There is not even an image I would like to show. Its the absence of beauty. Kind of. A matter of taste, I suppose. On our Madagascar journey, I fell in love. Very. And to keep the powers of the universe in balance, I also unintentionally fell in hate.
Our last days in Madagascar rushed through. It became a hurry. Things we so desperately wanted to do were not possible in this short amount of time. Once in the plane, I got a last glimpse of what has become my life for two month. Rainforest on the one side. Klara on the other side. However, the inconvenience this time was no nexus of typical comedy situations commented by a much more civilized and intelligent kind of narcissistic victim. The actual inconvenience goes a little deeper...
Berlin, 25th of June. Airport. Raindrops glue to my glasses and distort my view. I feel alienated. Everything here is in order, systematized, over regulated. There are aluminum signs that tell parents that its their own responsibility if their kids get hurt when playing on public green space. While we've been to Madagascar, my car in Berlin got towed off because they started construction work in a parking area and my car touched the blocked zone, although it has never been an obstacle to the workers. That will cost me 170 €. Thats more than you've got to pay if you steal sth. in a supermarket or if you dodge paying the fare. I wanted to meet a friend in an open-air pub, but since it was too full that day, a greasy security guard refused to let me in if I don't call my friend via cell to pick me up at the entrance. My cell was not yet activated and handing out my bag or passport was no option for the stupid security poser. I went to a supermarket to get some fruit and accidentally ended up standing next to a fifty something discount chaser who was highly indignant at my whispered realization, that those apples come from New Zealand instead from within our own country. She indirectly but loudly called me a hysteric eco-minded spendthrift and bought these apples in defiance, not in need.
Things that recently make me become emotional
Luxury problems, isn't it? Where does our luxury come from? Even the poorest in Europe can afford an Android cell phone that is faster and more practical than any military supercomputer 12 years ago. If we wouldn't stab our mines and monocultures into the remaining islands of purity and legally enslave or banish people, our 81 Mio. country Germany wouldn't be able to have 120 Mio. signed in cell phones. The numbers are growing. Europe recently bought the coastlines of Madagascar as fishing grounds and now we overfish an area, that was meant to feed the poorest and ship it all around the planet into our cities. People are starving now. Wanna know where most of that fish goes to? No, not onto your dishes. We throw it away! Its rubbish! Just because the minimum durability date is slightly over due in their supermarket graves. Thats a fact, dammit. Our "freedom" is build upon the shoulders of millions of people who don't even have electricity. Our luxury is a parasitical effect of overexploitation. And there is yet no significant intent noticeable that our system is about to react upon this awareness we all usually have.
I mean, whats going on here? Aren't we supposed to work together and make us trust each other? We call it civilization, don't we? But we let others - call them the "evil corporations" - do the criminal acts and after, we pay them for it! And then continue to call them evil. Reminds me a little bit of the behavior of a miffy princess.
It appears to me that too much regulation leads to laziness of moral and mind. And heart. And too much luxury simply leads to arrogance. And ignorance. If you look at all of that mathematically, you will come to the point that our free peoples are heading to a dead end within the next thirty years. This is simply math. No need to play the idealist here. Pride comes before a fall.
Gate to heavenA fairy tale
I went to Madagascar in order to find out, what we change to safe that country and its wonderful nature. Now I come back and all I can realize is that we need to change ourselves.
Get on the world's deck
Rocks are like ideas: they can lie in your way, help you getting over wild waters or just impress you by there massiveness. The Antringitra Massif has all of that plus a heap of surprises. If I would have gone alone here, how could I ever be able to enjoy the experience when thinking back and tell friends about it. Going with Klara was exactly the best thing to do, because she can not only compete an altitude change of 1000 meters in just one day and even learn Malagassy while we rest, she's also a great improvisor of songs and stories and love to make fun of herself. Of course, we'd never could have done all the way up without guides. Its all too easy to become lost there. So here we had two way different personalities, yet with the same ideas of life. Our guide Herailala, well English speaking, became a good friend and open minded teacher as well within a couple of hours. The other guide was 56 year old Elisabeth. In terms of personality, her age is crucial. She has known Antringitra for year. But she can hike all the 1500m altitude and even carry her water on her head as if she'd go for some simple shopping at the market. She was just as chewy as a the meat of a Madagassy chicken. Thus if I wasn't impressed and feeling small by the awesome landscape and mindblowing views, Elisabeth made me feel small and europeanly weak. Gladly we had some chicken with us. There's always one who is weaker than you...
