Returning to a place in travel carries a comforting sense of familarity, gives us the wonderful opportunity to observe a place without worrying about getting lost, and to grow excited about some hidden gem we get to experience for an unexpected second time. However, it also inevitably urges us to draw comparisons. London in the fall is a totally different world than London in the spring; New York City felt bleak and grumpy under the grey skies of January, but optomistic in the budding heat of May; and in Foul-Pointe Madagascar, a lazy beach town just north of the country’s main port city, Tamatave, I hopped off the bus for the first time in the quiet low season in April, then again on a major Malagasy holiday just after halloween.
The first transformation I noticed was the faces of people; light-skinned Merina, the tribe from the central part of the country, dominated the landscape of the beach. Instead of the one small group of girls with braided hair loudly goofing off in the waves, asking my friend and I if we knew the last white person who lived there as we tried to hold our glasses of rum up high enough to keep out the salt water, the water was filled with Malagasy tourists. Wealthy families from Tana splashed in the shallow waters (since few Malagasy know how to swim), while snapping photos of their children with cell phones or digital cameras. Others camped out on the beach, cooking rice and loaka (the “thing you eat with rice”) to be served on plates brought from home. Some local men, who had traveled from their homes further out in the countryside, had posted up on the beach for the weekend to sell coconuts for 40 cents a piece, hacking the tops off with machetes before handing them to customers.
We were witnessing a Malagasy family holiday, a collection of families who had driven for eight hours to loaf about the beach for a day or two, always cooking for themselves, before returning to the dirt and grime of Antananarivo or wherever else they came from.
Noting the changes, my friends and I headed to our beachside bungalow, put down our bags, drank a little too much in a lounge chair in the sand, then went out in search of fresh shrimp in coconut sauce, that local gem we had traveled some 200+ kilometers to experience again.
Photos: (1) Dog sitting by a beached boat at low tide (2) A local pirogue-man watching a group of Malagasy tourists (3) Merina children playing (4) A Merina family wading in the ocean