On the Road North…
One of the most incredible features of this country are the drastic transformations the landscape, culture, people, and everything undergo in just a few hundred kilometers. Driving north from Madagascar’s capital, the rolling highlands and boulder dotted landscape gradually give way to forests of palm trees, thatch-roofed huts, bursts of tropical vegetation, and eventually, beach. A few hours into the drive I stop seeing the Asian-featured Merina tribe of the highlands, bundled in sweaters and conservative dress. Instead the women walking next to the road casually drape themselves with loose-fitting lamba, or sarong-like pieces of cloth while their children run around naked or in nothing but their underwear. By the time we reach Mevatanana, it has become far too hot for anyone to wear much more than that. Fruits become more tropical, and at some point I notice the large grass-woven baskets of mangoes, coconuts, and bananas women are carrying on their heads and salivatingly begin to daydream of sipping coconut juice on the beach.
After twelve hours on a bus, we arrived in the muggy, coastal city of Mahajunga, greeted with a cityscape of mosques, a roundabout with one of the widest baobab trees in Madagascar, and a salty ocean breeze.
Petite Plage and Cirque Rouge
On our first morning, we took a taxi-be, or bus, (500 Ariary; 20 minutes) from outside the Hotel de Ville towards la petite plage to lounge around in the ocean. As soon as we arrived, we headed to a French-run restaurant on the beach for beers and freshly caught shrimp the size of my hand. While we waited for our food, a couple of children amused themselves by posing for photos for me and shrieking with laughter as they competed to see how ridiculous they could make their faces. After lunch, we hiked for far too long to see the cirque rouge. However exhausting, meandering around the towering, red rocks made the hours-long trek along the beach worth it.
Returning back from the Cirque Rouge, the two friends I had trailed off with and I re-discovered the rest of our group (who had given up on the walk to cirque rouge) splashing in the waves and making friends with yet another French restaurant owner. Totally unanxious to return to the bustle of Mahajunga’s city center, we hunkered down with a couple of frosty beers again and watched the sun set. From the wooden patio, we could spot groups of local fishermen pulling in their sailboats full of the day’s catch. Chickens and dogs roamed the beach as the fishermen worked, making the beach feel more like an extension of everyday life than an exotic getaway.