Archive for the ‘2013 January to May – Madagascar’ Category

So my morning coffee was a strong cup of black tea which was a pleasant change. Puncture repaired , bike loaded and off I go. Goodbye Jerry at 1145 East Morris Lane!

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Cycle through Benson for a quick pit stop! 4 shot espresso from Safeway 🙂

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Onwards and downwards ! Will be descending from 3671 to 2589 feet above above sea level today with a slight tailwind 🙂

Back on the IH10:

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Great day cycling, stopping in Vail for lunch, arriving in Tuscon at 2pm. Just over 3 hours at just under
18mph. 54  miles complete and time for an ice cold beer!

Expenditure $13.04

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So, today was a day off, which I feel was much deserved. The last week I covered a fair few miles! (close to 400 miles)

Sat planning my next week cycle from Lafayette, LA to Austin, TX – another 400 miles. Progress and mileage are looking pretty impressive in comparison to my original schedule/planning.

Spent the weekend in Lafayette, which sits on the Vermillion River. The town retains a very French influence, which dates back to it’s beginnings in 1821 by Jean Mouton. Avenues rather than streets, patisseries and now the centre of Cajun country.

Catholic church and colonial period home

I had my first claw fish (crayfish for English readers) yesterday… The price here is unbelievable cheap compared to those in the UK, But that comes from living so near the Gulf of Mexico and all the rivers/tributaries that feed into it.

I discovered very soon there is no ‘clean’ way to eat Claw Fish, it’s a messy, finger licking, fun experience 🙂

Expenditure $3.00

Today I woke up sprawled out over 4 very comfortable sofa cushions on the floor, having had a remarkably good nights sleep, in my humble abode

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Coffee was mediocre at best, old grind wad used leaving my triple espresso insipid and virtually no creama. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t been a barista for 10 years. The large double chocolate muffin adequately making up for the disappointing coffee!

Spent morning I’m church, nice service, a fusion of traditional and contemporary. I’m not one for men in funny costumes if truth be known. Most the songs I knew and the message was part of a series – the seven deadly sins. Sermon was on point and useful, avoided typical teaching on lust with a slightly different, more interesting perspective.

Lunch at Pita Stop was the largest sandwich I could order, followed by cheesecake and a wander round town. ‘World of Beer’ ale house was a great place to watch the ball game and bar staff were suitable impressed by charity cycle they offered me a beet on the house. As I am not one for choosing I let the barmaid pick… They offer or 200 beers!

1. Downtown Brown

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2. Humboldt Brown

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Their versions of Newcastle Brown… Hmmmm nice try.

Was invited to watch Noah this afternoon, I was grateful for the thought, and will watch film with an open mind and not concentrate too much on its biblical accuracy. I wouldn’t trust Hollywood to produce anything of real historic or factual significance, glamourisation, big budgets and thread bear plots seem to be the status quo for them.

Spent sometime in the car park entertaining slightly lustful thoughts earlier..

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Hubba hubba

Noah was an average film that I score 5\10, may be 6, but generally underwhelmed to be honest. Fictional tale made from biblical story interesting, Noah emotional depth and anguish well done, twin girls clever, fallen angel in stone/watchers clever (although the ENTS on LOTR were better) and the another great role for Anthony Hopkins – I just want some berries

Expenditure $16.25

Penhaligon’s Friends

This is one of the charities I am cycling for.. a lovely group of people who work out of Redruth, Cornwall

When I was sat on the side of a road, whilst the taxi driver was filling up an over heated radiator with water, I looked out across the fields and saw farmers hard at work..

I observed what they were doing for a few minutes and it suddenly dawned on me I was watching a bible verse live in action (one I had never seen in real life before!)

The verse I was 1 Timothy 5:18

For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”

There they were, the farmers sending the ox round and round in circles on the recently harvested wheat, separating the seed from the stalks.

I love to keeping learning and seeing new things… It makes me feel young 😉

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Window seat with a view

Window seat with a view

My latest, rather uneventful, 48 hour VERY SLOW barge cruise from Mananjary to Manahoro via Nosy Varika, sat ontop a sack or rice! All rather relaxing EXCEPT for the NON-STOP, slow revving thuds of a chinese industrial diesel engine which were un-escapable.

The crew were a great bunch of Malagasy speaking lads (no english or french) who were hard working and polite, although communication was limited to what we could sketch in my note book and social interaction was based on them choosing music to listen to on my ‘magic’ western Samsung Galaxy Note that they were clearly VERY envious of

The Canal des Pangalanes are a collection of natural rivers and artificial lakes that stretch along the east coast of Madagascar for about 450 miles from Toamasina to Farafangana, of which it can be traversed by barge just north of Mananjary to Toamasina.

The scenery does not change a great deal from start to finish and is comparible to that of south east Asia. A procession boats of vary shaing shapes and sizes carrying bananas, timber and rice, fishermen as well as the ODD crazy back packer!

