Saturday, August 18, 2007

Lemurs, shopping, a palace, and a dead rooster....

Could that really be a dead rooster strapped to the rack of that man’s bike??
Of course it is – I’m in Tana!

This was just one of the sights from an outing I took this week that by the time I realized what I was seeing, I wasn’t able to get my camera out in time to capture the moment……

Figuring I should seize the opportunity to explore this fascinating and bizarre city, I asked the hotel if they could get me an English speaking guide to take me around Tana. The person they usually use was away, so they had their taxi driver take me, assuring me his English was “pretty good”. Well, after a rocky start in English, we ended up speaking French which shows you in some miraculous way that my French was better than his English! My brain felt like mush when I got back to the hotel from having to concentrate so much, but it really was fun trying to communicate with him.

We started off at the Lemur Park about 22 kms from Tana which is a barrier-free park. The lemurs stay because they are well fed, and because one side of the park is bordered by a river (lemurs are afraid of water), so they stay away from it. The lemurs were amazing - 9 species (most endangered) are in the park, and all quite different in characteristics, breeding patterns etc. The white ones you see in the pictures were my favorite as they "walk" upright. If you look closely, you'll see one cradling a 3 week old baby. We had an English speaking guide and would you believe the other tourist with me was a young chap from Toronto who is teaching in Japan!

There were many other amazing sights along the way. I've attached a picture of what seems to essentially be "brick" farms. The Malagasy make these bricks on huge tracks of land and then carts pulled by oxen or men, and sometimes trucks, take the bricks to construction sites. In most areas, the earth is red clay which is why the brick buildings are also red – making for a colourful landscape.

I was also fascinated to see how laundry was dried by being laid out all over the hills and on the side of the roads. Makes me wonder if next week when I get my laundry sent out if my "old lady underwear" will be soaking up the sun for all to see! Many areas we came across resembled colorful patchwork quilts, but it is sad to think that the rainy season must add challenges to even the simplest of tasks for these poor people.

We then went to the artisan market (probably 50-60 stalls) where I did some bartering, which isn’t something I enjoy or am very good at. It was fairly overwhelming when we arrived as vendors swarmed the taxi so I asked the driver if he would come with me. Poor guy...being dragged from stall to stall but he was a good sport, willingly carried my bags, and probably helped me get better deals because I wasn’t on my own. I wish I had more room in my luggage because some of the woodwork and handicrafts were absolutely amazing!

Our last stop was to the Rova – a palace built in the 1800's. Much of it was destroyed in a fire in 1995 but they are working to restore it. Another building adjacent to it still houses artifacts rescued from the fire, and shows the power struggle between England and French in trying to claim Madagascar (the French eventually won until Madagascar received their independence more than 40 years ago) with each country bestowing royalty with elaborate gifts. I had an English speaking guide all to myself for over an hour and it was really informative.
The palace is located on the highest part of Tana and so the views were spectacular. The church you see in the foreground is where one of the Queens had thousands of slaves and Christians killed during her reign by having them thrown off the cliff – her painting in the museum depicts one very ugly and evil woman.

The guide showed me some beautiful carvings leading up to the palace depicting several scenes from Malagasy life. One of the more unique traditions is “Famadihana” which means “Turning of the Bones”. This is when families exhume their loved ones every few years, wrap them in new shrouds, then parade them around amidst feasts and drinking. Brings a whole new meaning to “digging up the past”, huh?

You can also see the picture of the stadium where Madagascar is currently hosting the Indian Ocean Games (with Seychelles, Mauritius, Reunion, Mayotte, Comoros, Madagascar participating). While I was taking the picture, Madagascar and Mayotte were playing soccer, and Madagascar scored. We heard the crowd roar with excitement, and then they started singing. It was incredible to hear the music and joy echo up the mountain.

So that was my fascinating day in Tana. I must say I enjoy the craziness of Tana over the serenity of Mauritius, and time is going much faster as I await Roger’s return next week.

I’m going to hire the driver again in a few days as there are a couple of other markets out there that I’ve read are interesting to see. After all, I am still in search of the elusive cow lips that I saw on the Amazing Race! Check back for updates!

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