Madagascar Part 3 of 8: Tsingy du Bemaraha.
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Today I was heading north to the Tsingy du Bemaraha. Tsingys are peculiar limestone pinnacles growing up to 50m and unique to this part of Madagascar. I was forewarned by my driver that it would be a tough 7-8 hour drive since it was going to be dirt road all the way and given the rains had only finished some weeks back it was likely some stretches could be quite muddy or still waterlogged. As we were setting off in the early hours again the light was perfect as the earth road turned various shades of red. We drove past more baobabs and past land which had been deforested. Unis told me that about two years ago there was strong demand from China for peanuts, so land had been cleared to grow them and demand has been rising since. The scale of destruction was quite shocking and something I had no idea about. Having seen the extreme levels of poverty here it is also understandable why local farmers, who get little government help, have taken this action even if eventually loss of their natural habitat may cost more in the long-term.
We drove on for about 2.5 hours when we arrived at the river. We were to board a boat to cross to the other side. The boat was probably only big enough to fit 3-4 vehicles and some passengers, and is often the case the boatsman refused to budge until he was filled to capacity. I thought no harm spending 10-15 minutes here to soak in the lively scene unfolding all around me, not knowing I would eventually have to wait nearly two hours to board the boat! Young boys jumped off the boat and played in the water, herders were bringing their zebu to unload produce and an old man was trying to teach his young grandson how to walk. Food stalls were brimming with activity with all kinds of local snacks being devoured as quickly as they were being fried. Women were scrubbing clothes downstream and shouting at their kids for not cooperating (nothing new there!). Grown men and young boys rolled large barrels of water along the bank and filled jerry cans to be used for cooking or cleaning, although the water appeared quite filthy. I sat on the edge of the bench and was letting my mind drift off only to be starkly awoken by a stream of naked young boys passing by, with some being carried. Unis told me that there had just been a circumcision ritual nearby. I was literally speechless as I certainly wasn’t expecting to see this and the smell of raw meat from the food stands was starting to get to me! We were finally ushered on to the boat and Unis expertly manoeuvred the jeep into the narrow space. Two other jeeps also loaded along with some foot passengers and we made our way down the river.