Star Date:  April 2009
Central Highlands - Madagascar


Hello Dear Family & Friends!



(Malagasy greeting)


"There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving.  That's your own self.

(Aldous Huxley - author & philosopher)

Change is inevitable.  We get to the end of the path and sometimes there is only one thing to do - jump.  Take a giant leap of faith into the unknown with the resolve in our heart that everything will work out.  Knowing that the forward motion is the catalyst needed for change.  Like the lady bug crawling up to the end of our finger, we simply take flight.  As we do, the world around us opens up.  Chapters close and new ones begin.   This is how we felt as we pondered our upcoming trip to Africa.

Many things had happened in our preparations from Asia, not the least being a recent military coup in Madagascar, making us wonder if another destination was in line.  The continent of Africa, as a whole is daunting.  Enormous, riddled with mystery and an unsettled past and present, it was overwhelming.  Deciding to take one step at a time, one small digestible bite, we jumped into the unknown of Madagascar.

Located hundreds of kilometers off the SE coast of Africa this island nation is actually a bite off the continent, breaking free from Gondwanaland over 165 billion years ago, taking with it a rich mixture of flora and fauna that has enjoyed an undisturbed evolutionary process, resulting in unique animals and plant species found no where else on this planet, or this galaxy for that matter.  Seventy species of lemur and hundreds of varieties of chameleons share space with creatures of all shapes and sizes ranging from the 1 oz. world's smallest primate, the pygmy mouse lemur, to the literal former stomping ground of the now extinct elephant fowl, the planet's largest bird.  Wild and weird animals hang out in a full spectrum of extraordinary surroundings from craggy mountains and thundering waterfalls, to upside down Baobab trees, dry spiny octopus tree groves, tsingy limestone pinnacles, misty tropical rain forests, and balmy palmed lined turquoise bays.  This island holds mysteries revealed only to the hardy seasoned traveler willing to take the leap.

Seafaring settlers discovered this lost land over 2000 years ago and brought with them languages, customs and food harvesting such as rice terraces; more like S E Asia than neighboring Africa.  To this day the locals prefer not to be referred to as a part of Africa and in the markets a friendly, Malagasy greeting, "Salam" rather than "Bon Jour", gets a beaming smile every time.  Madagascar has a colorful and sometimes bloody history full of swashbuckling tales of pirates, and shipwrecked buccaneers washing up onto the shores of the powerful Merina Kingdom.  The good old Brits traded arms for merchant privileges with the Merina Kingdom and in 1890 in the unending chess game of global power, handed Madagascar over to the French in exchange for Zanzibar.  Kept under tight control for 70 years the people finally broke the yoke of imperial rule in 1958, with the election of their first president.  A lively political history has ensued with a list of colorful talking heads courting the world powers of Europe, the USSR, China and America in a desperate attempt to develop infrastructure and improve the suffering economy.  The power struggle started years ago with the prime minister marrying three Merina Queens in succession.  Since then socialist dictator army generals, corrupt prime ministers and hopeful presidents have all had their turn, some lasting 20 years, others only one week before being assassinated.  A country in flux,  the democratically inclined businessman and former yogurt salesman, Marc Ravolamanana after a devastating civil clash in 2002 took power, in an attempt to develop infrastructure and tourism on this bio-diverse island.  It only makes sense that a 34 year old former disc jockey now resides in the heavily guarded palace, after dancing in the streets with supporters, following his military takeover just 3 months ago.  We were hoping to exchange tunes and have a dance with the new president but we'll see what happens.  Formal elections take place in 2010 and the future of the people and the select remaining wildlife reserves and national parks teeming with one-of-a-kind flora and fauna hang by a thread.  Let the music begin!

We couldn't believe we had made it – finally – to this Mad Island.  After a long 11 hour overnight trip from Bangkok via Nairobi, we arrived a bit dazed in Antananarivo.  We couldn’t use the ATM’s at first and it seemed all the hotels were either expensive or dives.  Then we ended up on the hill in Isoraka, near Haute Ville. There the French influence makes for a softer landing in Madagascar, with colonial cobblestone streets and the ever present fresh baguette on every corner.  'Tana', has a distinctively French flavor and atmosphere; French and Malagasy is widely spoken here by everyone but us, and road as well as shop signs are mostly in French. The city is built on three levels surrounding a large basin containing several lakes.  Tana is the centre of the Merina tribe, who resemble the Malayo-Polynesian component of the first Malagasy settlers.

