Me-go Mix: Track 6

Posted by on Apr 9, 2008 in Madagascar, Post-Trip | No Comments

Me-go Mix: Track 6
“Manahirana” — Lola

To download using Windows “right click” and save to disk. Mac users, you know what to do.


The owner of the music store forced the employee to pose for this picture against his will. After I was finished everyone looked at the photo and made fun of him, poor guy.

The following video of “Manahirana” is a good example of the fashions worn outside of the capital. You’ll notice the skirts are similar to kangas worn in East Africa, particularly Zanzibar. Woven straw hats are popular in Madagascar and come in countless shapes and colors. I spotted the square woven hats worn by the women in this video on two people in Madagascar and liked them so much I tried to find out where to buy one, showing the sketch I drew to people around the market. I was told the hat is from Fianarantsoa, the largest town South of the capital.

I also stumbled upon the video for song #1 (I Gasikara) on the mix. It’s a great overview of Madagascar, excluding the National Parks and the hard to reach South. Lola starts out in the Northwest tip of Madagascar on an Island called Nosy Be. Most people who go on “holiday” to Madagascar stop in a National Park to see a lemur and then head up to Nosy Be. Even I wouldn’t take the bus (more of a truck, really) up there because of the awful roads. There’s now direct flights from France to Nosy Be, bypassing the capital entirely.

Next Lola pops up in Antananarivo, the capital, to dance down the main street in town in front of the train station. I bought my first copy of Lola’s music just to his left in front of the Air Mad office. This is not an area to be wandering alone at night.

He then continues down the Route National 7 South, stopping in many of the same towns I visited on my trip. He makes his way by road all the way to Tulear in the Southwest and then heads North to the beach town of Ifaty. From Tulear I headed South instead, to Anakao because it was supposed to be more deserted. The roads you see him walking down are the same I drove in for six hours at a time in a packed minibus.

Me-go Mix: Track 1

Posted by on Mar 12, 2008 in Madagascar, Post-Trip | 4 Comments

I want to thank all of you who voted to send me to Martinique in February. Although the results have been delayed for some reason, I am fairly certain that I did not win. I had a solid, steady pace throughout the month only to be suddenly surpassed in the last two days by a few bloggers who suddenly amassed as much as 1,000 votes overnight. We did our best!

To thank all of my regular readers I’ve put together a seventeen song mix of music that I bought during my two RTW trips. A new mp3 will be available for download every few days. If you download leave a note in the comments and tell me what you think.

Me-go Mix: Track 1
“I Gasikara” — Lola

To download using Windows “right click” and save to disk. Mac users, you know what to do.

Madagascar’s music scene is full of local talent. Walking around town, the songs seeping out of storefronts and blaring from boom boxes are more likely to be in Malagasy than English or French. On the African mainland I heard Shakira or Diddy more often than anything sung in Swahili. Most Malagasy music is either upbeat like this track from Lola or a ballad. I decided to go for the fun stuff. I’ve been told that Lola is one of the most popular artists in Madagascar. When I asked for a translation of the title I was told “I Gasikara” means “Madagascar” and that the song was about his love for the country. It’s certainly catchy—you might just find yourself singing along even though you don’t know the words.

I also stumbled upon the video for “I Gasikara.” It’s a great overview of Madagascar, excluding the National Parks and the hard to reach South. Lola starts out in the Northwest tip of Madagascar on an Island called Nosy Be. Most people who go on “holiday” to Madagascar stop in a National Park to see a lemur and then head up to Nosy Be. Even I wouldn’t take the bus (more of a truck, really) up there because of the awful roads. There’s now direct flights from France to Nosy Be, bypassing the capital entirely.

Next Lola pops up in Antananarivo, the capital, to dance down the main street in town in front of the train station. I bought my first copy of Lola’s music just to his left in front of the Air Mad office. This is not an area to be wandering alone at night.

He then continues down the Route National 7 South, stopping in many of the same towns I visited on my trip. He makes his way by road all the way to Tulear in the Southwest and then heads North to the beach town of Ifaty. From Tulear I headed South instead, to Anakao because it was supposed to be more deserted. The roads you see him walking down are the same I drove in for six hours at a time in a packed minibus.

Two Day Transit

Posted by on Jun 6, 2007 in Kenya, Madagascar | 6 Comments

After waking up at 3:30 this morning to make my flight from Tana I’ve arrived in Nairobi. Unfortunately, the visa I was given is only for two days. I asked for a 7-day transit visa so this may be some sort of ploy to get more money. Tomorrow I’ll have to go down to the immigration office and sort it out because I can’t get out of the country by tomorrow.

I’m slowly updating things but the connection is quite slow and there’s about five other travelers with laptops here so I am only getting enough of the connection to upload late at night.

