Suitcase and World: On the Way to Bekopaka. Part 1.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

On the Way to Bekopaka. Part 1.

On the ferry ride up the Tsiribihina River.

The unexpected highlight of today were two ferry rides.

Althought t was another long road trip today, it was a day that we got to see a lot of local life.  We left our lodge, in the Kirindy Forest, around 10a.  We started out on a really rough road - that would be a road that is unpaved and full of ruts.  Our driver, Faly, took it very slow.

Once we left the forest behind, we were back to the land of villages and fields.  The work day had begun. 

Zebu and their shepherds were making their way to the pastures.

The road was narrow and often, either us or whatever was coming towards us had to step aside to let the other party pass.

We caught our final glimpses of the baobab trees....for now.  We'll be back to see them day after tomorrow when we will be back at the Avenue of the Baobabs for sun set.  Can't wait!

I think we only had about 140 kilometers (87 miles) to go from Kirindy to Bekopaka but it would take us at least 5 hours because the roads are bad and also because there are two ferry crossings involved.

As far as the driving was concerned, there were times when I would look over at the speedometer and it was barely registering above 5 kilometers an hour.  Unbelievably, Jean Claude told us that the road had just been recently graded flat but all it took was one winter's rains to undo all that.  Unless they actually lay down asphalt, there doesn't seem to be much point to smooth out the surface - a waste of time and effort.  Tourists will just have to endure the bumpy ride.

The road was so bad at some stretches that  it felt like we had come to a virtual standstill as Faly was trying as best he could to gently drop the tires down to meet the road.  Pretty much all through the ride, we were jostled about.  All in a day's drive here!

I'm a veteran of offroading for long distances but I didn't know what George's experience was.  Probably should have asked him before the trip.  Oh well...too late for that now.  At times I would look over at George to see if he was okay and more often than not, he was head down looking at his iPhone.  I have no idea how he could focus on anything giving the bouncing we were doing.  In any event, he was fine.  Lucky that he doesn't suffer from motion sickness.  That would not have been good.

About an hour and half after leaving Kirindy, we arrived at banks of the Tsiribinha River which flows through Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park.  From here, we would have to board a ferry for a short ride up river.

We arrived at a sort of a *port* area, if you can call it that.  Basically there a few small, ramshackled wooden shacks, roofed with corrugated tin, where travelers could pick up supplies and food for their ferry ride.  There were quite a few people hanging about.  Some were standing alongside the wall of a building, very much looking like they were waiting for the ferry.  Others were at the water's edge, going about their daily business.

Docked was something that looked like a wooden platform balanced across two boats powered by outboard motors. A pair of metal ramps connected ferry to ground.  It looked very makeshift to say the least but it obviously functions.

As we waited to board, I saw another ferry arriving with three SUVs aboard.  That's how we would be traveling shortly!

We watched that ferry dock alongside the one that was already next to shore.

First, the passengers disembarked.

Ropes were used to hitch the two ferries together.

Then, one by one, the SUVs carefully and slowly drove off.

Then it was time for the awaiting crowd of people and the next 3 SUVs to board.  I don't know how he managed to get in the front of the line but Faly was the first of the SUVs to board.  George and I stood on shore and watched Faly drive across with ease.  It's obvious he's done this countless times before.  The ramps are so narrow that you have to know exactly where to position the tires otherwise, the vehicle will slip down between the river bank and the ferry.

As each SUV boarded, planks were placed in front of the front wheels and behind the back wheels.  The orange SUV was the same one that the two tourists that George spoke to at lunch rode in.  Not hard to miss the color!

As people and cars boarded, the boat captains were at the ready to fire up the engines. See that plastic container?  That's the gas *tank*!

When it was for the ferry to leave, the ropes were removed.

The outboard motors sputtered to life and we began to move away from shore.

We didn't get very far though because we had to, unexpectedly I presume, circle back to shore.

Back to where we started from.

As we waited for whomever else needed to come aboard, I caught sight of some boys having fun.  If you ask me, if there is a way for boys to show off their athletic skills and possibly injure themselves in the process, they will do it!  This bunch was doing acrobatics on a slope leading down to the river bank. There was a lot of shouting and happy laughter.

More tame was a group of women doing laundry.

After whatever or whomever needed to join the ferry had boarded, we pushed off for a second time.  This time it was full steam ahead.  It would be a 40 minute ride to our destination.

As we moved up the muddy water, I took in the sights.  Exhaust fumes quickly filled the air and I moved from the back of the boat to the front.  All the locals were sitting in the front of the ferry - best place to catch the view.  Unfortunately, there was not spot to join them, sitting down, so I just stood behind them.

Two young boys rested on the bow.

A cute face I just had to snap a photo of.

While I people and sight watched, George befriended the couple that he had spoken with at lunch yesterday.  Turns out they are Dutch and the speak perfect English!  I don't know why George felt he had to speak to them in German but I'm impressed that he was able to hold a conversation in German.  Anyway, the guy's name is Matthias and the woman is his wife, Trini.  They seem like a very nice couple.  I told George to expect that we would see them again somewhere along the way as we are all basically going on the same *tourist route*.

