A month later and yes, I'm still thinking about Madagascar. There was one week, following a 16-hour trek from Antananarivo, that we stayed in a little treehouse-like cabin in the coastal town of Manakara. No internet, no phone service, power only when it was dark out (and sometimes not even then, depending on how the generator was feeling that day).
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner was in a hut on the beach, walled in only on two sides. In great gusts the salt blew in and found its way everywhere, touching everything with the taste of the sea.
I wrote a lot in my journal that week (which, by the way, found its way back to me). It was good for my soul.
At night, tucked on my thin mattress draped with a mosquito net, I could hear the ocean ebb and flow and the palm trees rustle. When I couldn't sleep, I'd lie on the cold concrete of the balcony and lose myself in the night sky. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Without the blue tinge of a metropolis, it was black and velvety. The stars shimmered and stretched across the vast expanse, clear as could be, was the Milky Way. Listen, I thought I’d seen a night sky, but my definition of "night sky" was altered forever in Madagascar. I couldn’t stop staring at it. I’d walk at night with my head completely tilted up, pick out constellations and just look and look and look. It was truly one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in my short life.
Dusk on one of the last days. Because the beach faced southeast, there were no magnificent sunsets over the horizon, and instead a gradual fading to night.
When buying a coconut from one of these ladies, they take a machete and chop viciously away the top. Straws are optional.
Fishermen battle the waves every morning in these canoes, even on the choppiest waters.
Elijah looks in the cabin to see if the baby is awake.
Cozy treehouse bedroom. Light floods the room at dawn and it's especially snuggly when it rains (except for when water leaks in).
Krista walks Isaiah to sleep on the beach. A baby carrier isn't readily available, so I help her tie the baby to her back with a sarong, Liberian style.
Maybe the salty air makes me extra ravenous, but I could eat a whole loaf of the banana bread served at breakfast.
John explains how vanilla is grown and harvested. He's downsized his plantation in recent years, preferring to invest his energy into producing a high quality crop. In May he harvested his pods and in early August they're nearly finished drying.
In more ways than one, Madagascar was unexpected.
I touched down in Anantananarivo knowing only what I'd briefly glanced at in a Culture Gram the night before - which is to say, next to nothing. But then a two week roadtrip on windy mountain roads unfolded and I had a hard time believing my eyes. What a country. What a country. It is, without a doubt, the most amazing place I've ever visited. The landscape is curious mix of Africa, French countryside, and Colorado, plus a nod to China in the form of terraced rice fields. It was a funny feeling, knowing you're in the middle of Africa, yet every now and then having to remind yourself that you're not in Europe or in Colorado.
And despite the villages and fields nestled into the mountain range, something about the in-between space seemed so untouched, so pure. You'd look out over the land and it didn't seem to matter what year it was. (Though if you're ever considering making it your next travel stop, you should probably be warned that, at least from Anatananarivo to Manakara, there is hardly a straight road. Makes for a fun 16 hours!)
There was also the sudden realization that I spoke neither French nor Malagasy! It was an unexpected crash course in French that I failed to pass with flying colors. But despite the language barrier, the Malagasy people were so friendly and welcoming. I felt at home there, though the abundance of French food may have had something to do with that. Baguettes! Crepes! Butter! Cafe au lait! Croissants! Omelettes! Oh me oh my.
In time, there is more I'd like to share...perhaps when I get my journal back, which I accidentally left in a hotel room in the rainforest. Oops. But now it's getting to have an adventure all of its own: it traveled via courier back to Anatananarivo and should hopefully be making its way back to Nairobi soon. Fingers crossed.