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Island Madagascar - Part 1

Travelling over Congo | What does Peru begin from? | Cameroon: route of survival | Madagascar Island
| Travelling over Russia |

When I landed in the Ivatu Airport in the city of Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, the night has already fallen. Warm wind, blowing from the hills, seemed especially pleasant to me after half an hour of hardships, which I had to undergo during customs inspection, when I was knocking like a blind kitten against all queues, not knowing where is the needed one and not understanding a word in French. Big stars were looking from the sky, and taxi drivers urged visitors to take a hot night ride over the city with tuneful voices.

I had outlined the route of the travel in advance, but was prepared to any changes on the spot. First by car from Antananarivo to Miandrivazo, from where Ciribihina, one of the biggest and most picturesque rivers of the island. From there, I would raft down to the town of Belo-syr-Ciribihina, then drive to seashore of Morondava and back to Antananarivo. Two weeks for all the stuff - mine truly deserved vacation. Next day, I found an interpreter for the whole duration of my stay on the island and we went to see around the capital.

Антанариву
Антанариву
Местный житель
Antananarivo, "the city of ten thousand warriors" is spread on the holy hills of Imerina of Central Plateau. Its whole population lives in single-storey, maximum three-storey, houses, resembling the buildings of a medieval European town. First thing that griped my attention was Antananarivo impressive appearance, the whole city was red. Walls and roofs of the buildings are made either from bricks or from red clay. Despite the fact that this is a capital, the city is filled with calmness, however, as well as all other places on the island which I had time to visit. The crime rate here is low, and since the country is just starting to develop the tourist trade, the local inhabitants meanwhile still look with interest on round "glasses" aimed at their forehead, and laugh infectiously. But, in such large centres as Antananarivo they already look askance at tourists, and think more about how to make money out of them. Want to make a snap - pay!

Car is lumbering along the pavement, pebbled with large cobbles. Narrow streets are meandering and confusing traces of local dwellers lost in the city. Motorcycles are rushing past, women drifting gracefully carrying baskets on their heads. Old people are sitting on rubble and looking to nowhere. What do they think of?

Улочки...
Улочки...
Цветы
Улочки...
Antananarivo is the city sunken in flowers. There are flowers everywhere, in gardens, on flower-beds, on bushes and trees. Huge flower markets and motley shops are scattered all over the city. I have never seen so many flowers in one place, neither in Equatorial Africa nor in Peru.

And nowhere I have seen such sun as at Madagascar; precisely I have not experienced similar impact of it on me. Strange sun. It is unimportant whether it is scorching heat outdoors or just 20°С. If you are standing in a shade, then you feel as warm dense substance envelops you. But if only you go out under direct sunlight, then after some time you begin to feel with horror as you skin charring slowly and is about to roast to crisp. Putting the card before the horse, I'll tell that by the end of travel my hands swelled up from the influence of this "benevolent luminary" so, that my palm clenched into a fist looked like uniform mass without single knob or dimple. But I had to spend more then one week in the open air on the river Ciribihina for this. As Malagasy say "Honey is sweet, but it leaves sediment too".

But this will be later. And now I'm riding around the capital like a king accompanied by interpreter, snapping for free silent walls of buildings and pedestrians leisurely walking for their matters. Ranavaluna III Street, Ratefinahari, Venans Manifatra and now royal palace Ruva is already flashes by… Then disappears. These still were simple names and denominations. But have you ever heard about Malagasy king Andrianunindranarivo or Madagascar pop-star Zafimahamo Rasulufudraulo? That's why there is nothing special about that I did not remember any Malagasy name during my stay on the island, even the names of my interpreter and guide, though I spend most of the time with these people. Speaking frankly, I even did not try to pronounce them, it was useless.

На реке
But generally, Malagasy is very beautiful and melodious language. I remember as during the raft my guide spotting a local inhabitant on the shore started to shout him something like, I thought, he was singing. And that from the shore responded with ditty too. So they "sung over", until the boat had sailed about another three hundred meters and disappeared behind the turn. Meanwhile, I asked the interpreter what the guide was requesting. "Ah, - she said, - asked whether he had something to smoke".

And Malagasy language is very poetical too. It is a language of metaphors. When a girl says, that "he touched her hair with brunches of the hands", she speaks about fingers of the beloved. And if a peasant said something about "the knife of God, which cleaved in half the blue sky", then he definitely meant a rainbow. They don't say "See you" when leaving. They say "Velorna!" - "Stay alive!" But I was not going to say good bye to anybody yet.

На отдыхе Переводчица Пастух
We, my eighteen-year-old interpreter, a mulatto beauty, and me left the next day at dawn, as it was planned. By the way, there can be picked out three types of human appearance on the island: pure negroids, the same as in Congo or Cameroon, mulattos, whose skin has soft chocolate shade, and Asian-eyed mestizos. In fact, very handsome people can be met there. And occasionally it is strange, that this nation has to languish in such poverty.