The 12 hills towering over the lower city provide fresh breezy vistas and perfect autumn weather (now south of the equator) a pleasant respite from the recent oppressive heat of Thailand.  The narrow streets of multistoried homes and grand stone churches provide endless hours of wandering, with welcoming friendly smiles at every bend.  Crowning the highest hill is the Rova (Queen's) Palace, gutted in one of those endless power struggles and under reconstruction, but providing an amazing view of the whole area.   We love it here.  The only ones not smiling are the sometimes aloof French residents, keeping up the reputation of their homeland.  The crowded markets full of items of every description line the steps and lanes leading downhill to Basse Ville (lower town).  The scenic lake Lac Anosy with it's island and towering white angel is quite a sight but the tiny lakeside wooden stalls of the barbers, the colorful flower venders, and the nearby fruit and vegetable market stole the show.  It is business as usual along the broad Ave de Independance, with no sign of unrest here or near our hotel, 2 blocks from the President's Palace.  We spent hours exploring the side streets and hills, feeling totally safe in this city of 2 million residents, getting the full spicy flavor of the capitol city. 

Communication through email is one of the great gifts of technology to our modern world.  In Tana we met up with our crazy friend, Richard, from San Francisco.  We met him hiking up to Everest Base Camp in Tibet 4 years ago and he is one of the few real  travelers we know.  He mainly hitchhikes and walks, learns the languages, and camps or sleeps on peoples floors when invited in.  He is 47 and has been doing this for years now.  He takes some fantastic photos and encourages them to sing in a recorder while getting to know the locals.  We certainly get our share of these types of escapades but after years on the road we would rather go out into the villages by day and enjoy our own space at night.  We can remember staying with a family in Suluweisi, sleeping on a board, too few blankets to keep warm, mosquitoes buzzing, followed by the morning dance as the family all used the open front out-house in succession.  Take a number and get in line.  We appreciated the queue system in businesses after that one.  Stuff stories are made of and memorable – but then we live overseas and Richard usually travels 6 months a year, going back home to regroup.  We admire his tenacity at reaching the far corners off the beaten track.  A traveler in the ultimate sense he is street smart but he leaves the fear behind as he wanders along throwing frisbees, doing magic tricks and popping on custom made buck teeth to make the villagers laugh.  We all turn into clowns to dissolve the cultural or language barriers, doing our best to be smiling ambassadors from the west.  Together we shared photos and swapped stories on what we have done since we last met.  He has walked across upper Africa, ... we’ve been to Burma, Borneo, Papua... and so it went.  So many places, so little time.  Great guy with a great sense of humor and we look forward to our orbits colliding again, somewhere out there.

The capital, 4000 ft above sea level, along with several other towns are in the central section of the Hauts Plateaux.  This chain of rugged mountains full of ravines and other geological formations runs from north to south down the island of Madagascar.  The only way really to explore this country that has so much to offer, is by taking a deep breath and cramming into one of the crowded local mini buses, hitting the open road. This is where one sees the real country and also where poverty of the Madagascar is most apparent.

Handy work of the last government, paved roads are now an added blessing along some of the main arteries of the island, but there are few motorized vehicles on the bumpy, dirt paths called roads in many remote sections of the country. Often locals are making their way via cattle carts, barefoot men and women lugging bundles to market and mud-smeared children, noses running full force, are smiling at passersby. The welcoming shouts of "Bonjour vahaza" (white person) from children as they run alongside the bus demonstrates the welcoming
attitude of the people.  We arrived at the  station 'just in time' to catch a taxi brousse (bush taxi) south.  Or so we thought.  Two and a half hours later we pulled out of the gate.  This might sound unbearable but we just claimed our seats in the mini van, then parked ourselves in the shade and let the parade of locals stop by to talk or try to sell us cheap plastic wares or food.  We had so much fun just hanging out that the time flew by.  The countryside was sparkling with tall terra cotta brick farmhouses framed by green fields and vibrant blue skies filled with billowing white clouds, reminding us that the rainy season has just ended.   Bright green rice terraces, golden crops ready to harvest, tall hay stacks, oxen carts, black and white Zebu cattle, steep hills, deep valleys and small lively villages all lined the well surfaced road. 

