As we continue our trip down country, today included a number of handicraft-related stops, including a few in the morning in Antsirabe, where we had spent the evening.
First up, we stopped at a crafters’ shop where they demonstrated the process for taking the horn of a zebu and transforming it into something decorative (a bird in the demo). This was one of the more impressive demonstrations we have seen, taking us from the raw horn through the heating process to make it malleable, to the final carving/whittling to provide the final form. After the demo, they of course had items prepared for sale. Naturally, we had to leave with some of those, especially after we saw the fine zebu dice they had.
After this demo, we did a bit of sightseeing around the city, including a look at the Catholic cathedral (one of the oldest in the country), the local Independence Avenue, and the colonial-era (and non-working) train station. Among other things, we had to get pics of the local human-pulled rickshaws, known as pousse-pousse. Antsirabe is considered the local capital for those.
We did two more demonstrations in town before heading out. Both were interesting but not as absorbing or polished (no pun intended) as the zebu horn one. First up, we stopped in at a crafters’ shop that polishes up and shapes local minerals and petrified wood into nice collectibles. After that, we stopped in at a workshop that does various forms of hand-embroidered fabrics, for things like table cloths, clothing and bags. In this latter case, it was interesting to discover that the design stencils were hand-drawn by an artist to be handed off to the embroidery team to be followed. In that sense,it appeared each item was one of a kind.
After that, we hit the road for another leg of our journey, stopping along the way for some nice pictures of the landscape and people. By lunch time, we’d gotten some good shots of fields, the local houses, a bridge that had been destroyed by locals during recent fighting, and women transplanting crops from a field.
For lunch, we stopped in the town of Ambositra. Of course, we had to attend another demonstration before they would let us eat (kidding). In this case, we got to see a demonstration of the local method of wood-carving, using woods of different colors inlaid to make some pretty impressive-looking items. They did many other kinds of fine wood-working as well, leading to an overwhelming shopping experience, as there was far more we wanted to buy than we possibly could bring home. It was particularly sad to leave behind the hand-carved Scrabble set. Sad face.
For lunch we went to a local hotel/restaurant, Hotel Les Artisans, where we had a fine Malagasy meal al fresco. In general, all Malagasy meals include rice and what is referred to as laoka (a term for whatever meat or veggie sauce is the center of the meal), usually accompanied by a cold diced tomato salad and often pickled vegetables. The meal here was quite tasty, including a tasters menu of laoka options. Far too much food, but good.
Before getting back in the Land Cruiser, we got some pictures from the grounds and of the city environs. It gave us a nice view of a decent-sized city from the inside. From there, we hit the road, got some more pictures, and checked ourselves into our evening accommodations, the Tsara Guest House, a friendly little place in the central city of Fianarantsoa. We had a quiet evening but enjoyed another fine Malagasy meal on their garden terrace under the full moon. Happy face. No wonder they named the place tsara, Malagasy for good.