Hi everyone. Let me begin this month by wishing you all a very happy Thanksgiving. We all have so much to be thankful for. May we spread this thankfulness, this gratefulness, daily - really moment to moment.
This Missive will wrap up my trip to Madagascar. I hope my writings have given you at least a little taste, a little flavor of what this amazing, diverse, and complex country is like.
After my adventure to the blue celestite mines of Majunga, the sisters and I returned for a one day stay in Tana before heading back out into the far-reaches of the country. Our brief time in Tana, however, wasn’t going to be a respite. Rather, Ita wanted to take me the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park a few hours outside of Tana to see Madagascar’s world-famous lemurs in the wild. I asked her if she was sure she wanted to make this drive, having just returned from two very long ones to and from Majunga. She responded, “Of course, you’re here, and I want you to see as much of my country as possible!” So the next morning Ita and I arose early and began the roughly four-hour drive to the Park.
She responded, “Of course, you’re here, and I want you to see as much of my country as possible!”
We drove for just over two hours, travelling through rolling hills, rice fields, and wooded areas until we reached a more mountainous, forested area. We were winding our way up the mountain when we suddenly came to a stop, behind what appeared to be a huge line of cars, pick-up trucks and semis, backed up along the curving highway. After about fifteen minutes of sitting, Ita was determined to find out what going on and started to walk along the road. I followed. After we turned one corner, we could see that down in the valley, at one sharp curve, a huge semi-truck had overturned and was blocking the entire road. Ita started to ask people if there was any estimate as to when the truck would be moved and the road opened. The answer was, “It’s been there for three days.” Ugh! “We have no idea when any type of crane can come and upright the truck to get it out of the way.” Ita was pissed. But this was so Madagascar. No infrastructure. No government help. Nothing. And this was a road to one of the main ports in the country. But no one, nothing had come out – for days!
...a huge semi-truck had overturned and was blocking the entire road...It’s been there for three days.” Ugh! But this was so Madagascar. No infrastructure. No government help. Nothing.
I was like, “It’s ok, let’s just turn back.” But Ita was like, “Nope, I’m gonna get around this and we’re going to see those lemurs.” After a bit more objection from me, she started to work our 4-wheel truck down the open side of the road toward the overturned semi. We made it to overturned truck and then, through a narrow muddy opening, actually got around the semi. I still can’t believe Ita did this. Unfortunately, this was not the end of the saga. We drove a bit more and then were stopped again. After some more questioning of people on road, we found out there was a second truck stuck further ahead and there was no way to get by this one. Geez! I said, “You’ve done more than was ever necessary. Let’s turn back.” This time Ita acquiesced, and we turned around and made our way back past the overturned semi, up the mountain, and then headed back toward Tana.
After about 15 minutes, however, Ita said, “Hey, there’s a lemur reserve on the way home where they rehabilitate injured lemurs, let’s go there.” I wasn’t about to say no as Ita wanted me to see lemurs so bad. We drove for another few hours and went to the lemur reserve. There were plenty of lemurs to see, and up quite close. They weren’t in the wild, but they were definitely worth seeing. Soooo cute! After that we did go home, had some Madagascar rum, a lovely dinner, and went off to sleep.
The next day, the three of us again woke up early, this time to take a plane, Mad Air (!), south to the city of Toliara (Tulear as the Malagays call it.) This city, on the southwest coast of Madagascar, was close to two places that the sisters said I could visit, but I had to choose one, we couldn’t go to both. We could either go to a sapphire mine which their bothers operated, or we could go to an area up the coast near to where the sisters owned some vacant land, and where they said there was a lovely beach and a great place to stay. As I don’t work with gem-quality sapphires, but do have a life-long love of beaches, having visited many all over the world, I chose the second option. And boy, did I make the right pick!
After a short, one-hour flight, we landed in Tulear and were picked up by the sisters’ brother. We hopped in his huge pick-up truck, dropped him off at his house and headed out to… I wasn’t sure where. We drove for an hour on a real highway and then turned off to a dirt road. After about thirty minutes, we then left the dirt road on to what I can best describe as some tire tracks meandering through the countryside and went four-wheeling! For about two hours! Up and down small rolling hills, over sand and through small villages, some of which were patrolled by people carrying rifles. I have no idea how Elka and Ita found wherever we were going in the first place, or how they ever get back there, as the tire tracks we followed sometimes split off into two paths, and at other times disappeared completely.
We hopped in his huge pick-up truck...and went four-wheeling! For about two hours!
But I guess they knew where we were headed as about ninety minutes in, we came to the shoreline of an amazingly beautiful beach, and thirty minutes later arrived at what I can definitely call a resort, the Five Senses Lodge. Wow, was it beautiful! How someone ever decided to build a place like this, so far out in the middle of nowhere, is beyond me. But there were people there besides us, and the place had been open for years. So it worked!
We stayed at Five Senses for three full days. The three of us went for long walks on the beach and saw incredible sunsets. One day Elka and I went out on a pontoon boat for a half-day sail. And for some meals we were able to meet the local fisherman coming in with their catch of the day and pick the fish, shellfish and even sea urchin we would have for our meal. It was all fabulous.
And for some meals we were able to meet the local fisherman coming in with their catch of the day and pick the fish...It was all fabulous.
