoes. “OK. You all are outta here. Mark, these girls have got to go before they take all of our things.”
“No Brian, let them stay, please.” But Mark’s pleas are too late. I shoo the girls out the door while the hotel manager, who has been awaken by all our rowdiness yells at the girls in his native tongue. It doesn’t sound nice. We all go sleep. What a night. I hope Aren isn’t in too much trouble.
“Ohh, why are you yelling at me Brian… ” Mark runs into the bathroom and returns moments later. “I don’t feel so well. My head is killing me. Could someone please shoot the sun?”
“Mark, you look green!”
Luckily, I downed a liter and a half of water the night before. I feel OK, but I think I am the only one. I guess Todd and Aren aren’t as fortunate because they don’t emerge from their rooms all day.
I decide to seize the opportunity and sneak of to the Andravoahangy Market (Market de Artesian / The Artist’s Market). Upon arrival, I realize that I am in big trouble. Never in my life have I ever seen this many crystals and djembes on sale. I can’t believe my eyes. I start bargaining left and right. It is out of control. Amethyst, quarts, amber, rubies, crystal balls, double terminating crystals. I try not to get too overwhelmed but buy a smoky quartz crystal ball and a spectralite egg.
We have dinner at the Hôtel Glacier again and Aren, in a moment of culinary wizardry, orders a plate of raw zebu. Most people eat it but I stay away. I think they are stupid. Talk about getting sick, but I am inspired to write a song.
No drinking tonight, just bed.
We learn that the train is full to Moramanga, the town outside of the famed Analamazaotra (Périnet) Reserve. So we all space out for a while trying to locate the Eastbound taxi brousse Finally, I hail two local taxis and they take us to the right spot. 10,000 FMG each to Moramanga inclusive of a beautiful ride through nice paddy fields and rain and sun. We then brousse it up to Périnet and lodge in the funky Hotel Buffet de la Gare, a converted old railway station. Mark, my roommate, suddenly gets sick and throws up all over in the bathroom.
Night falls and we meet a guide who takes us on an ultra-cool night walk and we see a chameleon this big:
|__________| and then one this big:
|_____| (Cute.) Then we see two brown mouse lemurs and one friendly and curious greater dwarf lemur. It is raining the whole time and we find one cool big chameleon and I accidentally knock him down and he disappears. Oh no—but chameleons bounce so it is OK.
The weather is great today. Partly cloudy, threats of rain, but the sum prevails. We meet our guide again for the main walk through the rainforest. We find a boy with a Parsons’ chameleon and a stick. I hold the chameleon and everyone takes pictures. We then track the indri lemur famed for its high screeching calls. We find some and they howl at the top of their lungs right above us. The eerie and loud howling can be heard miles away. (I wish I could make those noises.) We continue on our hike and spot some yellow frogs in a boggy area. There are hundreds of them. Bright yellow.
We hop on a big bus/truck thing and head back Moramanga and then taxi brousse it back to Tana. We rest and then go to the airport to pick up Mies and Wouter. We stay up and talk and then Mies and I talk while hanging out in the window sill. Reconnection.
I lead the growing group to the Market de Artesian. I buy a shit load of rocks Aren goes djembe crazy. I buy a double-terminated quartz for Mies, an aquamarine for Amy and lots of other quartz for my friends at home. We eat at the Tana Restaurant for dinner. Soup, noodles and beer. Then we hike up the stairs and go to the church for singing mass. But the singing is poor so we head out and are met by one of the djembe con artist we saw at the market earlier today. He is now drunk and trying to continue to overcharge us for a djembe—how rude. We go for tea at a nice hotel and there are three musicians playing the same weird bamboo instruments that Aren bought earlier. However, this musician plays the instrument with such precision that it sounds like a harp. The band plays several Christmas selections and then some traditional Malagasy songs. The band finishes and invites us back again. We attempt to go hear a reggae band at the Hôtel Glacier, but we all sit around back at the hotel and rest.
Christmas! We wake up and Santa has come with some treats. Actually Mark has left some funny notes, hilarious.