Rice is the primary crop here, supplying Madagascar with it's main food.  Abundant rainfall bringing three harvests a year for some, the sweeping valleys are jig sawed with dark brown, golden or green paddy fields, rising into steep terraces. Flashes of red soil peek out from the green, with family clusters of clay houses perched on the ridges, and little basic steepled churches.  The missionaries have been busy here.  On either side of the road the soil is scarred and barren, eroding with each rainy season; sad evidence of 'tavy', the slash-and-burn farming that is prevalent all over Madagascar. Condemned by conservationists, it is an economic necessity for a people whose first priority is to feed their rapidly expanding families.  Back to our ever present query regarding birth control.

The key to success in these small local buses is location, location, location.  Joseph tries to snag us the front seats or he sits up at the front window and I happily claim the window seat behind the driver so I don't have to do the "Chinese fire drill" movements; and wait as a steady stream of new companions cram in next to me.  The variety in the bus is like a colorful coffee table book on the faces, hats and smiles of these friendly Malagasy villagers.  At first they are almost shocked to see a 'vahaza' on board, let alone sitting next to one, as most tourists are just white faces peering out through the glass of private vehicles or in small tour busses.  In pods tourists are taken around to sample local life in a staged visit to a village, craft shop, market or school.   The real locals are waiting, with open arms to welcome you into their culture, just by taking the local transport or wandering back streets.  It is so easy here.  Before you know it you are learning new words, meeting babies and Grandmas, invited home with them, being asked to take their photo, sharing our pictures of home,"Here is Mama, our two kids, brother......................" 

While walking the streets we are usually joined by curious onlookers or those wanting to practice their limited English and we are often dragged inside yards or houses to have a look and meet the whole family.  Occasionally a "wanna be" guide picks you up, desperate for work like everyone else here, but once told "Thanks, but we don't use guides," there is no pressure.  Groups of boys may ask politely for a football (soccer ball) or street urchins, dirty beyond belief, may ask for money or food but nothing compared to India.  One would never know how desperately poor these folks are as their bright shining smiles show a contentment and happiness seldom seen in the west.  Like we have asked in the past, "Who is richer?"  One of our favorite fellows in Fiana (Place where Good is Learned) was little Thomas.  Pushing a long stick with two tiny wheels on it through the market, he casually asked us how we were.  We invited him to walk along with us and we soon discovered that this ragged little guy was brilliant, knowing English better than some teachers we have met, all from his limited instruction at school.  He never once asked us for anything but stuck tight with us for hours as we bought vegetables for dinner, poked through the witchcraft and herbal medicine sections, shared oranges in the shade, talking the whole time and encouraging him to keep studying English, work hard, and someday he would have a job he enjoyed.   Our last stop was a store to surprise him with a writing tablet and pen for his studies.  With a shiny sticker placed in front, our names and website address inside, along with a paragraph of encouragement, he was so excited we thought the wide smile on his little mouth would burst.  Another genuine encounter, of the real kind.

The rolling hills and narrow streets of Anstiribe, are lined with market stalls and stands selling the festive local handicrafts.  Everything possible carved in wood from neckties to bowls to full on bedroom suites are displayed and if you listen carefully you can hear the tap tap tapping of the carvers in their workshops.  Since leaving the capitol we haven't seen another traveler and it is soon apparent that there is no one to buy their wares.  We look and chat but buying a 4 foot tall bowl with lid, isn't exactly what we can carry.  No pressure only smiles, even though we always want  to buy something from each craftsperson. All through the central highlands are the unique, brightly painted 'pousse pousse' rickshaws, pulled by one man power.  Strong drivers wearing tattered clothes, muscles rippling, RUN by at full speed, as if sprinting to the finish line of a race, hauling enormous loads or seats full of bouncing passengers.  Usually we walk everywhere, so at first we felt a little decadent being pulled along, but then noticed that this is the only mode of transport besides scarce private vehicles.  Everyone uses them and provides income for these hard working fellows.              

