Monday, 5 September 2016

On to Manja and the Eclipse

September 1

We woke again to the marvellous sounds of the soft breeze and gentle ocean. At breakfast we were pleased to find home made yoghurt. I had been thinking about how much I missed yoghurt. I eat tons of it back home and had only had on our first morning in Antananarivo. And the bread was fresh and toasted. These might seem like little things, but we have had lots of stale bread and no yoghurt for our breakfasts.

We chatted a bit with Laurence about Madagascar and how she got here. She told us that she is a writer (in addition to running rustic lodges in remote places) and was looking for a change from the woods of Quebec. She is originally from France but had lived in Quebec for many years. Her publisher suggested Madagascar, said she would love the place. She does. She certainly runs a very nice little hotel.

We have been hearing about a partial solar eclipse that is to take place today. Apparently many  Malagasy are quite frightened. Laurence said that her staff wanted to take the day off so that they could stay together in their homes with their families. She told them they had to come to work since there were guests.

We said goodbye to our new friends, Przemek and Magda, paid our bill and collected a picnic lunch that had been made for us. It was time to hit the dusty trail.

We are headed to Manja. When I first started planning this trip, it called for a 12 hour drive to Morombe, with an optional stop in Manja. The stop was optional because there is only one very basic hotel and customers had complained. I decided that the hotel could not be as bad as a 12 hour drive. We will find out.

The first sign of the effects of the eclipse was when we stopped at the salt mining operation. A company brings in sea water, holds in pools, lets the water evaporate, and then collects the salt. There was no one working today. José suggested that it was due to the eclipse.

We did not see many other vehicles on the road. For the most part it was pedestrians and zebu carts. We stopped to photograph several baobabs along the way as we passed through the Kirindy Mitea National Park (not to be confused with Kirindy Forest Reserve which we visited a few days ago). A short while after, while driving through an innocuous looking irrigation ditch, we got stuck. Within moments there were three other tourist vehicles.

They, as is standard procedure, they stopped to help. You can see how the drivers look at for each other. We have had help with our flat tires. We followed another vehicle when they had problems. You knew that they would not leave until we were out.

Within moments the eclipse started. The French tourists pulled out their special sunglasses. The local women cowered under blankets. So there were four vehicles, about dozen or more tourists, their drivers, and a matching or better number of locals all there. The drivers were trying to get our vehicle pulled out. Everyone else seemed to be following the eclipse or hiding under a blanket, or like me taking photographs. I did borrow the glasses to have a look at the eclipse. Finally, after having a strap break a few times trying to get the vehicle to reverse out, it was hooked up to a vehicle in front and we were out. Off we went again.

Usually when we drive through a village there is the sound of all the children yelling “Waza, bon, bon”. Now the villages were quiet with everyone staying in their homes. But when I thought I could get a couple of photographs without the children looking for theirs, they came out of hiding in a hurry.

We ended our long, dusty, bouncy journey in the village of Manja. We pulled into town and it was hopping. There was a three day festival going on. There was a Ferris wheel, lots of vendors selling vegetables and agency types providing information on their services. And music, loud music. It was blasting.

We checked into the Kanto Hotel. The Entremer gave me thoughts of heaven. The Kanto gave me thoughts of the other place. The room was basic, but the worst was that it was in the front,  so steps away from the festival. Did I mention the loud music? We tried out the shower. There was no hot water, actually there was only a trickle coming from the tap. We took our cold sponge baths.

We had of course ordered our supper when we arrived. We went down to the restaurant, an awning covered patio. We first met with José to plan tomorrow’s get away. We are to have our breakfast at 6 and get going at 6:30. We want to make be one of the first three tourist vehicles so we can be on the first ferry crossing. Otherwise we will have to wait about 45 minutes.

We had ordered the zebu. It was actually very good. We have eaten more beef in two weeks than we do in months back home. I had banana flambé for dessert. It was neat to have the flambé there at the Kanto in Manja, and it tasted pretty good as well.

We went up to the room. There was a ceiling fan. It showed five speeds but all were the same, slow. I set the alarm for 5:30 knowing we had to pack and get down to breakfast at 6. We  stretched out on the top of the sheet and slept fitfully until the music ended at about 1 am. It was quiet until about 4 am when the rooster at the home behind the hotel began to crow. It turned out that our room had a window on the front and on the side. On the side was a residence with a rooster.

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