Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Crystal woke up a couple times during the night, and noted it was really dark. No lights, no ambient light, no moonlight, nothing. Not a whole lot like Paris. Also unlike Paris, the sun rose very early here. We heard workers putting the roof of the new building together before we woke up for the final time. We got out of bed around 6:30, since Richard wanted to get going around 7:30. He said we'd be going about 140km (~90 miles), and the road would not be good.

We skipped breakfast, and actually left a little early, around 7. Richard was correct - the road was not good. It was worse than the day before, with many more ruts, holes, turns, etc. For the first hour or so, the scenery was much the same. But then we apparently left the Kirindy Forest National Park area, as there was a bunch of charred vegetation on both sides of the road, and the Baobabs and forest gave way to small shrubs and two types of palm trees - one fan palm of some sort and one palm that appeared to be a Date or something related. Several of the fan palms appeared to be branching, but that could have been a response to being burned repeatedly.

Every now and then we would pass a small village, but nothing very big. The exception was Belo Tsiribihina where there was a large river that required us to drive up onto a wooden raft for a ferry across. Richard was obviously used to driving up onto the ferry and "parking" on the ferry so that other vehicles could get on - one of the other drivers was not, and thankfully we didn't all end up in the river. While waiting for the ferry to depart, we watched all the kids playing in the river and on the bank, including a couple of kids aged 8-10 who were doing backflips just as easily as we'd lift a cocktail glass (this picture shows one of the kids in the upper left-hand corner, about to do a backflip).

On the north side of the river, there were some larger buildings and also a stadium ("stade"), which made Belo Tsiribihina the largest city we'd seen since leaving Morondava. Shortly after crossing over, a military person stopped us (not unusual) but didn't immediately wave us on (unusual). He spoke with Richard, then came around and spoke with us. It took a couple of times of repetition, but best as we could tell he wanted a ride to Bekopaka, where we were headed. Richard didn't seem to mind, and the front seat was empty - plus he had a machine gun - so why not? We drove for about 2 minutes, then stopped somewhere, where he got out of the car, picked up some bags, and then spoke to Richard again, who this time was shaking his head "no". He asked us something new, which we really didn't understand, but since Richard had said no, we said no too. Then a lady got in the front seat, and the military gentlemen stayed behind. In retrospect, what we think he was asking is whether he and his girl friend and someone else could all squeeze in.

The ride north from Belo Tsiribihina was more of the same, but the Baobabs were now not even a rare occurence - they were gone completely - and almost nothing appeared to be native forest, but instead secondary growth after burning and re-planting. While we had not seen a single car south of the river, north of the river we saw a "steady" amount from 10-10:30, each with a driver, a guide, and two white tourists in the back. Richard seemed to know about half of the vehicles. We assume these were people coming back from the Tsingy towards Morondava. From the bonine, we were both drowsy, and each of us got sleep at different times. It was very warm, probably in the upper 80s or low 90s, with low humidity and lots of dirt, especially when we slowed down. Our "air conditioning" was rolled down windows, and since we weren't driving very fast, it was vey hot. The road had gotten progressively worse, so we were nodding off in what would be extreme turbulence on an airplane. It's actually a fair workout to try to keep your body still on a bouncy car; we can only imagine what Richard was going through. Around 12:30, we got to another river, this time much smaller, but still needing a ferry.

Richard told us that we were now at Bekopaka, and our hotel was only 3km away. We didn't know we were almost done driving, but we were happy. We dropped off the military guy's girl friend, and we were at our hotel in about 5 minutes after crossing. As we walked from the car to the reception area, Crystal spotted a pool, and stated "that's the best looking pool I've ever seen." We checked in, then dropped off our bags, then went to lunch, which was excellent. After lunch, we put on our swimsuits and headed down to the pool. We weren't the only people there - multiple French couples were there - but even with the noise from the children playing in the pool, it was very relaxing. We got cleaned up, did a bit of laundry (since we'd be staying long enough for everything to dry), and then headed to the bar to relax and enjoy our holiday.

They had a number of different infused rums, including ginger, vanilla, passion fruit, cinnamon, banana, pineapple, and others. Justin got one of the vanilla infused rums, which would have been excellent had it been iced. As it was, it was still good. We played some scrabble, then went back to the room to prepare for dinner. At dinner, Justin had some Zebu while Crystal had some shrimp with vegetables and pasta. After dinner, Justin went straight to bed, but Crystal couldn't get to sleep, so she stayed up late reading, then called our travel agent to let her know that for whatever reason the folks at Kirindy had not thought our meals were pre-paid.