Monday, 29 August 2016

First Day on the Tsiribihina

The blog seems a bit more problematic than Facebook with updates on slow Internet. I will try put dates on these since the postings will come a few days late:

August 24

We were up early for breakfast as José and Johnny picked us up at 8. They were right on time (a recurring theme so far). We headed into town to the police station. That took only a couple of minutes, seems that the exercise is more to gather information on tourism rather than security.

We headed for the embarkation point, which took about an hour. The first part was on the main road, so not so bad, the next was very rough. We reached a point with several transport trucks and zebu carts. We had arrived. We were lucky in that it was a market day, so the launch point was full of transport boats. The main goods being off loaded were beans. There were piles of bags which were weighed and then put into zebu carts or trucks. There was a little market with food and drink. It was a great experience to see all the activity.

Agricultural products such as the beans, tobacco and corn are grown in villages along the river and then transported to Tsiribihina for transport to Antananarivo.

Our boat was moved to enable us to embark. We met our crew of four, the pilot, two helpers and the cook. Later when we went aground we found out why there needed to be so many. So with Johnny we had five people looking after the two of us.

We headed down the river. There were transport boats and pirogues everywhere. On the riverbank we saw the plots of rice, people catching crayfish, panning for gold, bathing and washing clothes. We started on the smaller river, Mahahilo, a tributary of the Tsiribihina. Not long after we met up with the Tsiribihina. At first the the landscape was flat, but we could see the mountains in the distance. Johnny told us that we would stop a waterfall in the mountains and have a chance for a swim.

The experience was totally overwhelming. The trip has been everything I had expected/hoped for and more. There is something about putting yourself into an environment where everything is different that is so intense, so rewarding.  Po and I had both experienced this in our younger days, especially when we first went Botswana as volunteers.

Although the river is quite wide, we spent much of the time going back and forth across it, looking for the channel. A few times we ran aground and everyone but the pilot and the cook (and us) had to jump in the river to push. This is the dry season and the river will be getting lower for several weeks to come.

There were fields of rice and corn along the river banks, anyplace that is a bit flat. Johnny said that tobacco is grown in some areas.

We were given lunch on the boat. It was tilapia. So I had to try my hand at the little fish with many bones. It was quite tasty, but I do not think I will learn to get all the meat, as I am too nervous to eat the fish with the bones and then spit them out.

The crew spotted our first crocodile. It was a small, but later we saw a very large one.

We came to the waterfall (Johnny wanted to to give the name – Anosiampela, which means-highland  of girl) in the afternoon. As we left the boat there was a group of what seems to be resident lemurs which Johnny identified as red fronted brown lemurs. The children were feeding them so it was easy to get some photographs. It was not quite the wild shot that I desired, but it was our first lemurs. Shortly after we saw our first chameleon.

The waterfall was a short, rocky walk from the boat. The bottom was quite slippery. Johnny sent us along the edge. We could reach the falls and get wet, but it was a bit frightening to get fully under the main part. There are some concessions to be made to age, and a fall is not a good idea. I actually took a second shot at getting back in, but decided to play it safe.

We went back down the trail to a lower pool. Johnny knew I wanted to swim, so he took my hand and led me into the pool. It was very slippery, so I decided to forget my pride and let him do that. I had a nice swim with Johnny and a couple of local boys.

On our way back to the boat Johnny spotted a sifaka high in a tree. We then had another visit with the resident lemurs (Johnny also wanted me to give the scientific name of fulvus rufus).

Shortly thereafter we passed the village of Sahambano on the left bank. We are to visit this village tomorrow morning. We pulled into the opposite bank. The staff quickly set up our sleeping quarters, a tent and a toilet tent. We did not expect that. It consists of a small tent with a box inside. The box has a toilet seat on top. We do our business and then cover everything with sand. If we had paid attention we would have suspected something since the toilet was riding on top of the pilot’s room the whole time.

We had seen people catching crayfish along the shore. A lady offered some for sale, so we will have them for lunch tomorrow.

We had our supper on the boat. Just like lunch, it was very good. Tonight we had zebu, great big steaks, cooked in a sauce.

While we were eating our supper a couple of local guys turned up. They were hoping we would hire them to perform some traditional music. Unfortunately there was  also a few young guys who had been hanging around since we were setting up camp. The entire time we were eating they were acting a bid rowdy. We were both tired, and when asked, we declined the traditional music, especially since traditional song and dance is already scheduled for the second night. One man sounded quite unhappy when told he would not perform. Johnny said he could not understand his dialect, so would not translate. It was easiest to just leave it at that.

As we headed to our tent on the beach we were dazzled by the night sky. The sky is so amazing when you can see the Milky Way.

We settled into our tent quite early, around 9. However, sleep was difficult as we were lucky enough that a re-burying of the bones ceremony was taking place. It is called Famadihana. The bones of the family member are exhumed and reburied. This is a very common tradition in Madagascar and usually happens during the dry season. According the Johnny, as part of the ceremony, which lasts about three days, there is one night where everyone stays up and makes music. So our luck was to listen to that music all night long. We could also hear the river boats chugging by. It seems that the boats go all night long, even on a moonless night.

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