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Journal from the Manambolo River - Day 2

The sun rises early here -- daybreak is probably around 5:00 AM I would guess and the temperature rapidly climbs the moment the sun peaks over the distant mountains.

Back on the river we encounter a young Nile crocodile. The Manambolo was once full of crocodiles but due to hunting for their skins they are now considered a threatened species in Madagascar. Here water levels are too low to support adult crocs but lower down the river, below the canyon, crocodiles are still abundant.

We stop at Tsianaloka, a village consisting of around ten huts. It is apparent that the childen here do not see many foreigners (vazaha). Many of the kids are thin and some have signs of malnutrition. No one I meet in the village, including the young adults, knows their age.

We stop for lunch under a grove of mango trees, behind which there is burned out scrubland and ash littering the ground. Betsara and Max talk with some men passing in a pirogue. Afterwards Betsara and Max seem a bit unsettled but it is not readily apparent of what they are concerned. We press onward and battle a fierce wind before Betsara indicates we should pull off the river.

As we attempt to set up the tents in the wind -- an unsuccessful endeavor for the moment -- Benja explains the reason for the uneasiness: the Dahalo may be in the area planning an ambush.

The Dahalo are bandits usually found in mountainous regions of Madagascar. Their preferred target is Zebu cattle but will take almost anything when they raid villages and ambush people traveling by foot or pirogue. The Dahalo are typically armed with shotguns and carefully plan their attacks. Like the Kamajors of West Africa, the Dahalo rely an on elaborate pre-raid ritual which they -- and local people -- believe makes them invinceable to bullets. Villagers are easy targets for these bandits because of their isolation, beliefs strongly rooted in tradition, and lack of weapons, and the Dahalo count on intimidation to keep villagers from taking effective protective actions. Police are said to avoid the outer areas where the Dahalo prey, either being paid to stay away or fearing for their safety. The Dahalo are an amorphous group and it is likely that some are often members of the very communities they raid. In some areas a man is required to steal a neighbor's Zebu before he can take a woman's hand in marriage.

Max and Betsara were attacked by the Dahalo a few weeks past. The bandits took all their cooking supplies and warned them not to guide vazaha (white foreigners) down the river. It is said that they only thing the Dahalo fear are vazaha believing them to have superior weapons. Nevertheless it is a tense night and we take turns keeping watch. The wind and blowing sand adds to the discomfort (sand for dinner and in hair and eyes) but we are able to set up one tent behind a barricade dug in the sand and protected by the canoes.

At night the sand comes alive with insects. There are giant 2-inch (5 cm) plus crickets, small yellow scorpions, enormous earwigs, and plethora of other arthropods.

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