Thursday, March 20, 2008

Day 40 – The “haut plateau” of Madagascar

No, it was not a dream. The place is real, and is even more beautiful than I had imagined. I left the hotel for a morning walk, and I found myself in the strangest combination of Malaysia, Africa, and France. The architecture and the baguettes sold at every corner are certainly French, and the people span the range from light brown to black. They are generally small in build, very friendly and polite, and quite attractive. Some, like Floriel, have curly hair, very dark skin, and very aquiline features. Others are distinctively Malaysian in their features and light brown complexions, but they have a dash of Africa on them that gives them great beauty. Finally, there are some with very characteristic African features.

We had “le petit dejeuner” in a little bistro, with an excellent cup of coffee, an omelet aux crevettes (omelet with shrimp), and a crusty baguette. Hmm, these folks can cook!

We spent the day driving through the high plateau, the “haut plateau”, of Madagascar. It is absolutely gorgeous! We are surrounded by beautiful mountains from which water gushes into endless fields of rice (the Malagache—pronounce it Malagass—love rice, and they eat big mountains of it for breakfast, lunch and dinner). Everything is green and luxuriant, and everybody is busy harvesting the rice and everything else in the fields. Out of sheer luck I came at the end of their summer (which is also the rainy season), so the harvest is in full swing. There is a feeling of busyness and bonhomie everywhere you look, and the little French-looking villages are bustling with commerce. Truly, “cette pays et beni pour le bon Dieux”.

On passing through one of the villages we saw a big crowd going to market. There were all sorts of people carrying huge sacks of rice, charcoal, and maize. There were chickens and ducks. And there was a herd to tough-looking zebu cattle being herded to market with lots of shouts and whacks. We were just going by when one of the zebus went berserk, turned on the flow of the market goers, and started the African version of a Pamplonada, with people scattering all over the place. Once again I was being chased by a wild beast!

That afternoon we arrived to one of the national parks with an impossible name, to look for lemurs (Ranomafana National Park). It is in a broad valley mantled by rain forest, which only last year suffered much from the brunt of two cyclones (Madagascar is in the path of the cyclones of the Indian Ocean, and regularly gets smashed by them). The Malagache believe on putting people to work, which is why I had to rent a car with a driver and hire a guide for the park. I really didn’t mind the expense (less than 10 dollars), and appreciate the opportunity to get to know the locals, but I wish they were a little less zealous about their search for lemurs. They know that a tourist who sees lemurs is a happy tourist, and happy tourists give good tips, so our guide Angelo was looking stressed, cooing and making guttural sounds to attract the elusive beasts. I tried to tell him to be relaxed as I was enjoying the walk more than anything else, but he would have none of it. Yes, at the end I saw quite a few brown lemurs, and also a couple of white-faced lemurs (cute little buggers), so Angelo was happy.

In the photo you have, from left to right, Floriel, Angelo, and myself. Doesn’t Floriel look a bit like Cantinflas?

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