Saturday, March 22, 2008

Day 42 – Back to Tana

I wish I had had more time to go exploring around the “haut pays” but, alas, time goes by and I wish to see the famous pirate coast of Madagascar. So today we drove back to Tana, pretty much following the same was we used to come in. This, as some of you know, is against my principles, but every loop I proposed was nixed by Floriel, who would have loved to do it driving a four-by-four, but cannot bring himself to do it in our little four-cylinder.

Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world, after Greenland, Papua New Guinea, and Borneo. That means that it is larger than Britain, Japan, New Zealand, or Cuba, so this may give you a feeling for the frustrations of the tourist who wants to see it all in one week. Add to that the fact that it is a very mountainous country, where roads are necessarily scarce. Up until twelve years ago the country was a real banana republic, crushed under a communist-like regime. Things started to change when the communist empire crumbled, and accelerated considerably when the current president was elected in 2002. The president is an independently wealthy business man (he made his fortune in yoghurt), and has started with the basics, improving the main roads along and across the country (which is why I had an excellent “route national” to travel through). He has also made electrification a priority, so all major population and industrial centers now have power. Much remains to be done, but the boost given to industry and commerce by roads and power has turned the tide for the better.

Tomorrow will be Easter, so everyone is out on the road, making their preparations for the celebration. Floriel tells me that after mass on Sunday the families will gather for a fine meal that will linger through the whole afternoon, and that on Monday many people will go on pic-nic.

At Antsirabe there was a kermesse, with al sorts of eats and games for the kids. And then it struck me that Malagaches love hats. Come to think of it, almost everyone I saw I the road was wearing a hat. And not just any hat. Some are funny skull caps, some are elegant fedoras, but the most common are floppy raffia hats. Sometimes they are plain, sometimes they have bright colors, and sometimes they sport giant raffia flowers. They are very becoming on the ladies, but look terribly funny on the men, who wear them without a second thought!

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