Back in Tana

Posted by on Jun 5, 2007 in Madagascar | No Comments

I’ve arrived back in Tana and am feeling pretty good to be leaving. I liked Madagascar enough, it is very beautiful but not quite as “exotic” as I thought it would be. I’d be lying if I said all the French (language and tourists) didn’t sour my experience a bit. I do realize it’s totally hypocritical to look down on people speaking only French when I demand that people speak English. Locals are shocked when I use my limited Malagasy vocabulary (about 6 words) with them because the older French tourists don’t bother even learning “salaama,” which means “hello.”

Today I’m shopping for souvenirs and relaxing before my early flight tomorrow. I have to leave my hotel at 4am. I’ve been trying to upload photos here since last night but it’s not working so you’ll have to wait for the twenty or so new galleries until I get settled in Nairobi again.

Spending Time in Tana

Posted by on May 13, 2007 in Madagascar | One Comment

Somehow I found a Tex-Mex place here in Tana. Last night I had something resembling a burrito. It was a little off but I appreciate the fact that they’re trying. In the end more disturbing than the watery guacamole was hearing myself say “l’addition, s’il vous plait” after eating Mexican.

For lunch I refused to eat the chicken I ordered so I was pretty hungry for that burrito. I’m putting my foot down—no more meat on bones! When I ordered from the French menu the waitres translated a word into “bread” from which I assumed I’d be getting a chicken sandwich. Instead, I got breaded chicken on the bone. There’s no meat on these chickens, so I didn’t even try. Luckily I was eating with a reasonable English traveler who didn’t let the breaded bones go to waste.

Tonight at dinner I was asked to leave the restaurant and eat in the bar because I ordered a “snack.” Since when is a cheeseburger and fries a snack?

Common room in my hotel Tana's architecture What kind of pose is that?

In even less interesting news, it’s clear that I’ve began to think about coming home when I start trolling websites to find out the dates of upcoming concerts stateside. Unfortunately, one of my favorite bands, Sloan is in Chicago next week. Since 1995 the only time I’ve missed them was the year I was living in England. Lollapalooza is in early August but do I want to commit to such an early return, especially when ticket prices are at $195?

Empty Pockets in an Island Capital

Posted by on May 12, 2007 in Madagascar | 31 Comments

I’ve been in Antananarivo (hereby called “Tana”), Madagascar for a few days now. Coming in from the airport I was struck with the overwhelming character the town has compared to Addis Ababa or Nairobi. I can’t remember the last time I saw peaked roofs! The road into town reminded me of a mix between Africa, France and the Bahamas with peaked, shingled roofs and brightly painted houses. The central area of town, where I’m staying, is much more French-inspired architecturally with cast iron balconies and steep cobblestone streets.

By the time I arrived in town the banks were closed and I found myself without money, once again. I ate at my hotel and researched how to get money the following day. Because my Visa card was cancelled I only have Mastercard or American Express travelers checks. I tried The Hilton first but the Amex office that I read about didn’t exist.

The first bank I tried didn’t take checks and recently stopped taking Mastercard. The second bank did take travelers checks (not Mastercard) but wouldn’t cash the checks without a receipt. And, as it turned out, it only took Euro checks, not US dollars. I have used travelers checks as emergency funds for ten years and have never been asked for a receipt. In fact, I’ve never been issued a receipt when I’ve purchased checks—ever. And I’ve never seen anyone carry Euro travelers checks! Finally, the third bank took Mastercard and overlooked my lack of receipt, I could eat.

There’s not too much to do around town and I’m hanging around, waiting for a FedEx to arrive from America. Every once in a while I think of something else that I should have asked my mom to put in the FedEx (afterbite… ziplock bags!). The more time I spend sitting in the capital the more nervous I get about finding travel partners. I just need someone to take the river to Morondova with. Even if I could afford it alone it would be pretty boring that way. I have only met one budget traveler so far, everyone else being French-speaking with big pockets.

Nairobi for a Day or Two

Posted by on May 8, 2007 in Kenya, Madagascar | 5 Comments

Well, folks it’s time. Tomorrow morning I fly to Madagascar. After some frantic emailing with Air Madagascar’s office in Nairobi I finally got a confirmed reservation when I checked my email in Moyale before crossing the border to Kenya. I spent the night on the Kenyan side and was ready to get to Nairobi the next morning along with the Australian woman who tagged along.

She had a lot of Ethiopian money left over and changed it to Kenyan shillings with the black market dealers on the Ethiopian side. Because she had so much we decided that I would borrow money from her until we arrived in Nairobi and I could use my ATM card. Surprisingly, in the morning while I was talking to truck drivers and arranging a ride South she made a call to some friends and decided to stay in Moyale to wait for them for a day or two.

I was shocked, not knowing this was even a possibility. If I had known I would have been mentally prepared to travel in a truck alone and certainly would have changed money. I was pretty upset, not liking sudden changes in plans. There was a group of Finns in a 4×4 who were heading South and they offered me a ride if nothing else worked out. I talked to the man at the bus window and he promised to save me a seat on the bus until after the bank opened at 9am. I was going to have to change my last $100 at a bad rate. I was also worried because the truck convoy was supposed to leave at 9am and I was worried I would be stranded.

