Long Walks and Lemurs

Trip Start Aug 15, 2012
Trip End Aug 01, 2013

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A concrete floor :)

Flag of Madagascar  , MG.06,
Thursday, January 3, 2013

The day after I returned from Christmas in Tulear, Fenolily invited me to come with Ampela and him to Andalatanosy, a town about 70km North of Ambovombe. Fenolily and Ampela both have family from the town, but this trip was about business.  As I've mentioned before, Fenolily and Ampela run an organization called Fanilo, a group backed by the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM), whose primary purpose is to help local farmers plant sustainable and cash crops.  This specific trip was to distribute peanut seeds to farmers in the region.  I was thrilled at the opportunity, and packed my bag for the 6AM departure time.

The following morning, I walked to the taxi-brousse (bus) station with Ampela and the kids.  While the bus was there and ready to go, we had to wait, as usual, for enough people to arrive in order to fill the bus.  Since Andalatanosy is a fairly rural place, we didn’t fill the bus until around 11AM.  After that 5 wait, we started the 4.5 hour bus ride to Andalatanosy.  The road is notoriously one of the worst in Madagascar.  Imagine combining a pant mixer and a roller coaster, and that should give you a mildly appropriate idea what it feels like to ride in a taxi-brousse in southern Madagascar.  The road to Andalatanosy is even worse than that.

We arrived a couple hours before dark, and we spent most of that time sitting in the house owned by Ampela’s parents.  They are lovely people.  Fenolily arrived shortly after we did on the back of a motorcycle driven by his brother, a soldier with the Gandarmerie, the national police.  After a time of drinking coffee and talking on the front porch, Fenolily, his brother, and I went to visit some friends who lived a little way down the road.  By the time we left, night had fallen.  I will say this: even with all my time in the mountains, I have never seen as many stars as I did that night.  I couldn’t keep my eyes of the sky.  At the friend’s house, we just sat around sharing jokes while gnawing on some freshly fried chicken and goats.  Such a good night.  After that, we headed back to the house, had a late dinner, and headed to bed to prepare for the long day ahead of us. 

Our sleeping arrangements were thin foam sleeping mats on the concrete floor of a building owned by Ampela’s family.  The rear window overlooked shacks made of wood and cow dung and goats grazing on anything green they could find.  The front of the building overlooked the main "street" through town; pot-holed dirt stretching into the distance. 

Work for us started at the crack a dawn.  Before we could distribute seeds, Fenolily and Ampela wanted to tour all the farmer’s fields around the town.  I had no idea what an extensive task that would be.  After all, Andalatanosy is a TINY town.  I didn’t realize it would take a 6-hour hike over sand and rock as the Madagascar sun beat down on us.  In spite of this, it was a great day viewing all the different crops around town.  We went with a woman named Claudine and Ampela’s brother.  I also got to see my first real Baobabs since arriving in Madagascar.  Very cool trees.  They are fat trees with all the branches and leaves located at the very top, and they are unique to Madagascar.  After the walk, we relaxed the rest of the day.

I asked Fenolily if we could go looking for Ringtails and Verraux’s Sifaka (they’re lemurs).  I had heard some farmers talking about the lemurs watering at a nearby stream, and I wanted to check it out.  So, the next morning, we headed up a nearby mountain in a torrential rainstorm.  I was fairly certain that no lemurs would want to hang out in that deluge, but Fenolily and two Malagasy guides thought otherwise.  We trudged up the mountain through the rain and all manner of spiny plants that southern Madagascar.  After repeating this on several mountains, we wound up empty.  However, we got a tip when we returned about a farmer in Ambondrombe, just down the road, who had some ringtails on his property.  The sun came out in the afternoon, and we jumped on a motorcycle for the 10km ride.  We walked across the fields with a couple men who worked there.  Before we knew it, ringtails surrounded us in the trees above us.  They were jumping from tree to tree and grunting at us.  It was surreal to finally see them. 

One of the highlights of my week in Andalatanosy was playing with all the kids who lived around the family’s house.  On the last day in town, a bunch of them showed up on the front porch.  We proceeded to play this combination of tag and hide-and-go-seek for HOURS.  A goofy bunch of kids.

The one downside to Andalatanosy is its isolation.  On the day we were supposed to leave, they were no taxi-brousses coming through town.  As a result, we had to take the only ride home available to us: a mango truck.  Twenty of us hopped in the back for the long trek back to Ambovombe while riding on four feet of mangoes.  The ride was somehow even bumpier than on a taxi-brousse, but we rolled into Ambovombe after dark, and the family had their ox-cart waiting for us for the trundle back home.  A wonderful week filled with wonderfully new and special experiences. 
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