Sunday, 28 September 2014

Madagascar diaries, part 2

Read the beginning of this story here.

Maybe I hadn't done my homework properly after all, or maybe I remembered Staffan's and my trip to Kruger Park and thought it would be the same, only better. Because we were going to sleep in tents in the rainforest and be there for whole ten days. So when the trip turned out to be something completely different from my expectations, was it my own fault? I thought I was going on a wildlife safari. When the trip description said: We will visit a gemstone factory, or We will stop for lunch in the town of This or That, the centre of wood carving, I knew that such visits were compulsory, and tour guides got commissions when tourists bought something. It was perfectly fine with me.

We bought or borrowed everything on the list the travel agent had sent us. We got our malaria pills. I trained hard, had trained hard the whole year. I was anxious that I wouldn't be as fit as other people in the group. I was anxious about the long flight. I wasn't at all anxious about my emotional well-being. Sometime before the trip, Anton expressed concerns about the ethics of travelling in a country of extreme poverty, and I replied, like we used to as we travelled with the children when they were small, that by coming there and spending our money we were hopefully contributing to their economy. It turned out to be more complicated than that.

But I am going ahead of myself again.

The travel agent offered to book flights for us, but the best he could find was a 48-hour flight with 16 hours stopover on Mauritius, and I couldn't bear the thought of it, so I booked myself, London to Paris and non-stop to Antananarivo, which I by that time learned to say without stuttering. It felt too famliar to say Tana, as we soon would do. However, the flight to Paris was at seven in the morning, and after considering many less attractive options, such as a limousin from Cambridge at four, we went for the easiest: booked a hotel at Heathrow, I came from Cambridge in the evening, Anton flew in from Stockholm. Since I am a poor flyer, I wanted an extra day to become human, so there we were, starting our adventure on what I called Day -1 in relation to Day 1 of our tour. 5:45 shuttle to terminal 4, painless check-in, nice coffee and croissant on the short flight to Paris, smooth change of planes, easy flight (reading, listening to music, lunch). Late arrival, which I was anxious about. Some confusion at the passport control because we had read that you could obtain visas on arrival, but it turned out that we didn't need visas at all, which, paradoxically, took longer time than if we had had visas, and the baggage took longer time still, and all the time I was anxious that we wouldn't be picked up and trying not to show it. I had firmly decided to be as brave as possible, not to make Anton regret that he had come with me. Actually, the wait was by no means worse than what I had experienced repeatedly in Russia. (I would make this reflection again and again: not much worse than in Russia).

As we came out, there was a man with a sign for Unique Madagascar, who took our luggage, shooed away boys offering their services, took us to a minivan and started, but suddenly remembered that there was somebody else he was supposed to meet. He parked again and disappeared, and it took a very, very long time, because our fellow traveller, Mike from Manchester, had lost his luggage.

Statistically, it seems, in a group of ten visitors in Madagascar, half lose their luggage and half get diarrhoea. It was very close to this in our group of seven.

Meanwhile, we were counting the hundreds of thousands in local currency that we received in exchange for a hundred euro and deciding how much was appropriate to tip the driver. It was 1:30am before we were at the hotel. In retrospect, it was lucky that we arrived in pitch darkness because the sight of the suburbs might have triggered my depression two days earlier. But at the moment, everything was fine, and we went to sleep.

To be continued.

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