And one of these chickens I carried all the way up to the camp at the feet of 2650m highest accessible mountain on Mada. The best way to keep chicken fresh was to keep it alive. I fed it as often as I could, before we killed it the morning of that day we hiked to a weird alien landscape of west Antringitra. Than at high noon, surrounded by the most magnificent plants as e.g. sunburn avoiding Aloe Vera cacti and dynamite grass Xerophita, we enjoyed fresh cooked rice with chicken while appreciating the greatest views. What did I learn about life here? Who - for real - needs McDonalds and chemical tainted food packed in colorful plastic foil?
We reached a camp that had to trot out lots of surprises. Except for the intensive dust in their fix dirty tents - we had to take one of these - the Mewa camp lies between two spectacular mountains and close to socalled Chameleon Peak. It looks like a chameleon, for sure, and its worth the hike up on its hat. However, at the time we finished the fifty something letters and postcards we promised to make for our supporters, a giant swarm of crickets invaded the area. The clouds of insects were not new to us. We've seen them from far away before and also walked through thousands of crickets that couldn't really fly because of the cold air in the mountains. But this time, the invasion was overwhelming and vital. There were moments when the sun was noticeable darkened.The sound advanced into a helicopter's landing, sizzling and droning. Yet children ran around in order to catch as many of the insects, cause if they eat the rice, than people have got to eat them. Fried cricket tastes a little like fish with peanuts.
All of the sudden, it was easy to understand which troubles the people here face once in a while. Cyclones, dry seasons, crickets, political crisis - the Madagassy are as chewy as their chicken or as our 56 year old guide Elisabeth. They are used to hard conditions, they can handle it, live with it and still smile, because their simplicity is the key. All they need to survive is a Zebu, a rice field and children. It has always been like that. Although it lead them into environmental troubles now after some hundred years of spreading and slash and burn agriculture.
The way back to beginning
Thanks to our guardian angel Klaus, we had managed to get our bikes into our final camp of choice. From there we started the last day of biking. After five days of hiking, biking is striking. Stone legs, body seizures, unbearable heat and an inviting spring close to the road caused mored troubles than expected. Seemingly, the water was not as clean as we were used to when being in the mountains. Digestion problems started soon. The sun knocked out Klara for half an hour. I felt like an old truck, unable to stop, but also unable to get up a hill. And there were many of these hills. Many many. We made 60 km, got us 1 1/2 meter of sugar cane for about 30 cents and reached Ambalavao, from where Klaus and Nicole picked us up to go to Tana within the following two days. But before, crazy Klara finished her official diploma in paragliding, driven by her love to nature and silence and freedom. How she managed to do that all withing that short amount of time? I fucking don't know. But I'm afraid I love her for that...
Sometimes I write fast. As mentioned before, we hardly have time to reflect and write and correct. The country is big as is our task. But sometimes, I've got some time to rewrite. A little. So for those of you who'd like to see more perfection, I hopefully was able to please you by correcting my previous logbook entries once in a while…
Creatures. Critters. Monsters. While Klara already published some pictures via Facebook, its my turn to describe. Damn, just look at the pictures!
The first day in Ranomafana National Park, my beloved Klara was all to exhausted to make a hike into creature wonderland. So, I got me some breakfast, armed myself with photo equipment and knife and went up to the park's entrance to get me a guide. All of the sudden, Klara stood right next to me. Neither she nor me can resist the vortex of nature's temptation.
