Monday, January 16, 2006

2006: Resolving to Resolve the Future on the Beach

Happy New Year and I hope everybody had a very blessed holiday season and has since returned to work, school and life with a new energy and dedication that often comes with the sense of a new beginning.

I can’t say that I’m all that excited to be back in the middle of the island and sitting behind a desk staring at a computer screen again when I know what alternatives are out there. Still, the 10 day get-away we took during the last days of 2005 and the first week of 2006 was all I could have ever hoped for and just the break that both Elizabeth and I were in sorry need of from the stresses of the last few months of 2005.

We decided to explore the south since Elizabeth hasn’t been there yet and my experience there was limited to the time I spent with my family in Ft. Dauphin. First stop was Isalo national park, about halfway between Fianar and Tulear on the newly paved interstate highway. The park was fantastic – a lot like the western United States with high sandstone cliffs and dryland vegetation, but interposed with deep, lush tropical canyons filled with palm trees and extraordinary wildlife including (of course) lemurs.
Looking Up from Bottom of Canyon Originally uploaded by ebrwstr.

Most of the parks I’ve visited in this country have left me feeling a little depressed, mostly because they’re all pretty threatened by slash and burn practices and the areas you do get to visit are short little tourist loops that leave you feeling rather claustrophobic. Not so in Isalo – the area sort of looks like the Badlands rising out of the prairie and the local people have generally left it alone as a “sacred site,” so it’s been protected and it feels protected. Unlike Ranomafana where it’s hard to “get away” when you’re constantly running into some feral cattle that live in the park. You can also hike and camp for days in Isalo without seeing the same thing twice where other parks the real wild areas are (understandably) completely off-limits to tourists.

We spent the night in luxury at the fanciest hotel I’ve ever slept in – it’s a really neat place built into and out of the granite and sandstone landscape and it blends in so well you can’t see it until you’re right on top it. Unfortunately we didn’t get dinner there on account of the menu being “traditional Malagasy food’ which we had no desire to pay 1000x too much for when we could just go into town and get that for a percent of the price. But it was the best night’s sleep on the entire trip.

We left the park and spent one night and half a day in Tulear before getting a taxi-brousse up to the beach resort towns just north of the city. We arrived just before dark, but we didn’t account for New Year’s Eve being an impossibly busy day there. It took us so long to find a place for the night that we missed the sunset over the ocean, as we secured the last two hotel rooms in the town. So we found a place where we could drink a bottle of raspberry-flavored vodka purchased in Duty Free by one of our co-travelers (excellent stuff!), eat a huge seafood dinner (not much we recognized, but it was all good) and generally make a minor nuisance of ourselves before midnight.

But while we were eating, some other tourists came into the restaurant and after a while one turned to us and said, excuse me, but do you live here in Madagascar? In Fianar? Yes? And let me guess, your last name is Brewster? And you’re related to a girl in Wisconsin in the United States? Yes? And your name is Erica?

That’s how I met Brice. He and Sarah studied together last year in Australia – and now he’s living in Madagascar. Sarah had told me this and I’d e-mailed the guy a long time ago with my contact info, but I hadn’t heard anything. Suddenly, there they were: he and the two guys he lives with and a couple of co-workers were sitting at the next table. It was really weird, but funny. We spent quite a while talking, but they had dinner reservations and the raspberry vodka was catching up with us, so we said goodnight and bonne annĂ©e.

(At that point the vodka had done a number on us, and the tide was out, so we chunked our plans for midnight on the beach and went home to take showers and go to bed instead – just in time for the Malagasy to head out to the all-night dance party that went on well into mid-morning New Year’s Day.)

Then for water sports – our first day we secured a pirogue ride, but as we turned to go back the guy flipped the sail in the wrong direction and we managed to capsize the whole boat. I’ll admit – one of the guys was hitting me on the way out, so when I realized we were going over I didn’t exactly try to stop it. Suddenly us 3 girls and the 2 Malagasy boat guys were scrambling in the water – only to realize seconds later that it was so shallow we could stand. It took a bit to get back upright and then back in the canoe but we got back safely. It was funny because one of our friends was still on shore and saw us tip. She freaked and started yelling for other pirogues to go get us – and they came despite the fact that they insisted to her it was so shallow we could stand.

Snorkeling: we went with a fancy operation the first day, but they guys forgot to put gas in the motor boat, so the dive leader had to swim back and get a pirogue to bring out two gas cans. Then it started to rain when we got out there, but it was warm and beautiful. The equipment was fantastic (for snorkeling anyway), and the fish were beautiful. The coral was rather dull colored, but it was a great experience until the tide went out and we had to go back.

Then the third day we combined sailing and snorkeling by hiring a pirogue sailboat to take us out to the coral reef. The sun came out a little bit but the coral was still pretty dull colored with the exception of a few fancy brain corals. But the fish were far more spectacular the second day – so many more and so colorful! Yes, it looked just like Finding Nemo. Then as the tide went out again, they called us in so we could go to lunch cooked on the beach.

We spent the rest of our time swimming, sunning and reading. Oh, and of course, eating. I think I’m actually getting tired of seafood!
On the Beach Originally uploaded by ebrwstr.

My only regret is that we got the day in Tulear that we should have had before going to the beach on our last day. We did shopping and picked out some fun clothes and looked at swimming suits (decided against buying only because we were leaving the beach area) and considered getting extensions braided into our hair. But the fun of that was greatly lessened knowing we were just going back to cold, boring Fianar. Ahh, well, we got some fantastic ice cream out of the deal! Tulear is the place for fantastic (at least within Malagasy standards…but I still thought it was pretty damn good) food.

So, now I know (two years too late?) that Tulear is truly the place to go for the tropical island part of Madagascar. The infrastructure is much better than in other parts of the country and the resorts there actually know how to be resorts – 4x4 transportation, good food (actually up to French standards), clean, comfortable rooms, and palm trees, sand, great swimming and good excursion equipment. The people are friendly and not obnoxious to tourists, but the place isn’t so overpopulated by tourists (and by tourists who decided never to leave) that you can’t relax. Ahh, well, live and learn!
Tulear Sunset Originally uploaded by ebrwstr.

But I'll make the offer that the next visitors I get could be treated to this lovely little corner of the world!

No comments: