Saturday, June 4, 2011

Still Nervous in Tana

I talked to Guy and a German man over Tana Jacaranda's "American" breakfast of croissant, eggs, coffee, and a glob of condensed milk from a can, in the sunny common area right outside my large room. Both Guy and the German were in two of the simple-but-decent single rooms with the shared bath.

The German rattled on, advising us to to take various trains and canoes—he'd been on a small guided group trip and was about to switch to a second one. He was a walking encyclopedia of information about Madagascar—he even told us there was such a thing as a giant jumping rat on the west coast—and both Guy and I made poor showings in comparison. Guy had been studying for exams and hadn't even had time to get a guidebook or a camera storage card before leaving Cape Town, and I had an old Lonely Planet that I hadn't yet read.

But I knew one useless tidbit that I'd sorted out a week ago. While the tourist buses had gone out of business and information about independent travel was thin on the ground, there was a cool new tiny tourist train called the "La Micheline" that went twice a month to Andasibe. It was 90,000 ariary one-way—not geared towards independent or budget travelers. But it looked so cute in the photos, just a single car that seemed more like a white school bus on rails than a train. I'd tried to book a ticket online but the seats were sold out. But while trying to book the seat, and reading about the train's destination, I'd learned that Andasibe is a great center of lemur-viewing, with a two huge national parks chock-full of lemurs, a pleasant village, loads of hotels, and an NGO that offers guided tours of its own nature preserve.

And it's not that far away from Tana.

Guy was waiting on his guidebook to show up later in the week—he'd ordered one from Amazon—but he had nothing to do in the meantine. He agreed to go along with me via taxi brousse—which is French for whatever public transport is available—and for reasons unknown to me, he didn't change his mind after I dragged him up Tana's winding cobblestone street in front of the guesthouse, then down a huge hill on the wrong steep steps to a crowded local market full of cheap plastic junk, to the ATM that took my CIRRUS card and spat out wads of cash (I didn't think there would be an ATM at the park), and then made him wait on the right giant steps while I souvenir-shopped. And when we came across a shop called Robert Chocolate, which my friend Julie from woodworking class had recommended, I bought delicious chocolates and said he could share, but refused to give him any until we got back to the guesthouse. But still he agreed to accompany me to see lemurs.

But Guy was responsible for us going first into the women's beauty supply stores to search for a men's comb (the combs were expensive and the sellers were baffled by Guy's search for a cheap comb), then to the Madagascar religious revivial meeting. We'd heard the music all day as the amphitheater is right in front of Tana-Jacaranda. We didn't know what it was until we were inside among the crowd, and I'm still now entirely sure we knew what it was. But people were singing a lot, swaying and waving their arms, and there seemed to be some praying. Guy speaks no more French than I do, though his mother was a native French-speaker. From the context, we think it was a revival, but it could as easily have been a reunion or general celebration.

Neither of us could be bothered to go back out for dinner later. The guesthouse may be the best bargain in Tana, but it's a ten-minute walk to the restaurants, and darkness falls early in Tana. And we were still afraid of muggers, having be repeatedly warned about the dangers of going out after dark in Tana. The breakfast at the guesthouse was good, but the dinners were nothing special, and so I sulked, not really hungry enough to go to the effort of going out into the darkness alone but also not really pleased with myself for being chicken or not going out to see what there was to see in Tana.

I wasn't brave enough to wander up the hill in the dark alone.

Not yet.

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