Peace Corps · The Nomadic Life · Travel

From Madagascar to Thailand: Getting Off the Red Island

“Okay, let’s get the fuck outta Dodge,” Liz said as we hopped on our mountain bikes and started the long journey from her village at the foothills of Andringitra National Park and up north. We had an hour of biking on rough, dusty roads, then a packed full bus to the nearest town, and another bus to the nearest city. We were remote, and after several straight weeks of being there we were ready to leave and eat a friggin’ pizza.

But now, several weeks later and having finished the one month-long course of teaching ESL to guides in Morarano, the launching point for most independent travelers into Andringitra National Park, I’m prepping to leave the island entirely. Over the past year of living in Madagascar it’s remoteness and the inaccessibility of some of its most beautiful places has been part of its charm — the island isn’t overcrowded with tourists, and even less of these choose to travel Madagascar independently (although this is totally doable!) — but I feel like it’s time to go somewhere that feels more connected to the rest of the world. Sometimes Madagascar seems like the edge of the world, forgotten, and totally detached. We may not be as isolated as Micronesia, for example, but I have still joked that we’re so off the grid that if the world were to end in 2012, it would forget to take Madagascar with it.

Anyways, in a few hours I’ll be on a plane towards Thailand, a country notorious for its tourist friendly paths and booming Westernized capitol, and the thought is a terrible mix of excitement and nervousness. Do I still remember how to ride a train? Will I stare at white people too much? Will convenient stores, shopping malls, and air conditioning be a jarring reminder of modernity? These are the things that run through my head as I flip through the guide book left behind by another Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) at our transit house; nevermind the Buddhist temples, elephants, and jungles it talks about.

Mostly, I’m curious to see how different a country can appear to someone who is flying directly from America or Europe (such as a good friend from D.C. who will be arriving two weeks after me!) versus a scruffy PCV living in Africa whose reality for the past year has been incredibly un-modern.

“Don’t worry,” another Peace Corps friend told me, “I still think there will be an element of third-world there that will make you feel more comfortable,”

“You mean like open-air markets and people shitting in the road?”

“Yeah, maybe…”

I was being facetious, but the friend had a point. While some things may be overwhelming, others may be strikingly familiar. I doubt I’ll be able to resist a constant comparison between Madagascar and Thailand, but we will see. Either way, it’s great to “get the fuck outta Dodge” for a few weeks.

Photo: (1) The view from Morarano

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