Suitcase and World: Roadtrip Back To Tana.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Roadtrip Back To Tana.

-t-r-e-t-c-h and y-a-w-n.  It was another early wake up call this morning but I slept well last night.  Not so for poor George.  My snoring kept him up :-(

Shortly after 6a, we were back in the restaurant for breakfast.  George had a simple continental breakfast and I broke down and had coconut pie and a cup of tea.  Yes, coconut is a fruit and the crust is starch....same thing as jam on toast.  So....there.  My pie was quite delicious.

After a quick bite, we went back to our room where we packed up our bags and did a final check of the room.  Two men were already waiting outside to help us with our luggage....not that we needed help with wheeled suitcases but they need the work.

George turned in our key and we met back up with Beeo in the parking lot.  He looked well rested and ready to take on the three hour drive back to Tana.  Luggage safely stowed in the trunk and passengers in, Beeo started up the engine and down the road we went.

We had arrived into Andasibe in the dark so today was my first time looking at the Madagascar countryside.  My nose was glued to the window and my eyes focused on nothing but the landscape we were driving through.

I was surprised to see how mountainous it was. At times, it reminded me very much of Ethiopia.  As I had expected, much of the land is farmed.  

More often than not, I was gazing out at rice paddies.  Even hillsides are terraced to grow rice on.

Corn was another crop I frequently saw.  I recently read that in 2008, Daewoo Logistics, a South Korean (yes, South Korean) company negotiated a 99-year lease on some 3.2 million acres of farmland in Madgascar - nearly half of Madagascar's arable land.  Daewoo's plans at the time was to put about three quarters the acreage under corn which would be shipped back to Korea ostensibly to feed Koreans. The remainder of the leased land would be used to produce palm oil — a key commodity for the global biofuels market.  As we whizzed by the stalks of corn, I wondered if what I saw was part of the Korean deal and whether or not Madagascar had sold off land that could have been put to better use feeding its own population of 22 million people.

Whatever crops the Malagasy do grow for themselves, I have to say the produce looks good - the carrots and cucumbers are huge and the heads of cauliflower and cabbage are as beautiful, if not more so, than what I have seen in markets in Europe and the US. 

We also passed by a stretch of a few villages where sacks of something or other were stacked up, for sale, next to the roadside.  According to Beeo, they are sacks of charcoal - cooking fuel.  Each year, the forests of Madagascar continue to be denuded for fuel.  On our walk through the park yesterday, we did notice eucalyptus trees which are not indigenous to the country.  However they were introduced, they are a fast growing species of trees and therefore, popular for use as firewood.  I saw the same thing in Ethiopia - stands upon stands of eucalyptus trees being cut for firewood.  Hopefully, if the Malagasy rely more on eucalyptus for firewood, endangered species of trees - especially the endemic ones, can recover.

On our drive, we passed by many a village and small town.  It's Sunday and since Madagascar is a Christian nation, many people were dressed in their Sunday finest - walking their way to church.

Others appeared to be heading to or from a market.

As in Ethiopia, it was rare to drive kilometer of road where you don't see a person walking alongside it.  Madgascar does have a pretty extensive transportation system based on what are called taxi brousses - basically a collective *taxi* that is essentially a minibus.  According to Beeo, taxi brousses are cheap to ride but for many Malagasy, taxi brousses are still unaffordable.  They are without a doubt, often VERY overcrowded.  I saw several where the back door was open and people were essentially clinging to the back of the vehicle as it made its way down the road.

At the end of the day, for many Malagasy, walking is the only way to get from point A to point B.  It wasn't unusual to see someone who looked like they were dressed for church but I could not spot a church for kilometers!

We did pass by one town which was filled with dozens of cycle rickshaws.  It looked like there were more cyclists at the ready than there were passengers in need of a ride.

Somewhere on our way to Tana, we passed through a town where we hit a traffic jam....of trucks.  Apparently, the town is a popular truckstop.  All I remember about is being submerged in a sea of trucks that were all spewing out a ton of exhaust fumes.  We all rolled up our windows.

There aren't a whole lot of highways in Madagascar.  In fact, I would say there are least not by US standards because the most lanes we were ever on were two. Our route was along Route Nationale 2 (RN2), the primary highway running to and from Tana and the east coast.  George said he saw speed signs but I don't recall any.  With the narrow and often winding road, it was no surprise though to see a couple of accidents including one truck that ended up landing on its side.  Hopefully, no one was hurt.

By late morning, we arrived into the outskirts of Tana.

The number of people walking here, there, and everywhere went up by a zillion fold and the streets were as congested as the Beltways is during morning rush hour.

Indeed, the traffic was so bad that at one point, when we were near the main market, we essentially came to a dead stop and we could only inch forward.

The bottleneck turned out to be a roundabout.  Observant as can be, George commented how he had yet to see a stop light in the city.  When he said that, I took notice and sure enough, never saw a stoplight.  Later I read that are are indeed no traffic lights in not just Tana but all of Madagascar - not one light!

When we neared the circle I could see a policeman attempting to control the traffic.  I don't think that he, with the useless tooting of his whistle, was doing any good.  Probably, if he wasn't there, traffic would flow better.

Beeo is obviously used to this and knows how to push his way in.  At one point, we had cars pointed right at our side.  Yikes!

I have to say the drivers here are infinitely patient.  No on in the US would put up with this day maybe but most certainly not on a daily basis!

Once we cleared the roundabout, we were able to zoom on ahead.  Somehow, the stretch of road we were on looked very familiar to me - perhaps this was the way we left the city two days ago?

The sights whizzing by my window looked the stacks of mud bricks,

.... the men playing football on the large dirt field,

....every square inch of land crowded with homes, and the rice paddies that look like lakes at first glance.

There were some new sights to capture my attention.  Like the man plowing his field - not a sight you usually see in a city.

....and the barefooted man pulling a load of metal barrels.  Yet another reminder of just how poor this city and country are.

Our ride took us along a grassy embankment. On the other side was water.  I couldn't tell if it was a river or a canal.  Whatever it was, people were busy using it to do their laundry.  The embankment was the drying rack.  You name the clothing item and it was there, neatly laid out on the grass to dry.  The concept of personal space does not exist here and there is no shame, whatsoever, to display your undies for the world to see.

I know the people who do this have no other means to do their laundry but nonetheless I had to wonder how clean the clothes actually end up being after being dried in a place where traffic is passing by non stop.

Once we reached the heart of downtown Tana, open spaces gave way to congested streets flanked with buildings.

The city was bustling with weekend activities.

We were on our way to the neighborhood of Ivato, where the airport is located.  A short distance from the airport was our first destination of the morning - the Croc Farm that I had read about on my pre-trip planning.  After seeing a YouTube video about the place, I had told both Rija and George that we had to visit it.  Originally, the plan was to see it on our first day here but with our change in plan, there was no time.  So, we're doing it today!

We snaked our way through the streets of downtown Tana to make our way to the Croc Farm!