I'm back in Antananarivo and back at the World's Slowest Internet Connection after a whirlwind tour of the Northeast coast of Madagascar. We leave for indolence and the beaches of Nosy Be this afternoon, but we thought it best to spend another day going around the back street of this beautiful city before full lounging commences.
The East was really quite beautiful. We delayed leaving Tana our first day, having found a beautiful quarter to explore-- an endless flight of steps winding down from the Queen's Palace, flanked by tin huts, chickens and adorable round-eyed children. I got tons of stares, which slightly unnerved me until it was explained that I look like I could be half-Malagasy, and thus am an object of curiosity, with my 'orrible French, decidedly Western clothes and fully white boyfriend. The people were ridiculously nice about us poking around and exploring, even though they spoke slightly less French than I have found in the strictly touristy areas of the city. It was interesting, though: on our walk down the hill, we encountered two schools, one strictly taught in Malagasy, and the other, further down the hill, for supplemental classes in French. The area was apparently middle-class, though it was unclear as to whether there was a strict boundary between the positioning of the upperclass housing and the middle class housing. The really poor people seem to all live down in the valleys in the southern part of the city, though. We entertained vague ideas of exploring, until our driver warned us against the threat of "un massacre". Chilling words, truly.
After eating sublime french food at Rossini, my new favourite restaurant of all time, we set off for Andasibe, towards the east. My stepfather used his connections ( he has after all been going to the country for 40+ years) to obtain us drivers for 28 euros a day. Jon napped most of the way, and I read Dreams of My Russian Summers, by Andrei Makine, which is a truly sublime book. We stopped at a random village along the way, and were surprised and secretly imperialistically pleased to see that, despite the fact that this village was across the street from a factory of some sort, the people lived in one-room huts with clay-covered brick walls and thatched roofs. Chickens and zebu abounded, and we wandered around, talking to people. We have an offer to stay in a hut belonging to a man named Paul if we ever head back that way. He owns two delightful cats.
That night, we stayed in bungalows on the edge of the jungle. I was kept up all night by the screams of the lemurs. It was delightful and mysterious and misty, though sadly invaded by obnoxious French tourists.
The next day, we got to explore the nature reserve itself, with the help of a delightful guide named Maurice, who scuttled like a spider while wearing a bizarre olive overcoat, all while telling us more about Malagasy plant life than I ever hoped to know. We got to observe two species of lemurs-- Brown lemurs and indris, and found the biggest surprise of all: Japanese tourists in the middle of the Malagasy jungle!
That afternoon we drove to Manombato, over the worst dirt road I have ever had the privilege to experience. I was on book two at this point:
Mystery Mile by a delightful British mystery author of the 30s, whose name I have forgotten just now. Margaret Allingham? We stopped at other villages along the way, and a village festival, where we got to see bamboo huts this time, though the village was IMMENSE, girls cleaning wheat by hand, and yet more chickens. Jon bought a beautiful straw hat for his mother and a basket for mine. I had forgotten my wallet in the car. We slept that night in a sinister lakeside bungalow with an evil woman who got mad when we rejected the undercooked meat cutlets for dinner. The next day, though, was beautiful and sunny, and so we took a boat down the lake to Akanin Nofy (misspelled) Nature Reserve. We visited a fishing village along the way, and saw a one-room schoolhouse presided over by a beaming schoolmistress who couldn't have been older than 20. Sneaky little girls followed us around the village, hiding whenever we looked at them.
My time's up, but I'll try to post pictures soon and tell more when I get to Nosy Be. This is a beautiful country.