May the soul of Mr. Mandela, who has devoted a large part of his life to affect the trajectory of South Africa, rest in peace.
Looking over the edge of the continent and Mozambique Channel from high in the sky, I was lost in aerial thoughts of crossing by yacht. At the moment of my sentiment, the airplane had already begun to lower the altitude. I had been planning to find a yacht for Madagascar in the east coast of South Africa and landing there after about 10 days voyage. But in reality just a 3 hour trip by air took me there from Johannesburg.
It was my first visit to Madagascar and it’s located far from my mother country, however, the familiar scenes of paddy fields from the air made me feel as if I had returned home.
Eating rice, 3 times a day is normal in Madagascar. They say Malagasy people have the world’s biggest annual rice consumption per person. I opened my arms to this rice eating culture as I’m from Japan, where most people eat rice as a staple as well. They eat using a spoon and fork not hand or chopsticks like us. The side dishes and other foods were also rich in diversity compared to other African countries I have ever cycled. Coffee was nice, I often had a coffee break usually with “Mofosira” or “Mofogasy” (salted or sweet fried rice flour cake) or other sweets when I found the street stall along the road.
When I arrived, after reassembling my bicycle, I was allowed to wait until the morning on the sofa of the office of Water and Forest services in the airport as I had been bitten by endemic mosquitoes. The next day I searched for cheap accommodation with patience in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, and found it, cost 12,000 ariary (5USD), in the center of the town.
In the past about 2 years I had been traveling Sothern African countries, where the room charge was relatively high, I paid for a room the first time since I had left a town in Southern Malawi in January 2011, just 20 months back (except for a few nights in dormitory). Meanwhile, I had spent most of the night in my tent thanks for generosity of African people who had always accepted me and provided a space for my tent. In addition, I have to say I had gotten a number of warm- hearted offers to their cozy room from the people I had met on the way in each country. One thing’s for sure, this kind of life couldn’t have been done without understanding and cooperation of them for my tour.
In another towns as well, I could find it for the cost 5,000 to 12,000 ariary (2 to 5 USD) after bargaining. It was time to take out my wallet and pay for a long stay in my own space. I didn’t hesitate to stay in the guest house and lie in a bed when I reached to major towns. In such rooms I could pay for, most didn’t have a mosquito net, so I set up my own net in place with effort every time.
In an isolated environment from the continents, Animals and Plants have been making progress through eternal time in Madagascar, most of them are endemic to the island. Apart from some visually apparent animals, I could have much fun with observing plants if I had even a bit of knowledge about them.
Not only Animals and plants but the people living in the big island had also endemic characters. Earlier inhabitant of the island seems to have come from Indonesia, Malaysia and surrounding countries, then African people and traders from India and Arab followed to immigrate to Madagascar later. Afterwards, the missionaries from Britain and France began to settle in the 19th century. Thus, this big island has created a distinctive atmosphere made from mix of the element of those people based on Asian flavor.
Around the central high plateau with altitude 800 to 1,800m, lies north and south around Antananarivo, the people had a face looked Asian could be relatively found. They seemed to live mostly in the two-storied buildings and be farming at the terraced rice fields on mountain slopes. I received an impression that the farther I got from the highland and closer to the coast, the more the faces of people had changed towards African. Basically, Malagasy people have cheerful habit of mind like African, but I felt they were reserved in some way and had something similar to Asian people inside them. And I was amazed that they showed me really very good driving manner during my stay. Well, this came from neither Asia nor Africa or other places but it was just endemic to Malagasy people I suppose.
As the roads didn’t connect, it was thought it was almost impossible to go around by land in the island. If you move north and south by road, you have to come in and out of Antananarivo. That’s why the 8-shaped trace was created on my map after finishing “tour de Madagascar”, cycled 4,200km.
