Friday, April 26, 2013

Madagascar: Antananarivo

Antananarivo, or Tana, is the capital of Madagascar.  It is the largest city in Mada, with a population around a million and a half.  The city is built on twelve sacred hills, and its urban sprawl makes it seem like there should be more people living there.  With the obvious lack of sky scrapers, however, it's easy to see why the city is so large.  They build OUT not up.  We were in Tana for several nights, but only two full days.  Our first hotel ended up not being what we had paid for, so we decided to indulge ourselves and stay in a nicer place.  It turned out to be a great choice, and the new location boasted our own kitchen space.

We wandered around Tana the first day we were there and saw some of the sights.  The Queen's Palace is a huge tourist draw in Tana, but no one is allowed without a guide.  The site isn't well preserved, so the building is falling down in places.  The giant white edifice is beautiful to look at from afar, but we decided not to take the tour inside.

The second day we made our way to La Digue, a market on the outskirts of town where a LOT of tourist goods are sold.  We meandered around a bit and bought some vanilla.  In the afternoon we decided to go to Ambohamanga, a "palace" on one of the sacred hills outside of Tana.  It was pretty crazy.  I continuously referred to it as the "Mud Hut Palace," because that's kind of what it was.  A huge rock in front of the entrance is a place for sacrificing zebu, an act that had apparently happened just a couple days before our arrival in celebration of the Malagasy New Year.  The king that had originally lived there ruled until the 1780's and he literally lived in a one room hut with a mud floor.  His descendant, a queen, had a more magnificent building built by the French architect Jean Laborde right next to the "mud hut."  It consisted of four rooms, all beautifully decorated with French style furniture and tapestries.  For me, it was a strange thing to realize that at this same time, rulers in England lived in GIANT sprawling palaces, the French rulers were being executed for their opulence, and this little king was ruling Madagascar out of a one room hut.

I was wary of bringing out my camera (I had been told by several Malagasy people in Réunion to not use my camera in the capital), so I apologize for the quality of these images.  I took them using my iPhone, so they are a little grainy.

The Queen's House in Tana

The Mud Hut Palace.  The black building is the actual Palace

gate into the Mud Hut Palace

Queen's Palace

sacrificial stone

view of Palace complex 

This is where they keep the zebu in preparation for sacrifices 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Madagascar: Antsirabe

My friends and I left the sleepy village of Belo sur Mer and the towering Baobabs of Morondava behind and boarded a taxi brousse back to the interior of Mada.  Our next location was the pousse pousse capital of Madagascar: Antsirabe.  A pousse pousse is a cart pulled by animal, bike, or a person on foot, and Antsirabe is FULL of them.  While walking down the street, we were harassed every couple of steps by pousse pousse drivers, hoping to get some of our custom.  We met three "drivers" who were incredibly nice.  They offered to give us a tour of the city for 10,000 ariary (about five USD).  The tour turned out to be really incredible.  The drivers took us to the artisanal part of town, where several tourist goods are created.  Our first stop was at a paper making and silk creating place.  The man who runs it (and lives right next to the silk looms), showed us how he made decorative papers and other items.  He then showed us how he took raw silk to create beautiful scarves etc.  His paper products are sold as far away as Ohio and I couldn't help but purchase a photo album made by him to place all my polaroids from the trip in.  Our next stop was to an embroidery factory, where women sit in groups and embroider everything from table runners to napkins.  Their work was incredibly intricate and really beautiful.  We stopped at a place where miniatures are made out of recycled pop cans and other random pieces.  The miniatures created were pousse pousses, bikes, taxi brousses, and the ever popular Mada taxi (old Renaults).  The creativity was incredible, and it was only the thought of trying to bring something that fragile on a plane that stopped me from purchasing.  Our last stop was at a place that created things out of zebu horns.  Zebu horns are incredibly light and sort of fragile, so the process is pretty delicate.  Riding to the touristy things in a pousse pousse really showed me how hard these people work for so little money.  Pousse pousse drivers have to pay to rent their cart, or they have to pay to buy one. They can run the carts on their own, or they can join an association and pay a fee to be in one.  The association pousse pousses can charge a little more for their services, but they still have to have a certain number of customers a day to make ends meet.  It made me realize how easy so many of us have it.  Sure, I work barefoot, but I'm usually sitting in front of a computer when I'm not out taking photographs.  These people work barefoot because they can't afford shoes.

Our evening ended at a restaurant called Pousse Pousse.  The booths were the carts themselves, and it was really fantastic food.  The next day, our pousse pousse drivers from the day before picked us up at our hostel (Chez Billy, a really great place to stay), and took us to the gare routiere where they organized our trip back to Antananarivo without any fuss.  Anne-Marie donated her running shoes to her driver and it was great to see his face light up when she handed them to him.  Most drivers run all day barefoot, and I know the gift was greatly appreciated.  Antsirabe was an eye opener, but the city itself, an old Norwegian spa town, was really beautiful and a joy to be in.
Sorry for the awkward angle, I wanted to photograph this family without offending anyone.  They have their laundry all laid out after washing it in the lake, and they live in the blue-green vehicle in the background.  

Finished miniatures

creating a bike wheel 


A view over the lake in Antsirabe
The old Norwegian Spa
Making Paper
Paper decorating with fresh flowers
raw silk

silk being woven into a scarf
Pousse Pousse ride

View of a Pousse Pousse from Chez Billy

Making a spoon out of a zebu horn 

Zebu horns  

Monday, April 22, 2013

Madagascar: Belo sur Mer and Kirindy Metea National Park

Belo sur Mer is a three to four hour pirogue ride south of Morondava.  We arranged transport the day before as we had to leave Morondava super early.  The ocean can get kind of rough later in the day, so we left at sunrise.  The ride to Belo was absolutely beautiful.  The sun rose up over the beach as we motored our way further down the coast of Madagascar.

Belo is a very very small village.  It doesn't have any actual roads and is only accessible by boat in the wet season.  Our hut was literally on the beach, less than 100 feet from an ocean inlet.  The hut area was run by a family that had chickens, goats, and a turkey or two.  The goats liked to crawl under the porches of the huts and take naps in the shade.  Electricity was limited in the whole village.  People who wanted to have lights on at night had to have large generators that were solar paneled.  Our hut had one small light that didn't work very well.  We had come well prepared though in the form of headlamps.

Since the entire village was built on a beach and was sand, I went barefoot for three days.  It was beautiful if not a little hot.  Belo is an old boat building village, where they still build boats the same way they did several hundred years ago.  They soak the lumber and shape it.  As the wood dries, it stays in the shape they created with it.  It can take months or years to create one boat.  They also create pirogues by taking huge logs and digging them out, much like a dugout canoe.

We also went to Kirindy Metea, a national park and forest south of Belo.  The forest is untouchable.  The only people that have been in the forest are those that use it for research.  The general population isn't allowed.  We walked up to the top of a sand dune to look over the forest.  We spotted a couple more baobabs, some flamingos, and a hawk that seemed incredibly interested in us.  All in all, the trip to Belo and Kirindy was nice and extraordinarily quiet.  It was nice to have a relaxing couple of days before we prepared to move to another city in Madagascar.

Our pirogue

Our pirogue captain