Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Bekopaka Village and Little Tsingy.

At Little Tsingy.  From left to right:  Zara, George, and Jean Claude.

Our reward for climbing up and back down Big Tsingy was lunch!  I was hungry!  From Big Tsingy, we drove back to the small village of Bekopaka.  It was about an hour's drive.

Earlier in the day, we had passed through the village.  We briefly stopped outside a local restaurant so that Jean Claude could speak with the owner and pre-order our lunch for us.  Jean Claude had asked if we would be interested in having some coconut chicken for lunch and of course, we were both up for it even though neither George nor I had any clue what coconut chicken was exactly but we were game to try it.


Bekopaka is a small village and like most of the villages in Madagascar, nothing much to write home about.  People here live to survive and much of their income comes from tourist dollars.

Faly parked our SUV outside the front of the restaurant which as best I can tell, is located just on the edge of the village.

Looking towards *downtown* Bekopaka.

Our restaurant is truly a local place - not targeted at tourists.  I couldn't find a name and I'm not sure they even had a menu.

The restaurant.

Jean Claude, George and I got a table up front while Faly and Zara shared a table nearby.  Since we had already ordered our main meal, all we had to do was order our drinks and George knew what I wanted.  So, left the guys behind and walked outside for a bit.

Bekopaka.

I didn't have to go far.  In fact, just standing outside the restaurant, I could hear the lively strain of what I presume is Malagasy music.


 My ears led me to spot a group of people huddled around what I was guessing was a TV.  I decided to see what was going on.  As I neared them, I could indeed see a small TV.  The reception was poor but even through the scramble, I could see it was a dance competition of some sort.   I decided to not go too close as I didn't want to distract folks from paying attention to something they were very obviously interested in watching.  


I didn't walk too far as there wasn't a whole of anything interesting to look at.  When I made it back to the restaurant, not only had our drinks arrived but so had a pot of rice.  Our meal would be coming soon!

From right to left:  George, Jean Claude and the restaurant owner.

Our main course was delivered in due course.  A small plate of chicken.  My nose detected not only coconut but curry as well.


It most certainly was a simple lunch.  Here the chicken is *free range* and *organic*.  There's not a whole lot of meat on the bird.  What meat there is is flavorful but very tough.  You really have to gnaw at it to get it off the bone.  Also, like the Chinese, the Malagasy seem to just hack away at a chicken when they cut it up.  Except for the drumstick, it's hard to identify what body parts the other pieces of meat come from.

Malagasy eat an ENORMOUS serving of rice with the meat and/or gravy really just serving as small accompaniments.   I decided to follow suit - taking much more rice than I ordinarily would and just a small piece of meal with a couple spoonfuls of gravy.  One bite of the chicken and I was pleasantly surprised.  It tasted exactly like a Malaysian chicken curry except it had a bit more turmeric.  I told Jean Claude that one of my all time favorite breakfasts is a slice of white bread (nothing fancy) dipped into the gravy of a chicken curry.  I used to have that when I was a child and to this day, I can drool simply at the memory.


George and I didn't finish our chicken so we passed the leftovers to Faly and Zara.  Jean Claude was still hungry but the man LOVES fish so he ordered a small fried tilapia.  He seems to be happiest picking the meat away from the bones.  I told him it's good that he loves fish - much healthier than eating zebu.

As I waited for the guys to finish eating, I decided to head back outside.  Again, I didn't get far.   I crossed paths with four young girls.  Very curious about me.  I motioned that I wanted to take a photo and they immediately posed like toy soldiers.  I love their expressions.  People who don't get their photo taken often have no idea how to smile for the camera so often I have to do something silly to make them laugh or at best, smile.

Looks that are part smile, part scowl and part squint.  Cute though.

Taking photos of dark skinned people, standing in bright sunshine, is not easy for me so I wanted to repeat the photo.  I tried to get them to smile but these four were a tough lot :-)  Even so, I ended up with a photo I love.  Under all the grime, are four lovely girls.


Of course, I had to show the girls the photos I took of them and yes, there was a lot of giggling.

When I got back to the table, George asked if we should treat the girls to some Cokes.  I thought that was a fabulous idea except instead of Cokes, I wanted to get them Fantas.  With Jean Claude's help, we got the owner to get out four bottles.  We then had to call the girls back as they were already on their way somewhere else.

Jean Claude called them inside and explained to them what was happening.


Jean Claude instructed them to thank George and so they did.


They then turned to thank me.  Now I was seeing some happy faces!


They put their lips to the bottles and I swear, the lips never left until the bottle was empty!   One girl only drank about half the bottle.  She put the bottle on the table and was about to walk away.  While the girls were enjoying their drinks, a  couple of young boys were standing outside, watching them.  Not to waste the undrunk portion, we had the girl share it with one of the boys.  He drunk every remaining drop!


