Friday, August 18, 2017

Madagasikara - Day 04


After waking and freshening up, we found this laid out for us on a wooden table+bench right next to our tent. There were several other tourists around us--about 3-6 different groups--and they had breakfast in/near their tents or in their motorboats, but our guide and boatmen seemed to be so much more cooler spreading a treat out this way for us. We just felt so blessed!

Soon after we cleared the table, it was Lemur time! Scores of brown lemurs flocked the very table+bench where we ate a few minutes ago.

A guide from another group brought them fruits and fruit peels. Tourists are told not to feed them so that they do not get dependent on humans, but once in a while some locals indulge them. People used selfie sticks to take pictures of the lemurs from up close. Thankfully, they weren't as cheeky as monkeys and didn't grab anyone's camera. :)

We set off after drying our tents and cleaning up the site, with bright West views ahead of us and a brilliant sun behind. We crossed a few tourist motorboats that were coming back upstream after completing the river safari. Those complete the journey in half the time, but I guess they don't have as much fun as us because they camp for only one night on the river. I'm conflicted about this, because this way, our boatmen get paid well, but it's a LOT of physical effort for them.

We saw a lot of migratory birds in the trees where the terrain was hilly.

And then some gorgeous view like these...

A few minutes later, our boatmen spotted the house of an acquaintance who made oars, so they made a quick maneuver and docked the boat. They checked out a couple of oars and settled on one, which they would use immediately.

Later, we watched as locals went about their day--washing clothes, bathing, fishing, cooking...

This one in particular caught my eye... see how coolly she's swaddled her baby and tied it up on her back so she can go about her day? Amazing!

Further ahead, we saw a few boats docked near a group of huts/houses. Our guide mentioned that this was a popular spot for lunch, but we moved on...

Because he had better plans for us. He knew we liked calm, uncrowded places, so the boatmen stopped at a private spot next to someone's miniature farm. A bunch of kids surrounded us, but we gave them some eatables and then they left us alone. The meal, needless to say was amazing--they made pasta and a simple salad and we also had chilled juice from the cool box!

Post lunch we encountered large flocks of birds gathered on the banks and on trees and shrubs...

And some lone wolves, erm... birds, trees, men...

And some kids loafing about...

Until we got to the spot where we'd spend the night. For about a mile before this spot, we ran into really shallow waters. The boatmen asked us to walk along the sandy bank while they pushed the boat for a bit by hand until they reached deeper waters and took the long-winding route to our camping spot.

While the sun set beyond the west bank...

The moon appeared on the east...

While, we found a lone, dead tree branch some distance away as a cover to erm... cover our behinds while we relieved ourselves, the boatmen and the guide went about preparing our dinner. We asked for plain french fries, so they gave us exactly that. And then made a dessert out of banana, sugar, and wine! Man, those guys were resourceful!

The full moon that night was a beautiful synchronicity. It was just the 5 of us in two tents, with this heavenly orb watching over us.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Madagasikara - Day 03


Started with a wonderful breakfast in the airy, sunlit restaurant at around 9:30, and then headed off to the Tsiribihina river in our SUV. I made an attempt to drive for about 10 mins - yay! Didn't do more, because it would have slowed us down with me being careful and learning my way around the gears and pedals of the vehicle. The river entry was about 20 kms from the hotel. Our boatmen and their families rode with us into the village on the banks.

While waited for the boat to be brought, a bunch of kids surrounded us and demanded (very sweetly) that we give them something. We gave away a few biscuits and some empty bottles, which they use to carry water to school sometimes. To get into the boats in the middle of winter season, we have to climb down the bank and walk about a hundred feet. River safaris are not allowed during the monsoons, of course--the rivers turn into muddy monsters and the crocs are annoyed at the lack of visibility.

We saw a variety of boats cross us all through the morning. Other tourists, locals going up/down the river to different vilages/towns, fishermen going about their jobs, and some people ferrying grain via the river!

Our boatmen rowed for about an hour and a half before we took a break. We were at the front of the boat, our guide in the center, the boatmen rowing at the back, and all of our luggage interspersed.


We also saw people going about their chores, birds doing what they do, and reptiles chilling--until they saw us. One of the first sights as we began the safari was a baby croc (almost 2 mtrs, about 1-2 years of age) sunbathing at the edge of the water, not 20 feet away from us!

