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Doggies in Madagascar

Monday, July 08, 2013

Yes! there are both dogs and cats in Madagascar. Cats are kept for mousing, but I saw one man working in his garden with two cats, so that perhaps means they also provide a supervisory roll :-D

But I saw many more dogs. I don't know what they eat, but apparently not chickens, because there are chickens running around in the same yards. As to breeds, I asked about that, and the guide didn't even have a concept of what I might have meant. Its a dog. Dogs are dogs. Sometimes they have spots, sometimes they don't, kinda like zebu -- no one cares what color they are.

As to whether they eat dogs or not, I don't think so, though I think I understond they might eat cats on occasion. I might be wrong there.

The dogs are kept for protection. There are no such things as collars or leashes. They are short coated, thin, long legged, slightly flopped ear, relatively deep chested, and no I don't have a picture, and am not finding any on line, from where we were in any case.

We only met two dogs in person at one of the lodges we stayed in. They were bigger than the normal dogs, a bit shaggier, and also "fixed" so they were obviously more taken care of, and probably from another countery, belonging to an ex-pat perhaps. However, they were incredibly friendly and my son just loved them. Dogs always love my son. It is something in his earwax I think (shudder).

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

MERRYMARY42 7/8/2013 6:33PM

    ear wax attract dogs do ya think
anyway, interesting as always, even growing up, I knew if it was a shepherd, collie or a weiner dog, strange huh

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AJB121299 7/8/2013 5:16PM


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The Traveler's Tree

Sunday, July 07, 2013

In Madagascar, there is a native "tree", that kind of looks like a relative of the banana plant. So I'm not sure it would be technically classified as a tree, but it is very important to Madagascar. In fact it is so important that it is the logo for Air Madagascar:

(I'm not copying the logo because it might disturb someone's trademark or something, so you'll have to follow the link to see. For those who do, it is quite a striking logo, don't you think?)

I really don't know what sort of flowers or fruit this plant has, as that isn't the important part. What they use are the leaves, to thatch the roofs of houses, and the stalks to the leaves, to use as house siding. I have a picture of one of the cottages we stayed in that was at least on the outside thatched with leaves from the traveler's tree:

I didn't take any pictures of the small houses built with the traveler's tree walls, because I didn't want to invade anyone's privacy, but I'm sure I can find a link.

That picture also shows the practice of building the houses off the ground. There are two reasons for that. One is the Monsoons, reasoning being pretty self-evident, and the other is the heat. It was explained to me that having the house off the ground allowed air to come up through the floor to add extra cooling to the house.

Though I said that I didn't know anything about the fruit of the traveler's tree, I do know one other thing about its usefulness for travelers. when you cut off the top, the trunk is full of water for the thirsty traveler. (Then you go build your shelter with the top.)

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

NEWRUNNER2 7/7/2013 8:44PM

    Great info. and pics for those of us who probably won't ever see this in person!


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Driving in Madagascar

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Yesterday, navigating a parking lot, I was waiting for a Land Rover to pass by in the main lane out, then she slowed down so much, to clear a speed bump, I just went ahead and made the left turn ahead of her. A couple days earlier, in another parking lot, I noticed a four wheel drive vehicle coming towards me, with a line of extra spotlights across the top, and a couple on the bumper. It looked more ridiculous than usual. There is only one important accessory to a reliable four wheel drive vehicle: The driver.

Except for perhaps the roads in the capital city Antananarivo, the roads in Madagascar are, at best, full of "potholes," but, more likely, badly rutted with gullies of water damage, dust and stones. Still, these roads are lifelines for the people. Our guide told us that, in the rainy season, a stuck car, which can easily happen since you can't see through the standing water where the bad potholes or ruts might be, can cut off all the vilages further away from town on that road.

