Finally, Antananarivo. After a delay in Los Angeles, a changed flight (and a subsequent sprint across the airport), getting off at the wrong bus stop in London, and a fun, albeit expensive, day in Nairobi, I had finally reached Madagascar.
Obtaining a visa was difficult; this was the first place I had been where almost no one spoke English. I was eventually able to communicate what I needed, and walked towards customs. After a ´thorough ‘check of my bags (he poked one and waved me through), I was assaulted by three men attempting to carry my bags. “How nice,” I thought. They guided me to the taxis and directed me to a young, well-dressed taxi driver named Zo. After several flustered flips through my tour guide, he assured me he knew of a good hotel for me to spend the night.
The three men put my bags in the taxi and then shot their hands out in unison. “Oh, right…,” I thought, as I put the pieces together. After passing out extravagant tips (I hadn´t really figured out the exchange rate yet), Zo and I sped off into the night towards the capital.
After an expedient ride through the dark, empty streets of Antananarivo, we arrived the the hotel. From the outside, it looked like a run-down apartment building one might find in the less friendly part of a city, complete with a metal gate and bars on the windows. What had I just gotten myself into? Of course, things weren´t as expected. The inside of the hotel was modest, but attractive. The young lady at the front desk was very nice, and even spoke a bit of English. They showed me the options of rooms, and I ended up with a nice room on the third floor, complete with a balcony.
After dropping my luggage and exhaling a sigh of relief, I reached towards my bag to grab my tablet. And then my heart dropped. One of the pockets was opened and I couldn’t find the tablet anywhere. My mind raced back to when we pulled up at the hotel and Zo took a little too long grabbing my luggage from the trunk. I ran down stairs in a huff and insisted the staff call the cab driver. I was positive he stole my beloved device! But, as she called him, I realized there was a pocket I had forgot to check (this was a bag I had just bought for this trip). I excused myself to go check my bag one more time and, sure enough, there was the tablet.
I went downstairs, terribly embarrassed, and informed the young lady. My foolish accusation made me take a long look at how distrustful I was. I would try to not jump to such conclusions in the future…
The next day I decided to go for a wander around Tana. I awoke with the sound of live music coming through the window (and the sound of a cat walking on the sheet-metal roof of my bathroom). Once I packed up and said my goodbyes the staff, I endeavored to make my way the AirMadagascar office on the main street of the city, the Ave de l’Independence.
Walking outside, I was greeted by the smell of petrol and sights of tall, claustrophobic, colorful buildings. I got slightly lost at first, but eventually managed to find my way to the Ave; very busy and very wide. As I walked down the Ave, staring at buildings, snapping pictures, and very obviously being a tourist, a man walked up to me and offered to give me a tour. Of the city. “Oh great,” I thought. But, again, nothing was as I expected.
Gégé, the guide, showed me around Tana for nearly 6 hours! He brought me to the most spectacular sights: beautiful vistas of the entire city, seen from the tops of towering hills, historic churches that seemed to spring up around every corner, down-trodden city markets that were so packed that Gégé walked behind me in vigilance of the odd pickpockets common in that part of the city. The tour was truly amazing.
Gégé was great, very respectful. He spoke almost no English, but we were able to communicate with body language. Even though he would frequently ask for more money than we agreed upon, he understood when I said no (but in the end I would respect that he respected me, and give him more). What I had originally thought was a scam ended being an amazing tour and only cost me around 17,000 Ar (about $9 or so). Gégé and I grabbed a beer, said our goodbyes and Zo picked me up to head back to the airport. I left Tana with such a good feeling that day. I really felt like I experienced much of what the city had to offer in just a single day. I would quickly learn that I wasn’t quite done with the city yet…
Leaving Tana took longer than expected; the flight to Tulear was cancelled until the next day. While the dismayed passengers and I were funneled into the baggage claim, one of the passengers, an older German gentleman by the name of Godfried, walked up and started speaking to me. Godfried didn’t speak much English. But it was odd: the little English he could speak was excellent, so good, in fact, that I would often forget he didn’t speak much. Then, all of a sudden, he wouldn’t understand something I would say and he would just get this funny look on his face.
Godfried was coming to Madagascar to visit his 30-year old Malagasy wife by the name of Amelie; he was 73, by comparison. This didn’t seem wrong or creepy, though. They had been married for 10 years and, from Godfried’s stories, it sounded like they really cared about each other. Unfortunately, she had been denied citizenship to Germany and had exhausted the limit of travel visas. Godfried would have to come to Madagascar to see her from the present on…
Godfried and I ended up sticking together through the whole airport ordeal. When AirMadagascar was setting up hotel accommodations for the night, he insisted we get rooms in the same hotel. I’m glad we did because I learned a great deal more about him and the interesting life he has led.
Godfried is an electrical engineer back in Germany, who works exclusively with old tube radios. He has a passion for classic rock heavy-hitters such as Pink Floyd, the Bee Gees, and Led Zepplin and hard rockers, such as ACDC. He has great adoration for the classical sounds that these stereos can put out, an adoration that I, as a musician myself, can relate to. Godfried has become quite wealthy following his passion and has spent much of this wealth traveling the world. I admired such expenditures; putting ones money toward experiences and seeing the world is the most commendable and worthwhile way to spend money on oneself.
Godfried told about all the amazing places he’s been and passions for thrill-seeking activities, such as bungee jumping. He even recounted a near-death experience in which he accidentally rode his bicycle off a forty-foot ravine in Australia (his favorite place in the world). A park ranger stumbled upon him in a mangled state and he was air-lifted to hospital shortly after. He was told later that if he had been found even a few hours later, he would’ve died. Godfried is an amazing man who has led an amazing life, and I feel privileged to have met him.
Godfried and I stuck together all the way until our departure from the Tulear airport. We hugged, took a photo together, and said goodbye. It was sad, but I like to believe that all we can do is enjoy the special people who enter our lives while they are with us; when they leave, we should cherish the time we had together and look forward to the special people who will fill the gap in the future. Here’s to all the special people, such as Gégé and Godfried that I’ll meet here in Madagascar.