Dec 23, 2019: Westward Ho

We started the day with our last internal flight, this one from Tana to Morondava. The internal flights have been pleasant, with safety announcements in French, Malagasy and English. Sometimes the announcement is completed in one language before moving on to the next; more often an instruction is given in one language, then another, ending with English. They are live, rather than pre-recorded, so sometimes the accent is so thick that it’s difficult to notice that the language has changed.

Our final driver met us at the airport. Regardless of how often it happened, I always got a thrill when I saw the sign with Anita’s name, and a driver looking anxiously through the crowd of tourists trying to figure out which ones were his. This driver had a particularly cheerful face, and we were comforted that our final days in Madagascar would be pleasant ones.

Three weeks in, we were accustomed to Malagasy roads, and Malagasy traffic. Hand-pulled carts were no longer a novelty, though they remained a symbol of the resilience of the people. In Morondava, we saw a family manoeuvering a well-laden cart through the streets. The dad was pulling; the mom, with a baby on her back, was pushing, a the toddler was sitting atop the cargo like Caesar himself.

I sought the post office; Anita discovered a particularly good ice cream stand and we were unsuccessful in our search for snacks. Most gas station stores — the best place to buy potato chips — were closed for their mid-day break.

Southbound, then inland, we were on our way to the Relais de Kirindy and the Kirindy reserve. The former was our lodge for the night; the latter was a dry forest.

The first awe-inspiring stop was the Avenue of the Baobabs. It’s an oft-photographed sight that we’d seen in every YouTube video that we’d watched before leaving Canada. Like it’s name, the trees line the road in majestic fashion.

An hour or so further along the road, our driver noticed a tire problem. A massive tire problem. The left rear tire was wobbling off its rim. He figured that in one of the many puddles along the way, he struck a stick that punctured the tire. There were NO rocks to be found along this road, and it had rained recently, so there were many puddles that were 15 to 20 cm deep.

He cheerfully changed the tire, in the 35 degree (dry) heat, and I marveled at Toyota’s engineering. Each part of the jack assembly had a secure place to sit, ensuring that nothing would shake loose on 4×4 roads.

Anita and I passed the time watching skinks and trying to spot chameleons.

Tire fixed, we got to the Relais, enjoyed a swim, and prepared for our night walk. The park was about half an hour away, with community forest on one side and national park reserve on the other. This is a dry forest, so the undergrowth was not as lush. No leeches!

It was still light when we arrived, and there appeared to be only one guide there at the time: John, whose English was excellent. He guided us through the grid of the paths in this flat forest, then started wandering off the paths in search of lemurs. His animal-spotting skills were as good as his English, and he showed us a grey mouse lemur, a fat-tailed dwarf lemur and a fork-marked lemur.

The real excitement of the day came when we returned to the Relais. It was dark; we figured that was because they only used the lights for the tourists. This was partly true. The other reason was the insects. When the lights went on, we were swarmed with beetles. They formed a cloud around us, constantly on the move, making it impossible to eat. The extraordinarily nice lodge manager offered to bring our food to our bungalow, and this seemed like the best option. Windows and screens would keep the pests out.

They didn’t. We turned out the lights before letting the servers in, and slammed the door as quickly as possible. Nonetheless, hundreds, if not thousands, made it in. They brought us a lamp to attract the bugs, and we stuck this in a corner. We managed to eat without ingesting extra protein (the bugs were about five millimetres long, with a crusty shell when wings were folded), and were very grateful for mosquito nets over our beds.

We left the light on as long as we had power, and in the morning, we found at least 500 of these creatures, motionless around the lamp.

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Moving goods requires the effort of the entire family.

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Our first view of the Avenue of the Baobabs.

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Our poor tire.

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Fat tailed dwarf lemur