Africa, Africa!

finally we are here. For Andreas this has been the continent of his dreams for a long time. Now we get to see whether it really lives up to its promises.

Madagascar in particular has also been on my list of favorite destinations and luckily the others share our passion. We decide to stay here for 3 weeks. The boat can stay in the commercial harbor of Tulear, while we travel inland. But we have to hire guards that will sit on our boat 24/7.

First we travel to a nice beach town just north of Tulear. It has a nice atmosphere, a few hotels and restaurants, but almost no tourists. We spend 4 nights there. But the days there we spend mostly reading and relaxing in our hammocks. I’m very happy with my new hammock, which has an integrated mosquito net. It is the dry season and not so many Mosquitos, but I decided to not take any Malaria prophylaxis and only carry the stand bye medication instead. So I do have to be careful. Along the coast it is still quite warm and there are plenty of Mosquitos around. 

Before we travel inland , we return to Tulear to check on the boat. There have been some big waves and a commercial harbor is not the safest place for a small boat like ours. We are lying next to a fishing boat and have to climb over three ships in total to get ashore. That is almost a little bit of an adventure. I have never before been on a big oil tanker. We befriend the Russian crew on the big ship and even get to see their bridge. They help us out with up to date weather information. And we enjoy their air conditioning. 

Tulear itself has not so much to offer. It is a big city, with a lot of poverty and violence. On our first night out, Paal gets robbed. He is taking a Pousse-Pousse back, alone, late at night, and at least quite a bit drunk. The robber jumps onto his Pousse-Pousse and cuts off Paal’s drybag, with a big machete! Inside his camera and a little bit of money. His phone and cards are luckily in his trouser pockets. Still not a nice experience. After this we get very careful, whenever travelling at night… 

Tulear has a couple of nice western-style restaurants (mostly owned by Frenchmen) and also a few nightclubs. The one we went to on the first night was dominated by French retirees and young Malagassy girls. There it was very easy to pick up a girl. Madagascar has a very different set of morals than India or the Maldives. It is much more open and easy going. Casual relations between boys and girls are common, couples get divorced (often the woman’s decision) and prostitution is frequent. Many women prefer a older husband who is already established and will take care of them. One young woman explains to us: young men often have many girls, they get drunk and don’t care for their family. Here it is often the woman that has to provide for the family. This young lady of 34 is married to a Frenchmen of 69. I have to say that they are a very harmonic couple. But you also see couples where the difference seems to be too big.

After checking on the boat we travel to Ranohira, close to the Parque National de l’Isalo. There we join Paal, Krischan and Karo who have already organised a two day hike through the national park. The next morning we leave to discover the Canyons of Isalo. We decide to stay one night longer than the others and walk back to Ranohira on the last day. I thought that was a perfect end to an already great hike. 

After that we spend a few quiet days in Ambalavao. Here we meet Teddy, a very nice young guide who invites us to witness a special ceremony in his hometown, Soatanana. This town is also called the white village, because people there wear only white clothes. It is the center of a christian community that you can only find in Madagascar. The white clothes symbolize humility, purity and ….???

We get there on Saturday evening and already there get greeted with very loud, omnipresent singing of hymns. The next morning we get greeted by the President, a sort of spiritual leader and mayor. After that we walk towards the church in one huge procession, with the whole village singing around us. The english teacher of the local school explains to us the history of the community and leads us through the complete service. The president is very happy to have people from so many different countries (there are also one Australian, one French and two Americans in addition to the whole crew from Seaventure) and he chooses to read Matthews, where he explains how God will meet all the people from all the countries on the world and judge them on the last day. While they read it in Malagassy, Andreas gets to read for us in English. I have never been in a Church where the Service actually gets translated just for me. After the Service the Community gathers to wash our feet. This was a very strange experience. All of course while singing more and more hymns. After that they serve us lunch and while we sit there, we have about 50 people crowded in this rather small room still singing to us. This must have been the weirdest lunch I ever had. After this the ceremonies are finally over. We give up our white dresses that they had lend to us and play some soccer with the local youngsters. Then we visit Teddys family and get a glimpse of how the people in this town really live. They have a very nice house and show us how to make banana-bread. For a living they do embroidery which they sell all over Madagascar. Before we part, each of us, gets a small table cloth that they have embroidered.

The next morning we leave for a hike through the valley. We visit a local rum distillery and buy a small bottle of rum that we will need later.  Teddy shows us a few tombs of important kings that used to reign the area. Then we come to a village who will show us a local cave that has been the kings palace a long time ago. Because it is a fady place (taboo after the local customs) we have to make a couple of offerings to the ancestors before we can enter the cave. We pour some rum on a special stone and ask the ancestors for allowance to enter. Then we enter the cave. One of the men carries a big rooster. Andreas had been petting it earlier in the village but when I see it now, I get a dark idea of what is about to happen. And yes, on top of the cave the rooster is being slaughtered, fried and eaten. Seven of the best pieces get offered to the ancestors. But the traditional beliefs seem to have faded a little bit. After the offering ceremony these seven pieces get eaten as well. They argue that its only about the smell… ok…

We were very lucky to be able to take part in this special ceremony. It was only because we were the first visitors of the year. I also found it very lucky that this is still a secret to most tourists. The village is trying to make it more well known now. Last year they had only one group visit and the year before as well only one. Even for the villagers it was a very special occasion to go up to the cave.

This was our last trip within Madagascar. We take a totally overloaded Taxi-Brousse back to Tulear. As we travel through the night, we have to drive in convoy and also have an armed guard on bord. It makes me nervous at first but then I fall asleep and sleep as comfortably as possible through the night. The next morning we arrive in Tulear. After one day of work, we leave Madagascar the following day around 3pm. Hello Mozambique!

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