Our guide told us he had heard that some country (can't remember which) called potholes "chicken nests." "Well," he said, "Madagascar has elephant nests." And yes, even on the roads where the big trucks traveled, there were potholes down to the roadbed the size of elephants. The asphalt had never been put down thick enough

So there is a real art to driving, to not break the vehicle, yet still make it from one place to another. Judgement and patience rule. Marshall, our driver, had those qualities in spades. I got the feeling that drivers have a pretty high status in their community too. They carry themselves with the confidence of a valued craftsman--few words, relaxed smiles, but a practiced intensity behind the wheel with a rutted road ahead.

Marshall spoke better English than I did French, and that isn't saying much, so we didn't try to talk much, even though I rode shotgun, with Ben, the guide, and my son in the back seat.

Truth was that Marshall wasn't supposed to be our driver at all, but he and Ben met us at the airport in Diego Suarez, because the driver we were supposed to have had a bad fever. Our plane had been rescheduled to be an hour or so later than originally planned, so we were wisked away, as quickly as feasable, into the Parc National de Montagn d'Ambre, or Amber Mountain National Park. I think I will save the description of that park for another blog, but you will understand the need to hurry, because it is their winter there. Not that their winter is cold (or not by our standards), but these were their SHORTEST days of the year, just when we in the US and Europe are in our longest.

After that outing, and some more rutted roads, they deposited us, at dusk, at the lodge we were staying at that night. Ben said that He wasn't sure who would be our driver the following day. I think he was making sure I tipped Marshall that day rather than waiting for the end of the trip, but I had already planned in my mind to tip everyone as we went, and I tipped them each for what I decided would be a half day tip, 10,000 Ariary for the driver and 5,000 Ariary for the guide. All the other days I tipped them twice as much.

The tipping guide from the travel agency had said that one tips a driver 10,000 Ariary per person for the driver, and 5,000 Ariary (not mentioning per person) for the guide, so I was pretty much following the guidelines, and perhaps even being a bit generous to the guide. Still you see that even the travel agency values the driver at least twice as much as the guide (who is also acting as translator and "fixer").

The next day, Marshall was back again, but with a different four wheel drive vehicle. This one was blue instead of desert tan and apparently belonged to the driver who was still sick. Perhaps it had been gassed up for our long trip. Oh, I saw no gas stations in the countryside at all. I saw people sporatically with yellow jugs, at the roadside, on motorbikes, on bicycles, etc. that I assumed had a few liters of gas in them each, but for a vehicle like ours, it could have never been enough, had we run out of gas and not been in a city perhaps.

While in the car, on one stretch of road, Ben and Marshall were talking about the sick driver in French. (Perhaps they needed French words? They mostly chatted in Austronesian. Maybe they were just used to using French for such discussions to hide them from the less educated women around.) I got the impression that Ben thought he'd gotten the fever from 'the ladies,' translating in my mind to a VD. I asked a clarifying question of them about the other driver, and got an evasive replay, and didn't persue it further.

However, I knew that, in my backpack (my son and I had packed very light, only backpacks for our trip), I had, perhaps, a cure for him. I had a Z-pack the nurse had prescribed to us, in case my son came down with a secondary infection from the cold he had had at the appointment the week before. A strong wide spectrum antibiotic treatment of six pills, take two the first day, and then one for each of 4 days after. But could I trust that this person I had never met, and couldn't instruct in person, would follow those directions? Or that the pills wouldn't get sold separately somehow and be perhaps even worse than useless?

I had told Ben that I was most interested in seeing the unique plants of Madagascar, and so he had been pointing out all sorts of plants to me, telling me of their medicinal uses, and telling me of the troubles of using them since the dosing could not be uniform. I thought that, all other things being equal, I could entrust the Z-pack to him and he would at least relay the pills and direction with as much authority as I would in person. Then at least the sick driver would have it in his own hands to succeed or fail at his own recovery.

I could also see, in how fond people in villages were of Marshall, how a driver might have the opportunity to catch some sort of communicable disease. Marshall was married though, and I even met his wife.

Halfway through the last day they were with us, Ben and Marshall asked us for a small favor. Marshall's wife was near our destination, and they asked us if they could pick her up, so they could head straight back to Diego Suarez after dropping us off. They said she was sick really needed to cut her visit to family short and head for home where she could go to the doctor (in a city). I said okay.

