After a couple of days exploring the Tsingy area, we were presented a choice by the tour company. Stella would be leaving us, so for the remaining weeks in Madagascar it would be just us and our driver. But which driver? We liked Sosoe, but he spoke almost no English. His ride was certainly newer and more cushy, but I was starting to comprehend what Madagascar roads are like, and a sturdy old Toyota seemed like a safer bet. We requested to rendezvous with Michel and his Land Cruiser again, which was now equipped with a new radiator; we would meet him in Morondova the next day.
Sosoe was there to collect us after breakfast, and we jolted along over familiar territory back to Belo Tsiribihina, back across the river, and on to the Avenue of the Baobabs. On the way we encountered vast areas that had been put to the torch. Fires lapped at the verge of the road and smoke choked the air. In the distance we could see huge swarms of locusts like waving black clouds on the horizon. It was an apocalyptic scene. We arrived at the famous trees in the late afternoon; plenty of time to wander along the short stretch of road and admire the huge, odd, ancient trees and set up what we hoped would be pretty photographs at sunset.
Although The Avenue of Baobabs is Madagascar’s most famous and most photographed site, we saw no sign that any effort was being made to protect the trees or the environment. Areas of the ground had been scorched by recent fires set by farmers, some of which had come alarmingly close to the trees. A herd of goats was browsing on the stubble. A group of boys was playing soccer in a burned-off field next to the largest trees. Traffic was sparse, but some of the local trucks and buses went as fast as they could over the washboard, slaloming around the tourists and kicking up clouds of dust. Even more terrifying were the zebu carts, driven at a gallop by teenaged boys heading home from the fields.
I was directed to the toilet facilities, but found the little shack completely filled with construction materials for a nearby building project. The workers laughed at me and waved me toward a hole in the ground behind the shack. By this time, I was getting used to dropping my pants in the open.
As the shadows lengthened, most of the tourists moved on, the farmers and their herds went home, and the pasture fires settled down to a smolder. The commotion ebbed, and the magnificent trees reasserted their presence. The light, shaded by smoke, took on a gritty, golden-brown color. Stella told us the Madagascar name for the baobab translates as “Queen of the Forest.” As the sun disappeared, they reigned at last over peace.This entry was posted in Madagascar, Vacation 2016: East/South Africa