In the morning we angled back inland through the bush. We skipped the tour of the village at Belo sur Mer, which is famous for the sailing cargo boats they build there by hand, because there had been a death there the day before, and the community was in mourning.
The drive was long, bumpy, and uneventful. Late in the afternoon, the bushes finally thinned and we emerged onto an open, hilly landscape. The track gradually firmed up into something resembling a road during the last hour or so of the drive, and we climbed into the town of Manja.
This was just a way-station for us, as it was the only way to continue south along the west coast by car. Manja doesn’t have tourist facilities. The hotel is mainly for local business travelers and government employees. A place to wash, eat, sleep, and move on; our expectations were very low. That didn’t stop us from being disappointed.
Michel drove into a cramped, walled compound, and a guard locked the gate behind us. Two days of jolting through the bush had taken a toll on the Land Cruiser, and Michel was eager to find spare parts and make a few minor repairs before it got dark, so he left us to deal with the hotel management. They were surly, and slow, didn’t speak much English, and couldn’t find our reservation, but at last handed over a key. This opened a grungy room with a window overlooking a yard full of junk and chickens. The bed was a lump of foam on a wooden platform covered by a sheet that was washed, but stained.
Of course, after a long, dusty day in the car, my priority was the toilet, to be followed by a shower. That’s when I discovered we had no running water. No electricity, either. We asked the fellows carrying our bags. Yes, normally there was water, but the utility had shut it off for the whole town and would turn it back on at 6 o’clock. There was a bucket of cold, smelly water that we could use for flushing, but I sure didn’t want to wash with it. OK, then, maybe a nap, followed by a quick wash-up before dinner, when the water would be running. I spread my travel towel over the bed and tried to rest.
But no. A hyper-active, hyper-vigilant rooster in the junkyard under our window was crowing his heart out, non-stop. I began to wish fervently for his demise.
We gave up on our room and found a “bar” at the front of the hotel, where they served beer and we could watch the street from behind the security grate. A teenaged boy—son of the hotelier—arrived home from high school and we struck up a conversation. He was eager to practice his English. I don’t remember much of what we talked about, but I do remember being struck by his swaggering confidence and ambition. He seemed very sure that he was entitled to do and have whatever he wanted. Are all teenage boys like that?
Michel appeared and offered to take us on a walking tour of the town. The heat and traffic of the day were subsiding, and we were eager for some distraction, so we enjoyed a stroll past the market and school. There were some colonial-era buildings and, in some ways, Manja felt no different than a farming town in the US. When we returned to the hotel, the electricity was on (although there seemed to be a shortage of lightbulbs), but there was still no water. The rooster had fallen silent, but distorted music was blaring from the hotel bar. We dug out our headlamps and made our way to the outdoor pavilion that served as a restaurant.
The choices for dinner came down to beans or chicken. Since I’m allergic to beans, I ordered chicken. It took a long, long time to arrive, but when it did, I discovered that my death wish for the rooster had been fulfilled. Well, no complaints about the freshness of the food. Unfortunately, that chicken was one tough old bastard. I might as well have tried to eat the tires off the Land Cruiser. No exaggeration, my teeth could not make a dent in it.
Back to the room. Still no water, but thank heavens, the electricity was still on and we had a fan. I resorted to earplugs to muffle the racket from the bar. After a few hours, I woke up briefly when someone turned off the music, and took out my earplugs. Sometime in the wee hours, I woke again to the sound of water flowing through the pipes. Ah ha! There was no hot water, and not enough pressure to take a shower—no doubt because everyone in town was running their taps, trying to fill every bucket, pot, and pan they owned—but I at least managed to wash up at the sink before returning to bed.
In Belo sur Mer, we had no running hot water, only a few hours of electricity, no choice of meals, no wifi, no market, and no night-life. The staff spoke only French and Malagasy. In Manja, we also had limited utilities, but there was some wifi, a market, a restaurant, a staff that spoke a few words of English, and a bar/nightclub. There are roads. Even an airport. And yet, in Belo sur Mer we experienced relaxation and luxury, while in Manja we experienced nerve-jangling distress. How simple it was to make provisions for clean, hot water and delicious meals (almost entirely from local sources, with a few items brought in by boat every few weeks). The air was fresh and wholesome, and it was quiet. What a difference those qualities make to our experience!This entry was posted in Madagascar, Vacation 2016: East/South Africa