However, that threw a wrench into my intention to give the Z-pack to Ben for the other driver. Obviously, if she was sick, they would have to be used for her, if it was appropriate.

When she joined us though, she was showing no signs of fever at least. I felt somewhat taken advantage of, though carrying her in the back did not pose any real inconvenience. The unsettled feeling of being not told the whole truth kept me from giving the our now unnecessary Z-pack to them.

I don't know if there was a way to play that to make more winners, and I missed it, but I still have a Z-pack looking for someone to cure.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

MERRYMARY42 7/7/2013 10:31AM

    such an interesting trip, and I know you learned so very much, glad you are sharing your trip with us. Thanks

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When you can't drink the water

Thursday, July 04, 2013

This is a continuation of my posts on my trip to Madagascar.

Okay, SparkPeople has this huge thing about drinking lots of water. Eight cups of water. sun-tea jugs of water. can't leave my home without a bottle filled with water, or two. Well, when you get to a part of the world, like Madagascar, where you cannot count on the water to be clean, you may find out that, though nice, all that water is not absolutely necessary. And, since the bathroom facilities are rather primitive when you can find them, that aspect of drinking lots of liquids is also not, um, pleasant.

I haven't mentioned the pre-trip visit to the dr's office -- you have to go, though there aren't that many drugs/shots for Madagascar. And you get a talking-to at the office about the water. You must get SEALED bottles of water, or boil water for a minute, or purify it in some other way, to drink it. (Or drink Coca-Cola, which would be my son's choice, and there is no diet soda there.) We also came away with drugs to help us if we did come down with Traveler's diarrhea anyway. Ten horse-sized pills of Ciprofloxacin HCL, which have the directions of "1 tab twice daily at onset of moderate traveler's diarrhea for 1-5 days or until resolve." And the Nurse Practicioner said that this, in combination with an over the counter anti-diarrheal, would often knock it down pretty quick.

We did not encounter problems. I have twenty unused pills of Ciprofloxacin (how do you even pronounce that?) and a bunch of over-the-counter left over now, that I need to hand off to another traveler perhaps.

We did not drink much water.

We often went the whole day on the road without using the "bathroom," such as it wasn't.

For that matter, the plane flights there and back were over 10 hours, to France, then on to Madagascar, and back, and I think I only used their poor excuse for a lavatory once in all the four flights as well. My son was about the same. We were not unusual in that--I'd say the majority of people did not avail themselves of the plane facilities. They use those tiny cups for drinks on the plane for a reason.

I have to say, that it is rather humid in Madagascar, and we probably weren't losing quite as much water from respiration as in my drier climate at home here.

But clean water is much more valuable in Madagascar. It was hardly cheaper than the Coca-Cola--the large bottle of clean water was the same price as the large bottle of Coca-Cola: 3000-5500 Arairy, only the water bottle was slightly larger. For comparason, a lunch cost on average 13,000 Arairy, where a large bottle of water was 5500 Arairy.

Along the sides of the road, you saw the waterbottles being reused and filled with chilli-pickled fruit for sale. Coca-Cola is sold in the refilled glass bottles I remember from my childhood.

The other thing the nurse warned us was to "Keep your mouth shut in the shower." She was a rather direct person. In the lodges we visited, that wasn't much of a problem. The hot water was non-existant, and water pressure was so low (hotel or lodge), that showers never lasted very long. It also took for-ever for toilets to refill, even though they were European low water style. On the flip side, all rooms and bathrooms were very clean and polished in lodges and hotels, with the occasional wall gecko, who ate the insects so was part of the cleaning crew.

But back to the water. We drank when really thirsty (like after a tiring hike) and with meals. That was it. I'd order or make hot tea in the morning and kind of drink up for the day during the only time I could get boiled water. The first hotel had a hotpot, but it was the only one--probably because electricity was also in short supply.