Our Nissan 4x4.

George, shooting video with his iPhone.

Back to taking in the sights and sounds around me. There was no shade to take shelter under.  Lots of heads were covered with scarves and hats.  The sun blazes down hard here!

The Tsiribihina River may run through the territory of the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park but it doesn't mean that people don't live in the area and so the river is the lifeline and transportation route for many villagers.

Village homes don't come equipped with ensuite bathrooms so the river is where villagers come to bathe, launder, etc.


When I saw the buildings and communications towers, I figured we were arriving at our destination. 

Even from a distance, I could see the people on shore.  Our two boat captains were indeed manuvering our ferry towards them.

As we neared, I strained to look for something that looked like a boat dock.  All I saw were dugout canoes.

The a large structure, which looked like three boat ferries, hitched together came into view. That was our landing spot!

Our captains skillfully moved our ferry into the place so it could be tied to the other three ferries.

As soon as the ferry came to a standstill,  I got off quickly so I could capture photos of everything else that was happening.

Using wire cables, the men slowly pulled our ferry into place so that it would align with the other three.  Once that was done, other passengers disembarked and once off, they all scooted off quickly!

Off the ferry and on to their next destination.

A very friendly girl who didn't mind my taking a photo of her.

Our SUV coming off the ferry.

Before I knew it, our car was off the ferry and it was time to get back inside and hit the road.  After all the driving that we had been done, going on the ferry was a nice break.

The place we had landed was barely a handful of kilometers away from the small town of Belo Sur Tsiribihina. 

We drove along what I would describe as the town's main drag. Not much of a street but it was lined with quite a few commercial establishments.

Looking up the street, towards the heart of the town.

Looking down the street, back towards the river.

Faly stopped the car just outside the entrance to the Hotel Karibo.  We would be eating at the hotel's restaurant.  One glance at the place and I could immediately tell it was targeted for tourists.  My heart sank a bit because I was hoping for another local meal but maybe a meal without guinea fowl or zebu would be nice change.  I kept an open mind.

Inside was a very nice local restaurant.  George and I shared a table with Matthias and Trini.  Jean Claude shared a table with Faly in another section of the restaurant.  The menu was handwritten on a chalkboard.  It was all in French and even though I don't speak French, I do know my menu French :-)  I saw the grilled shrimp with rice and vegetables and went no further.  That and a coke was going to be my lunch. 

Large jars of flavored rum on the restaurant's bar counter.  Flavored rums are very popular here.

George's beer and my Coke arrived with knitted hats on the caps.  So cute!

Entering the restaurant, I had noticed an area, up the street, that looked to be a local market.  While we waited for our food to come, I went to check it out.  George opted to stay behind - chatting with Matthias and Trini was keeping him happy.

On my way to the market, I crossed paths with this man.  I waved to him and when he waved back, I snapped the shutter.

The part of the market that I entered into seemed to be the dry goods section.  It was mainly women who were doing the selling.  I didn't see too many people making purchases.  Perhaps it was already too late in the day?

There's not a whole lot of variety of dry goods here but what there is looks to be of good quality.  Even the eggs, which looked like duck eggs, were fresh. How do I know, you ask?  Because I picked one up and smelled it. No rotting smell.  Okay, you can call me weird if you want.

Beans are also an important component of Malagasy cuisine.  For many, this is their key source of protein as meat is expensive.

I think these are coffee beans.

Coconuts, a popular ingredient in Malagasy cuisine.

Dried shrimp.  If only I could bring these back to the US, I would have easily bought a couple of kilos!

Walking through the market, I was greeted by one smile after another.  I'm used to being a curiosity for locals.  Pat and I were asked to stand in countless photos on our trip through Central Asia.  I didn't expect that to be the case in Madagascar as cellphones don't seem to be as a common an item here.  So I was a bit surprised, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the women holding up her phone and taking a photo of me.  I didn't mind but when she realized she had been caught red handed, she broke out into a smile.  I quickly snapped a photo of her before motioning that I wanted to see the photo she had taken of me.  She proudly showed it to me and if I might say so myself, she took a very nice photo of me.

I motioned that I wanted to take a photo (she didn't realize I had already taken one) of her, she graciously obliged.  Seeing her smile makes me smile.

I made it as far as the covered section, which looked to be the fresh produce section, before turning around and heading back.  I figured by now, our food would have made it the table and it was time to eat.

I made it back to the restaurant just a few minutes before our food arrived.  What got place in front of me was a dish of food presented so well, it could easily be served in any restaurant in the US.  Seriously.  Look at it.  Then I took a bite of the shrimp and was immediately transported to foodie heaven.  The meat was tender, sweet and perfectly seasoned and grilled.  It was so fresh tasting, it had to have been caught just this morning.  The sauce that went with the shrimp was a thin peanut sauce.  The vegetables were simply sauteed.  Oh my God, I could easily have had a second serving not because there wasn't enough food but because the entire plate was so delicious!  This trumps a local meal of guinea fowl any day!

Bellies full, we paid our bill and left.  But, we weren't ready to leave town yet.

.....the story continues on the next posting!