A LOOK BACK AT MADAGASCAR – PART 5: FINALE


Traditional Malagasy fisherman prepare for their daily excursion © Emily Koopman

The better part of the day was spent on the road, some of which was not in ideal condition. We ended our journey in the driest part of Madagascar, crossing sandy soil and mangrove trees, somewhat similar to what you might expect in Florida. When we reached the small fishing village of Ifaty, we only continued a tad further to the outskirts, where our beach bungalow awaited us. We bid Andry farewell, as he had the long journey back to Tana ahead of him. This time alone. The coast was the hottest location we had visited during the whole of our trip. Albeit beautiful, there wasn’t an awful lot to do except wander the beach. Since we were right on the ocean, I found it appropriate to have some seafood for lunch. We sat out on the restaurant deck, with picturesque views of the Mozambique Channel, and waited for our food to arrive. I had ordered “shrimp” (pretty sure they were actually prawns), and to my surprise, when placed on the table in front of me, their lifeless beady eyes stared straight into my soul. I had been warned they were fresh, but I didn’t realize just how fresh. It was almost as if the seafood saw me. I felt increasingly guilty with every bite.

When we returned to the restaurant for dinner, I didn’t have seafood. Just before the meals arrived, I all of a sudden began to feel nauseous. We were treated to traditional Malagasy entertainment, and even offered the opportunity to participate in a dance; I had to politely decline, in fear of accidentally covering the person in front of me with vomit. Eventually, I excused myself from the table and scurried off to the bathroom — where I proceeded to be sick for nearly 5 minutes straight. Let me tell you, I felt incredible after (even with occasional diarrhea run from my flu).

We spent the following day relaxing and exploring the beach. I found a praying mantis crossing the stone walkway which connected the bungalows, and decided an impromptu photoshoot was the way to go. It seemed like he was posing for the camera, and may have been on Project Runway in a past life. I should also mention that the sand surrounding the path was always covered (and I mean covered) in tracks left by the many hermit crabs that inhabit the area.

On the beach, we were followed by a woman (who had made her presence known from below as we ate earlier), continuingly insisting we check out the items she had for sale. Since I’m terrible at saying no, we wandered over to some spread out blankets in the sand where two of her friends were also set up. They were adamant that something be purchased from each of them, and although it was somewhat irritating, I could empathize with their situation and really did need more souvenirs for people anyway.

On the morning of the 29th, we were picked up by a driver and taken to the small airport in Tuléar where we caught a short flight back to Tana. Upon arrival in the capital city, we were greeted by a friendly and familiar face – Andry! He took us back to our original hotel where I tracked and followed geckos late into the evening. Since we hadn’t been able to do the hike a couple days prior, the tour company offered to buy us dinner at the restaurant hotel which was awfully thoughtful of them. One of the waiters and I had a grand ole time discussing geckos as we watched them clamber the terrace walls, hiding behind a light in preparation for moths and other insects going kamikaze in said direction.

The two of us spent nearly the entire consecutive day preparing ourselves for the flight home. Fortunately, I was feeling much better, but Grandma was beginning to show signs of sickness. She decided we best walk down the hill to the nearest pharmacy to get some flu medication, so that we did. It was a nice walk — not too hot, not too cold — and it only took about 10 minutes each way. The hotel staff had advised us not to take our wallets or cameras, as there was a local market nearby where pickpocketing was rampant. So we just grabbed a few ariary (the local currency) and went on our way.

That night was melancholic, as I watched my last Malagasy sunset from our balcony. I wound up taking a power nap, knowing that we were being picked up at 10:30 pm to catch our flight back to Paris.

Andry brought his wife along for the ride, and the 4 of us drove through the humming city of Antananarivo for the last time. Outside, we said our goodbyes and promised to keep in touch. When we finally made it through security and into the waiting area, it was almost like being back in the rainforest in terms of humidity. It felt like time had stopped in the airport, and it was bizarre seeing such a large number of white people again. The amount of security checkpoints (after the original) was also surprising. I watched a lot of movies on that plane ride.

The rest of the story isn’t quite as interesting; we arrived back in Paris and took a shuttle to our nearby hotel. I conked out upon arrival, only to be awakened by my grandma for a food break. We ate at the neat music-themed restaurant in the lobby, and then we both went back to bed, as we had an early flight back home the next morning.

