Today is crazy. We have no real schedule, but we’re leaving for the field tomorrow, so we have to organize our crap and buy our provisions. We each bought few kilos of rice and beans, and last night we split up all of our cans and such remaining from that blurry grocery run in Farafangana. We all bought peanuts too, and the air is thick with peanut oil as everyone “roasts” them in pots in the backyard. My lungs are coated.
Oh! Today the Journée Mondiale de l’Environnement celebrations continued with a legendary soccer game, in which a team of WWF folks (including Ryan and Charles – but no girls allowed) battled public service stars such as doctors and teachers. Almost everyone was barefoot or wearing kiranis (those jelly shoes that I may have mentioned earlier), with the exception of Dr. Dina, of course, who stood out with cleats and shin pads. Ryan earned mad respect from the village by scoring a huge goal. I think he is officially integrated.
We ordered dinner from Mme. Seing tonight… amazing! Peking duck and vegetables and rice and yum.
We left Vondrozo yesterday, way behind schedule, to bike the 30km to Ambohimana, where we were to leave our bikes and continue on foot to Tsaratanana. We struggled the whole way, since the road is ridiculous and the Explore program bikes are absolutely useless (ie. no brakes, perma-stuck between gears, Manora almost died, etc.). The route was beautiful though, and we got another chance to cross the bridge of death, this time on foot, with bicycles! Yikes.
We didn’t make it to Ambohimana though, as it was getting dark and the thought of brakelessly cycling in pitch darkness did not appeal to us after a day of sweating. We spent the night in Mahazoarivo, setting up our tents in the very centre of the village square! So weird. We ate rice and greens with the porters (weird because they gave us a table and chairs, and they sat on the floor) and called it a night.
Today my ass is beyond sore from the bike seat (note to WWF: I will not include this information in my official reports) and we have another 7km or so to bike to Ambohimana, which I’m really looking forward to, as you can imagine. Time to put away our little canvas tent. It looks like rain.
We made it to Tsaratanana, with several river crossings and muddy splashes to toughen us up along the way. This village is TINY, and they were totally spellbound watching us set up our tents – imagine, such technology! They cleared out a house for us and we sat down, which was totally welcome after all the moving we’ve been doing. Robson massaged Manora’s sprained ankle with some kind of grass that he boiled, and she grimaced through the whole thing. I hope it works, or that would be a weird and cruel sort of joke.
We chilled and ate the banana cake that we bought (after much debate with the woman selling it – she was a monster) along the way in Ambohimana, and Robson dealt with a live chicken that was given to us by the village. We discussed the vegetarian thing at dinner, and how I had kind of expected to eat meat while in Madagascar, especially in situations like this. It’s so wonderfully generous for them to give us these gifts, and I want to be a gracious guest, so I ate a few bits. Even Ryan ate some, actually. The experience was so surreal though. We sat in the hut, in the glow of candlelight, eating an animal that had been clucking in the corner a few hours earlier. It was sort of overwhelming; I felt so grateful for so many things. After dinner, we sat, drinking our ranomapongo (rice water) and listened to the singing coming from outside.
We couldn’t bear to stay inside though, so we ventured out into the silvery moonlight to watch the dozens of young people dancing between the houses. One boy played a drum (an overturned bucket) with spoons, while another blew a whistle and everyone else sang. They danced around in a circle and at certain points in the song, a group of girls would go into the centre to do this crazy move that looks like a seizure – they convulsed and their eyes rolled back in their heads. We sort of joined in for a few minutes, but we sort of realized that they weren’t doing it for us, they were just dancing because they enjoyed it. So we stood on the sidelines and had our minds blown. The milky way was unbelievably clear, and the moon was so bright that we didn’t need our lights at all. I totally had a moment that almost brought tears to my eyes. I can’t believe this is my life. (Note: I tried to upload a sound file of the music, but I’m slightly incompetent and couldn’t make it work. I’ll see what I can do.)
Zoning = hiking straight up dangerous landslides, falling when I get so tired that I’m light-headed, sweating buckets, Jamila accidentally swimming in rice paddies, getting really dirty, and several domatiky (leeches).
Camp = me almost passing out, puking directly outside the tent and not being able to eat dinner, sleeping, Manora puking, more leeches, dehydration, muscle twitches from electrolyte loss, diarrhea all around.
Awesome. I’m actually managing to eat a cookie right now, but it’s been a few days since I’ve eaten. I think it must have been something from water that wasn’t boiled all the way, or something. I feel like ass, but much better than I have been, though I can’t say the same for Manora. My body is still adamantly saying no to rice and beans, which means… I don’t eat. I can’t. Our campsite tonight is a weird abandoned hut on an island in the middle of a swamp..? People aren’t allowed to live in this zone anymore, so they had to just pack up and leave, I guess.
Let me explain zoning a little, though. I only did one day of it, but I was with Manora and Jamila, following Augustin around, occasionally reading GPS points and recording them when we marked the appropriate places in the forest. Ryan was with Robson, marking the line between the zones of rehabilitation and utilization. (Robson is a wily little guy and walks extremely fast, so only Ryan could handle it. We were alright with this.) Since we got sick, Manora and I just walk with the porters to the next campsite, which isn’t really much easier. It’s really important work, but Manora and I are just running to keep up and trying not to throw up, and it’s hard for me to be enthusiastic after such a long fast and so much desperate uphill scrambling. And the thorns, oh the thorns! I have never seen such asshole plants in all my life. They rip my skin and clothes, and the terrain is always steep incline or decline, so you really want to grab the plants to stop yourself from sliding all the way down, but they have self-defense in the form of sturdy little daggers.
But even in my dazed, cranky state, every once in a while we’d come over a ridge and I’d have to smile. It’s so beautiful.
Today we did the last 700m of zoning, which was really an hour trudge through a swamp. (Helloooo schistosomes!) At one point, Manora fell in up to her waist! But we were in high spirits, laughing as we squelched through the razorblade grass. The hike back to Tsaratanana was only about 5km as the crow flies, but it took us all day because of the ups and downs and twists and turns.
And, unfortunately, Manora took an awkward step and re-sprained her ankle. This time she was absolutely in tears, and I felt awful because we were, unavoidably, a 5km hike from the village. She got a walking stick (the Gandalf cracks ensued) and one of the porters, the son of a traditional healer, gave her another excruciating massage – this time lubricated with his saliva. She said that it was really effective, though, and made it back to the village with a smile on her face.
The four of us have been having a really great time together, although Manora and I have been borderline hermits since we fell ill, and Ryan and Jamila have had to discuss “panarchy” without my snide jokes and the smell of Manora’s Tiger Balm. In other news, Manora was at the river tonight, washing some clothes, and when it started to get dark, Augustin and the Coba president went to retrieve her – it’s far too dangerous beside the river at night, what with all the caymans and demons. I love this country.