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We had a later start today because the drive from Ranomafana to Ambalavao is just over 3 hours. That’s 140km on those curvy roads but still short by our recent treks.

We did meet a bunch of Zebu (cows) on their way to market. A large Zebu can cost one million MGA ($400). That seems like a lot of money for a skinny cow. They didn’t like to share the road.

We visited a silk factory where we learned how both wild silkworm cocoons and farmed cocoons are used. Wild silk is much more rough-looking as you’d expect.

Farmed is on the left and wild on the right.

They can spin the farmed stuff by machine because it’s consistently sized but the wild cocoons need to be boiled in zebu fat and water for a few hours, then layered 6-7 on each other and dried.

The little cocoon ‘packages’ dry for a week and look like this.

Feels soft but kinda nasty and smells even worse. From here it’s hand spun into incredibly thin and delicate threads.

The silk thread is dyed with various natural products like vegetables. The green is from mulberry leaves, purple from beet root, yellow from turmeric, light brown/beige is from mushrooms, darker reddish brown from cinnamon. The blue colour is the only one that is chemically dyed, not from something found in nature (although yesterday we did find a bright blue berry growing in the rainforest – not for eating, though. It’s colour indicates that it is poisonous).

Then the silk thread is hand woven on a loom. It takes about three days to make a single scarf.

The next step is to show the tourists the final products, which of course are for sale. We may have bought a scarf…..

There is a local election occurring next week and today was the day for speeches. People were crowded in the streets dressed up to show support for their candidate (clothing provided by the political party – fancy blouse shirt for the men and a pareo-type skirt for the women). Apparently there can be up to 500 candidates per region to choose from. That’s one heck of a voting sheet to look for your candidate!

Down the road was the Antimoro paper factory. Hand made from start to finish.

It’s made from the bark of the Avoha tree.

The bark is rolled into sections and then boiled to soften it up. A roll is on the left side of the photo below.

The resulting bark pulp is hand pounded to break the fibres.

The pulp is then formed into large 4×6 sheets.

It’s then divided up into sheets of either paper or cardstock and hand decorated with flowers grown on the property.

Truly works of art as each piece of decoration is a bit of flower or leaf. It is then sun dried for 4-6 hours. And here at least, ready for us tourists to buy. We did our part. In future if you get a Birthday card from us and it looks hand done, now you know where it came from. Kris commented they’d do a tremendous business if they also had Christmas cards.

On an unrelated note Poinsettias here are full-on trees. Not the sad little plants we all buy at Christmas. They are called Christmas plants here. They aren’t cut down for trees in a house but simply they bloom then. Many are in bloom now too. They are well liked as ornamental trees because they have the colours of the Malagasy flag (red leaves, white bark, green leaves). And if you fold a leaf in half it looks roughly like the shape of the island.

We then headed to our hotel for the night. A beautiful property just at the edge of town.

Our bungalow.

What we assume to be the proprietor is a bit of a self important prick. He’s busy running around snapping his fingers and ordering his staff. Not doing anything to help until the girl (she’s not even close to 20 yet) was trying to make my espresso for lunch. He finally came into the room and yelled at her. Of course he doesn’t know how to use the machine either. They eventually kept pressing buttons until the desired outcome. I did get my coffee but I may not put them through that again. The hotel offers free wifi (or at least included with your room). Except they turn it off when not in use. I presume it is some sort of metered connection and the boss doesn’t want the staff using it. It is definitely cellular based.

Some more observations from our driving days…

The median age in Madagascar is 18.9 and only 4% of the population is over 50. It appears to be a very hard life. Most of the population is rural and very little migration into the cities occurs. Formal education in the country is not common, as sending kids to school is expensive and farm life needs lots of hands. Almost every woman we have seen, except the very young and very old, has a baby on her hip and a few toddlers running along behind them, as they carry all manner of things on their heads in true African style. Rural families have an average of 4 children and everyone works. 3 year olds manage the babies, 5 year olds manage groups of 3 year olds and everyone else is off in the field working.

