long strange trip

So it’s been a while. We left Tulear on October 14, leapfrogged from national park to national park. Here are some highlights:


ISALO: We drove all morning through increasingly interesting landscape. The south is overwhelmingly hot and sandy, and the southwest is overwhelmingly dry, so it was magnificent to see the terrain slowly shift with a colder and wetter atmosphere.  Huge sandstone formations lined the road all the way to the national park. The campground there was strikingly similar to some I’ve seen in the States–tons of people, individual campsites, even bathrooms and showers (Malagasy-style, with rats and baskets for toilet paper and giant spiders, but luxe compared to some places we’ve been). The marvelous part of Isalo lay in a sort of narrow canyon between the sandstone where a rainforest thrives. We hiked through stretches of it directly after arriving, swam in a natural pool at the base of a waterfall (“piscine noir”), hiked back, ate, slept. Packed up in the morning–we only stayed one night–and then hiked to another pool, and back again to the car. Isalo is the most popular national park in Madagascar, and despite the political upheaval that has scared most tourists away, the second swimming hole we went to was packed with tourists. So many white people! We students became visibly uncomfortable at being there and just sat staring at the tourists until our guide said it was time to return. I think my desire to travel received a significant blow–all the visitors there made such a beautiful place ugly and cheap for a moment, and I couldn’t help thinking what a ridiculous activity traveling was and how studying abroad is just another bit of glorified tourism–academic tourism. (I’m not as upset as I was that day, but still need to re-evaluate my desire to travel.) The return walk above the canyon was beautiful, but when we stopped to look out over the landscape, a group of French tourists caught up with us, and the rest of the walk was slow and cumbersome because there wasn’t room to get ahead of them again.

ANJA: We drove all afternoon to arrive at Anja just after dark. We set up our tents, had a quick lecture from Charlie, a British conservation biologist who works setting up national parks in Madagascar and will be accompanying us to Tana, ate dinner, went to sleep. I woke up early to pee and marveled at the pre-dawn atmosphere, light from the approaching sun but still holding remnants of night. A quiet and pleasant moment of reflection before the humdrum of students and breakfast and field trips and so on. Then back to it: packed, ate, hiked around a granite mountain, and back on the road.

ANDRINGITRA: Andringitra was my favorite camping of the trip. We got there just after lunch and hiked for an hour to the campsite. We camped at about 2000m above sea level–so that we could reach Pic Boby (pronounced like “boobie”), Madagascar’s tallest accessible peak (the tallest is inaccessible because it’s “under cultivation”), the next day.  Some things were annoying–another giant group of French tourists, guides who asked “ca va?” every five seconds, a toilet that was far from private–but the great things made up for it. IT FELT LIKE FALL THERE! It was cold and beautiful–we camped next to a stream, and you could see your breath in the morning, and I was so happy. I got to wear the “new” jacket I bought from the market en route, and we ate (and danced) around a fire, and we squished three people in a two-person tent for warmth (and Ben and Sophie are like Big Furnace and Little Furnace–we were all very warm but nobody wasd very comfortable). Unsurprisingly felt like shit in the morning and the hike up Pic Boby nearly wrecked me.


When we reached the summit, I took a few pictures and the lay down to sleep until we turned around for the descent. It was beautiful, but I felt like I was going to collapse.

View from the top

Climbed that

We made it

Everyone was struggling, but we made it, and I slept like a rock when we got back, right until dinner. As a surprise, Jim and Mamy brought all the fixings for smores–again, Malagasy-style: the marshmallows were strawberry flavored, the chocolate was Madagascar chocolate (which I really like but is a more than a little different from Herhsey’s), the graham crackers were replaced with biscuits–but it was epic. We (students) often play the Food Game when we feel particularly hungry, or when we really start missing food from home (apples, macoroni and cheese, chili, granola, fresh vegetables… because it’s easy to list ten or twenty foods that you would sell your firstborn for), and earlier that day smores had come up–and it came true! Went to sleep content, and full. Woke up, packed out.

Ah, wilderness

FIANARANTSOA is not a national park, but it is a really cool city. Stayed in a hotel that did laundry (yes!), ate chinese food at the restaurant downstairs, hurried to finish ISP proposals. Spent a day with an organization that focuses on environmental justice (NOTE: The lady who guided our visit was wearing, of all things, a tee-shirt from the Maryland Public Library system–I couldn’t stop staring, and finally said, I know those libraries! She asked where I was from; and then said she used to live in Baltimore! I said my mom lived in Hampden, my dad in Parkville–Parkville! She lived in Parkville! Turns out I’d probably run by her house before, she lived right around Taylor and Old Hartfod Rd.–Small world, no?). We talked to villagers and asociation heads in the morning about resources use (a lake and forest) and visited a school before lunch. All the kids wore their best clothes because they knew we were visiting. They sang and danced for us to welcome us, so we sang and danced for them to thank them. It was very festive. When Mamy’s car drove away, we could see all the kids following us–and the roads were very poor so we would often drive very slowly and kids would run into the car. Mamy saw that it was a bad situation and kids could have been hurt, so he stopped the car, put in a CD, and we had a dance party in the road: fifty little Malagasy kids, five American students, Mamy, and one of the folks from DELG–one of the best memories yet. Mamy explained to the kids that they can’t run after the car anymore because it’s dangerous, and we drove away. Malagasy problem-solving often involves dancing.

