My last boat ride in Madagascar was full of water. Not an amount of water to be concerned about and not water seeping in from below, but water from breaking waves split and pushed by wind directly into our faces. The saltwater of oceans does not exactly match the salt of eyes, and mine stung red for the hour-long ride. Forgoing any attempt to stay dry, we were happy in our swimsuits from the morning of snorkeling, and laughed every time the water make it over the edges of the wooden boat. I remember the sting of my skin from a morning of wind and salt, the recently-applied face mask running down my cheeks as we sailed through the pass once utilized by the French to defend their holdings from the British. The waves sometimes felt 15 feet high, but we took them with gentle rocking. My Malagasy teacher Ertice was singing intermittently. The young children of my Academic Director were huddled under soaking jackets and fabrics. The feeling was exhaustion and euphoria and longing for solid ground.
In the 19th century, the Antakarana people of Northwestern Madagascar sought refuge in the massive eroded limestone formations that now lie within the Ankarana Reserve. With tribes of the Merina kingdom in pursuit, the Antakarana ran into what is called the tsingy, making homes in caves and crevices to wait out their adversaries. Covering the balls of their feet with the skin of moles, the people would run across the kilometers of sharp limestone on tip-toes. Mitsingytsingy, the Malagasy word meaning to tiptoe is the origin of the name of the rock formation that I got to walk partially across in my last week in the country. Famous now for its suspension bridge over a wide crevasse in the limestone, the ancient presence of the Antakarana could easily be missed if not listened for. I walked with my feet covered by the rubber soles of New Balance tennis shoes, and took photos at the end of the hike peering over the seemingly endless grey stones. Euphorbia, Adenia, and Delonix sprout from the dry shelves at sometimes impossible angles.
At Amber Mountain National park, I got to hold the weight of one of the smallest known reptiles in the world. Belonging to the genus Brookesia and found only in Madagascar, these small animals are commonly called leaf chameleons. With it sitting on the tip of my finger with the weight of an insect, I wondered how a reptile could get that small. Our tour guides took us through widely cleared paths surrounded by high-altitude rainforest full of trees covered in ferns and fog that crawled through the understory. I felt chilly for the first time in a while. Amber mountain is home to an ancient volcano that left a caldera lake, a sacred waterfall, and over 1000 species of plant. Just outside of the park, the oldest in Madagascar, is a monastery. Our group of rowdy students was hosted in their quiet halls, and were treated to incredible meals and stunning views of the north as we enjoyed our last days with each other.
Let’s go back to that boatride. We arrived back on shore, safe within the limits of the Diego Bay, and ran into the water. My facepaint completely gone, my skin still stinging, and the water warm and calm. It was Monday and hundreds of people from Ramena were at the beach with us, probably staring as a handful of giddy foreigners got off of a boat and ran back into the water, then piled into a tourbus full of sand and slept their way back to the city they would all fly home from.
Thank you for reading along with me, I know posts have been messy and sporadic. I hope they have been enjoyable for those out there who have followed along (shout out to mom and dad!).
To Madagascar, the people who I got to meet in it, and the landscapes it holds:
veloma, tsamintsara, misaotra, sy manaraka.