Nicole realizes that her stalking got stolen. Too bad. We have a nice breakfast at the Hôtel Glacier and walk around tana—heading up the other stairs, around the rose garden, and up, and up to a nice church where everyone is singing and dressed nicely. We go up further and pass kids playing ball in the streets. We end up at a nice Christmas gathering at a restaurant. We walk in and there is the nicest vibe going on. People playing instruments and guitars, singing, dancing, people of all ages, kids, my age, older. We get drinks and pom fritz and enjoy the sunshine. We then walk up to a view on the other side of the hill, talk to some kids and go up to the Rova—the now burned out inhabitants of the royalty. A guide somehow joins us. We try to ditch the guide and sneak into the church. The guide follows us, but instead of scolding us, encourages us to climb to the roof where we find a spectacular 360° view of the entire city—it is breathtaking. We sit for a while, and I reflect for a while, as I always do when in such a high place. We eventually find our way down and walk back. Todd and I are taking an alternate route and we all end up back at the hotel where we get ready for dinner.
We get dressed up in our best clothes which, for me, are a pair of worn Levi’s and a Blue polo style shirt. We taxi over to the restaurant and have a beautiful dinner of soup, duck pâté, chicken and Malagasy foods. Yummy. Nice coke for dessert. We then taxi to a night club where we drink, dance. I get on a big block in the center of the club and dance with an slender, and extremely beautiful Malagasy woman. But she has no interest in me as her back is to me, but that is fine. Aren takes some photos.
Mies and I go upstairs and talk again and Nicole falls asleep on a booth. We go “home” and sleep.
The family with whom we’d been traveling from Ihosy brought us to “Chez Micheline.” It seemed to be a bit far from everything. Was this a hotel? Four Americans had just left that morning on their way to Ifaty. We put our stuff on top of some beer bottles and left again to look for a bus to Ifaty. Brian actually was tired of traveling and was enjoying his ice-cold drink so much that he’d rather wanted to stay in this dusty, noisy, busy town called Toliari.
We bought fruit from a cactus tree. Why do we keep having the feeling that people laugh at us all the time? Do we pay too much? This lady probably could not believe we never ate this thing before.
We see a bus, just about to leave to Ifaty. They really want us to come in for 20,000 each. Brian still had his doubts but I kind of convinced him. In maybe two hours we could be one the beach. We would have a beautiful ride along the coast during sunset and see our friends and eat fish.
We take a pousse-pousse to go a quick as possible back to the hotel to get our stuff but the pousse-pousse man wasn’t very active and it took us more than the fifteen minutes we told the bus driver it would take. That’s why, when we finally arrived at the bus station with our luggage, the bus had left already. Ten men came to talk to us us about a next bus or taxi or I don’t know what. Children crossed the street with tow pigs, a drunken man tried to steal Brian’s guitar. Meanwhile, Brian sat in the pousse-pousse on top of our stuff looking quite exhausted of all this. After a while, the bus came back and we could enter it. We took a place in the back of the bus, would be nice to sit close to a window, close to the backdoor. Since we didn’t want to put our stuff on top of the bus we were sitting on it. Several people tried to sell us tickets, all for different prices, none of them turned out to have anything to do with the bus ride—they were just trying to get our money.
We left after some time of arguing, putting more people in the bus, screaming children, drunk people.
The road wasn’t a road. It was a beach with big bumps everywhere. The ride was terrible, though I loved it especially afterwards. I never forget the loud whistling of a man sitting next to Brian, announcing a following stop. The jumping up and down of us together, Brian shouting “Ohhhh!” every time, a woman with a yellow face, the man who told us that we’d already past Ifaty. They finally let us at the sign “Bamboo Club.” We followed the path, both exhausted, a dark path leading to? And for how long?
We found a note from Nicole, Todd, Mark and Wouter to “The Dutch and Brian.” They had gone to “Mora Mora.” We walked on the beach, that was wonderful. Finally, we see the group sitting on a terrace. They are quite surprised to see us.
Had some pancakes and pineapple, slept in a bungalow under a mosquito net.
A nice day, but the feast is the best. All you can eat lobster, followed by a goose. No room for dessert, but I play reggae with the band. At midnight, we all get naked and run into the ocean, but it is low tide and the water is only three inches deep. We run and run for deeper water, but the shelf goes out for miles and we give up and run back to land. We, instead, jump into the resort pool making a spectacle of ourselves. I hug Nicole and then we put our clothes back on. It is great.
Dinner at the Jasmine Restaurant of duck. We go to the airport, see Mies and Wouter off, and sleep in the terminal awaiting our early morning flight. The trip is over. What a fucking blast!
Next Country: South Africa