Friday, March 21, 2008

Day 41 – My God, this country is beautiful!

We went back to the park in the morning, for another round of lemur spotting. In retrospect I should have moved on, because half of the longer circuit we followed was actually the same ground we had covered yesterday. Also, lemurs were even more scarce than yesterday. We heard a great variety of birds, however, and I wish I could have kept a list to make Normita and Evan green with envy.

At about mid-day we continued on our way to the south, to the crest of Madagascar’s mountainous backbone. Again, I was fascinated by the beauty and richness of the country. I don’t want to give you the wrong impression: Madagascar is a comparatively poor country, and clearly the people work hard and live under harsh conditions (but anyone who looks at a country from the road is likely to find the roadside villages dingy). Yet, as I said yesterday, everyone seems to be hard at work, so you don’t get the feeling of hopeless poverty I have seen elsewhere. I am sure the French were just as bad colonial masters as the Brits, but at least they left behind a basic agricultural infrastructure, their quaint style of villages, and their love for good cuisine (it is said that Brits kill their beef twice, once when they butcher it and twice when they cook it, and comparing the cuisine of Kenya and Madagascar I will have to agree).

I have drifted toward food first because as I write this I am getting hungry, and second because we spent the night at a small town high in the mountains, where Madagascar is making its first efforts at making wine. Since I couldn’t pass the opportunity I had to order a bottle of their best white wine to accompany a gourmet dinner of very delicate Cuisees d’greneuille (frog legs) and a delicious serving of Canard aux champignons (duck with mushrooms). I ask you, where else in the world can you dine like that?

Going back to the day, we eventually reached a sign that declared that the entrance to the Andingrita National Park was 15 km down a dirt road. My excellent Floriel didn’t hesitate (brave of him, since he was responsible for the car), and made 10 km down the most miserable cattle path I have been on, until eventually common sense prevailed and we decided to turn back. A good thing we did, because I later learned that to “visit” the park one has to make a 3-day trek across the mountain range. And what a mountain range! The granitic domes and the deep gorges resemble the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada (but it doesn’t snow here), whereas the green vales reminded me of the foothills of the Alps. So, my dear students, start getting in shape for next year’s visit to Madagascar!

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