RANOMAFANA: This national park was set up by Patricia Wright, an American researcher, and it is wildly touristy (second most popular, after Isalo). It is also very close to Fianarantsoa, so I suppose it is easy to visit. We saw vazahas running on the road, eve! We camped there two nights–the most oddly-designed campground I’ve ever seen, completely non-sensical. Went on a night hike to see chameleons (so cool), went on a morning hike to see the rainforest and its lemurs (also cool), and went to the hot springs (“rano” means water, “mafana” means hot)–which were essentially just a hot pool, weird but wonderful. We interviewed villagers about their relationships to the forest–the village I visited had had to relocate in 1947, the year of the uprising against the French colonists, after the colonists burned their former village down. We also visited the research center that Pat Wright runs and met her and some other American students (and talked to them more that night over drinks. It was a little like a pissing contest, seeing which group was more intense–but it was evident that we are the better program, because they are almost completely isolated from Malagasy culture). I started feeling sick when we got to Ranomafana–I got sort of weak, lost my appetite a little, and had diarreha. We left on the 23rd.

…And drove to Tana, where we spent two nights before going to Andasibe. I felt nauseous in the car, sick after eating, and tired. My health has been pretty solid so far–other students have had serious stomach problems &c., but I had escaped those when they hit in late September. I’d only been sick just after getting to Madagascar (on my birthday), and during the village stay when I had a cold. I tried eating on Friday but vomited before I had even left the restaurant. Extreme fatigue that night, with nausea and frequent bathroom trips. Ate a little bread in the morning and asked to stay at the hotel rather than walk around the city. Rested and felt OK–Mamy walked with me to the classroom at lunchtime. Ate. Threw up. Walked back to the hotel. Slept. Woke up cold–everyone came in my room and gave me love because I felt so bad–I had a fever of 102. Tried eating a little at dinner because it was just downstairs. My strategy was to get as much food down as I could because I felt sick (I don’t know why I decided that was a good idea. I was already sick when I came up with this plan). Got quite a lot of food in before I had to excuse myself because all that food was coming back up. By the time I went to sleep I felt OK, but I woke up in the middle of the night shivering under the covers–my teeth were chattering, and I even woke Ben up. Went to the doctor in the morning. Malaria. Took the prescribed drugs with lunch–struggled to keep it down (it’s a single dose with food), doubly so because we were driving to Andasibe just after lunch.

ANDASIBE: Horrible car ride–I was crying I was so miserable. Too sick to do anything, so I slept in the bungalow and listened to music while everyone hiked. Ate soup and a little food at dinner, kept it down but had to deal with extreme nausea, slept. Too fatigued in the morning to hile through the national park there. I couldn’t even carry my bag to the car. Couldn’t do breakfast–struggled through lunch (ate two bites and curled up in the corner of the bathroom stall)–suffered through the car ride back to Tana. I literally did nothing in Andasibe.

BACK TO TANA: Jim thinks I have bacterial dysentary. It is often the case that two things hit at once–in this case, it could have been the bacterial dystenary that triggered the malaria, or vice versa (quite honestly, I still felt like shit yesterday and I wasn’t listening closely to the explaination. I just wanted the drugs). Since I still felt so fatigued after taking the malaria meds, and still had diarreha and no appetite/nausea, Jim gave me Cipro to take for the dysentary. On day two today…seems to be slowly working. I kept dinner down and had bread and tea for breakfast. Didn’t sleep much last night, gave up trying at about 3:30 and listened to music the rest of the night. This morning has been exceedingly weird, since my body has fuel but no rest–a reverse of the past week.

Some trip. Five parks, two cities, two diseases, and two prescription drugs later, I am getting ready for my ISP, which starts at the end of the week. That means serious logistical and thematic planning. Just what a girl in recovery wants to do.



One thought on “long strange trip

  1. Good to see you have your sense of humor, and are regaining your sea legs. Alie sends all her love and wishes you a speedy recovery! Good luck with ISP planning & execution, we are all enjoying the honesty of your writing – keep up the great job.

    Much love, apples and chili,

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