As evidence that life on this island is a never-ending series of adventures, my first week into the new year has already encompassed all of the best and worst things that Madagascar has to offer. After celebrating Christmas in my village, I took off for vacation just before the new year. Monique (a PCV friend) and I headed to Andasibe National Park where we met up with our friend Erica and her family. One odd dynamic of PCV friendships is that while we grow to know each other, we often don't get to meet each other's friends and family back home--people who have made us who we are and inevitably come up in conversation. So it was really nice to meet and spend some time with the Wherry family.
We went on two hikes in Andasibe: one at night and one in the morning. We were hoping to see the mouse lemur, the world's smallest mammal, but weren't that lucky. (Erica's father rather appropriately described the experience as "wandering through the jungle with flashlights looking for monkeys"), but it was fun nonetheless as we did see some interesting frogs, chameleons, and the like. The next morning we got up and set off on our quest to find the Indri Indri lemur, aka "Babakoto" in Malagasy. While the Indri are the largest lemur and is the subject of some Malagasy legends, they are best known for their wailing cry/song which resounds through the forest. Here are a couple of videos of the Indri; the first video is stuff I shot in the park, the 2nd one is not mine but lets your hear the song of the Indri:
From a distance the song is actually quite beautiful (not quite as screechy as the video seems), and I could hear them calling from the bungalow we stayed in near the edge of the park. Mostly I was just incredibly excited to have FINALLY seen lemurs after nearly 18 months on this island.
After Andasibe, we headed up to Mahajanga to reign in the new year. We arrived on New Year's Eve and had a festive yet low-key evening. We had dinner at Marco Pizza, where we had incredible pizza and cocktails as well as great hospitality from the owner. Once our bellies were satisfied we headed down to the boardwalk looking for someplace to reign in the new year. Everything we'd heard from other PCV's had led us to believe that the boardwalk was where everything happens in Mahajanga, so we figured it'd be a safe bet. Unfortunately there wasn't much going on and we weren't able to find anywhere that had a TV or even any sort of countdown going. So we got a little creative and were able to create our own with the assistance of a cell phone and the timer on a video camera. Sadly our experience that night was a bad omen for the rest of our time in Mahajanga -- all of the incredible seafood, fish/shrimp/lobster kabobs, Indian food, tortillas, and nightlife we'd heard so much about never materialized during our time in Mahajanga. My best guess is that things were just shut down because of the holiday and had we gone at a different time we would have experienced all the same wonder and awe as our PCV friends.
On New Year's Day we headed to Ankarafantsika National Park in hopes of seeing the Tromba (spirit possession) ceremony, which is organized at a lake in the park every year on the 1st. As is typical of Madagascar adventures, we got to the park only to be told that the man who usually organizes the Tromba died and they hadn't named his successor yet so they wouldn't be having it this year. We decided we'd still like to go through the park anyway and see some wildlife. Among the things we saw were Coquerel's Sifaka (similar to but not to be confused with lemurs), chameleons, lizards, and several bird species. We also got to see the only 4 Adansonia madagascariensis baobabs which remain in the world today (shown here with my friend Kathy). The tree can only grow once the seed has been digested by a particular type of lemur which is now extinct since many of the trees had been dying out, so these 4 trees are all that remain. Our guide Gabriel talked extensively about the many symbiotic relationships such as this that exist in the park. It was interesting to reflect on just how interconnected our world is, and I find this relationship to be quite representative of my experience thus far in Madagascar. While I have skills and knowledge to share with my Malagasy counterparts, I also am deeply dependent upon their own knowledge, skills, hospitality, patience, talents and spiritual gifts. I am the baobab: I come bearing seeds that can grow only once digested and enriched by those around me. After seeing the baobabs and hiking for a couple of hours we reached this gorgeous canyon, which scientists believe was actually carved out by the sea instead of a river since the park used to be under water.
After an exhausting but incredible day of hiking in the park, we headed back to town for a good night's sleep. We had a lazy morning the next day but eventually made our way to a pool to relax for the afternoon. Although there were a few disappointments and unmet expectations, all in all, the first few days of vacation were great--as I mentioned, they included the best that Madagascar has to offer. After Monday the 2nd is where things headed south (at least for me). I woke up on Tuesday morning with what felt like a resurgence of the intestinal bug I had Christmas morning, though it may have been something entirely different. After 24 hours of self-treating and trying to stay hydrated, I called the PC doctors who put me on an antibiotic. I finished up the antibiotic today but am still feeling fairly lousy. I'm no longer making frequent trips to the restroom but and still experiencing a good deal of nausea and intense cramps, and haven't regained my appetite. But, I have been staying in a good hotel--very friendly staff, great showers, and free wifi. I'm hoping to head back to my village tomorrow even if I'm not feeling better. After all the chaos, I'm just ready to be back where things are familiar and routine. At any rate, don't worry because I will be fine - nothing I haven't dealt with several times already since being here!
Hopefully the new year hasn't been quite as adventurous for you as it has been for me! Cheers for 2012! Love love.