Friday, July 29, 2016

Tana to Fianar (or, in full, Antananarivo to Fianarantsoa).

Much has happened since we last wrote in the blog.  We have not really had much internet connection, or time to write, so I’m playing catch up tonight! Photos will be added to this when I have a better connection!

Soa Guesthouse at Antsirabe lived up to its “good” name – pun fully intended here, as Soa is the Malagasy word for good.  It was beautifully decorated, with pretty plantings outside and good food too!  We lay outside on the grass looking at the stars (one of Paul’s many enthusiasms in life).  Tonight’s (Friday’s) stars at Antsirabe were even more striking as we had a wider view of the sky.  Even as the sun was setting we were able to see, Venus, Jupiter, Mercury (Paul tells us we are in the top 1% of people in this day and age, who have seen Mercury with the naked eye) Saturn and Mars, plus the southern cross and more! 

Our bungalow on stilts, in the lake at Lac Hotel, Fianarantsoa is beautiful, and there are wonderful plants growing in the gardens here, along with lettuce, herbs and cute animals which will turn into dinner (makes one think of becoming vegetarian).

We had a wonderful day, taking a 3 hour drive as a detour off the main road – indeed off anything approaching a road for the last portion -  to visit a silk weaving village called Soatanana (“Good Village”).  The occasional stop was made to reassemble the wood bridges before driving over them!
On the way we stopped to see the tapia forests, where the Malagasy silkworms live out their life cycle.  The village protects the trees so that there is food for this native silkworm, which lives only on these trees.  We were shown the preparation of the cocoons, spinning with a drop spindle, winding the skeins via a home-made umbrella swift, and warping of the threads, before we entered one of the houses to see a woman weaving.  It was like good back in time to the Middle Ages, with space downstairs for the animals at night (and storage of her bicycle!) and one room upstairs with bed, cooking pots and weaving loom.  But this was not a re-enactment – it is real life.  The whole village of women and children had turned out to show us their wares, and threads.  They work as a collective and make a small charge to visitors to pay for the upkeep of the road and so on.   We tried to buy from each family, to be as fair as possible. 

Other highlights of the trip so far:

  •           finding a road-side stall and buying 16 packets of vegetable seeds for a hoped-for garden in Toliara, ready for Glen Tracy’s visit next February.  Now we need to find / make good soil.  Maybe Paul can teach Pierre how to turn the pig manure into good compost ready for Glen’s visit.
  •           buying a Malagasy phone and plan for 30 days for around $30.  We couldn’t have done this without the help of Maggie and Paul and their fluent French – let alone Paul’s cell phone knowledge from his days developing cell phones!
  •           having lunch in Antsirabe while watching the traditional dancers
  •           being thankful for electricity at home – such a privilege!  It was challenging getting washed, dressed and packed by small flashlight before dawn.  (The generator at Hotel Artisan is switched off between midnight and 6am.)
  •          seeing our first two lemurs of the trip on a small island just outside Paul & Maggie’s bungalow.
  •          discovering it was worth bringing silk long-johns to survive the chill of Ambositra, and that wearing a t-shirt, collared shirt and both fleeces to eat dinner may be undignified but makes the unheated restaurant much pleasanter!
  •          having fascinating conversations with several young people from the lycee (secondary school) near Lac Hotel.  They had heard us speaking in English and came to practice their language skills, which were very impressive (especially considering they had all only just finished first grade). 
  •          a small heater in the room at Lac Hotel, which has made writing this manageable.  It is luxurious after the last few cold nights.
  •          further gratitude for hot water, and a consistent supply of it.  Cries of “no, shower, no!” emanated from it this morning as the water turned cold part way through! Argh!

Quote of the trip (so far) from Paul:  “I am very interested in carrots”!  (He meant to say “stars”!)

Tomorrow (Saturday) we will visit Madagascar’s only tea plantation and see more ring-tailed lemurs (“maki”) as we travel on to Isalo.  Sunday we will worship at Holy Trinity (Trinite Masina) at Sakaraha church.  


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