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Journey to Madagascar 2009 

October 10, 2009

Tana to Diego with the Bottomless Handbag

Today is the day to travel from Tana to our next destination, Diego Suarez (Antsiranana) in the north. We will spend three days in that region and then come back to the mother ship of the Hotel Colbert to restock and recharge before heading out again.

It’s actually a convenient schedule because I can leave my big suitcase in the Colbert and travel around with a little one, returning to the big one for supplies now and then. It’s also possible to leave behind laundry that magically reappears cleaned and pressed when we check in again. In between we wash our duds in the sink, a technique that works just fine because we all are wearing nylon gear from REI and such providers. The plus is that it dries fast. The minus is that you begin feeling as if you are spending the day in Saran wrap, to borrow words from Marybeth.

Jean and I have adjusted fully to the time change – something like 11 hours – between here and San Francisco. It’s great when the system is finally in sync with the environment and you wake up and go to sleep at the right times.

This morning, perhaps because I was missing the roosters who got things off to a start in Maroantsetra, I woke up at 6 AM wondering whether I could finally get the high speed internet connection to work in the room so that I could broadcast all of the blog entries and photos that had accumulated over several days. I suppose it’s one definition of obsession, and I plead guilty to having a case in full flower.

It was terrific to see the frisky MacBook light up enthusiastically with a high speed connection to the world. It was even more wonderful to see all the photos go off successfully. I guess I assume that some people out there actually are reading some of what that we are recording. Either way, we will have a great summary of this trip for the memory bank. I recommend blogging if only for that reason.

At the moment we all are on a fully packed Air Madagascar plane from Tana to Diego-Suarez. It started out being a non-stop and then was converted to a one-stop (Nosy Be) and then rearranged back into a non-stop. The flight attendant, when he saw our group clambering aboard, shouted out “California!!!” He was working on our flight yesterday and was delighted to see us back. I should see if Air Mad has a frequent flier program given all the time we are spending on it.

Tana is the only airport so far where we have encountered any serious attempt at security screening since leaving Paris. I believe I saw passport control being taken care of nicely by some people ahead of us with a deft transfer of bills from one hand to another. It’s an old technique and it does simplify things. Of course, I could be wrong. We also went through the usual X-ray inspection of our hand luggage. I won’t comment more on that experience. Vy continues to herd us with great skill. He takes the stress out of traveling, that’s for sure.

We drove to the airport this morning through the commercial section of the city which was teeming with shoppers and street vendors. You could pick up spare parts for the clutch of your car right next to a shop displaying bathroom sinks which was next to a butcher with his meat conveniently hanging over the street for easy inspection. It wasn’t chilled so there would be none of the bother of bringing it to room temperature before cooking. There was lots more stuff for sale by sidewalk vendors with their merchandise displayed on a tarp on the ground, sort of like the guys who sell “genuine” LV handbags and Rolex watches on street corners in New York.

Since it was Saturday, everyone was out shopping. The city was like one enormous street fair. It would have been fun to stroll around but if we had we would have been overwhelmed by young capitalists trying to sell us nearly everything they could carry and doing so with a persistence that marks them, with a little more formal preparation, as prime Wharton School material.

We passed a high rise building standing more or less alone in a field as we neared the airport. I had noted it last night when it was lighted up with some of the most remarkable combinations of neon tubes that anyone could imagine. It might have been a corporate display of what is possible with neon lighting technology. Vy mentioned that it was intended to be the newest and grandest hotel in town and was scheduled to be completed last spring in time for Tana to host the African leadership summit. The summit was canceled, at least in Tana, when last spring’s coup put a 34 year old president in charge (his picture is everywhere). This was disruptive to the order of things, of course. Presumably it’s a case of the lure of power. If so, it’s an old story.

On the other hand, the whole thing may have been a stroke of luck since there is no sign that the hotel would have been completed on time anyway. Meanwhile it flashes away in the night like a kind of electrified and never-ending fireworks display. I feel certain that its architect is not Renzo Piano. It’s just not his style.

Meanwhile, I am sitting on the plane next to a stylish Malagasy woman (Jean is across the aisle) who has spent the entire flight so far unpacking and repacking her enormous handbag, which itself contains several more sub-handbags, folders, and all matter of what not. It’s like one of those Russian nesting dolls. The challenge that sparked this paroxysm of packing and unpacking was the call to switch off her cell phone. Some time into the flight she finally located it, buried someplace in her bag which must have been designed by Escher so that no matter where you put your hand you keep getting to the same spot. It’s a good thing that cell phones don’t really interfere with the navigation system (or so I have been told). On the other hand, how would I know? I haven’t the vaguest idea where we are. Perhaps we are about to land in Kenya because her phone acted up!

The good news is that our hotel in Diego is run by the same people as the Colbert. It bodes well for the next two nights. Perhaps we will see my seat companion in the dining room tonight. I’d recognize her anywhere by her handbag.

Coda: We arrived in good order at Diego-Suarez and were soon in our hotel, which is quite comfortable. My seat companion’s cell phone caused no problems. The city has a population of about 150,000, 25% of whom are Muslim. Like Maronantsetra, it appears far less crowded and frenetic than Tana. I think I really like the provinces.

Filed under: Uncategorized — greg @ 12:07 pm

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The Chief Penguin


Greg Farrington

Greg Farrington, Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences, is visiting the island of Madagascar. He is joined by his wife, and Academy researchers, who are surveying and assessing this biodiversity hotspot.

Visit the Farringtons' personal blog, Madagascar Adventure, for in-depth details of this Academy expedition.

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