Day 278, Year 5 Back Home on Windbird
Date: Saturday, July 31, 2010
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Location: Nosy Sakatia, NW Madagascar

Our first trip inland in Madagascar was a huge success, but as you know, it is always good to be back home. Everything was fine aboard Windbird, so no worries here. It is so wonderful to have someone like John Sheppard and his capable staff to look after your boat while away. In a country with no marinas, this is the only way to go. Our trip home was super fast as we had a kamikaze taxi brousse driver. Even after stopping in Hell-ville for food shopping, we were back on Windbird well before noon. Last night Goulam called the phone number we had written on our little blue ticket and he arranged for the taxi brousse to pick us up at his place instead of in the village of Mahamasina. Coolie told Goulam the taxi would arrive at 5:30 am, but it was more like 6:15 am when it arrived and probably 6:30 am when we left. Goulam had arranged for the three people from Austria to travel in the same taxi brousse, and they packed us in like sardines. Taxi brousse just means jungle taxi and it can be anything from a small Puegot to a mini-van that has been adapted to hold about eleven people comfortably or eighteen people very uncomfortably. We were eighteen this morning but other than not being able to move, all was fine. We were in Ankify in three hours and on a speedboat headed for Nosy Be by 10:15 am. Coolie, the man who arranged our transportation was in the van and on the speedboat, so we were escorted all the way. How lucky that he needed to go to Diego Suarez to get new pages in his passport and that his travel coincided with ours exactly. Otherwise, I cannot imagine how we would have made the connections. I think some guardian angel was with us on this trip.

The country between here and Ankarana to the north is quite interesting. The little ferry stop of Ankify is a bustling wharf like the one in Nosy Be, just much smaller. As you head the fifteen kilometers from Ankify to RN6, Madagascar’s only national highway (that word is used loosely here), you go through a green, lush countryside. Once you hit the highway and head north you are in river country. Small rivers head out of the mountains to the east and flow westward to the sea. The river water is diverted for farming and there are rice paddies and small fields of grain mixed with zebu grazing land. Then the rivers end and all there is for as far as you can see is zebu grazing land. The zebu carts in this area have wooden wheels like American covered wagons used. In Nosy Be, most of the carts are built on old car axles. It was interesting to see the difference between Nosy Be and villages on the road north on the mainland. Ankarana is up on a plateau, so this morning it was all downhill to Ambilobe, the only town of any size that we passed through. The poverty of the country is most visible as you travel like this. From our perspective it looks like the island people are much better off than those on the mainland. We loved our walking tours in Ankarana but enjoyed seeing the countryside just as much. And we are glad that we took the less expensive public transportation instead of more comfortable and more expensive alternatives. We feel like we saw more of what life if really life for the Malagasy this way.

Our hikes in Ankarana with Goulam have left us with wonderful memories. Just being with Goulam was very special. For the rest of our lives we will hear Goulam saying, “Nike–Just do it!” He would say this when I would hesitate to make a jump across a deep crevasse or when climbing in the tsingy formations. And as he hiked up hills or in difficult terrain, he would say, “Mora, mora. Slowly but surely.” And he was right. One step at a time we hiked though amazing countryside. And then he would say, “You are lucky today. I called ahead on the cell phone to talk to the lemurs and they are in their places.” More amazingly, however, are the times we would be driving down a dusty road and Goulam would make a quick stop and say, “Chameleon. There.” How he could see a chameleon, camouflaged by definition, while driving we don’t know. But we do feel like we had three lucky days thanks to Coolie for his travel arrangements and Goulam for giving us a graduate course in plants, animals, and geologic formations in Madagascar in those three short days. It was also interesting to stay in a traditional hut for that time. It gave us a glimpse of what life is like for villagers in Madagascar.