I arrive in Madagascar!
Trip Start Jan 12, 2008
171Trip End Oct 01, 2008
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It's hot! Not quite as hot as South Africa, but a stickier heat for sure. I'm in Madagascar!!! I keep thinking about how crazy that is and how I don't think I know anyone who has been here. I feel lucky to have this amazing opportunity to travel. Just as I begin to remind myself of how lucky I am, I run smack back into the African mentality that everything will be alright regardless of how fast things get done, and that tourists are suckers! There are no more border control cards to fill out and I must wait as one of the guards goes to get more, and proceeds to stop and chat to friends for ten minutes. Once through security I'm swarmed by about four guys offering me cabs, money exchange (despite there being banks in the 'airport'), weed, and extensive tours of the island. I start practicing my French with perfecting "non merci" and quickly realize that this phrase will be beaten over the head by the time this leg of the trip is done.
I change money and feel like a millionaire with the huge wad of bills that I get in exchange for just 200 Euro. 522,750 ARIARS(????) seems like a lot but for some reason the stack didn't feel right. The lady was shocked to discover that I could count that high and that I realized she had shorted me 20,550. After nearly back handing her I pick the least obnoxious cab driver to take me to a hotel (I found one at the airport and phoned them to make sure they had a room) and he asks for 50,000 for the ride. I just about punch him before realizing that it is only about $30. As a result of the South African propensity to bargain, I inquire as to why it is so much (I heard it was really cheap here) and he flashes some card and says that it is standardized by the government in French. Of course he was flabbergasted to find out that I understood and could read French so he apologized for "making a mistake" when I pointed out that the trip should only be 40,000. I think about really punching him this time, but refrain and take the ride in his taxi that somehow outdid the one in Jo'burg in terms of the vehicle in which I've felt the least safe!
The drive is eye-opening as I see the level of poverty that is prevalent here. Rice paddies are abundant and I distinctly see one guy fishing from one no more than 10 meters away from where another guy is peeing in the same paddy. I presume downtown must be a bit better, but am astonished to find that it isn't. Hotel Colbert (www.colbert-hotel.com) is nice, but not by American standards. I put my stuff down in my room and quickly leave to explore the city and figure out what I'm going to do while I'm here.
Everything, besides the bustling street market, is closed as it is Sunday but the streets are packed with people. I quickly realize that I'm the only white person around and apparently that makes it quite alright for little kids, mothers and young men alike to harass me for money and/or offer me various shit I don't want.
I happen upon two guys playing cards on a side street of the market and sit down to watch.
I head back to the hotel but only to shower before taking the advice from the card players of going to a bar to watch the African Nations Cup final between Egypt and Cameroon. On my way out, I run into no one else but Mr. Florent!!! He's been waiting in the lobby for me for about 2 hours. He says something about marijuana as well and I have to ask because this is getting ridiculous. Turns out, people have been saying "manawana" which means hello here??? Scratch what I said earlier about everyone offering me weed! After hearing his five/ten minute sales pitch I decide that I like him. I tell him that I'm on my way to watch the game but that if he meets me at 8 am tomorrow morning at the travel agency he says he works for, that I will work with him to set up a trip to one or two of the national parks!
I enter "Thibaut" at Hotel Glacier, as recommended, and look around to see a great band playing traditional music as patrons generally sit but a few dance and sway to the tunes. The game is about to start and I order something off the menu that is MALAGASY. I think I order a fish appetizer and a beef main course, but subsequently realized that I got a chicken appetizer and a fish(y) meal. I didn't eat too much, but that wasn't a problem because by the time I got my food there were at least three girls surrounding me asking me questions. I spoke French (trying to practice) while they struggled to ask questions in English. I let them polish off my meal while making a quick exit after realizing that they all want me to take them back to my hotel room and pay for sex. In retrospect, I need to be more aware of this sort of thing!!! Back at the hotel, I watched the game in the comfort and quiet of my room and begin to fall asleep as I write...
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