Time To Leave: There were a few  plans that were waylaid by having to return to 'Tana for a passport and I prepared to leave but things weren't getting any easier.

Got up early and caught a minivan to Tana.  The road between the capital and the largest port is really a good one that winds through the steep hills and the ride was very comfortable and fast…at least for a while.  We saw hundreds of large trucks parked on the side.  There were huge numbers of cars backed up also.  A large truck had jackknifed on the road and halfway down the ravine.  It was held up by a cable attached to another truck and a large piece of logging equipment.  The busiest highway in the country was blocked without any police or official presence in sight.  What did the people do?  Did they riot or get upset?  Nope, they threw a party.  Some people had chairs and got them out.  Others prepared food, some played music and everyone socialized.  I didn’t see anyone get angry or impatient, they took it in stride.  You have to admire that.  We waited at least three hours but I can’t say for sure as I didn’t look at my watch.  It wouldn’t have been productive to look so why bother?  Finally, our minivan drove as far forward as it could and we got out and walked past the crash and got into a minivan from the same company on the other side of the crash that was going from Tana to Tomoasina (and the passengers from that van did the same).  The vans u-turned and everyone got to their destination.  Hey, it works.

Big ShopUnfortunately I got to Tana as it was getting dark and didn’t have time to look for a hotel and took what I could find.  They first showed me a cubby-hole that could only fit my backpack on my bed and had a curtain for a door; I passed and took another room.  The bathroom was so dark and dirty that I didn’t take a shower.  I’m not sure if the dark hid or exacerbated the dirt, but I wasn’t about to find out.  I sleep outdoors quite frequently and sometimes directly sleeping on the forest floor and have taken some really skuzzy showers but that day it was so much easier to stay dirty.  I put my head in my hands and thought, “Is it worth this to save $5!?”  Most times it is, some days not so much.  My resistance and strength was fraying and it was one of those days.  The next day I switched hotels and spent an extra $5.

 After that, it was time to go to the embassy and meeting the Malagash woman Sarah. I thanked her profusely for being so helpful.  Her modest response was that was her job and I said, “No.  You went far beyond the call of duty.”  She asked me if I need a new passport that afternoon for a flight (talk about efficiency) but I told her I was leaving in two days.  I got some photos taken and brought in my paperwork which I would pick  up the next day.  I was trying to do a few last things in Tana and truthfully, just pass the time as I was really, truly ready to leave. 

The next day I whiled away my time and met an Israeli woman and spent time with her.  There was a young kid who was really pestering us for money and wouldn’t stop.  I tired of this and raised my voice to him and that got rid of him very quickly.  She got angry with me and said that I couldn’t do that, my response was that yes I could and will.  With some of the really persistent ones, it’s the only thing that gets rid of them.  She wasn’t budging and neither was I and we came to an agreement.  She would handle the beggars and I agreed to do nothing whatsoever and that suited us both.  She would kneel down with the children and talk with them and explain why she couldn’t give them money but she could give them attention and compassion.  I admitted to her that I had a short fuse the last few days and was ok with her approach.  Sometimes she took a few minutes with them and I stood aside and let her work her magic.  It really was a good method that satisfied both of us and was civil to those who don’t have as much as us.

The following day was my last and I would catch the plane later in the day.  I went to the embassy to finish things up.  Malagash money is not convertible to external currencies and I needed money when I arrived in Egypt. Legally they couldn’t help me but put me in touch with someone who could.  He exchanged US$ at rate of no profit to him and asked if I needed more.  I said that I didn’t have anymore money.  He said, “I didn’t ask if you had more, but do you need more?”  I said, “Yes, I could probably use a little more to make sure I can don’t run short in Cairo until I can pick up my ATM card.”  He gave $20 and I asked for his address to pay him back and he refused saying, “When you can, pass the money on to someone who can use it.”  I related to him how strange I was feeling that he was giving me money and how harsh I could be with beggars.  He noted the irony but said, “The difference with you is that this small amount of money will take care of a one-time problem.  If you give money to a beggar, it just allows them to stay longer in Tana when a long term solution for them is to return their village where they could farm.”  He noted that most of the beggars were in this situation and had no long term possibilities in the capital.  He is probably right, but it still felt strange.

Sanni & TrineI saw Sanni and Trine in Tana and spent some time with them before going to airport. It was nice to see them again before leaving.  I kept in touch with them for a number of years.  Last I heard they got married and had a baby.  Such is the story of life.

In the afternoon I caught a taxi to the airport and halfway through the driver demanded a second fare for my backpack.  I told him, “Nope, not going to happen.  No money.” and he backed down.  I was perfectly willing to walk the ten km. to the airport if that is what it took.  At the airport I met a Kenyan woman and Italian man who had had visited the U.S. and remarked, “Everything is so efficient.  Too efficient.”  I would learn in the coming days that you can’t have too efficient.  The Air Madagascar flight had mechanical issues and was 3.5 hours late for a three-hour flight.  Meh, not much worse than a taxi-brousse.

