By L.Y. Furman
Kenyan Air can get you from Nairobi to Antananarivo (practice saying this one ) in a mere three hours, at a cost of around $1,500. Which is what it will cost you to get from LA to Nairobi in the first place. It will also require you to dust off that French grammar book
(oops..forgot about the Babbel App ) Because unless you are hooked up with a veritable travel group, you will be at the mercy of the cultural, linguistic, and geographical twists and turns of this remarkable place.
Having trekked solo around Istanbul, Cairo, Toscana, Kenya yada, yada, I had no reservations about getting myself over to lemur-land. I could do this by the seat of my pants just as I’ve always travelled. You meet far more people than in a tour group.
It would take far more than this article allows to describe the Madagascar experience, but an attempt cannot go unheeded. If only for the survival of future independently-minded travellers.
Or maybe it all went wrong because I’m just older and stupider now.
Flying into Antananairvo gave sight to an island of green rolling hills. Little did I know that in an hour I would be captive in the back of a quasi-English-speaking taxi taking me thru an indescribable maze of hills , narrow streets, and press of humanity as we looked for my (yes, on-line-searched) B&B.
I was deposited on the steps of a turn of the century French maison obviously under remodeling. But Madame was willing to take my cash and stuff me into a safe and quiet corner of this charming domicile.
Madam then called in one of her neighbors who would take me out to lemur-land for a fee. I opted for public transport as in so many of my past travels. At breakfast the next day, a young Brit doing her doctorate thesis on the lemurs gave me a long and interesting insight into what I was soon to visit.
WRONG. WRONG. WRONG
Since I had no local currency en poche, I took off down the street with Madams directions to the nearest ATM in hands. Sounded so simple. The USA has ATMs on every corner, after all.
An hour of searching for this erstwhile nearby money machine resulted in futility. The streets so convoluted that the ancient Khan al Khalili market in Cairo suddenly looked like Brooklyn!
Returning to la maison with no currency, this humbled traveller collapsed thankfully on the re-found steps contemplating Plan B. Madam to the rescue, sending one of her maids (by local bus) to the public bus station (God knows how far away) to reserve a seat for me “demain”.
(that’s tomorrow in French, or kesho in Swahili)
Madam then booked a taxi to pick up and deliver said American to that bus, with clear instructions to take her to the ATM first. Ergo American lady drifted off into a confident, albeit very false dreamland.
To save space here, let it only be said that the following day, held captive in the back of the French-speaking taxi, having made stops at three ATM’s and one real bank, all left this lady bereft of an local currency. (Ariary? Stress is such a good amnesiac !)
It soon became painfully clear that this poor, long-suffering driver had NO way to be paid.
The sad, and rather criminal answer came as his fare emerged from the bank and saw that the wheel of his taxi had been clamped. Loud protests with the gendarmes ensued and the American saw there was nothing for it but to duck away unseen , murmuring acts of contrition under her breath.
The store owner having heard my saga made a few calls and then led me through (yet another maze) market , at the end of which, in the back room of a pharmacy a young man converted my Ksh for enough Aviara to at least get a bite to eat.
Finding the rare hotel that would take my Visa granted me a place to sleep until I could bond with Kenya Air in the morning. It would cost me an extra $200 for not enjoying the island longer than 48 hours. Mon Dieu!
On the plane, a businessman -seat-mate shared “Oh yes, it takes me twice the time to get anything done over here”. (vous avez raison monsieur)
Landing at Jomo Kenyatta Airport, Nairobi took on the aspect of a First World country.
However, at immigration, I was lacking the $50 needed to get me back into the country.
I turned my purse upside down, offering the official the only $23 plus scattering change that I had. Frowning, but perusing my multi-entry visas over 15 years, he took the deal.
Karibu Sana Kenya. Bienvenue Afrique.
I’ll return to Madagascar one day.
But I’ll need to have company.