Our guide Adrien, although missing at least twenty teeth, was able to give us an insight into the world of the rainforest in proper english. One could feel his admiration for the forest. And once he recognized that we are not the kind of usual lemur seeking tourists, his attempt to dig deeper helped us to find even more basic creatures, such as the neighborhood of termites and ants living in the same rotten tree stump. Once a termite steps over the invisible red line, a couple of ants grab her and bring her out of their house. I wonder how the swarm coordinates its decisions, how do they create their architecture, their bigger rooms for females, how they manage to enslave of other kinds of insect species, how they invented their methods of farming. At a certain moment of time and evolution, an idea must have come to them and everyone is welcome to give us a simple explaination...
While digging, we had this rare encounter with a ring-tailed red mongoose who curiously approached us in a range of one meter. Adrien whistled like a bird, constantly catching the mongoose's attention. Probably suspecting a Drongo here the mongoose understood quickly that Adrien was the source of the bird song. Clever enough to get the clue, the mongoose lost interest and left...
Of course, we saw some lemurs. Like many tourists do. As visitor of Ranomafana National Park you meet many tourists, even now when it was off season, once a lemur has been discovered by a guide, loads of tourists flood into the area, thirsty for watching wild life lemurs before these creatures might reach extinction in just a couple of years from now.
The next day, we made the eight hour hike, accompanied by Johannes who was chosen to be our water bearer. The only encounter that is worth to be told happened after we had passed some wild rivers. The same mongoose from that day before must have followed us for whatever reason. It tippytoed close to Johannes who enjoyed his lunch break and didn't even gain any emotion when noticing the little fellow. And while I felt that only the guide shared my admiration for this forest, I decided to make a hike on my own the next day. There might be more beautiful forests on Madagascar, but a forest - once breathing the silence of the trees - is a church for me and animal encounters are always a poetic psalm of thanksgiving. Call me pathetic, but I just love it.
One day later, we met Patricia Wright. She's the founder of Ranomafana National Park and Centre ValBio. She also discovered the critically endangered Golden Bamboo Lemure. Being a scientist was not enough for her to make efforts to protect lemurs from extinction. Starting as a pioneer of protection in Madagascar, she now is an icon of activism. She managed to finance the biggest conservation center in Madagascar, has recently built a battle-ship-like fortress of research in the heart of the rainforest from where she now organizes conservation, studies, education and research, such as genetics of lemurs and infectional diseases. Her mantra is to integrate the villagers around Ranomafana into the field work and conservation in order to make them understand the value of the remaining forest. Once being involved, youngsters want to become guides or researchers or part of the tourist industry instead of follow Madagassy traditions and slash-and-burn nature. Thus, its not agriculture or rice fields or the problematic cutting down of canopy trees that make their salary, but knowledge, solidarity and tourist money. When I asked her about the reason of financing and building such a western world fortress, Patricia said to me: "We can't continue like we did until now. However, the national park's borders still don't discourage people from continuing deforestation and exploitation. People need to know, that we are willing to fight back. We need to protect the forest before its gone completely." How right she seems to be. The genetic code of lemures contains loads of medical chances, so do hundreds of endemic species of plants. I admire Patricia's mentality. The stategy is simple: rich people do take Centre ValBio much more seriously now just because it now looks much more like money. Donations come more frequent and are much higher than ever. Therewith, more local people can be integrated and get jobs in field work such as lemur tracking, research, park protection, etc. Maybe a change of thinking finally evolves slowly in any part of human culture…
By the end of the week, we arrived in Ifanadiana, where we met Rebekah Caton, a peace corpse volunteer. While Johannes became constantly unsatisfied with the situation of traveling after our hotel of choice - although cheap and although meant to be the best in "town" - turned out to be an unfinished concrete chamber without running water, Klara and I started to admire Rebekah for her courage and her charisma. As a peace corps volunteer, Rebekah has been thrown into cold water. She had to live in a hut, couldn't even speak Malagassy, yet had to teach English in overfilled classes of children all ages. After a cyclone destroyed her house and the peace corps didn't help her on time, she got adopted by a lovely Madagassy family. They call her "daughter" and she identifies herself of being a sibling and child. Now, this young woman, at the age of twenty-four, speaks Malagassy fluently, knows nearly everyone in town by name, installed a library at the school and lives on 30 Cents a day without any complaining. She knows that she's got to go back to US soon. Rebekah now says that she has troubles to get the clue of strange western culture needs, what lead her to the assumption of falling into a deep depression after she returns home to North Dakota.
