I drove north in the back of a pickup truck, passing streets, faces, storefronts, and cracked sidewalks I will probably never see again in my life. My host family watched me go from the front of our pink house, my brother in the arms of my father.
I drove north crammed in the backseat of a van full of people and luggage. I alternated spooning my fellow student Thomas and a Malagasy university student. The city of vohemar greeted us with rice in a dimly lit back room of someone’s home, and we slept for five hours then left.
I drove north clutching my backpack on my lap, in a boat rocking for 7 hours. [Note: in this boat it was prohibited to bring straw, ginger, peanuts, pigs, or to be on your period. Quite a time it was.] Upon landing, I walked through low-tide marshes under the ropes of landlocked ships. For lunch, we told riddles and I had an incredible fried banana.
I drove north for the last time in a van, this time bigger than the first, and at last the landscape was new. The open grassy plains, Opuntia cactuses, and distant bay were reminiscent of home.
But I drove north to get to a forest.
Currently, and for the next two-ish weeks, I am doing an Independent Study Project with Missouri Botanical Gardens on the endemic endangered Delonix velutina in the Oronjia protected area, 30 minutes away from the gorgeous city of Diego Suarez.
I walked north on roads thick with red sand with my guide Wirah in search of the peeling orange bark and huge thick pods of Delonix. This forest is dry but deciduous, not quite a desert, but is still home to some famous Malagasy succulents. Pachypodium the size of palm trees pierce the top layer of canopy, a handful of ancient baobabs are sprinkled throughout the peninsula, and D. velutina cluster in groups spreading tiny leaves from their wide umbrella-tops.
The trunks of trees are always home to water. But in dry seasonal climates like this, they can swell to store it for the periods marked by drought and sun. Fascinated already by desert regions in the US, I drove north to seek out the small pieces of forest in the DIANA region that hold dry-weather adapted specialists. My project is on a member of the legume family, Delonix velutina, who’s body is swollen from the heavy water it carries. Its’ orange skin covers a bulging belly that overhangs feet rooted in the ground, gaining girth after each dry season. The fullness is addicting. For the next weeks I will be in search of the delicate babies of this giant which bear the small ovate leaves but with stems not yet swollen like their mothers.
I drove north, this time towards the Baie de Sakalava in the Oronjia forest: Wirah driving, me in tow. After a morning of research I was expecting to go home, but he had something he wanted to show me. A few winding white sand roads later and we came to stop humbly beneath the canopy of a 600 year-old giant. Adansonia madagascarensis is the Latin name given to baobab, (bozy in the local dialect), but I don’t think words do them justice. I drove north and I felt small, in a good way.