Along the banks are numerous villages, comprising of wood and straw huts, people drying fish in the sun, local coffee factories and fishermen mending their wooden pirogues (canoes) under the shade of the trees.

A trip that I am glad to have made, but not one I am planning to repeat anytime in the future…

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The Fianarantsoa-Côte Est (FCE) railway is a french colonial-built railway in southeast Madagascar that connects the high plateau city of Fianarantsoa to the port-city of Manakara. It is 163 kilometers long and was built by the French between 1926 and 1936 using the forced-labor program SMOTIG. The French used rails and ties taken from Germany as World War I reparations to build the line. Many of the railways still have the date of manufacturing on them dating back to 1893.

The train chugs and clatters along the antiquated line, (no longer really up to any ‘european’ standard) stopping at a total of 18 train stations enroute. The views were, needless to say, idyllic from the onset. The train winding it’s way down through gorges, skirting round the edges of mountains and perched high above the hazy green, mist covered rain forests below.

It is in fact one of the steepest railway lines in the world – apart from Ecuador and Burma. The line runs over 67 bridges and through 48 tunnels! My trip was 14 hours from Finarantsoa to Manakara although I think without break downs and delays it is scheduled to take 10. However from reading other travel blogs journeys of up to 20 hours running through the night are not unheard of!

So reading the Home Office website about the current status of travel in Madagascar, they state:

Still current at: 19 March 2013
Updated: 21 February 2013

Avoid all but essential travel – Avoid all travel to part(s) of country

This advice has been reviewed and reissued with an amendment to the Travel Summary (cyclone season). The overall level of the advice has not changed. The FCO advise against all but essential travel to Andohahela National Park and against all travel on road RN13 between Ambovombe and Ihosy.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all but essential travel to Andohahela National Park and against all travel on road RN13 between Ambovombe and Ihosy. Take great care and follow local advice if you are travelling in the south east of the country.

There has been continued political instability in Madagascar since January 2009. The situation in the centre of Antananarivo is potentially volatile.

There is widespread crime in Madagascar. Take particular care on beaches where there have been attacks and robberies.

WELL from my experience last night I can add to the warning list:

Beware of sporadic shoot outs between gangs of criminals and the police in and around the orphanage… bullets are harmful to your health… keep you head down

Yes there was a public shoot out between ‘bad boys’ and the police after they were trying to steal something or other.

No animals or I was not hurt in the reporting of this event.

Happiness can be found in the mundane reality and savagery of the ups and downs of day-to-day living.

What others mistakenly may overlook, underestimate or just joke about can reveal more about personal faith and fortitude then many will comprehend in their comfortable lives

An example of this is a simple man, in a simple home with a 100 chickens.

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A hard working elderly man who has built a three room, single story shed/house, who is married, children and has innumerous grand children to his name. He believes in God and is thankful for what he has – not much in western terms but much more than some of his neighbours.

Situations often can arise that tests your faith and finances equally, for him it was his wife getting sick. Medication in Madagascar costs a great deal and is often beyond the reach of most Malagasy. If you get sick you suffer and rest, time hopefully lending a healing hand. Watching loved ones suffer must be intolerable and push my understanding of humanity and resolve to the limit.

Choosing a course of action for one member of your family can have huge implications for the rest of the family, everyday decisions and welfare for your loved ones.

Strangely though often things work out better than before when the proverbial dust settles…

The gentleman’s wife gets ill, rather than watch his wife suffer he pays for her treatment from the little wealth he has to his name. She recovers fully and all is well…. Not quite! In order to pay for his wife’s treatment he sells his ‘business’ – which is all the chickens he is rearing – to cover medical costs. The problem being that once the chickens have been sold, they do not repopulate, his income source has ‘flown the coop.’ Since he does not have any capital to restock, and getting credit is near impossible for such a small scale project, he then has to turn his hand to selling newspapers to passing folk. This is a huge step down and struggle to keep up with the meager financial needs of his family.

Well then there is a break through, while selling newspaper he strikes up a conversation with an ex pat who is working in the area in the developing fashion industry. He is affected by the plight and asks him to write down a proposal of how he could help, not expecting the gentleman to bother. However when they have a chance encounter again the gentleman is clutching (apologies for chicken reference) a piece of paper, rather messy and illegible in places, but nonetheless a business plan.

The ex pat is impressed at the man’s character and touched by his genuine need, a deal is struck to loan the required finance for 100 chickens (50 quid odd) which will see him up and running again. The gentleman skeptical of the generosity of the ex pat takes the promise of money with a pinch of salt and a HUGE feeling of excitement at the CHANCE he and his family could make up the lost ground prior to his wife’s illness.

The promised money arrives, the baby chickens are purchased and the family is overjoyed and invites the ex pat, his wife and friends over for a coffee.

Such a small gesture has changed the man’s life… his faith restored, his resolve strengthened and his future bright. It was a pleasure to meet 100 chicken man, I learnt a great deal from him, a lesson many (including myself) may of missed if I hadn’t had the time to meet him.

This is where I will be based for the next 3 months…