Tonight I am confined to my hotel room in Tamatave, Madagascar's second largest town and the country's major port on the Indian Ocean. My new guide Jonathon pleaded with me, more accurately, ordered me not to go out after dark. It's not safe he explained, for a "va-zaah", a naive-looking white foreigner, to walk along the city streets. It is not difficult for me to heed his warning this time. As we rode along garbage-strewn streets, amid throngs of people, rickshaws, tuk-tuks and overloaded minibuses, through streets lined with wooden stalls, selling everything from hanging meat to bicycle tires, I didn't find the odors, the traffic, the massive amount of poverty, the ramshackle houses, the run-down and unfinished buildings, the nickel, cobalt or vanilla industrial section or anything else, for that matter, refreshing, positive or exotic. Perhaps I'm just feeling tired of being on the road and the rigor of being in the "third world." In any case, I welcomed the opportunity to stay in my room, catch up on sorting pictures, doing laundry and writing to you.
My internet connection shows only one bar, so uploading pictures of any large file size into blogger is futile. Therefore I am limited this evening to include small pictures, just a few close ups, which serve to tell something of Madagascar.
The first photo comes from an exciting nighttime boat trip I took from a lodge to a small tropical island where the government has introduced three pairs of highly endangered nocturnal lemurs known as aye-ayes. The guide spotted a pair and lured them down from higher branches with offerings of coconuts and corn for several of us to photograph. This is easier said than done. He shined his flashlight at them and I, completely inexperienced at how to use night settings and flash in a way not to spook a nervous, wiggly animal, shot away and managed to capture several decent pictures among the many black, blurry, out-of-focus attempts. The aye-aye is one of the weirdest mammals to be found. Even though it is, from a morphological standpoint considered a lemur, this hairy creature is related in behavior to the woodpecker. It has a long index finger that it taps into wood and bores out sweet pulp, insects, and juice.
The second photo is of a mushroom I saw along a trail yesterday in a coastal rainforest. It looks like mosquito-netting covering a vertical tootsie roll. I don't know its name and a cursory image search has yielded no success. For a moment I thought it wasn't real. and it had been placed by the lodge where I was staying as a gag to amuse the tourists. Then I realized that, like many other living things I had seen, it was simply another oddity endemic to Madagascar,
My third example shows the national symbol of Madagascar, the traveler's palm. In the past few days I have seen whole forests of these fan-looking trees waving at me. The shape of the tree creates a decorative greeting and appears on the currency, on many stamps, and on the tail of Air Madagascar planes. The fronds are used as coveted roofing material on many huts but, most important, the tree has been earned its name from the huge reservoir of water that collects in a pocket near the base, which is available to the thirsty traveler during the dry season.
Last I decided to share another bird photo to compliment a picture I had posted last time. This is a Madagascar Harrier Hawk and sat still long enough, unlike most of the smaller colorful birds here that flit about, for me to take his picture. Like the other raptors here, it preys on chameleons, lizards, small mouse lemurs and other birds.
It is now late and my mind is beginning to churn with memories associated with the above scenes and many countless others. I shut my eyes and before me is a kaleidoscope of colors and objects swirling together. It is quitting time for me. Tomorrow I begin my final week here. Oh my gosh!