Today we packed up our stuff and joined Patrick and Tony for the beginning of our several days long trip down from Tana to eventually end up in the coastal towns on the southern end of the island.
As we began our trip, Patrick made a point of showing off the local handicraft in each region we passed. We stopped at several villages, each of which had 6-12 stands all lined up together along the road to offer purchasers many options. And each village seemed to specialize in one type of thing. We saw the stands with toy vehicles made out of recycled materials or brightly painted wood. Stands with woven baskets and containers. Stands with woven mobiles and animals. Stands filled with ceramic religious icons and animals (yes, you could purchase Jesus, Mary, a lion, duck or eagle).
The village selling religious iconography was one spot where we went a bit further behind the scenes, to meet the people of the village. One family even gave us a tour of their small home. Christy has some pictures of the outside of their homes to give you a sense of things but we opted not to take pictures inside their home, as that seemed too much an invasion of their privacy. The home itself was built of mud and this family occupied the upper of two floors. A quick ladder climb up gave us access to their three rooms, two bedrooms and a kitchen at the end. Seeing the inside of their home made the difference in our worlds starkly clear if nothing else did. We realized later in the day that it was possible we had more stuff with us on this trip than they had in their whole three rooms. Obviously, much of the stuff we see as vital is completely superfluous.
One of the things we started to realize in all of these stops was that the locals almost inevitably start laughing once they see us. In addition to the fact that we are just outsiders, it turns out that most people in Madagascar see Nathan and think "it's Jesus!" Apparently, Jerry Garcia and David Crosby aren't as readily known here but if you see a white guy with crazy long hair and a beard, Christ is the first name that comes to mind. We try not to take it personally, just smiling and playing along. No one seems to mind taking Jesus' money.;)
After spending the morning on the road, with occasional stops for shopping or picture-taking, we stopped in a small town (Ambatolampy) that is known for it's aluminum pots. We saw a forge where large (kettle-sized) aluminum pots are made using sand molds in a small smithy. In the course of a day, three men working together make about 20 pots - each man earning 25,000 Ariary/day (the equivalent of about $14.00). After observing the pot making, we took a stroll through town along the main road and then had lunch at the "Resturante de Pecheures." Nathan had zebu steak and Christy had "romazava," a traditional Malagasy stew dish of meat (in this case zebu) and cassava leaves. The food was good, though Christy found the romazava not to her taste as the cassava leaves are a bit too much like chard - not my favorite.
After lunch, we continued along RN 7 for another two hours through the highland countryside with many rice, carrot and other fields as well as brick making. We did also encounter a "cattle drive" with 100s of zebu coming from Ansirabe and on their way to market in Tana. The zebu were in several groups of 20-60, each group with several men and older boys on foot moving them along RN 7. The journey is about 170 km and takes them about four days to walk the cattle to market.
As we drove, Tony played some of his CD's - it was a nice mix of some Malagasy music and American music. As we drove through the Malagasy highlands we heard Nora Jones (Fly Away with Me), Shania Twain, and a CD of covers by a Malagasy woman which included some Bob Marley, Beatles, Simon and Garfunkle, and Erik Clapton tunes. One highlight of the car ride today - all four of us singing along to the cover of Marley's "One Love."
Once in Ansirabe, we checked in at Hotel Vatolahy, and had a couple hours to hang out and relax before dinner. We were amused to see some Malagasy children who were staying at the hotel pull out Monopoly and start setting it up - though when I came by later to take a picture of them playing it, they had already put it away as they were heading out with their parents.
We went to a late dinner with Patrick and Tony at a local Malagasy Restaurant and then turned in - still trying to catch up on sleep lost due to travel and time zone changes.