Arriving at dusk we settled into our hotel and had to walk down the completely dark main road to the only restaurant nearby.  Small stands with tiny oil lamps sell peanuts or skewers of bbq meat, as dark shapes and shadows pass you.  We didn't feel the least bit threatened as the further you get from cities the more laid back things become.  Soon I was in the back kitchen of the restaurant pantomiming what I needed to cook our meal.  I turned up the lively Malagasy music blaring from the ever present radio and half a dozen or so cooks and helpers showed me the latest dance moves.  At one point, in their amazement that we didn't want any meat, someone presented me with a small bouillon cube.  Enquiring what it was made of, I asked 'poulette"? (remembering my kitchen French from Canada), followed by a rousing imitation of a chicken.  This just got the crowd going as one after another imitated cows, pigs, roosters, even fish.  What a hoot!  Whatever was in that magic cube had tears running down our faces with laughter.   When dinner was done they wouldn't let me leave the kitchen until we danced another full song, dancing my way out to my poor hungry husband.  Cooking over wood fires, my heart as well as my hands were warmed on that dark, chilly night.

As we travel along mysteries unravel and answers are revealed.  We just need to remember to remain open.  Such is the case with our discovery of MMS.  We believe in prevention with health and are always on the look out for ways to boost our immune system, so that we can stay healthy and strong.  Good health is the key to happy and successful travel, and for that matter, life in general.  For us the simplest method is often the best and the closest to Nature the better.  We carry everything we own with us, and although one quarter of my 18 inch suitcase is filled with 'health items', there certainly isn't extra room for bottles and bags of western health supplements.  We all know how the whole model of western medicine revolves around pharmaceuticals and surgery, which have their place occasionally.  We instead try to access the wisdom, often ancient, of the cultures we visit.  China and India were a cornucopia of health knowledge and Africa, with only one allopathic doctor for every 50,000 people, has revealed yet another health secret to these eager to learn travelers.  We gladly test out new options.  It is easy to be guinea pigs with herbs as they don't have all the side effects of chemical drugs.   We hope that the new World Trade CODEX regulations taking effect the end of 2009 won't limit everyone's freedom of choice in health care and or supplements.  Any good news on this, drop us a line. (Pass the word around and become part of the solution to this problem).    

Simple organic chemistry explains the success of MMS drops in preventing and treating malaria, some forms of cancer, and a slew of other diseases.  The hard work and admirable determination of Jim Humble has presented this gift to the world.  'Discovered' in a life and death situation, while prospecting in the jungles of South America, the lives of his Engineering colleagues were hanging by a thread.  Jim has overseen the cure of over 75,000 cases of malaria in Africa, the world's largest killer.  Back home he has been amazed at the success in treating all sorts of health ailments, often life threatening, common in our lives.  There are NO side effects, although to get the proper results one should follow the initial week long detox, then simply 4-6 drops daily as maintenance.  Click here for info:  (   Marketed as a water purifier to avoid controversy, his only aim is to tell as many people as possible worldwide about his discovery, and at $20 for a years supply, this is obvious.  Interested? Not feeling as healthy and strong as you would like?  Go to the official website: ( or Click here: for more info on how we have used MMS traveling and other ideas on staying healthy in our recently updated  Thoughts on Health page.


And so it goes.........................................Next month more of this fascinating island, Madagascar.  Until then let's remember to be flexible and embrace the changes in life.  Focus on changing ourselves, not those around us.  Again, thanks for sharing this website with friends.  Our circle of friends and viewers is growing monthly.    Keep Changing!  Keep Smiling!  Glad you stopped by.  Take care!


Love, Light & Laughter, 
xoxoox  Nancy & Joseph


Travel notes:

$1.00US = 2,000 Ariary

Flights to Madagascar:
Get a return flight here as one way fares on and off the rock are extremely high.  We met a lovely, professional leader of one of the only tour companies to Madagascar, Cortez Travel, and she helped us get a lower one way fare to Kenya when our visa expires.  So kind of her to help.  Monique has been coming here for 22 years and has a deep love of the culture and environment.  We hope to keep in touch.  She may also be able to help with your airline tickets so shoot us an email if you want to check her prices.  The tours are pricey but comprehensive, if that's your thing. 
Cosair flies from Europe to Nosey Bay directly.

