It was a busy and fun December. In Service Training was utterly pointless on a 'training' level, but it was really nice to get together with all my stagemates and catch up. Mantasoa was lovely as usual. We had bonfires, played (drinking) games, watched movies, ate free food, complained about our lives, etc. We managed to make it downtown to Hotel de France most days we were in Tana to enjoy the giant delicious draft beers that aren't THB.
But the real story is of my travels...
Let us begin the sordid tale of the 'death brousse'... We (more specifically Kinsey, Brian, Megan, Lauren, Sarah, Lucy and I) went to the brousse station to begin our 2 and a half day journey to Antalaha... As usual, the brousse left 4 hours after it was 'scheduled' to leave. We were crammed in to our unbearably close row. Hey, don't get me wrong, I love these kids, but it was way too hot to cozy up like that for >2.5 days straight. There was so little room that we all couldn't rest with our backs against the back of the seat at the same time. 'Sleeping' was an interesting procedure. The first leg of the trip (which is all on a paved road and usually takes 17 hours) took over 24. the second leg of the trip is on a dirt (aka mud) road (or road road if you speak Malagasy- warning to friends and family at home, we will continue to do this... i have dreams I'm back at home speaking Malagasy and no one understands me and I don't understand why). Some know this stretch of road as 'the trail of tears'. We stopped for gas in Ambanja, which is Sarah's site. It was pouring rain, and had been for hours, which made the prospects of the trail of tears ever more frightening (they make you get out and walk if the brousse gets stuck in the mud... i've seen pictures). We asked the drivers how much longer they expected the trip to be; one said we'd arrive in the morning (ha) and the other said maybe 2 or 3 days. We consulted our fellow passengers and none of them expected it to take less than 2 or 3 days. We started talking about jumping ship and staying in Ambanja and going North to Diego instead (Diego was plan B anyway, and we'd have a free place to stay in Ambanja). Mad props to Brian for decisiveness and getting us the hell off that brousse. It was raining as they got our bags from the top of the brousse... but we were missing Sarah's bag. After looking for over an hour, they called the station in Tana who informed us that the bag was left there. Poor Sarah! Worst brousse company ever.
We stayed in Ambanja for 2 nights. It's a pretty big town and very different from Anjozorobe. Sarah's Gasy friend let some of us stay at her house and even cooked up crab dinner and hosted a dance party, ha ha.
Then we set off to Diego! It was only a few hours from Sarah's site and there were some other Peace Corps Volunteers (John, Travis, and Adam, who were some of our trainers back in the day, and Adam's girlfriend, Erin). Diego is very touristy. It was weird to walk down the street and see more vazahs than gasys, but it was a magical play land on resturants and nightclubs. It was expensive, but worth every penny. We stayed in 3 different hotels over the week we were there, and ate a lot of delicious vazah food.
On our first full day, we set out to swim in Sugar Loaf, a little mountain in the bay. It looked a lot closer than it was. We started out pretty late, and I hadn't had lunch. Only Travis and John actually made it to Sugar Loaf, but they didn't make it back to shore until dark.
This is Sugar Loaf from as seen from our boat to Emerald Isle
The next day was Christmas, which was probably one of my favorite days here so far...
We took a fishing boat to Emerald Isle for the day. Our guides caught our lunch on the way. It was a beautiful ride. The water is a magical Emerald color and you could see to the bottom most of the way. The water was luxuriously warm, and there were no waves, so it made for very comfortable swimming. (You can stand up to your chest and still have a beer without the waves making you spill, nice). For lunch we feasted on coco rice and fish and did not wait 30 minutes before returning to the water. We did a bit of snorkeling in the reefs. I was swimming towards a dark area in the water which I thought was a reef until I slammed headfirst into the boat that was creating the shadow. That's right, I hit a boat while snorkeling. It took me half a second to figure out what the hell happened (I wasn't immediately sure, ha ha), but when I looked up and started laughing, my friends realized what I did and started laughing at/with me. I bruised my head, ha ha. Our Gasy guides told us it was time to leave, but we protested until they relented and allowed us more time to play in the wonderful water of the Emerald Sea.
Arriving at Emerald Isle
After all the hard work we did on Christmas, we decided that we should spend the next day relaxing at the pool with a swim up bar. Peace Corps, the hardest job you'll ever love. We felt really out of place at this pool because it was mostly patronized by fancy, rich tourists and we're a bunch of dirty, loud American kids. The bar had Sex on the Beaches, which I was delighted to discover. They also served cold red wine here, which is strange because they don't usually serve cold beverages that you think should be cold, like water or soda (sometimes they ever serve it with a straw, “did i just drink cold red wine through a straw?” ha ha).