So I impatiently waited outside the bank while men in uniforms with rifles guarded the door. Rain poured down and the entire population of the town crowded under the overhangs of the tin roofs staring and the muddy mess in front of them. Although I woudl have rather been in the 4×4 I figured the bus would be good—it went straight through the night to Nairobi and I would have a seat. Most of the truck drivers I talked to had already sold their front seats and wanted to stuff me behind the seats or in the empty cargo hold in the back. The bus sounded good.

By 9:10 I had cash and a bus ticket and was standing in the rain with my bag. I finally sat on the bus but nothing seemed to be happening. I kept my eyes on the 4×4 and waited until 10:30. Finally someone on the bus said something about tomorrow and I discovered the bus had been cancelled for lack of passengers. This, after I had been told the bus was sold out and after the ticket man acted as if he was doing me a favor saving me a seat. I was not happy.

I jumped off the bus and all the trucks and the 4×4 were gone. I was stranded. Standing in the middle of the dirt square in the rain I looked around in despair. A few locals came up and asked the typical “are you fine?” This time I said “no, I am not fine” and threw a small tantrum. One of the guys around my age told me he would look for a car and took me to a shop where a car was waiting in the back. “Look, it’s a Landcruiser, very good.” It was a 4×4 car but the back was a pickup with a large cage welded on top. The front seat was taken and after five minutes insisting that I would only pay half beforehand I was pushed into the cage. The entire floor was covered in suitcases, boxes and bags but there was only one woman and her two small children in the back with me. Since I was paying the same price I would have to ride in the front of a truck I figured that we would be alone in the back. I was wrong.

Usually I ask all the questions needed during negotiations but I was so frazzled that I was just happy to be leaving town that day. As soon as we pulled out of the back we stopped and 15 more people got in. The crowd yelled at me through the cage to put my small backpack on the roof and when I refused (it had my camera and other electronics in it) they told me I was selfish and that they are paying as much as I am and so on. Seeing as the bus was 1,500 shillings and no one wanted to ride I can only assume that this was a lot cheaper than the bus—not the 8,000 they claimed. I paid 2,000 and knew it was too much. It wasn’t getting off to a good start.

We finally left town and went through no less than 15 police checkpoints between Moyale and Isiolo. We drove for six hours straight to Marsabit with no stops and no opportunity to stretch our legs. Seeing as my knees were around my shoulders and two different people were sitting on my feet I could barely walk when our cage was opened and we were freed. This wasn’t what I had agreed to. I had assumed we’d spend the night in Marsabit but we continued on after dinner.

The driver was nice and didn’t flinch when I mentioned I couldn’t sit in the back anymore. I suggested that I stay in Marsabit and get another ride the next morning but he happily suggested I sit in the front next to the breastfeeding woman. He assured me that the man sitting there wouldn’t mind. He tried to talk me out of it but I left Marsabit in the front seat. Despite the fact that the woman was talking up much more than her share of the seat and her 7 year-old daughter had to sit on my lap with my bag on her lap I was happy to have my legs stretched out.

It was tight but sitting next to the window watching the stars while listening to my music was amazing. We stopped about three hours before Isiolo and the man came back and starting yelling at me to “go back where I belong.” I simply stood next to the door and suggested that I was where I belonged. He continued to yell at me “not to argue” when he was the only one even speaking. I stood my ground and the driver told me to sit down. That meant that the woman sat next to the window and I had to balance the girl with one leg outstretched and the other bent over the stick shift. It started to rain.

We arrived in Isiolo at 4am, 16.5 hours after leaving Marsabit. It continued to rain and the woman next to me had fallen asleep on my shoulder while her daughter fell asleep on my lap. I was holding the woman up with my shoulder, the girl back with both of my arms so she didn’t hit her head on the dashboard and my bag up against the front window. After all of this the passengers were still cold to me and the woman next to me refused to get out. I tried to maneuver out of the driver’s side and got stuck between the steering wheel and the driver’s bag. Finally I pushed out and didn’t look back. My large backpack was still in back but definitely more flat than when I had left it. Later I would fine that my laptop’s screen had developed a flicker.

The 6:30 bus to Nairobi was sold out but the men at the window promised “to find me a seat.” I sat around for two hours and finally got on the bus and realized just how bad I smelled. I ended up in Nairobi by noon and managed to bargain down a taxi driver to a reasonable rate to my hostel. It’s a whole different world down here, not only do they drive on the other side of the road but many people are walking around in business suits and I haven’t noticed one person sleeping in the middle of the highway. Still, Nairobi is notorious for it’s crime and poverty and I’ve stuck to the hostel at night.

Yesterday I ran errands around town, picking up my ticket to Madagascar and buying a guidebook and French phrasebook. I haven’t had enough time to update my site completely and I only hope that the screen flicker isn’t an omen of my laptop’s final legs. It only needs to last a few more months! I’m starting to get excited for Madagascar, despite the French and the costs. Even my family told me they watched a special on Madagascar tonight so I think we’re all ready for some lemurs.

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