As of January 2009, visas to Madagascar are free for a stay under one month.  The sign at the airport for arriving passengers still says $30 for 1 month.  Someone is making a good tip as all the passengers lined up to pay.  Check with their Embassy before arrival.  Three months cost us about $60.  Of course visa regulations change all the time.

Le Jean Laborde, Hotel -Bar-Brasserie
3, rue de Russie, Arabe Ramanantsoa, Isoraka,  Antananarivo 101
phone # 261 (20) 22 33045  Mobile 0320269285
After a long trip Joseph found this gem up on a hill above Tana, right above the main market street.  Friendly, helpful staff.  Room # 6 is warm, clean and spacious with wooden floors/ ceiling and clean bathroom with hot water.  Just what we needed to settle in to Madagascar after a tough trip.  Bargained for 30,000A down from 50,000A.  Singles 20,000.  Some rooms are good - others dark so check what's free and get a good one.  There are a number of small hotels in the area.  Right out of this place, first right, there is another small, good hotel on the right.

Anjara Hotel:  If you are leaving on a taxi brousse early, north or east, you can stay next to the taxi companies in this clean, modern hotel.  (33,000A)

We came from the oppressive heat and humidity of Thailand and landed in cool Nairobi and even cooler Tana (noon - 16 degree C, and it’s only fall).  Felt good but we sure needed the blankets at night.  You can take a small bus into town,  maybe from outside the airport grounds.  Weren’t any when we were there but saw some further down the road towards town (12km).  You could also try a smaller car – unofficial taxi for a cheaper rate.  White taxi from airport was 30,000 for 3 ATM stops and hotel looking.  Bargained down from 50,000a. Great driver and his son, even if the car wasn’t very gutsy.

We were told to watch our bags and pockets in the markets, and to stay close to home after dark.  Good words of advice as always in many capitol cities.  We have felt safe walking around, especially up in the hill areas, even at night.  Lots of pick pockets in lower market areas - Joseph had to elbow two different greedy guys who mistook his pockets for theirs.  Happens in all capitol cities.  Also don't wear expensive jewelry or look like a walking target.

In the market they often quote prices in old currency FMG francs.  Divide by 5 for price in ariary.  Changed US cash in the street, no problem.  We were only able to use a Visa/MC debit card at ATM's - not our Cirrus as used everywhere else over the past 6 years?  We have seen ATM's in every larger city, but are they working?  Stock up in Tana.

The Zoma Market, claimed to be the second-largest in the world(?) and certainly worth a visit, is held daily at the end of the main boulevard. The Tsimbazaza Zoological and Botanical Garden is open Thursday, Sunday and holidays 0800-1100 and 1400-1700 and is a pleasant enough place to spend a couple of hours.  You can get a look at many species of lemurs, in the usual old fashioned zoo setting, especially in the nocturnal house.  Of course seeing the animals in the wild is the best.

Taxi brousse transportation:  Don't get overwhelmed by the hoards of touts or baggage carriers awaiting you as you arrive at a station.  Carry your own bags and politely but firmly tell them, "Hands off."  They will even fight over your bags because the one who gets the prize bag into his pousse pousse gets the fare.  We always walk outside a station a little ways and get away from the confusion.  Set the fare in local transport before you get in.  Ask locals around you. 

For the taxi brousse know how much, approximately, the fare should be to your destination.  You pay for the final destination whether you go all the way or not.  Seems to be a trend to ask you for a couple thousand extra than the locals if dealing only with the driver.  First locate a van that is getting full, with lots of activity and loading of bags.  Better to go directly to the ticket stand, buy a ticket and ask where your chariot awaits you.  First ask to see the seating chart to see how many passengers have paid.  Ask for a departure "toute sweet", right now.  It never leaves on time but booking on an empty van could mean hours of delays as it slowly fills up. Claim your seat, or a better one, and grab a book.  Better yet get into the moment and enjoy the locals while you wait.

