15 February 2012

A Malagasy road trip

We have been in Madagascar for over a week. After spending a short time in the capital in Antananarivo - Tana as the locals call it - we have been making our way south-southeast by car.  Along the way we've  had a few adventures which I am planning to share in separate posts.  First, meet Dorique, our intrepid guide.  He met us at the airport, sign in hand, and he's been patiently helping us learn a little Malagasy and practice our rather sad French. He has a lot of chutzpah which is what you want in a guide.


Our plan is to traverse the country from Manakara on the east coast to Tulear on the west. Since we are moving fast, let me share some rough cuts from the road -- pictures snapped from the car and probably in need of editing -- and our impressions of the Malagasy people.

Madagascar feels to us like the perfect cultural transition between our fairly intense experience of Africa and our upcoming travels in Southeast Asia. This island was populated long ago by Malaysian sailors and traders.  There is evidence of these roots in the faces and the stature of the people we see on the street.  Our strongest impression is of a happy, confident and capable population. Make that a young population; there seem to be infants and toddlers everywhere.  From what we are learning, population growth is a central issue for this nation where the environment is fragile and the Catholic church has great influence.

Most Malagasy still live in the countryside and we've been able to glimpse that rural life.  

From what we have seen, for many rural Malagasy life is lived largely on the road, quite literally.  The national highway system is really the only maintained road, so there are advantages to living on its shoulder. People here often walk many kilometers at a time, to market, to work In the fields, to fetch water, to find wood.  A good road makes for easier walking and cart pushing.  We've noticed that homes and market stalls are built very close to the road.  Some even use the shoulder as a place to dry rice and beans.    

The road is key for driving zebu, the predominant domestic animal, to market.  A bovine like our beef cattle, it comes with a shoulder hump, especially large and impressive on the bulls. We have found it on the menu in all the restaurants and it is good.

There are many Malagasy who live in small villages far from any road. Their births are never registered and they live their lives without ever being counted in a census or registered for an election. The real population of Madagascar can only be estimated.

In this country, everything is done by hand.  Even the painting of lines on the road!  The people - and that's both men and women - carry all manner of things on their head, but for heavy loads, they use small push carts, most often with wooden wheels.  We can only imagine what treasure a set of small inflated tires like we could purchase any Saturday at Canadian Tire would be for these hard working people.  

We are here in the "off season" when there are few tourists from France, Italy and Germany.  As we drive, we were captivated by the wide smiles and waves we received as passing visitors. People from away are still a novelty.  

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