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.