Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Day 39 (March 19) – Departure for Madagascar

Time to go. I left about 4:30 am, drove through the empty streets of Nairobi, returned the rental car, and made my flight to Madagascar with plenty of time.

I must confess that I am travel weary. What will the next leg of this crazy trip entail? I finally managed to squeeze a few minutes in the internet at the airport, and was very glad to find messages from Faby and Dawn. I realized how much I miss you all.

So I get to Antananarivo (don’t even try to pronounce the Malagache names), and I find the Budget office closed and no one waiting for me. Oh boy, it is going to be one of those trips. I am trying to think at the same time that ten taxi drivers are offering their services in fast-fire French, and for lack of anything better I turn to the Hertz counter. The young woman is all smiles and patiently listens as I try to cobble the necessary sentences. Yes, they have a car available, and a week will cost me about 1,000,000 Ariary. I am just about to have a heart attack when making the conversion I realize that she is talking of about 550 dollars, with driver! I am introduced to my driver, Floriel, a smiling young man who assures me it would be no problem at all to depart within the hour for Antsirabe. However, before we can depart we will have to stop at the main office in Antana… oh hell, let’s call it Tana like everyone else does. Rats! Just what I needed, a rush-hour drive into another crowded, unfriendly African city.

So we get started and, oh my God, I have died and gone to heaven. The countryside is beautiful, the drivers are polite to each other and take turns to keep the traffic flowing, and Tana looks like a French city artfully draped over the hills. At the central office business takes less than 15 minutes, my driver takes me to have early dinner at a charming bistro while he goes to fetch his luggage, and by 5 pm we are on the road to Antsirabe. Having a driver is such a luxury (though I really don’t like having someone drive me), and Floriel is quite the chatterbox. He rattles along in incomprehensible French, and by being undeterred by my feeble efforts actually encourages me to speak in French.

We arrived to Antsirabe around 8 pm. The city is dark but full of life, with people going back and forth, some on foot and others in pousse-pousse (the local name for man-drawn carriages, not unlike the Asian rickshaws, which get their name from the fact that the running drivers encourage traffic to keep moving by chanting “pousse-pousse” or “push-push”). My trusty guidebook has given us the name of a hotel, The Green Park, and it is our good fortune that they have a bungalow available. The hotel doesn’t look like much, but all we need is a place to spend the night, and the place is cheap. So we follow the smiling attendant through a maze of narrow corridors and we come into this beautiful inner garden, with a Japanese-style series of ponds surrounded by a carefully manicured garden. There are gazebos and flowers everywhere, and our bungalow overlooks the pond. Am I dreaming? I am afraid that when I wake up tomorrow everything will have vanished into diesel fumes.

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