A moment of terror struck me on a South African Airways flight to Johannesburg en route to Antananarivo when I realized that I had forgotten my three months prescription of the malaria prophylaxis Malerone at my mom’s house. At Tambo international airport, I immediately called my brother and asked him to send them to my address at Honko. The flight to Antananarivo was all of a sudden not as exciting as it should have been and I nervously lied to the Mercy Ship volunteer I met while boarding about taking the medication.
I had my mind preoccupied by the technicalities of bringing another more temperature sensitive medication, Humira adalimumab, abroad with me in a small lunch cooler. I have Crohn’s Disease and although I haven’t had serious problems in recent times, I haven’t missed more than three injections (approximately 6 weeks worth) in the past, which makes the volunteer period of 3 months more complicated. With all this on my mind, I forgot to bring many things with me, including T shirts, pens, headphones, camera charger, toothpaste, a tape measure and much needed sunscreen.
Arriving in Antananarivo was embarrassing as well as scary because I had no means to fill out the landing card once I arrived (no pen!) and I was stressed to get to guest house Tana-Jacaranda as quickly as possible to put more ice in the cooler. Eventually the passport agent had to fill out most of the information on the card and when she asked for a gift (bribe), I only had a few South African Rand to give her after spending so much on insect repellant at Tambo. Apparently most people in Madagascar have little interest in rand because it doesn’t exchange well.
I met the driver outside the gate and was foolish enough to let one of the baggage handlers carry my pack to the car, which ended up costing 10,000 Aryary – ATMs generally only give out 10,000 or 5,000 ariary notes and the unwary traveler will be scammed because of the lack of small bills. Once I arrived at the guest house, I immediately asked about a refrigerator for my medication and found that the guest fridge was barely cooler than the temperature of the room.
I had time before night and my morning flight so I went to the local shoprite for bags of ice. I used the word “glace” in reference to ice or ice cubes but the word was also short for ice cream. I found their ice cream section but no ice. Dismayed, I strolled down the street looking for any place that might have ice but found nothing. I decided that I might have enough ice from the airport to last the night and that Blue Ventures, one of Honko’s partners in Tulear, will surely have a better fridge.
The first real sight I had of Antananarivo and of Madagascar was the unbelievable view from Tana-Jacaranda guest house when I finally took a moment to relax. It was as if I had stumbled upon a secret paradise in the most cliché sense of the phrase. Bright green tropical trees reaching into the sky contrasted by the orange-red clay rich soil below and completed by simple homes and elegant white egrets that flew in, out and around the terrain. A giant Hollywood-esque sign painted the capital’s name onto the hills surrounding me. Stone streets lead down into the lower income areas of the giant city and lead up to the main marketplace crowded with street merchants. I didn’t quite make it to the Queen’s palace as huge crowds were gathered near the main train station to see some clearly important figure being picked up by a driver in a black tinted car.
I should return to Tana when I have more time to fully explore the amazing area. As it happened, Air Madagascar (sometimes called Air Mad) cancelled their morning flight to Tulear due to a cyclone. I was to be stuck in Antananarivo for a second day. Booking a new trip for 18:00 the next day, I realized that I was going to be too late to be picked up and taken to Honko the night I arrive. First things first, though, I explained my situation with Humira, the medicine, to the new desk person and discovered that they had another refrigerator in the back that was much colder. We cranked up the cold and put the contents of my cooler inside.
Next, I sent an email to a hotel recommended by Honko and booked a room for the following night. Checking my email inbox, I saw an e-mail that Honko staff members, Nina and Tess, were staying at the same hotel as I. A quick check with the front desk and query to the common area confirmed it was true and I finally met them. They found a local place that had ice available right away and explained to me that malaria medication was cheap and easy to find everywhere in Tana. I bought a months supply for about $12. Much relieved I filled a few leaky bags with ice for the departure in the morning.
However, when I checked on my medication that had to stay between 2 and 7 degrees celcius, it was completely frozen! If staying a few degrees above 7 C was okay for a few hours, the same probably couldn’t be said for freezing. Mostly giving up at this point, when I decided to check the medication with the facility operated by Blue Ventures when I was in Tulear, I didn’t check to see if their refrigerator was adequate. As it turned out, it was much like the fridge in Tana and after a week left there, there was no way the drug would work.
My flight to Tulear from Tana was probably the most delayed flight I had ever taken, as an infrequent flyer this doesn’t say much. The flight was scheduled to board at 6 pm but nothing happened until the pilots arrived at 9:30. There was a large cheer when they did so and we all boarded. Arriving in Tulear, the little parking lot was full of drivers and taxis and they cleared out within an hour of the plane arrival. I picked a taxi in a junky car with over 200,000 km on the meter for a good price of 30,000 Ariary. Arriving exhausted to the hotel Les Palmier, we were told by the guard out front that there was no space available. Too tired to argue, I just told the taxi to take me to the next hotel that had space. I ended up at Hotel Serena near the town center with air conditioning and a good common refrigerator. I paid an embarrassing amount of money in the first night Tulear that way; just on the room and breakfast, which still only amounted to about $40.
The next morning, I was greeted by the volunteer coordinator, Lalas, and the other volunteer, Arianne (Nina and Tess were still traveling from Tana by the long distance public transportation, the Taxi Brousse). We dropped off the ill fated Humira at Blue Ventures first and then went to the pharmacy to pick up some toothpaste and rubbing alcohol, bought some groceries at the food market and then headed out to the Honko center in Ambondrolava.
We drove past some small baobabs as we discussed seeing lemurs and the giant baobabs during our stay. My stay at Honko is proving to be a memorable one.