Monday, Nov. 17
Add these to the list of transport I’ve taken during the last five months: camion and pirogue.
Even though Ifaty, a beach town on the southeastern coast of Madagascar, is crawling with tourists, I was the only white face that climbed into the camion two afternoons ago. I’m not entirely sure what “camion” translates into in English, but at any rate it was a large truck, clearly not created to haul people, though it had been transformed to do so. The heavy, slow vehicle was the only transport other than tourists’ 4x4s that could arrive in Ifaty without getting stuck in the thick sand.
I had trouble communicating with my fellow passengers because most spoke no French, only Malagasy, so I debarked when I thought I had arrived. Turns out I was nearly a mile from the hotel strip, and a local offered — well, urged me to buy — a pirogue ride to my hotel.
I generally avoid boat transport — I figure if my bush taxi breaks down, I’m stuck on the side of the road, but if my boat breaks down, well, you know — but I needed someone to show me the way. Plus, the price he suggested, less than three bucks, was so good I didn’t bother negotiating.
The Indian ocean was perfectly blue, clear enough to see to the bottom in shallow parts. My backpack was tucked in securely, so I leaned back on the wooden structure, the full sail behind me, and watched Ifaty come into view. My arrival at the hotel, via the sea, would have been a grand entrance had anyone I knew witnessed it.
The place was beautiful but overrun by tourists, mostly old French ones, the men with young Malagasy women on their arms. I expected the resort to be separated a bit from the town, but the locals lived in the sand amongst the hotels, most in houses made of sticks and thatch, making their living braiding “vazaha” (white person) hair, pawning souvenirs and, as I eluded to earlier, selling themselves. Sex tourism seems to bring a lot of money to Madagascar.
Ifaty’s ambiance rubbed me the wrong way, but I enjoyed the two lazy days I spent there, mainly because of my company: Anna and Alexa, the two women I had met a few towns north, plus another pair of French women, Cecil and Celine, who I first encountered several days prior outside a national park.
With only one paved road heading south in Madagascar, any traveler is bound to see the same white faces again and again. I find this comforting, to arrive in a place where I know friends await me for dinner, or encounter a familiar face in the market, someone I stop to catch up with as though I were at home.
The group of us girls, plus some Malagasy guides we befriended, ended each night with at least one round of flavored rum, one of Madagascar’s signatures. The shots often are offered on the house after a meal in a nice retaurant, so even I, though I detest rum, always chose a flavor — Shall it be coconut? Mango? Cinnamon? — to add to the table’s selection, and we’d clink glasses, happy for another night on this island of a country. “Face a la mer!” we’d say each time. “Across from the ocean!”