But as with so much of Madagascar, this area had another side to it as well. Next to Five Senses was another lodging place, but a bit more rustic to say the least. It was nice, with a big communal area for gathering, talking and dining. But the rooms, well, they had no potable water or flushing toilets. You get the idea. Nonetheless, we had a great seafood meal with a couple from two different parts of the world, Spain and Israel. After the meal, Ita began to tell me about the owner of the establishment. She had lived in Paris, had a long career with Lancôme, and rose to a very high level in the company. After many years she felt she needed a change, so she quit her job, sold most everything she had, bought the rustic lodge and moved to Madagascar. But about a month before we arrived, she was robbed, at gunpoint. The bandits tied her up, took all her money and fled. Ita completed the story by saying that because of the incident, the owner had just sold the lodge and was moving to the nearby island of Mauritius in the coming weeks. In the same vein, even when I left my room at night to get closer to the WiFi tower at our more upscale resort, I saw there were men patrolling the property with rifles. So beauty and danger, luxury and uncertainty, both together, side by side. This was really a microcosm of Madagascar.
So beauty and danger, luxury and uncertainty, both together, side by side. This was really a microcosm of Madagascar.
We had a great time though, and nothing happened to us. It was truly a special place. Beautiful, fabulous fresh food, and lovely people. We did the two and a half-hour off road trip back, stayed one night just outside of Tulear, at some beachside cottages, and flew home the next day.
When we arrived, we went back to Ita’s house. An amazing meal awaited us, prepared by her house assistant. We started with some local rum, and then had a meal of zebu, fish, and duck. I especially liked the duck. The sisters noticed and asked me about it. I said I am very fond of duck, and this dish was fabulous. Elka responded, “Oh, that’s great, it was our mom’s duck.” I said, “NO!, I didn’t want to eat your mom’s duck.” (If you recall from my first Missive on Madagascar, the sisters’ mom lived on their street with them.) Elka said, “Don’t worry, that’s why we have the ducks. And you now know it was fresh!” All I could do was roll my eyes and keep on eating.
I am very fond of duck, and this dish was fabulous. Elka responded, “Oh, that’s great, it was our mom’s duck.” I said, “NO!, I didn’t want to eat your mom’s duck.”
This time upon our return to Tana, there was no “free” day between one trip and the next. The following morning Elka and I (but not Ita this time) headed off to Morondava, the city closest to where the famous Baobab Alley is located. Interestingly, while many Americans list going to the baobabs as their number one place to visit in Madagascar, Elka had never been there. In fact, she didn’t really want to go. It was near the time she had to make her company’s big shipment to the Tucson gem show for the following year, and she was nervous about leaving. But Ita convinced her to go, and Elka definitely wanted me to see the baobabs. So off we went, and I got to show her something new in her own country. When we arrived, we checked in to a very nice lodging establishment, had dinner and went to bed.
The next day, we were up early to go to Baobab Alley. As we were driving there, individual baobab trees began to appear on the side of the road. They were incredible, magnificent, huge. Somewhat surprisingly, there was virtually no one on the road to the Alley. Maybe it was too early for most people to be going there. But there were no people, no cars, just a random local bike rider here and there. After a short while, I asked our driver to pull over. I got out of the car and started walking, alone, along this deserted road, until I came upon one of these giants. I stood right next to the tree and looked skyward. The baobab seemed to stretch up, and up, and up, reaching for the heavens. It was an overwhelming experience. The width of the tree was mind-boggling too. My full wingspan, from middle finger to middle finger, with my arms stretched fully apart, couldn’t even come close to reaching from side to side across the tree. It was gigantic! I’ve been to the sequoias and they are amazing too. But these trees, while maybe not as tall, are far wider. They are thousands, yes thousands of years old. This is how they get to be so wide. They are truly amazing, a work of nature you cannot see anywhere else.
I asked our driver to pull over. I got out of the car and started walking, alone, along this deserted road, until I came upon one of these giants.
I was so enamored with the baobabs that I decided to go back again later in day, this time to see them at sunset. Along the way, we came across some children who were herding zebu and I got out and started taking some pictures with them. The children were excited I got out and we had fun together for a number of minutes.
We continued driving down the road to Baobab Alley, and with the oncoming dusk lighting, the trees were becoming more and more breathtaking. Then, to top it off, a nearly full moon that appeared as the sun went down. It was a truly magical moment for me.
Then, to top it off, a nearly full moon that appeared as the sun went down. It was a truly magical moment for me.
In between my two trips to the baobabs, Elka and I visited Kirindy National Park to see the lemurs in the wild that I had missed at Andasibe. And we did see them. There weren’t dozens or anything, but we saw a handful, and different types of lemurs too. We saw them sitting in, and leaping from tree to tree. It was cool for sure.
We would have left the next day as there was not much else to see and do around Morondava, but Mad Air only flies there three times a week, so we had to wait a day to catch the next plane. We took a tuk-tuk into the little town near our lodging place, walked out to a sandbar which the locals cross when the tide is out to do work and other daily tasks, ate great seafood, and read books. It was a nice, relaxing day – for both of us!
The next day we flew back to Tana. I had one last day there and just by chance the First Annual Madagascar Gem Show was opening right next to the sisters’ home, so Ita and I went to check it out. While it was in a large office building, it was actually quite a small show. But they did have some nice pieces, and I actually purchased one beautiful three-point quartz crystal. We also visited a couple of open-air markets and got some vegetables to go with what would be my final dinner in Madagascar.
We had our last meal together at Ita’s home, and of course some local rum. I slept great, and the next day began my 30+ hour journey back to Los Angeles via Paris.
In closing, this four-month series of Missives on my glorious trip to Madagascar, I want to say thank you. I thank you for not only allowing me to make this amazing journey through your patronage of Mystic Journey, but also in allowing me to relive the whole journey by sharing my experiences with you. Madagascar is a crazy, amazing place. It has wonderful people, and beautiful aspects of nature. I hope you all have enjoyed these Missives and that you get to experience many similar Mystic Journeys in your lifetime.