Friday, Nov. 28
Ankarana Special Reserve, Madagascar

I didn’t really want to stay at the hotel of bungalows next to the park office.

It wasn’t in my guidebook, and the guide at the office was pushing it hard, which I found suspicious; hotel touts are paid by hotels, which usually means the accomodation is badly in need of customers. And if it’s badly in need of customers, there’s probably a reason.

But it was raining — hard — and this was the closest place. The price, too, just five bucks, was probably the best I’d find.

So I agreed. The place was, as expected, bare-bones, with only a few guests, but perhaps more because the tourist season had ended than because of its mediocre quality. But when I sat down to dinner, the only client, I was glad I had come.

The meal was one of the best I’d had in Madagascar, possibly one of the best in my life.

It started with a tasty noodle and veggie soup, which surprised me since I had ordered crab. (There were only two choices: crab and fish.) I should have known by the price of the meal — it cost the same as my room — that it would consist of three courses.

Then the crab. Oh, the crab. I’ve only had crab a few times before, but I don’t remember it ever being that succulent and meat-filled. Of course, I’d never before eaten it after spending a night in the bus station and the entire day on a bush taxi, either. But wow, such beautiful, white meat.

I so enjoyed the crab that it wasn’t until I was halfway through eating it that I realized what was helping to make it so tasty: the shellfish was covered in a thick tomato sauce. I scooped some out of the dish and mixed it with a bit of the heaping pile of rice that had come alongside the crab, grateful, for once, that every single meal here — and I mean every one — is served with rice.

Tom holding a milipede!

Tom holding a milipede!

The third course was pineapple, a common desert here. By the time it arrived, I had given what remained of my crab to a group of four guests who had turned up at the hotel while I was chowing down. They had asked for what I was having, but the cook had no crab left.

I joined the group, two Peace Corps volunteers with two of their family members, for a hike in the park the next day, where we spotted several giant milipedes, many crowned lemurs and a scene of tsingy, sharp limestone formations that are a must-see in Madagascar. No leeches this time, but I was happy to exit the park mid-afternoon to escape the red flies that buzzed our heads incessantly.

The group offered me a ride north that afternoon, since we were all going in the same direction. But I had other plans. I would stay one more night at the hotel next to the park and depart in the morning, I had decided.

Why? I had already put in an order for dinner that night: another meal of crab.