Our boatmen and guide found us a nice spot in the shade of tree, settled us in on a mat, and brought simple, but hot and yummy food to gorge on. They were heroes and angels all at once.

Then onwards, it got sunnier and hotter, but our boatmen went on for another four hours or so, while we could only hold on to our umbrellas! (Psst... I forgot to buy sunscreen even though it was second on our shopping list... the first being mosquito repellent cream.)

Post lunch we came across stunning landscapes, amazing shapes and colors of rock that formed the banks...

The trees were fantastic too. The sun was beating down on us, but the water made us (okay only me) feel calm and serene.

As the evening drew nearer, the colors seemed even deeper, enticing.

The river, in the middle of the winter was about a 100 mtrs wide. Imagine how swollen and angry it gets during the monsoons! I splashed about a it, because the water was so close... at the center, the edge of the boat was only about 4 inches above the water!
By the time we reached our destination for the night, the boatmen were tired and we all hurriedly unloaded our stuff let them get on to their next chores. The guide took us up the campsite to the base of a waterfall, which felt like a magical place. The water was crystal clear, and not too cold, so I promptly jumped in. The husband did too, but I was 'in the zone' and so didn't click any pictures of his--my poor, sweet fella. It was a moonlit night and I could capture this...

Soon after we got back from the waterfall and dried ourselves and changed, the guide got us dinner--another lovely meal. We went to sleep at about 10:00 or so, after chitchatting in the moonlight for a bit, in our tent, on a sandy slope. If it weren't for the mosquitoes, we'd have slept under the stars!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Madagasikara - Day 02


After just-enough sleep, I got up, showered, and went out to look around Cambre Du Voyageur in the daylight. There were about 8 teeny-tiny but comfy-neat-clean independent units with different layouts. The bathrooms were impeccable and adorable: a wash basin at the center, a shower area to the left, and toilet to the right, all at slightly different levels--easier to maintain. Wish I had pictures to show just how cute even those things were.

The variety of plants crammed into that little plot was impressive. There were a couple of people cleaning and tending to the gardens all through the morning.

The flowers were equally amazing: some dainty, some mimicking reptiles or insects, some very brightly colored, and they all seemed rather happy in their surroundings. Or maybe I was projecting! :P

Every nook had some lovely detail worked into it to make the place even more interesting. Vines, statues, mirrors, window locks, salt-and-pepper shakers with unusual shapes, and well-reused bullock-cart!

So, basically, we did just this for a couple of hours...

The restaurant also was so warm and welcoming, just like the people that ran the place. Every wall, every table, every corner had something that catches your eye.

We had a hot, satiating breakfast (not all of it is visible in this picture)...

This was the wonderful team of people who ran the place. Only the hostess (leftmost in the pic) would be out and about asking people what they need and serving it. The others were either in the kitchen or the garden or doing chores elsewhere. They obliged very sweetly when I invited them for a picture.

This place and the people were so delightful, I cried because I didn't want to leave... this hasn't happened to me in 25 years!!

Around 11:00 am, we checked out and went to the local market, to shop for the stuff that would sustain us for the next 2 days on the river. The two boys helped carry the loads of vegetables and grains back to our SUV. Love those grins!

Then, we fueled up, passed through town and headed west to Miandrivazo. We made a stop for lunch at some point, but didn't find anything that we could eat, so we binged on chips and other such things that we carried from the Antsirabe market. Our guide and driver had their usual zebu meat and rice meal, and while waiting for them, we sought refuge under a lone tree in a large open area where groups of kids played with abandon. It was quite hot outside, and we were warned to be careful about our stuff, so we didn't take out the camera for pictures.

On the way, we stopped to ogle at some locals who were collecting gold from a stream. It's a legit activity there

By 5:45 pm, we reached our destination, La Princesse Tsiribihina, where a kid name Prince, a cheeky chameleon, and lovely, sunkissed room welcomed us.

After watching a wonderful sunset, we went for swim in the pool, came back refreshed, and then had dinner in their spacious wooden-floored, completely wooden-furnished restaurant.