The next day we went to Amber Mountain National Park. It was really nice and rainy, cloudy and not hot = good, even if it means getting wet. The first trail we took was also a road, which was off putting. Every time a car came we had to get out of the way and gave up hopes of seeing any animals for a while. The trail/road was very muddy and our guide was painfully slow. It was a successful trip overall, though. We saw a group of wild lemurs, some sweet geckos and chameleons (including the smallest), and a giant millipede and rolly polly. We hiked to some waterfalls and enjoyed the cool rain. Our return cab ride turned interesting after we hit a dog (it was ok) and later fishtailed back and forth across the road and finally coming to a stop in the brush on the side of the road... oh madagascar, mampiwonky.
We were supposed to leave the next day, but the prospects of another day spent at the pool and swimming up to a bar were too tempting, so we extended the Diego portion of our travels. Some of us even got lunch at the hotel restaurant, which was delicious, even if not completely identifiable.
The trip back to Tana wasn't too bad (after the death brousse for sure). We all had enough room to rest our back on the back of the seat at the same time. We made it from Diego to Tana in less time than it took to go from Tana to Ambanja (sorry, that doesn't sound meaningful without consulting a map, does it?)
By this time we were down to me, Kinsey, Brian and Megan as the others left earlier or were headed other places. We just stayed in Tana for the night, but that's the longest normal people can bare Tana.
New Years Eve day, Brian, Megan and I headed to Tamatave on the East coast. We stayed in a hostel and met up with a few other friends who were passing through (including Mika of Mika and Davis... that's right, PCVs roll with pop stars). After pregaming for New Years with THBs on the beach, we went to an air conditioned Chinese restaurant. We were all beat, and we didn't think we were going to make it to midnight, but somehow we managed to stay awake long enough to go to a bar and have a beer as the year changed over. The bar was weird... it was almost completely empty, but was playing Nelly Furtado, decorated and painted nicely, and the bartender was wearing a James Cavaliers jersey. It seemed more like Ohio than Madagascar (except if we were in Ohio, I would have been drinking Red Stripe instead of THB). We finished our drink (we didn't even have our own, we shared one, we're so lame) and were back at the hostel by 12:20. That's the latest I've stayed up in a long, long time.
New Years day was awful. We went to the amazing vary sasoa place, but it was closed! I'd been sick (like, stomach sick) off and on for... oh, about 6 months, but I felt worse than normal. Also, Tamatave is freaking hot! I was suffering from mild heat stroke and bacterial diarrhea. I took a long nap, but still wanted to have fun. There was a big party down by the beach and I really wanted to go. I didn't manage to stay long and returned to the hostel. On my return trip, I was attacked by 6 puppies (don't laugh, it was scary and I didn't know how to defend myself from puppies. I had to kick them. It was awful!) Brian, Megan and I went to a nice restaurant for dinner, but I couldn't force myself to eat (so i had ice cream for dinner, which was also what i had to breakfast).
My travel companions left the next day, but I wasn't feeling good enough to try an 8 hour brousse, so I stayed in Tamatave an extra day. It turns out I could have gone (I started my cipro treatment the night before... cipro is my new favorite medicine). I felt fine all day, but staying worked out because I had a good time with Michelle and Jordan from my stage. They were passing through on their way home from their vacation, so we got to share our adventure stories; plus who doesn't love Jordan and Michelle? I even got to have that wonderful vary sasoa since it was closed everyday until the day I left, score!
I traveled from Tamatave to Anjozorobe in one day which seemed trivial compared to our other treks of vacation.
It was a great trip. I'd never be able to afford that vacation were I not a volunteer (that doesn't make sense, but it does). We got dirty, sweaty and gross; we got tipsy at the pool bar; we ate great food; we saw beautiful beaches and rain forest; we laughed. Life is good. (6 weeks until next vacation...!)
Tsara ny vacanes, fa mbola mampawonky i madigaskara!
Now I'm back in Anjozorobe. My house made it ok without me for the 22 days I was gone. All of the buckets I left out to collect water from the leaky roof were full, and the spiders had some serious parties. I have a renewed appreciation for my site, though. I've seen 8 other sites, all of which I like better than mine, but I think my site it good for me. The others are good to visit and mine is a good place for me to live. The climate is good, it's close enough to Tana that I can travel around easily, everything is cheap. Sure, I can't buy ice cream and there are no restaurants or stores, but maybe that's a good thing.