I landed in Nairobi and the airline people said it was too late to take care of my ticket so instead I went about procuring some cardboard to sleep on.  Not much worse than some of the beds I had slept in as of late.

The following morning I started the process of getting my flights to Dubai and Cairo taken care of.  Emirates Air was taking over from Air Madagascar from this point on.  However, I found myself waiting and waiting.  Finally a woman from Air Madagascar, Rose, comes to me and says the Emirates main office told her it would be $600 for a ticket even though she told them I already paid for a ticket.  She looked as frustrated as myself.  Then a manager comes to me and says everything is being done that could be done.  It kind of went like this:

Them: We faxed your information in to Mr. Keumi.
Me: Did Mr. Keumi get the fax?
Them: I faxed it to him.
Me: Do you know if he got it?
Them: Well, he must have.  We faxed it to him.
Me: Is it possible Mr. Keumi has 100 faxes in his inbox or isn’t in the office?
Them: We faxed it to him.
Me: Can you call Mr. Keumi?
Them: That is impossible.
Me: Why?
Them: It’s impossible.
Me: You work for Emirates Air.  You're wearing an Emirates badge and you’re holding a phone.  You can call.  I have the number.  I’ll even dial it for you!
Them: It’s impossible.

That’s when I realized I was dealing with idiots.  I can live with third world inefficiency but not when paying first world prices on an airline that advertises “world class service.”  The day went on and on like this and they had no idea if the fax was received by anyone who could get the new ticket issued when it was supposed to be waiting for me when I arrived.

The only bright spot of the day was Rose.  She offered me money out of her pocket so I could make phone calls.  Emirates refused to let me in the lounge to get something to eat but Rose talked to Air Madagascar (who had no further responsibilities to me) and they said, “For goodness sakes, put him into the lounge.”  So at least I have a comfortable place to sit, something to eat and a place to sleep that isn’t a cardboard box.  But I have to say, I got very angry when I saw the Emirates flight to Nairobi take off without me and found out that the flight was booked solid for several weeks.

In Nairobi AirportI met a British military officer, Richard, in the lounge and he suggested calling my embassy and lends me his phone.  I talk to Leslie at the embassy late that night and she said she would take care of me and asked if I needed anything else, again very accommodating.  I can’t imagine the workers at an embassy of a large country taking care of someone in that way.  I had some more to eat and after midnight, fell asleep on a couch...just like most of the lounge staff.

The next morning Leslie raised a fuss with the airline and got through to Mr. Keumi who issued me a new ticket.  Only problem was finding a seat for me.  An airport official comes to talk to me and says, “You have a problem.” and he started to lecture me.  I replied, “No one is more aware of this problem than I and don’t lecture me.  Lecture Emirates.”  A few minutes before the flight boarded, there was a space open and I was on the plane!

I sat down and some guy asked me if he could switch seats so that he could sit with his friends.  I said “Sure.”  So I’m counting the rows, “41…42…43…” and see the seat in the last row was next to a gigantic woman; she had to be at least 140 kg.  I groaned and thought, “This is going to be a long flight.”  She was spilling over into my seat and as I forced the seat rest down her blubber went “Bloop!” as the seat rest snapped into place.  She looked at me with a look of “How dare you.”  I responded with look of, “Yeah, I did it.”  She was still occupying a lot of my seat space and I resigned myself to a miserable flight.  As the plane climbed, I noticed that people in the last two rows pulled out cigarettes.  I didn’t know why until the “No Smoking” sign turned off and they all lit up.  Turns out the airline had two more days before they were implementing non-smoking.  Emirates Air was getting crappier by the minute.  I went back to the guy who switched seats and said, “The fat woman I can deal with, but not the smoking.” And we switched seats. 

Upon landing, I talked with the airline about putting me up in a hotel room after what happened and they turned me down.  Never again will I fly with them.  They portray themselves as a world class airline and the national airline of a poor country outperforms them 10x.  Good on Air Madagascar.  And so ended my time in that island nation.

Madagascar was something of a mixed bag, definitely a good place to visit but tougher than most places.  I was tired in general and the transport can wear you down further.  While I liked most people there, there was a certain subset of their society that was annoying, although there were more Sarahs and Alberts than morons.  It seemed that the country kind of wore me down in general and there were times when I needed to take a break (and while taking that break, I was tossed back into the fire after being burglarized and had to deal with that fallout).  Hey, that’s part of travel.

The land was beautiful and the flora and fauna also a highlight.  There were so many good times gazing upon endless vistas through crystal-clear air in a gentle breeze in the most comfortable afternoons imaginable.  Aside from the eclipse, those recollections are among the most powerful of anything experienced there.

Madagascar is a place that I will not return to.  That’s not because it’s a bad place, rather my curiosity has been satisfied and the country is a destination where you have to intend to get to rather than just happen to get there while going somewhere else.  It’s pretty easy to happen upon Nepal while traveling in Asia but Madagascar is a remote island and it’s expensive to get there.  One can’t forget watching lemurs play in the trees and the total eclipse is something that will stay with me.  I don’t regret visiting and have many more good memories than bad.