We had barely left behind the city boundaries and drove few kilometers, as unforgettable picture opened up before our eyes, making me believe, that we had been somehow thrown into the Iron Age. Small sheds with stone furnace in the middle, where artisans were making metal dishes, stretched out along the road. I went out of the car to familiarize myself closer with their hard handicraft. Here quite old Negro pours flaming metal into primitive mould, which he holds back with bare leg using a brick on a distance of some 15 centimetres.
Жители
Зебу
Зебу
Рис
Дети
В каноэ
Пастбища
Малагасийцы
Not far away, another one younger runs around foundry giving him a hand. Someone just in shorts kneads gob with bare hands, black itself and all covered with coal crumbs at that. That is the level of development of their industry. But Malagasy standard of life is not higher. Only 2-3% of the island population has some education and a job. Others live by subsistence production and happy when not hungry.

We drive further. Catching up herd of zebus, dragging themselves along peacefully after the shepherd hobbling ahead. Animals have already got used to the roar of cars appearing harshly, but some still dash aside. Zebu can be met everywhere, it is "State" animal of Madagascar. Local inhabitants cook different dishes from them, sacrifice to ancestors, put into plough, to turn up rice fields, and use as transportation.

There are three ways to keep body and soul together on the island in general. First, of course, is cultivating of rice. The procedure is simple: during the time, when floodwater abates (after raining season), peasant living near a river sails by canoe in a search of sandbanks. Rowing to bald ground he throws several handfuls of rice into it, water, and sail further. And thus, until total area of 40 square kilometres will be sowed. This will be "enough" for him and his family for a year. Malagasy living on a riverside make a living also by fishing. Their whole day past by in a canoe, from which they disembark from time to time to cook some rice on fire to have a bite. Each their new working day looks like the previous one, but if the catch is good children have a party.

Cattle-breeding is also blooming among the Madagascar population. But I still cannot understand, why they walk naked under such abundance of livestock. I remember one story. It happened when we have passed most of our water route. It was time for lunch and we fastened to the bank. Not far away lonely tree stretched out its generous crown, under which we just settled down in the shade. Exactly at this time decrepit old man, with swarm of kids whirling around, was driving his zebu herd. They also had stopped under the tree for a snack. The shepherd had a plain rise for lunch (I would not have been surprised, if for breakfast also), which he heated up on the fire and began to eat heartily with children. Just when we had offered mess and soup to our neighbours this pitiful pounced on the food and besom away everything in a trice, like they were just released from concentration camp. But they had huge herd! Generally similar things happened nearly every time we went ashore to have a bite. Interpreter just started to cook food, as right away local dwellers began to fasten to our fireside. They sat down not far from a fire and waited patiently while we became full to "rub out" remains of food after that. Unlike aboriginal of Equatorial Africa they did not beg for food, they were no attempts for extortion or panhandling. Malagasy have used to humble down. "Not everything you wish fate will present", says folk wisdom. But "to bow a head is not to die yet". This is as an answer.

Рикша
We arrived to Miandrivazo when it was already dark. First thing, that was striking, was abundance of rickshaws, pulling parti-coloured carriages after them. It seemed they outnumbered pedestrians. It is immediately flashed in my head: "To take a rickshaw is to humiliate a person or give him opportunity to have dinner?" But I did not have time to think it over, because we had reached hotel. And when I got up to the room, it occurred that I wanted to sleep deadly. And to eat. And what do Malagasy eat? Rice. Those who are a little bit reach eat rice with something. I always take an opportunity to taste national food, wherever I may be blown. I'll tell you from the beginning, Malagasy prepare two things excellently: chocolate and rum. I even took a supply of rum with me on canoe. Zebu meat is tough a bit and has specific flavour (good for a gourmet), but if you are a game meat lover, than it is for you.
Папайя Бананы
There are a lot of varieties of fruits in Madagascar. The main fruit of the island is lichi, resembling by taste the pulp of passion fruit. Bananas and pineapples are eaten on Madagascar all the year round. And also the natives eat lots of different stuff, which I have not remembered (and could not even articulate). Although, I'll try to name one recipe anyway: ra-vi-to-to. You'll be served soft pork, decorated with tapioca leaves puree garnish, flavoured with coconut. I did not manage to taste it frankly, I've learned about this intriguing dish only in Moscow.

Река
Город
The whole next morning till the lunch passed under the badge of preparation for the raft. I would had to spend the next nine days on water, going downstream to the town of Belo-syr-Ciribihina and enjoying amenities of riverside flora and fauna. I had chosen river Ciribihina on a simple account of that it is possible to sail along it with out any problem during any season, what you cannot say about other rivers of the island. The point is that local rivers have no low water. During raining season (from November till March), which is also called "south summer", the level of water rises many meters up. Then, from April till October floodwater goes down, in order to begin to rise up again in November. This period is called "dry season" or "south winter". So, it is possible to raft freely along Ciribihina at any season. I would have got to some back lands, if I had had time. But two weeks are enough only to take a rest. This is exactly what I was doing. Starting early in the morning we found the guide, then made a supply of provisions, to make our vacation most valuable from any point, and even had time to see the town in details.

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