Klara stayed in Rebekah's house for one night. Rebekah has troubles to sleep since a creepy bird starts to cry every night in front of her house. It might be a sorceress bird, she told us. Her "landlord" is an old woman, suspected to be a witch, who never speaks a word to anyone. At night the bird's cry gave both Rebeka and Klara the heebie-jeebies. Klara was so enormously scared, that she was unable to turn on the camera. Days later we talked to a park guide who assumes the bird to be a mating cat or one of these weird frogs from the rainforest. Today, Rebekah seems to be still fine, yet the creature continues to drill its screams into her nightmares…
Johannes left. He couldn't stand traveling anymore. He was also afraid of an unpunctual train. Our plan was to get to Manakara, take the train up to Fianarantsoa and split afterwards. Johannes should have gone north. Our journey should have continued south. But Jo was sick of everything: bad hotels, all too simple food, cycling his lungs out when we had to get over a hill, lax or drunken Madagassy who disturb eating and relaxation, peaceful racism of stupid children and - the worst - no TV for watching the EM 2012. Suddenly, Klara and I were just the two of us. Again. Which isn't to bad at all...Makes things easier... By the way: you can even read parts of our journey on Johannes' travel blog!
No rainforest as far as one can see, yet a small rest of net connection, a necessety to organize a meeting with Klaus. (me here with Alpkit waterproof drybag that yet has neither a scratch nor a hole, although having been through any environment one can think of. The shorts are from Triple Two also.)
Second day of biking, after a very nice and easy ride to ugly village Iondro and sleeping in a shabby hotel whose keeper was an old woman with a chameleon face and chameleon eyes. No additional problems except for Klara's tireness because of that certain "bird" the night before. One morning later, we faced a very bizarre landscape the first half of that days 100km ride. Again, where was meant to be rainforest, only gras covered hills looking like golf courses hide red soil underneath.
Usual lunch (except for the tamron lens cap): Plat Malagassy - rice, water and pork rind with some bristles. At least the sauce is good, but if you are really hungry after four hours of biking, you start to like it...
We cycled directly into the little rain season. Wet as if having a bath in the sea we reached Hotel Vanille, where we met our guardian angel Klaus Konnerth again. This daredevil of a guide made a deal with hotel manager Patricia for us: If we make beautiful pictures of the hotel, we are allowed to stay and eat for free. This hotel in Manakara was as fancy as it can be, and so were it's bungalows at the beach. The food was awesome as well, the service was precise - imagine how it feels after days of sleeping beside rats and eating pork rind with bristles on it. In this mode of fascination, its not too hard to make good photos. We got everything for free and thank Patricia and her staff for wonderful hospitality.
Now, we are in Ambalavoa, back in the highlands. We've got less than two weeks left before our journey ends. Our plan is to make an exhausting five day hike through one of the most beautiful national parks on earth (of course my position is bound to be subjective). And honestly, since I feel like I've got all the obligatory stuff to do on my own and Klara just enjoys the fun parts, I was close to make that certain hike myself. But before we start in two days from now, I'll take the chance and finish the more than fifty postcards and letters - our "Thank-You-s" to all our supporters. Without you guys, all of what you can see here would not have been possible. With this in mind, I'm sending some love from Madagascar...