Thursday, March 9, 2017

Antananarivo, Madagascar


For forty-eight hours Cyclone Enawo drenched and whiplashed Madagascar.  I was safely ensconced during the brunt of the storm in a solid, one hundred-year old wooden house converted into a lodge with five rooms for guests and a large dining room. The lodge also offered camping, so when I arrived early in the afternoon when the storm was still but a whisper I pitched my tent on a grassy patch that looked like it could absorb the rain and was shielded by a high hedge from the wind.  

I was looking forward to experiencing the storm in my tent as John Muir famously once experienced a storm in a tree, but a couple hours after I had set up my tent the proprietor of the lodge thought better of it and insisted I take a room.  I reluctantly agreed, thinking maybe that was a wise thing do, though even when the storm reached its full pitch around nine p.m. and then remained there for nearly twenty-four hours I was wishing I were out in my tent.  The rain lashing the roof was louder than it would have been on my tent.  The winds of the cyclone had been blunted by the time they reached the highlands, so weren't ruffling the trees with any severity or blowing debris.  Though a lot of rain fell, my camp spot never turned into a lake. It was all fully absorbed, so I would have easily survived.  The patter of rain on my tent would have been soothing compared to the clatter of it resounding on the roof.

While it rained all the next day I was in email communication with Juerg, fifty miles to the north.  He was at his home looking after his son, as school had been cancelled for the next two days. The storm was coming down from the north, so he could keep my appraised of its progress.  He wasn't reporting anything catastrophic.  It wasn't until nine a.m. the next day that he could finally announce the rain had stopped.  It had diminished to a light drizzle outside my window with only a slight bend to the trees, so I quickly packed and was on my way.  I had been prepared to spend another day reading, alternating between an ebook and the real thing--Balzac's "The Magic Skin" on my iPad and Steinbeck's "Travel's with Charley."

Both had a connection to my present circumstances.  The young man whose story Balzac recounts in this early novel of his from 1831 had contemplated suicide by jumping from a bridge into the Seine.  As he discusses his despair someone tells him he ought to go to Madagascar.  Of all the places he might suggest, Madagascar had to be one of the oddest, especially since it did not become a French colony until 1897.

Steinbeck doesn't mention Madagascar, but what he said of the redwoods could be said of the baobabs--"they are like no other trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time."  His biggest disappointment of the trip was that his dog Charley could not recognize them as trees they were so huge.  Since Charley watered every tree he came upon, Steinbeck thought he'd be overcome by delight by these giants.  When he didn't react, Steinbeck told him, "Look Charley.  It's the tree of all trees.  It's the end of the quest."

I first read the book over forty years ago and have long wanted to reread this seminal travel book that was Steinbeck's most read book. It recounts his three-month ten thousand-mile drive around the US in a camper in 1960 as he was approaching his sixtieth birthday.  It is a fairly light-hearted search for America.  Many of his observations could be made now.  He was concerned about growing obesity and the dying of small towns, but mostly he is impressed by the wholesome and kind nature of most of the people he encounters.  It was a most joyous adventure.  All remains true and could be said of my many bike rides around the country, and why I supplement my international travel with two or three jaunts a year in the US.  I am looking forward to a several day ride with Janina when I return.  It will be a prep for our ride around France this summer.  

The conditions weren't ideal when I resumed this ride with the rain still coming down, but at least heat wasn't a factor.  For the first time I was wearing my vest under my rain jacket.  It had been cool enough the day before that I wore long pants and a sweater for the first time since stepping off the plane.  Not only was the road wet, but there were patches of gas and oil to dodge along with the potholes.


There were occasional  spots where the water was close to road level, but nowhere was the road submerged.


The rivers though were swollen and the rice paddies drowning in water.


After two hours I broke through the rain belt and shortly thereafter started seeing dry patches of road and then the road eventually became dry in its entirety.  The sun was threatening to break through the clouds.  Though I never saw it, the sky began to reveal patches of blue.  This was almost unimaginable.  The wind was still holding me back and buffeting me about a bit.  The headwind I didn't mind, as I had appreciated it on the descents when the road was wet.  For once it was a friend, also clearing out the rain.  As I closed in on the capital, I was so happy not to be contending with a wet road or wet skies, I didn't object to it being the rush hour.  Traffic was at a crawl, going slower than me.  I was entering the city on the same road I had left it nearly a month ago, so had no need to stop other than for a snack or two, including potato chips sold by the cup dipped out of large burlap bags. 

I was less than five minutes from Juerg's apartment to the north of the city when I was hit by a final sprinkle.  It only meant that I had to wait until after dinner before I could set up my tent in his courtyard.  By then the sky had cleared and I had the moon illuminating me.

Juerg didn't have any rain totals, only that the rain had displaced some, who were now encamped at a nearby soccer stadium.  I now have three days to acquaint myself with this city of 1.4 million before I fly home on Monday.


1 comment:

Robert Kennedy said...

Glad you survived the storm, George, the strongest storm in 13 years, supposedly, where 5 people were killed and 10,000 have been left homeless, according to weather reports:
https://weather.com/storms/hurricane/news/tropical-cyclone-enawo-madagascar-impacts

That posted online video looks pretty serious.

Robert