Travel with OA: Zebu, Ambassadors and Healers
My magical adventures continued in Madagascar (for Part I, please see Indri
Alarm Clocks, Lychees, and Fresh Baguettes) for several more days. My travels were centered in and around the capital city of Antananarivo with overnight stay at a tiny picturesque French Colonial Inn called La Varangue. I also stayed in a very small thatched bungalow in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park at times. Although noone I encountered spoke ANY English (French and Malagasy are the only languages spoken here), I seldom had difficulty communicating my wants and needs.
The Inn has incredible French cuisine that was truly memorable - including the night I was served Mango Brulee for dessert with my name written all over the plate in chocolate! Daily breakfast included hot croissants and other French pastries, as well as freshly roasted coffee, cheeses, and juice from local fruits prepared as you wait. Branches from a large, heavily-laden lychee tree towered above the veranda, and the bright red fruit was often served for snacks and dessert.
In addition to seeing many unique, rare, and endangered animals and, of course photographing them, I had many other surprises. I met the US Ambassador to Madagascar and his wife, and was invited to a dinner at their home. After purchasing a uniquely carved traditional bamboo stringed musical instrument for some of my grandchildren, it occurred to me that noone in the family would know what the music should sound like. I mentioned to my guide that I wanted to buy a CD of this music, and my very-resourceful guide found a tiny music shop where they showed me four different discs. When I asked which was the best, I was introduced to the country's major artist who happened to be standing beside me!
As an OA patient with nine joint replacements (and an advocate of true African healers due to my prior experiences last year shortly before my total knee replacement), I was thrilled to discover that my guide's wife was not only a very sweet lady, but also a healer. Neither my guide nor his wife had prior knowledge of my balance problems - thank you OA - but when I met her, she immediately mentioned that I had a balance problem (no, I hadn't fallen into her lap) and suggested I wear the traditional African brass bracelet to help me. I will try almost anything if it might help, so I put it on. After the safari, when I returned to my hostel in Tanzania, I was met at the gate of our compound by the manager who immediately commented, "I see you are wearing an African chim to help your balance!" I don't know how he knew this (maybe because he's a native?) but this was somewhat of an affirmation! On my last night in this wonderful country, my two waiters told me to shut my eyes because they had a surprise for me. They quickly placed a traditional woven handmade fedora on my head - a special example of local handicrafts, but even more, an example of the love and caring I received from these wonderful people!
The people and the land in central Madagascar reminded me very much of Spain and the Andalusian region. The hills and mountains are quite steep and are dotted with tiny rural villages. The people are usually rice and/or zebu (like brahma bulls) farmers. Although the colorful patchwork of rice fields seems to appear everywhere, most of this rice is of very high quality, and therefore is exported to other countries. Very low quality rice is then imported as the mainstay of their diet.
Traditionally, rural Madagascar homes are tall and large since families used to have at least 15 children; today, however, people now have two to four children. Many houses are still thatched with clay walls. Little electricity or any other form of power is available, so few people have any kind of refrigeration and must walk steep, rocky dirt roads and paths to obtain any food they haven't grown. Many natives weave and hand-dye fabric for their own clothes as well as for sale. Because of the number of dense forests, charcoal production in families is a very common income source, as is the vast numbers of handmade brick. Parquetry is a common art form although all of the tiny pieces of wood must be cut entirely by hand - no power tools are available. The area I visited often has about six months of "rainy season" per year, beginning around the first of March. Incredible flowers and exotic wild orchids are in full blossom around Novemeber. The people I met appear to be quiet, happy, and very shy.
In spite of our initial concerns regarding the intense walking and "mountain climbing" due to my OA, this trip quickly became the ultimate highlight in many years of foreign travel. I saw and "experienced" rare and unique animals who don't live anywhere else in the world. I not only was able to photograph many rare lemurs, indri, insects, and reptiles, but I also ended up having a curious lemur on my shoulder for a brief period! I'd never seen this animal before, and don't think he'd ever seen a person before!
The walking and climbing was very tough for me. But the point is: I DID IT! Once again, it was a WATCH ME situation. I wasn't trying to prove anything to anyone, but I needed to try to do this just for me!
I refuse to let my diagnosis become a life sentence!