...and then it was time to make good use of that gorgeous bed.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Madagasikara - Day 01


The fun began at 10:05 pm on Sunday night, the 13th of August, when I called Meru to find out why I hadn't received the details of our cab even though it was only 10 mins before the ride was supposed to begin. The kind support agent very sweetly informed me that there was no cab available, even though I had booked it a day in advance!

After frantically trying Uber and Wings, we finally got a positive response from Ola. In the meantime, I made a spur-of-the-moment backup plan with my man-baby cousins to drive down in our car, which they would then drive back. Thankfully, it didn't come to that.

We started from home at 10:45 pm, picked up cash from the ATM on the way, stopped for the cab to a refuel before we got on to the expressway, and thence reached the Mumbai airport within 3 hours, making one ugly, last-minute detour because the driver didn't slow down as instructed before the exit to the airport. Still, we arrived at the planned time, and it was a relief for us as well as my parents back home who are always anxious about catching buses/trains/flights on time.

It was our first time at the international terminus and I loved the peacock feather motif that was woven all through airport. We got our checking bags plastic wrapped at 300 bucks a pop, just because we wanted to see how it worked and it helped because we also did not have secure locks for the zippers.

It was our first time at the international terminus and I loved the peacock feather motif that was woven all through airport. We got our checking bags plastic wrapped at 300 bucks a pop, just because we wanted to see how it worked and it helped because we also did not have secure locks for the zippers.

It being a silent terminal, we weren't bothered by the typical announcements at an airport. The queue-mates were either all very calm or the late hour made sure they were all subdued. The officials moved at a steady paced and we were in the boarding bay soon enough. We were on our feet for the most part of 3 hours before we could board the flight, but somehow I wasn't tired at all--maybe it was the excitement of our first trip abroad together, which we meticulously and smartly researched and planned.

The Etihad Airways flight, which partners with Air Seychelles, took off at 5:20 am and reached Mahé, the capital of Seychelles, at 8:15 am local time, an almost 4.5-hour flight. The first few sunrays bounced off the inner walls (I'm sure there's a name for that, but I'm not going to bother finding out right now) of the plane and got me all excited again instead of being tired. Pawan and I took different seats and spread ourselves comfortably, because quite a few seats were empty. We watched our own kinds of things on the in-flight screens and then shared our excitement at what we each found; mine was a documentary, Neurobiology/Psychology of Sports or some such and another one on Serena Williams--yeah, when I play no sport at all.

The Mahé airport was cute a button, almost literally--it might just be the smallest proper airport in the world. The runway was right on the seashore! I am tempted to make an exclusive trip to that place again, never mind the heat--I'll plan to go in the local winter season, of course. We didn't have to bear any of the heat on this trip, because our connecting flight was in less than a couple of hours, and we had to freshen up and grab a bite in the meanwhile. From here we got on to a proper Air Seychelles flight to Antananarivo (Tana) at 10:05 am, which lasted almost 2.25 hours.

Since the flight was only half-full, we got ourselves into different seats and stretched out. A proper hot breakfast was served, but I somehow ended up with a chicken patty of some sort. I happily ignored it an munched on the potato wedges and the other stuff. For was of no concern to me at the moment--I was high on excitement.
Antananarivo, or Tana, as the locals refer to it--thankfully, because that's a tongue twister of a name--has the airport next to a water body too. We reached at the scheduled time of arrival--11:50 am, and it took us only than an hour to get our immigration check and our on-arrival visas in hand.

The first thing I did after that was to buy a Telma (some combination of Téléphone+Madagasikara?) connection: A SIM card with a calling package worth 52000 Malagasy Ariary (MGA) per hour and a 1 GB internet pack worth MGA 25000 MGA, which was less than INR 1300. We took turns looking after the luggage while the other scouted the area for our tour guide and checked out the various counters to find out what other things we'd need. We did come across some officials who wanted to extract a bribe, or to set us up with a specific set of porters, or both, but we managed to evade them by pretending to not understand what they were saying. The phone connection was activated right away, and it helped us get in touch with the tour guide who came to our rescue. Next, we got some of our INR exchanged for MGA at one of the many government-operated exchange offices (nooks, more like) within the airport premises.

