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Journal from the Manambolo River

I charter a plane from Antananarivo west to the village Ankavandra. Flying over Madagascar is not the most uplifting experience -- the enviromental degradation is severe. Widespread landslides and erosion (called lavaka in Malagasy) cause red soil to hemorrhage into rivers staining them the color of rust and blood. The only trees for most of the flight are single strands that snake along creeks beds -- the damage is pretty complete.

Upon landing on a grassy field near the village of Ankavandra, we're met back dozens of children who seem quite happy to have their day interupted by the arrival of a vazaha and a Malagasy from Tana. The kids are slender and extremely small for their age (at least by American standards). One boy who looks to be around 7 or 8 tells me he's 13 years old. We hire a couple of porters from the village to help with the gear and make arrangements with two canoemen, Betsara (28) and Max (26). As we load the boats I practice my Malagasy with some of the kids who want to be involved with the action.

Our pirogues, supplied by a tour operator that specializes on Manambolo river trips, are about 13 feet (4 m) long and are naviagable in water less than an foot deep -- something which is important given the low level of the river at this time of year.

The landscape around the river is pretty desolate -- mostly scrub with scattered trees. Occasionally the river will have 30-50 foot (10-15 m) cliffs which are striated with layers of white, red, and green clays. Sometimes we pass by children along the river banks and there are scattered huts. At one point we pass a pirogue with three boys, one of whom is playing a song with a string guitar as the other two sing along.

Along the way we stop to buy a couple of chickens from some local people. Later in the trip one the chickens escapes and we have a devil of a time chasing the bird through thorny underbrush. Finally Max recaptures our future dinner.

We see a number of birds including the colorful Malagasy kingfisher (Alcedo vintsioides), the Madagascar bee-eater (Merops superciliosus), the Black kite (Milvus migrans), ducks, herons, the Pied crow (Corvus albus), and others.

We camp on a giant sandbank. As night falls we are besieged by thousands on insects -- large gnat-like miseries, thumbnail-sized black beetles that have an affinity for hair, and buzzing but dim-witted cicadas. These flock around our meager light source -- our candles -- and are drawn to the light reflecting off my light skin and my rice. I get a full weeek's allowance of chitin (the material from which an insect's exoskeleton is formed) from the creatures in my meal. After a lively discussion in broken English and Malagasy on politics and the realities of life in America, I head for the refuge of the tent.


Almost all pictures on this site were taken with a Konica Minolta

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