We arrived in Tulear Thursday after a short flight from Ft. Dauphin. Spent three nights at Jim Hansen (our Academic Director) and Mark Fenn (noted conservationist, sadly in Ghana right now)’s place ten minutes south of the big city.
It was right on the beach, by a mangrove forest. The days were hot, the nights were cool. We ate in a restaurant run by a Swiss woman and her Basque husband, just down the beach from Jim’s place, and had a big sheep roast on Friday night. We hiked around Table Mountain looking at medicinal plants and made an offering to the ancestors. We went running on the beach and then had an amazing Italian dinner in Tulear. It would have been like vacation except for the occasional lecture (unfortunately, sometimes very boring) or pointless field trip. My favorite was the sea-cucumber farm, where we looked at tubs of water for an hour–not the most interesting thing I’ve ever seen (a close runner-up, though, was the very long sales pitch for Spiralina, a miracle dietary supplement, which supposedly will cure anorexia by inducing hunger and curb obesity by eliminating appetite; the speaker, moreover, was foaming at the mouth and spitting while telling us about this bacteria/food). But we also did amazing things, like swimming in a cave-pool that seemed to glow and was populated by a meter-and-a-half long Big Fish. And the two times I ran on the beach (once with two other friends after a long travel day when it felt so good to be moving, once by myself at dawn when I passed at least fifteen confused Malagasy ladies who broke into broad smiles when I greetedly them enthusiastically with “Salama!” as I ran by)–that was unbelieveable.
For one thing, it felt so good to run–I haven’t been able to run much in Madagascar, only sporadically in Ft. Dauphin at an old stadium there, and my body definately misses that activity (we walk tons, but it is different than being able to full-out run). But mostly, I’ve never run in a more beautiful place. I was running between the mangroves and the sand dunes–the sand was hard enough that it wasn’t annoying to run on, the tide was high, the sun was low, there was a slight breeze–gorgeous.
We left Jim’s hideaway and went north to Ifaty. The hotel we stayed in was again right on the water–Ifaty used to be a big tourist destination, but that has severely decreased since the coup.
It was gorgeous, the sort of place with hammocks outside, and delightful calm beach–except no doors to the toilet, and only a wall separating the room from the shower. I sent my roomate, Ben, outside everytime I had to poop. (But really, after camping with everyone for so long, and enduring long car-rides with only “bush-toilets”–read pee-on-the-side-of-the-road, we are all pretty comfortable with each other, updating everyone on healthy bowel movements &c.)
We went to Reef Doctor (a marine NGO) the next day–went snorkling all morning in the coral reef. We sailed out to the reef on pirogues (had to make one emergency stop to bail water out of what are essentially leaky wooden canoes) and then just jumped overboard with our snorkles. Visibility was incredible, and the reef was pretty shallow: great conditions for looking at fish, exploring the reef, and generally having a good time. One barracuda sighted, many fluorescent fish followed–I even had a school of fish following me at one point. One of the best parts of the trip so far.
Came back to Tulear yesterday, and am staying in a hotel in town until tomorrow, when we set out on Epic Road Trip. The hotel we are staying in is only half-finished, since the owner died before construction was completed, but our room is really nice–we even have air conditioning!! (Ah, the little pleasure… flush toilets, shower heads, soap… doors to the bathrooms…) Tulear is a big city. Instead of taxis, there are puce-puces–rickshaws. More puce-puces than cars. More people than puce-puces.
Missing some things from the good old Western world… like bathtubs, and apples, and bookstores. Eat some tofu and vegetables and think of me here in Madagascar with a plateful of rice and meat.