We have arrived at the height of wheat harvesting season and everyone is out in the fields hand threshing with small machetes, separating the kernels, and hauling the chaff home to feed the zebu. Those who aren’t farmers can be seen hand hammering rocks into gravel, hand cutting tree branches into firewood or kindling or burning eucalyptus branches to make huge burlap sacks of charcoal. We’ve seen exactly one excavator. The next time your kid or grandkid whines about slow internet tell them this.

Personal cars are quite rare out in the country. Any vehicle that is not a semi truck or a 20-person van/bus gets a lot of attention. We have been driving mostly on the R7, the main highway that zig zags roughly from north to south. That being said, the road is crap. It is barely a two-lane paved road full of huge potholes and washouts. Sometimes we have two wheels on the red-dirt shoulder when the big trucks are passing us in the opposite direction. A few people asked what we were going to do here in Madagascar for almost a month – everything is Moro Moro (slow) because of the lousy driving conditions, so getting from one place to another takes a long time. Carl is a good driver, though, and hasn’t knocked off a mirror or hit a kid or a chicken yet!

Internet is mobile. 4G (our standard) is not all over, electricity to each house is rare. There are lots of small kiosks where people can charge their phone. Most phones are the older small handset variety and smart phones are all android (and not high end Samsung). I’m not sure I’ve seen an iPhone owned by a local. Many rural homes are mud brick. Some are mud huts. There is a ton of agricultural everywhere. The land looks very fertile and lush everywhere we’ve been so far. Reminds us a lot of either Costa Rica or Kauai.

Having said all that most people seem to smile and get on with their life. A lot of the children wave and get a kick out of us waving at them. Most towns that we have driven through have billiards and/or a foosball table where the teenagers to hang out and try to look cool. And we haven’t visited one, but we have seen multiple signs for Karaoke bars.

We don’t often see that desperate, ghosted look we’ve seen in other developing nations. Sure people ask us for money but that is because we are Vazaha (pronounced Fazaaha) which means white foreigner and apparently not derogatory like a Gringo or Guai Lo. We asked Carl our guide and then googled it to confirm. It’s because we are white and rich, they are not. It shouldn’t be offensive to us and we make a strong effort to smile and say no politely. We also try to use the few Malagasy words we have learned as often as we can and then fall back to our bad French. Sometimes the hotel staff like to practice their English on us, even when we speak in French. Again, it’s all good and we enjoy the experience of each side attempting to make the other feel good. On that note, we’ve had mostly decent English. Certainly better than our French. Although we have noticed if we ask Carl or a guide of the day a question they don’t know (or understand) they kinda mumble and blow it off. But generally both sides can get their point across.

Surprisingly there is a native car brand manufactured in Fianarantsoa, a town we passed though today. They make one kind of vehicle. The photos below are of the second generation. The Marenjy logo is a Zebu. It’s a 4×4 diesel with lots of steel panels and no compound complex curves. About the size of a small SUV but with a pickup bed and hard tonneau cover. Very practical I’m sure. Although the tires on them look a little small and not very mud capable.

After a nice afternoon to relax and read a bit we headed to dinner. We went early because there was a billiard table and decided we should play a game. We enjoyed the game but let’s just say the table was not flat. Kind of like mini golf vs real golf.

We are in the Malagasy wine region. We know, wine in Madagascar? It’s not going to win any awards but drinkable (ish). Many years ago Dave was in Napa valley and went to an overly snooty vineyard. One of the reserve wines had a partial description of “essence of forest floor”. Meaning dirt to Dave. Anyway, this wine had a small taste of “essence of forest floor”. It wasn’t high end enjoyable in Napa and it’s not any better here. We have no idea how much it will be, but we can expect likely not too expensive. There are only two tour groups here including us. The other much larger group of Hungarian or Czech folks also tried the wine. One of their group came over and asked us if we’d enjoyed ours. He declared it was the worst he’s ever had. We have him beat by tasting the Great Wall of China wine last year.

Tomorrow we are off to hike with King Julian. Or at least his Ringtail relatives.

Then of course more driving to Ranohira and Isalo Park.

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