Hotel Mania, thought this would be a good place for a couple of crazies like us.  Spotless small budget rooms from 20,000a.  Third floor has great views from the balcony on the end.  #306 main road, phone #20 47 710 21, just up the street 1/2 block from where the taxi brousse lets you off from the north.  Friendly, helpful, no restaurant but there is a small restaurant next to the bank.  There are a number of other hotels up the small hill to the right, the Grand Hotel is past it's prime and more expensive.  This area is where wood carvers can be seen working.  Enjoy the markets all throughout the streets of town.

Hotel Arinofy, a steep climb up a paved road from the taxi brousse stand, 20,000a w/bath.  Worn but clean and the staff are really friendly, no English except the scarce owner.  A quiet, peaceful place, the corner room 2nd floor, overlooks the meticulously manicured gardens.  A lovely spot.  A walk up the hill to the main part of town, above the taxi stand, leads to fascinating markets (behind the open area) and other hotels -mostly upscale.  This is a different more commercial town, less charming than the 'A towns' between here and Tana.  The country's 2nd largest city it is remarkably without facilities.  Barely functioning internet is near or in the Post Office, across from the train station.  When we passed through on our return we stayed at the friendly, convenient, passably clean but extremely noisy hotel at the crossroads across from the taxi brousse station (16,000a).  All others are a real hike up but worth it for a longer stay.
















Colorful, intricately woven hats and bags of every pattern and size.
 Each region has their own style of hat.

Women chatting on their way home from market.

The Royal Palace, home to the country's new DJ president.  Hope he plays some good tunes to ease the political tension, until next year's election.

Lac Anosy is surrounded by the bustling capitol city of Antananarivo.


The narrow cobblestone streets of multistoried homes and grand stone churches provide endless hours of wandering, with welcoming friendly
smiles at every bend.

This shy, little sweetheart beamed when she saw her photo.


We crossed orbits with our friend, Richard, who we met hiking up
to Everest Base Camp in Tibet 4 years ago.  An ambassador of humor,
 he hassome great gags to get the villagers laughing.

The usual gathering of local venders at a taxi brousse (bush taxi) stand.
Lots of fun interacting with them, even if we don't buy anything,
 except food that is.

A tall brick house of farmers in the central highlands.  With so many
young kids around, there is usually one curious little face peering out of
every window.

This lovely girl stopped laying out the rice to dry in the sun and
invited us into her home compound to meet the family.

Typical terra cotta family village in the central farming highlands.

Serious business.  Tough nuts to crack, this gruff couple was laughing
when we got done with them.

This dapper little fellow with his hat tilted at just the right angle
 followed us for over an hour, and was thrilled when we took his photo.

Lunch time in Madagascar.  Small stands or 'hotels' serve freshly prepared
food, unfortunately most with meat or fish.  Care to sample the freshly
fried black grubs in the bowl on the right?  You could also buy a cup full
 of squirming, live ones to add to your favorite recipe at home.

Resting between customers.  These 'pouse pouse' drivers with muscles of steel, actually run full speed while dragging carts full of cargo or riders, in
an amazing display of strength and stamina.

Pouse pouse school bus.  Although literally beasts of burden,
owning a pouse pouse is a respected occupation and the only
option of transportation in many towns.

Wood carvers of Ambositra busily creating designs unique to their region.
We wondered where they got the wood with all the trees gone?

Once the trees are burned to clear the land for farming, the stumps are made into charcoal for cooking and sold in large sacks along the road.  Charcoal
 is an efficient way to cook and if the fire goes out you just go borrow
some hot
coals from your neighbor and fan them to turn up the heat.

A typical street scene of a larger town in the highlands.

Picturesque villages and towns are nestled amidst the hills and valleys.

We spent the whole afternoon with Thomas, a helpful, brilliant little
12 year old who was extremely poor.  We had fun poking through the
 markets together and encouraged him to continue studying hard.  He
didn't want us to leave and never once asked for anything.  We surprised
him with a notebook and pen as we reluctantly said, "Goodbye!"

We were introduced to all generations of Thomas's 'cousins'
selling vegetables. 

Thomas, to my right, translated for us when showing our usual pictures of home and the world map pointing out Madagascar and, "way over here is Hawaii."  He was famous amongst his neighborhood friends.

Old characters selling magic beads and herbs used as medicine.

We met these two 'cool cats', sporting regional cool hats, hiking on a
trail between remote villages.



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