1.) HOW TO BARTER FOR A ZEBU CART
If you are not from Madagascar just hide and pay a malagasy to do it for you. Seriously, the going rate for a daily zebu cart rental is 45,000 airary. When we showed up the price sky rocketed to 200,000 airary. Barter baby!
2.) PORK HAS TAPEWORMS, STICK TO RICE, AND BRING RUM
The lack of basic sanitation practices in Madagascar means that much of the pork in the country has tape worms. Avoid it. Although an exclusive rice diet can be quite boring, it beats the alternative of acquiring a tapeworm friend! Wash down all of the rice with a bit of rum around the campfire.
3.) LIKE A CHICKEN WITH ITS HEAD CUT OFF IS NOT JUST A SAYING...
Yep, it’s real.. I believe if you are going to eat an animal you should at be able to kill it or at least watch it meet its end. My overzealous self decided it would be a brilliant idea to help make dinner one night. Well let’s just say I ended up creating more work for everyone; sand and blood spewed everywhere. The positive side was all of the Malagasy women watching were impressed and we had a brief moment of girl power in a very much male dominated environment.
4.) THERE IS NO SEXY WAY TO BATHE IN 2 INCHES OF WATER
Traveling with a handsome adventurer makes you want to look good, even when showers and decent smelling articles of clothing are few and far between. So after nearly a week of sweating and and no chance to bathe we jumped at the opportunity to bathe in the ‘creek’: aka a dried up river bed that actually left us dirtier than when we jumped in. We both looked like monkeys but we laughed about it. Most importantly I realized that looks fade, money goes away, surround yourself with people that make you laugh and feel comfortable even when you look and smell your worst.
5.) EVERYONE WILL BE CURIOUS - JUST GET USED TO IT
At every point we made landfall we were met by an ever growing crowd of curious Malagasy villagers. It started with three and on day 9, as we were closer to civilization, the crowd swelled to over 100. They watched our every move, setting up tents, showering, eating: we were the vazha (white person) show. The concept of personal space was nonexistent. The villagers would be inches from my face us observing my every subtle movement. At first, I felt like an alien, I craved the autonomy of New York streets. I tried to muster the remaining energy to understand what it must be like to suddenly see a white person beach a plastic boat on the river bank ... Being that this expedition was a third descent this was a practically unfathomable sight. If I were in their shoes, I would probably gawk with the same amount of vigor.
6.) BIRDS MAKE GREAT RAFT PETS
Who needs a boat dog when you've got a boat bird? Our beloved guide Joe was keen to buy some fighting birds for cock fights back in Tanna. This meant that on day 4 we acquired three birds that would become raft pets for the remaining 5 days descent. During the day the birds stayed in a woven basket latched into the raft, probably some of the few birds in Madagascar to ever go on a raft trip. During breaks, the birds would be put on leashes and walked around the riverbank, just like a dog, I kid you not.
7.) ALWAYS SAY YES TO NEW ADVENTURES
I am not a river person and frankly the idea of crocodiles, life sucking quicksand, and whirlpools that can hold you underwater for an indiscriminate amount of time is terrifying. Despite being scared of most components of the river trip I said yes and went for it. Turns out I loved it, and the things I thought were terrifying, were not so bad. I learned how to avoid and get out of quicksand, how to read the river, and well I’d be lying if I said the crocodiles still didn’t make me cringe. Just go for it, say yes to new adventures, no matter how big or small.
Wander Wisely, Sofía