Shielo was very enthusiastic, telling us all he knew about Madagascan culture and sharing bits of his life with us. He was very religious (he went to church every morning) and was married with five children. They hadn’t meant to have five, he said, but the last two were twins. Despite the fact that the twins were keeping him and his wife up at night, he was lighthearted with a wide, lingering smile.
After picking us up at the airport in Diego Suarez, he took us out to an area northeast of town called Sakalava Bay, where we wandered along the sugary white sand beach, watching kite surfers while having a picnic lunch he’d packed for us, as our flight had been delayed.
We were pretty weary at this point, although the picnic lunch revived us enough to take a walk along the beach, and then drive to see some baobob trees—our first of many to come. The are some of the most interesting and majestically weird trees in the world, with fat trunks that poke up high above the surrounding landscape, topped by flat, radial branches that appear so bare that they look like roots reaching for the sky. They are also known as “upside-down trees” which seems an apt name once you see them.
We were still wearing the clothes we’d put on Saturday morning in Bangkok, and it’s now Monday afternoon. Our main priority in purchasing clothes was to find items with full coverage for protection from sun, undergrowth, and mosquitoes during during the several hikes we had scheduled before we’d see our luggage again.
David ended up with a pastel state trooper look, and pants that were 2 inches above his ankles, but were long enough to tuck into his socks (which he discovered when we ran into swarms of mosquitoes issuing from the tall grasses we walked through on our first hike). And clearly, Lana is pleased with her outfit too:
In fact, these clothes were ill fitting and ridiculous enough that Lana ended up washing out the clothes she had worn on the plane each night and laying them out to dry so that she could wear them the next day. She did buy a different bra (the sizing was a guess at best, and there had been no dressing rooms at the Jumbo), but then it broke after the first wearing so she ultimately ended up wearing both bras together.
Our first 48 hours in Madagascar had left us disoriented, off-kilter, and out-of-sorts. But even still, our eyes were already wide with the wonder of the countryside. Men running barefoot in the center of the capital city pulling ox carts behind them. Flooded rice fields filled with cattle egrets, black herons, and naked children. White vans that took the place of city buses in Tana, heaving with people, back doors swinging open and fare-takers hanging out the back ready to pull fresh passengers on. Dusty streets filled with makeshift market stalls in Diego Suarez. Turquoise waters and fine white sand and purple trees against an azure sky. We seemed so disconnected from the modern world that we were shocked to have wifi at our hotel that night (and downloading the just-published copy of The New Yorker to our Kindle underscored that chasm). It seemed impossible that this place could exist in the same world as where we were from, or where we had already been.
And we hadn’t even seen a single lemur yet. But all that would change on our third day in Madagascar.