Now I'm back here. drinking water from the faucet without fear of diarrhea and taking hot showers. What have I learned though from my experience where clean water was so much more dear? Well, that my kidneys, bladder and all, still seem to be working fine--"needing" to go to the bathroom could be more of an opportunity thing than a necessity. That I am a very lucky lady to live in the middle class in California, And maybe a confirmation of something that we already know--that clean water does not need to be dressed up as a tub of cola, a grande of chai latte, or a crystal glass of pinot noir, to be very very special.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

MERRYMARY42 7/4/2013 10:21PM

    loved the blog, funny after reading and commenting on your last one to Madagascar, my DH and I watched a special on Madagascar, the lemus and a certain tree, forgot the name, very interesting as is your blog, Thanks, and yes, water is not something to take for granted clean, pure water at least

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Food in Madagascar

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Thought you all might be curious about what they eat in Madagascar--since I was just there on vacation.

Things are a bit upside down there from how things are here. For instance, chicken is the expensive meat. Zebu (their version of cattle, it pulls their carts too) and fish are the cheap meats. You see chickens running around everywhere, and wake up to them crowing in the morning. But they are considered "rich" and you might say someone was living extravagantly with the phrase "he eats chicken every day."

We had chicken one day, and you should have seen the legbone on that guy. Our American chickens are truely wimps. It was stewed and yummy.

I never had any fish, but zebu is tough and flavorful. All the places we ate, knew that these tenderfoot tourists needed well cooked food, and our zebu was grilled. Indeed, most of their cooking is over charcoal in any case.

They dig good sized crabs out of the mangroves. (mangroves are trees that grow on land that is saltwater swamp. We didn't have a chance to eat that seafood either.) The comment was that the crabs were good the next day as long as you left the mud on them overnight. We past some hanging by the side of the road for sale. I didn't recognize them as crabs, because they just looked like lumps of mud. The crab shells were green in color, though I was told they also turn pink when cooked, just like the ones from the ocean around here.

There weren't so many vegies, but there were lots of fruit. I gained a taste for papayas, and my son now likes guavas. All the fruit tastes better there too--they don't have the refined hybrids and the smaller fruit seemed to concentrate the yummy flavor. I think the citrus is native there. They serve a variety of tangerine that has a green skin--I saw it on all sorts of roadside stands. A lot of their fruit is not native, like pinapples, papayas and bananas probably, but they are growing all over. One town we passed had a papaya tree for just about every house. I want one now. They kind of look like thin palm trees with papayas hanging around just under the top sprout of leaves. They also have mango trees and leechees and others that I guess weren't in season, because they didn't appear at breakfast.

Talking about breakfast brings us to the island's origins for its peoples. Many of the Malagasy (that is what the people from Madagascar are called) have roots in Indonesia originally, and all Malagasy on the island, no matter what their origin, like rice best--the shorter grain, stickier, type. And yes, it is white :-( They will normally have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some, however, will have a baguette for breakfast instead of rice. Breakfast was also when we got a small cup of freshly made yogurt, probably from zebu milk, as the closest thing I saw to a cow was either a cow colored zebu or a cow zebu cross on Nosy Be. I'm not sure what I was looking at.

At the last hotel we were at, my son and I had something they called an "American Sandwich." I'm sure this isn't Malagasy, but I'm not sure how this sandwich came into being. We thought we were going to get a hamburger, and we did after a fashion, but let me describe this "hamburger" to you: The bun was a baguette, and the burger was reshaped to be long and thin to fit the baguette. and there was ketchup. and there were fries, but the fries were IN THE SANDWICH. there was a little chiffonade of letuce with a small tomato slice and a slice of a shallot on the side as well, but not really enough to accessorize the whole "sandwich." As wierd as it sounds, the sandwich tasted rather good. I don't know who told them erroneously that Americans eat FRIES IN SANDWICHES. Many more Europeans and Australians vacation there than Americans. However they were misinformed, they made something edible out of it for us, against all odds I'd say.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

SENNAIRA 7/3/2013 1:45PM

  That is so amazing you got to vacation in Madagascar! I never thought about doing so though I figure it must be expensive. I love travelling to places outside of the US especially for the food. I remember when I went to Italy i felt so light eating there because the food is mostly made from scratch.

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