When I originally decided I wanted to visit Madagascar, I figured it would be a once in a lifetime thing, but looking back on it now, I refuse to let that be the case. Nearly every part of me longs to visit again. Whenever I reminisce about the experience, I can’t help but feel excited and ready for adventure; my single lament being catching the flu (which actually returned full force in back in Canada, leading to having bloodwork done to test for malaria; even though I had been taking anti-malarials the entire trip). I’ll be honest when I say it wasn’t altogether what I was expecting, layout-wise anyway, but there was something magical about it. Like many countries, it’s a place you have to experience for yourself to fully understand what I mean.

By Emily, on October 9th, 2017, under Travel // Comments Off on A LOOK BACK AT MADAGASCAR – PART 5: FINALE


A LOOK BACK AT MADAGASCAR – PART 2: THE ARRIVAL


Sunset over Antananarivo, Madagascar © Emily Koopman

Even though it was 11 hours of sitting, I was transfixed the whole plane ride. I got to see Switzerland, Italy, Egypt, and Ethiopia all lit up at night which was incredible. I figure I slept through all the other countries thanks to some melatonin. Oops.

On May 18th, we arrived in La Réunion. I was so gross and sweaty (again), that all I could think about during the entire 4-hour layover was having a shower. The airport was beautiful and had a huge jungle waterfall beside a staircase. There were also little birds everywhere, slipping and sliding on the floor. It was really cute. I would have loved to explore the island more, if time had allowed. As luck would have it, the airstrip was right on the beach, so we had a lovely view of the seemingly infinite Indian Ocean. It wasn’t long before we boarded a plane and were on our way to Madagascar’s capital city of Antananarivo. The aircraft was one that had originally left either China or Thailand (I can’t remember), so it was both huge and already carrying a number of people. It wasn’t a lengthy flight, and we arrived in Tana that afternoon.

Let me tell you that this was an airport experience like no other.

We jumped on a bus which took us to the main airport space. It was hectic, to say the least. We got our passports stamped, bought our 25 euro Visa, then handed our passports over to the police who took their sweet time checking them over. That took the longest, and they were calling names left and right. My grandma had to use the washroom, so I was standing there alone waiting for them to call either of our names. My palms were sweating as I realized that anyone could have snatched my passport, as we all stood shoulder to shoulder. During this time, I was being constantly accosted by men who wanted to help carry our baggage (if only they would have accepted emotional). They didn’t speak much English, but the word, “tips” was on repeat like your favourite One Direction song. It was all very overwhelming, especially when you’ve been going non-stop for the last 72 hours.

Eventually, we found our driver and he took us to a “legit” currency exchange booth. The “tips” guys followed us and kept an eye on our luggage (as did I), while our driver, Fetra, used the restroom. After our money was exchanged, Fetra took us to the car where we were once again approached and asked for money. This time, it was young boys, likely around 12 or 13. It was very sad, but not unexpected.

As Fetra drove us to our hotel, we passed rice fields upon rice fields, shops, and homes which all wreaked of poverty. For me, there was no culture shock, as I’ve seen so many documentaries, read so many books, and in general just knew what to expect. It was fascinating that the people seemed so content, even in their decaying homes. We always want to help, but from the outside looking in, I’m not sure they think they need it.

Fetra told us a ton of good information about Tana, and was a super nice guy. He explained that he wasn’t going to be with us throughout the trip, and we would be met by our guide the following day.

Once we arrived at the hotel, Fetra helped us check-in, and we said our goodbyes. Our room was clean, spacious, and honestly not at all what I had pictured. The views were incredible, and the balcony overlooked the city with the Queen’s Palace and mountains in the distance. That night, we had a delicious meal at the hotel restaurant — I ordered a Malagasy vegetable soup, and the best fresh guava juice I’ve ever had. The cherry on top was watching the sunset from our outside table, as we nibbled on a dessert made of whipped egg whites and vanilla custard (as suggested by our waitress, Theresia). It wasn’t long after that that we hit the hay. But let me tell you, nothing beats an African sunset.

The next day was Friday, and we surfaced at around 8:20 am. The breakfast included with our stay consisted of pastries, cereals, and an abundance of tropical fruit. We thought we were supposed to meet our guide for an orientation, but after live chatting with the people from our safari company, we realized that it wasn’t going to be until the next day. We were tempted to explore the surrounding area, but unfortunately, Tana isn’t the safest place, especially for foreign women. After some thought, we decided that we’d like to get to know the country a little better before attempting anything potentially risky, and opted for a day of recuperation in our hotel room. At dinner time, I had a club sandwich which was remarkably better than any of the ones I’ve had in North America. I think the Malagasy people know how to cook. The two of us had guava juice again, and the mosquitos had me.

By Emily, on October 6th, 2017, under Travel // Comments Off on A LOOK BACK AT MADAGASCAR – PART 2: THE ARRIVAL