Our travel agent/manager, whose company is simply named Madagascar Tour Guide, was Andry, a guy about our age who I had spoken to a few times over the phone before we finished planned the whole trip earlier in July. He suggested that we exchange the bulk of our money with his friend, who would give us a better exchange rate than the national service provider/bank. We did the transaction right outside his bank, and parted with about half of the cash, which was his fees for the tour anyway. It was tad unsettling, because we were handling millions and I had to be extra careful not to drop a bundle here or there, the ace klutz that I am.
At the same spot, Andry introduced us to our driver, Johnny, and guide and savior for the trip, his cousin Rina. All of these, are, of course, shortened or taken names, their Malagasy names being longer and a tad difficult to pronounce. They also loaded sets of utensils and containers that we'd be taking along on our river safari. Then, it was time to begin the 4-hour long road trip to Antsirabe, a town about 130 kms south of Tana. Immediately outside Tana, we stopped for fuel, had a couple of excellent cappuccinos to keep us fresh, and were greeted by a lovely rainbow out of the blue (it was winter there)--almost like Madagaikara was welcoming us. Thrilling!

It was beautiful drive, and despite the lack of sleep, I didn't feel too tired. Pawan and I kept chattering away with Rina and each other, immensely enjoying the view. The roads were narrow but smooth, and we saw hills and rivers and plains and farmland and houses on either side all through our journey. There was patches of empty land or hills between the villages we crossed and they were all so calm and blissful despite the winter dryness.

Our first night was at the Chambre du Voyageur, a rustic-yet-modern, clean, ADORABLE little resort. We freshened up and went for dinner in their CUTE little restaurant. Miriam (I hope remember her name correctly), the hostess, even though she could manage very little English, was so courteous and kind and motherly and sweet. They didn't have many vegetarian options, so she made us a really simple but heavenly salad out of avocado, tomato, cheese, garnished with a little spring onion--I was so full of gratitude at the sight of it. She then served us a strawberry mousse, which was tiny but super yummy.
Back at the hotel room, we counted the money, sorted and stacked it into recognizable piles and assigned safekeeping+counting roles. Pawan is quite sane and dependable in these matters, bless him! I spent considerable time admiring the neatness of the room, and then we had a little walk around the premises in the moonlight before finally hitting the bed.

We'd been awake for 48 hours and traveling for 24 of those. It was every bit worth it!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

I could be here

I saw this picture on the internet today--on my jigsaw game portal, to be precise, which is why I can't give a link/credit to the actual picture--and it struck a chord.

This is what "right now" feels like to me. This is how/where I've been over the past few months. It feels like I could be sitting right there on that shore, looking at this view, and I'd feel exactly the same as I've been feeling these past months. It's melancholic and scary while being stunningly beautiful. That shade of blue just depicts how strong the forces of nature can be. They're the forces of death and of life, and words cannot do justice to the kind of feelings they invoke.

My emotional roller-coaster ride has lasted for a few months now. As on a real roller-coaster, I'm afraid not of death--in case the ride fails--but of the fear that I might vomit on someone or soil my pants--I'd never get in a ride with a skirt on--or end up disabled or in a vegetative state and not be able to be my fiercely independent self. I'm not scared of death but of not being able to live while still being alive.

(And, of course, Phoebe. Just... Phoebe. There's no logic to it. I just feel like I have to mention her. All thoughts seem incomplete without her in the background. She's just... around. My baby. My guardian angel. I love her.)

Friday, May 19, 2017

The void and the paranoid

Phoebe's the former since she left a Phoebe-shaped hole in our lives when she 'left' about a month ago. I'm the latter, because I'm always on edge and always on the lookout for things that might hurt our remaining pooch, Mojo.

The anti inflammatory medication that we are giving him has played havoc with his system. He seems to have lost all the strength that he had gained over the past few months. I'm only hoping and praying that the one thing that has been consistently well with him all this while--his appetite and digestion--continues to stay that way.

We can handle issues that are visible and tangible, but we're losing patience with the 'unknowns'; we've been dealing with way too many of them. We have, of course, expressed our concern to the vet, and have tapered the dose sooner with his agreement. I'm anxious to know whether it slows down the downward spiral he seems ​to be going into. Today evening--a day since we halved the frequency--it seemed like his continence was slightly better, and he was taking some weight on his left hind leg, which seemed weaker yesterday. When I asked about it, the vet said that the positive effects of the medication may take a couple months to become apparent. I hope the positive effects of stopping it are visible sooner.