The section of more or less 200km tracks along the east coast, across a water trip by cargo boat, became the highlight of my tour. It rained every day in that tropical area. I pushed my bicycle little by little through the sandy and muddy tracks fringed by the palm trees with being given healing from a sweet scent of vanilla, had floated out from nowhere. Along the way I crossed 12 rivers without any bridge by pirogue and river ferry. There was pristine environment. The roadside scenes of the sea and verdant tropical forest were so beautiful, that I knew that I lived in fulfilling time at the moment with having a simple but delicious lunch in the village, though I was physically completely exhausted. A group of whales could be seen in the distance from the cargo boat, on which I had finally gotten a place for me after a 5 day’s wait in Mananara, to land in the Masoala peninsula in 24 hours, where there was no road connection. I was wondering how much determination and courage or fear Mr Riaan Manser must have carried with him to cross that wild sea on his kayak.
After having survived that section of the tracks, gradually I began to feel pain on the point of my toes. As it became too much to bear, I ran into a hospital in a small village, 50km north of Sambava. A young doctor slowly and carefully removed foreign objects from my toes with a cutter and needle. Surprisingly as many as 11 worms, which seemed to have invaded from muddy water, came out. Over the next one month I must have endured pain. This may be a matter of indifference to many, but those worms were also endemic to Madagascar possibly.
The official languages of the country were Malagasy and French. French was kind of familiar language for me that I had used to learn through some West and Central African countries. In the beginning of the tour, when I pitched my tent in a poor but peaceful and very friendly village, called Marovola, means “much money” in Malagasy, I found a villager who could speak good French and tried to ask something about the bundle of grass, actually it was feed for cattle, which I had seen on the way to the village put by the roadside, because at fast I had wondered what was the bundle for. My terrible pronunciation took our conversation somewhere unexpected direction as usual. It took me as much as more than 10 minutes to get an answer from him with using gesture and drawing. I think I don’t need to describe more how badly poor my French was.
As Malagasy, which was likely to be based on the languages in Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines and the surrounding area, was spoken as a first language all around the island, learning basic Malagasy words helped me a lot to communicate with the people, though there were some dialects in each place. Needless to say, Malagasy gained much popularity among the local people than French, so the amount of time spent on learning Malagasy words had been getting increased day by day.
Speaking of Madagascar, one of the things comes first would be certainly baobab. I heard that there were 8 species of baobab in the world and as many as 6 species out of them existed in the big island and it took more than 1,000 years for them to grow bravely mature. I saw some small baobab trees growing at the side of the famous “Avenue de Baobab” near Morondava which would form a part of the avenue in the distant future. Subsequent day, in a small town between Morondava and Toliara, I had a opportunity to be given some fruits of baobab by a young man, whose shop I had often been to in order to drink baobab juice. I felt like taking the seeds with me as a souvenir for my host family and friends in Johannesburg.
Tough the baobab fruits and seeds were commonly sold in the market in some part of Madagascar, I thought it must have been illegal to take them out of the country or bring in South Africa without a special permit, as they were endemic species and different from that of South Africa growing in Limpopo province. I had been a bit nervous to think of that on the way back to Antananarivo where I was supposed to take a plane there. But to my astonishment, I discovered in a gift shop for tourists near the capital town, some baobab fruit key-holder being kingly sold in front of the cashier. I was so surprised that I demanded a shop lady whether it was right or wrong with Japanese slang “Majidesuka?” meant “Are you serious?” I turned into jelly and laughed soon after getting an answer from her.
After flying back to Johannesburg, I planted the seed in a lovely garden of my host’s house, just some kilometers away from the house of the late Mr Mandela, under suspicion that if it would fit into the soil. I wondered how many South African people had ever tried the same thing. Now my “grandmother”, who had kindly looked after me during my stay as if I was her real grandson, gives care to it for me. The vegetables, had been minded by her granddaughter with her love, was coming well at the side of the place for baobab.
I have an image, in the year 3,000 plus, of an odd-shaped tall wooden building, standing as an emblem of peace in a corner of the cluster of high-rise buildings in Johannesburg, where its notorious public order would have been totally restored far before that moment.
It was just a week before Mr Mandela finally got “his own freedom”, after his duty to humanity, that an encouraging news from my “grandmother” had arrived in my inbox saying “The baobab you planted with your own Samurai Hands and Spirit is growing!!!! ”
機内の窓から ”ヨットで渡る自分の幻影” を追っていた。