Archive for February, 2016

Madagascar: People and Countryside

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The straw hats on the first two people are typical Malagasy wear for men and women.

They are a proud and happy people, close to family and community and friendly to visitors, but they are desperately poor.  The need for food staples like rice and corn are forcing them to devastate the beautiful forests that are home to so many species of wildlife.  We traveled through many areas where we saw smoke rising from burning rain forest, even around the edges of protected National Parks.  In place of the trees were miles and miles of terraced rice paddies.

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The main highways are paved but narrow, side roads are dirt and the infrastructure in the National Parks has not been well maintained despite the fact that the visitor fees have just been increased.  It makes a visitor wonder where all that money is going because there are a lot of ecotourists and much wonderful wildlife to attract them.  If the Park Service doesn’t act, their inaction may well have a deleterious effect on that industry. Transportation is difficult as there are few buses.  We encountered many small vehicles such as Zebu drawn jitneys and bicycle pedicabs.  The few buses were astonishingly overcrowded.

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Our accommodations ranged from very nice to scary but the food was universally excellent, much of it influenced by the country’s history as a French colony.  We also were treated to delicious local Malagasy dishes.  Fresh vegetables were seen everywhere at roadside stands and markets, first quality to my gardener’s eye.  The roadside stands changed as we drove along country roads.  One area had water bottles filled with honey for half a mile, another bags of charcoal (another reason for destruction of the rain forest) a third had baskets and so on.

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A roadside bakery. Note that although there is a glass display case, there is no glass in the windows. We saw window glass only in the cities.  There are no chimneys either, even though cooking is done inside the house, mostly on wood or charcoal fired stoves.  It must be extremely smoky (as you can see by the door).

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I found two wonderful baskets in this group of roadside stands. I am now the envy of my fellow grocery shoppers with my reusable bags.

Near the coast most of the houses in the countryside were of mud an wattle construction but as we rode up into the highlands where the weather gets colder, they became more substantial two, even three story brick homes.  Brick making is a cottage industry with all the local red clay soil.  It looked as if someone decided he wanted to build a house and just made the bricks on site.  To fire the bricks, they stack the bricks in such a way as to leave an opening where they can light a fire inside the pile.  The fire burns quite hot, and voila, a stack of fired bricks.

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The people are remarkably ingenious in recycling.  We visited a craft market where a man was making little model bicycles from old brake cables, plastic tubing and empty aerosol cans.  He soldered them over a candle flame.  We saw them making tableware from old 55 gallon oil drums, the list goes on and includes many handcrafts such as paper making and embroidery .

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We began and ended in Madagascar’s capitol, Antananarivo (Tana) where the Jacaranda tree were in full bloom.  Madagascar is a wonderful place with so much to offer but in desperate need of outside help in the form of infrastructure, education, so many things, and you never hear about it.

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Going home…

 

 

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