Mbola tsara and happy Saturday, everyone! I hope you are all adapting well to the cold blast at home. I am unfortunately dealing with the opposite miserable weather conditions in Diego, 90 degrees with 90% humidity and what Weather.com calls an "Extreme UV Index" every single day. Almost 4 months in and I'm still not used to it!
This post is dedicated to showing you a little bit more of Madagascar, specifically my two trips South to Antananarivo/Andasibe and to Antananarivo/Fianarantsoa/Manakara. Let me start off by saying Madagascar is a HUGE country. A couple nights ago there was a 5.5 magnitude earthquake in the Highlands and our country coordinator reached out to make sure we were all OK. I was completely oblivious. Feeling a Highlands earthquake in Diego would be like feeling a Little Rock, AR earthquake in Minneapolis. Our YAGM program is unique because we are so spread across the island, my site being 700 miles from the next volunteer, so there is a ton of variety when it comes to what you can experience, see and find here! We have beautiful ocean beaches, desert, mountains, plains and even rainforests to see, and through these couple trips I was lucky enough to experience all of them!
In November, we all gathered for our first retreat in the capital city of Antananarivo, where our country coordinator Kirsten lives. Having a collective no previous experience cooking an enormous meal like Thanksgiving dinner, we were a tad daunted, but also very excited by the task. It took a day and a half of preparation and cooking, and we didn't eat until 9:30PM, but we were all completely thrilled with the results! We had a full spread: two turkeys (which thankfully we were not in charge of slaughtering), mashed potatoes, green beans, cooked carrots, stuffing, rolls and strawberry and pumpkin pies! The night ended with a showing of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving while we all slowly descended into turkey comas.
The day after Thanksgiving we all loaded up to head to our retreat location near Andasibe, Andasibe National Park. Retreat is a time designed to reflect and discuss our experiences at our host sites and our places in Madagascar as a whole. It's also a time to have complete cuteness meltdowns over the seven different kinds of lemurs we saw there. Our activities included a guided lemur spotting hike, taking part in a re-forrestation project and going on a night hike.
We returned to Tana the next week for the evening before heading back to our host communities, where we watched the Mamma Mia! sing-along and all geeked out over ABBA karaoke.
A month later, we all started to journey to meet each other in Manakara for New Year's Eve. For Emma and I who live in "flysite" communities (which is exactly what it sounds like, we're spoiled and get to fly home because of the distance and uncertain safety circumstances if we were to take a taxi-brusse) our trip started with a flight to Tana to meet up with our volunteer Jeniffer who lives in a suburb called Ambohibao near the airport and US Embassy. We spent the night at her apartment before getting on a taxi-brusse to head south the next morning. A taxi-brusse is a 15 seat passenger van used as public transportation, which somehow is actually made to hold closer to 25 passengers. Taxi-brusse rides are notorious for being long and uncomfortable, our trip from Antananarivo to our next overnight destination of Fianarantsoa being close to 12 hours through windy mountain roads.
We arrived in Fianar around 9PM that night where Erika and Kari, the two volunteers that live there, and Morghen, who lives in the Southwest in Toliara met us at the taxi-brusse station. Exhausted, we ate dinner and went to sleep soon after. We had a day to spend in Fianar before leaving for Manakara, so we hiked up and down the cities many hills and even went to a concert where we saw singers Wawa and Luyanna, who you should totally look up on Youtube right now.
The next morning was New Year's Eve and we climbed in the brusse to Manakara. Six hours later we were greeted by our final two volunteers, Ellen and Ben who live within couple hours of the city. After checking into our hotel--the Sidi hotel, which is pronounced "seedy," a running joke throughout the week--we headed to dinner and then out for some dancing and karaoke. The night wound down quickly after midnight, and we were all in bed by about 12:30. Unfortunately, our rooms had windows looking directly into the hotel's discotheque, meaning music was blaring until 6AM on January 1st and 2nd, also meaning no sleep was had.
The main attraction in Manakara is the beach, and we spent the next two days basically living there. The first at the main beach where the current is too dangerous to swim, so we waded and sat in the shade drinking out of coconuts (yes, this really is the dream). On the second, we went to the swimming beach with a sea wall and spent all morning and most of the afternoon hanging out in the water and laying on the beach. That evening the sun took everything out of me. Feeling sick, I went to bed early and slept through everyone's trip to Ellen's site the next morning. When I woke up, Jeniffer and I joined a Peace Corps volunteer for lunch at a pizza place and spent the rest of the afternoon using the hotel wifi and reading.
The next morning we all headed back to our communities, Emma, Jeniffer and I following the same Manakara to Fianar to Tana to home route. By last Saturday at nine, I was back in my bed in Diego, and I couldn't have been happier.
Madagascar's beauty is absolutely breath taking, and it's so much fun to be able to see such a huge portion of the country. But while the Highlands and South East are truly incredible, I'll admit I'm super biased and think the North is actually 100% where it's at.
It feels so unbelievably good to be home.