It was a small treat for us to give to the girls but I imagine that something like a bottle of soda, which US kids gulp down like water, is something they don't get to enjoy much of or get to enjoy at all.

After lunch, we piled back into the SUV and headed back to the ferry dock which just so happens to be located adjacent to the part of Tsingy de Bemaraha Park known as Little Tsingy.

It was a short 10 minute or so drive, through the heart of the village, to get to the ferry dock area.  There, we got out and walked towards the place where Jean Claude had bought our entry tickets to the park.  On the way, we were heard a rhythmic thumping sound, a very familiar sound to me.  It was something I heard every afternoon when I was in the Dogon villages in Mali. 


There, women would use a large mortar and pestle to winnow grains of millet in preparation for dinner.   Here, a young boy was doing the same except instead of millet, it was rice.  Curious George had never seen rice being threshed.  As he admitted, the rice he buys comes, in a package, ready to cook.  I told him his rice was mechanically threshed.  This how you do it if you have to do it manually.   I also told him that the manual threshing is also why all the rice we've eaten so far is broken rice - we've not had any whole grains in our rice dishes.  Of course, he had no clue what type of rice he was eating.  I explained to George that the next step is to winnow the rice to remove the husks so that all that is left is pure rice grain.  Knowing all this information, from now on, he better not waste rice given how labor intensive it is to prepare and put on the table!


From the ferry dock, we all followed Zara into the forest.    We were back among the unique limestone formations though these were no were as dramatic as the ones we had seen this morning.  I guess this is why this place is called *Little* Tsingy.




We saw more tree roots dropping from high above to reach the ground.  We also saw a few strangler figs which basically are a fig species that send their roots down to envelope a host tree at the same time, growing upward towards the sun.

A young strangler fig.

It was strange to think of a dry deciduous forest as having palm trees but indeed, they not only exist here but they thrive here.


There were the narrow crevices to pass through.  George and I are both a bit pleasantly plump, as I would like to call us, but we were able to make it through all the narrow passes!


We followed Zara through a labyrinth of paths, making our way deeper into the heart of the forest.


Soon enough, flat ground gave way to piles of rocks and once again, we were clamoring to make our way along.  Jean Claude had said that the walk would be relatively easy.  I was not expecting to have to do any climbing so when I was once again faced with having to figure out where to put my hands and feet, my enjoyment of being in the forest was quickly fading.

We made it to our first  platform and took in the view.  It did remind me very much of the Big Tsingy but on a much smaller and less dramatic scale.  We weren't as high up, the rocks did not have quite as razor sharp edges, and there was much more forest land here. 




We still got to enjoy a nice view - we could see all the way to the river.


As we stood on the platform, I asked Zara where we were going to next and replied that we were headed to a second platform.  I asked if we had to do more climbing and without hesitation, he said, "Yes".  With that I looked over at George and told him I wasn't all that keen on continuing.  As far as I was concerned, we had already seen the best this morning and if doing more climbing was not going to top that, I was ready to turn around.  George agreed.  I could see the look of disappointment on Zara's face and we both told him that it was not his fault.  He had done a marvelous job of taking us through Big Tsingy but we had honestly had enough of the climbing.

With that, we made our way back to the ferry dock - this time taking a (flat) path that ran alongside the river.

Back at the ferry dock, we made our way to the park's gift shop.  George had his eye on buying the t-shirt that Zara had on which had a cute image of the Big Tsingy suspension bridge on it.   Outside the gift shop, we thanked Zara for his time and services and gave him a nice tip.  He had been a very good guide for us.  I waited outside for George to get his t-shirt.  Luckily, they had the same t-shirt and in the size that fit him.  Souvenir in hand, we walked back to the car.

The young boy, that we had crossed paths with just a short time ago, was no longer around.  Instead, a woman was sitting in the same spot that he had been standing in.  She was winnowing the rice.  With each toss, the lighter husks fell out of the straw container onto the sand.  We stopped to watch her but it was obvious she wasn't pleased having us hover around her so we quickly left.


Faly and Jean Claude dropped us off at the hotel.  It was still light outside when we got back to our bungalow.  George and I made ourselves comfortable sitting on the papasan chairs - George enjoyed a sip of the whiskey he had brought with him.  I put up my feet and reminisced about the day.  It was  great one!

My gray colored hiking sandals, covered with red dirt from Madagascar.  They'll get cleaned when I get home.

We had dinner at the restaurant and then relaxed the rest of the night away.  Sometime before we went to bed, our laundry was delivered back to us.  It was nice to have clean clothes to pack back into my suitcase.   Tomorrow is another long road trip day as we have to backtrack part of the way to get to Morondava.  We'll get to see the baobabs at sunset - I'm very much looking forward to that.

But for now, I have to take a quick (and I am sure, cold) shower and then finish up my packing.

Goodnight from Bekopaka!