Tsara Be

Africa

by | Jul 24, 2016

“Tsara Be” is an expression that I used a lot in Madagascar, and for good reason. Simply, it means “very good”. Six weeks here went by in an instant. I underestimated how comfortable I would get in a place that is so challenging and how difficult it would be to leave. Every day was an exercise to just figure it out. I’m closing the chapter, but not the book.

I received an amazing compliment from a friend whom I met in Madagascar. “You give Madagascar the benefit of the doubt. A lot of people judge when they are visiting and don’t look beneath the surface for why things are, how they are, or why people do what they do. A lot of people think “different” is wrong. You look at Malagasy people as equals. Even some off the most self proclaimed “worldly” people still look at foreigners as exhibits at a zoo.” 

If you have been following along or even just read a post here or there, you will know my writing is not about doing “epic sh!t” and taking “sick videos” of me doing it. There is no Go Pro.  True, I am fortunate to be traveling to astonishing places and have the opportunity to do amazing things…however that is not what moves me. Everyday I am inspired and humbled by the human experience…the people, the struggles, the small victories, and the interactions. Being offered a place to sleep and food to eat by a family who took a chance on a tired traveler. A high five from some children who ran out of their hut to greet me as I rolled through their village. Struggling to communicate in order to buy peanuts from a local street vendor. Staying at a remote Peace Corps village amongst the local residents. Getting lost on a “road” that simply disappeared and asking directions from someone who has no idea how or why I’m riding my bicycle through his field but was nonetheless eager to help.

Like any place that you go, no matter how different, people really are just people, with their own challenges, trying to get by. These opportunities to connect are never found in any tourism brochure but are truly priceless gifts. The people whom I met along the way absolutely made the experience…and those chance encounters happened because I went with an open heart, an open mind, and just rolled with it. “Was this trip life changing?” No. It was life invoking.

Madagascar is diverse. I cycled through the mountains and rainforest in the central highlands, tropical coastline in the east where it rained every night but was gorgeous and sunny during the day, and finally to the more rugged and drier hills and coast in the north and west. Every place was unique and different. I feel fortunate that I got to experience so much of the culture in such a short time…yes, 6 weeks is really a short time to experience such a diverse and extraordinary culture.

The Cliff Notes from Madagascar

  1. Check yourself. If you are coming to Madagascar for a cushy, luxury holiday…stick to the Caribbean or Europe. Madagascar is difficult. There is very little English and the nice accommodations (if they exist) will be far below that of the standard American low budget accommodation. The basic accommodations are far below what most Americans have experienced and might be shocking. You may not have a flushing toilet or a toilet seat.  You may not have electricity or clean sheets.  Mattresses are typically just a piece of foam and depending on how new it is, you may sag through to the wood. You may have bugs or gekkos.  It will likely be loud.  If you find a hotel with hot water or wifi, enjoy it. It is not common. Recalibrate. Once you do that, everything is easier.
  2. Learn a few words or expressions in Malagasy, greet everyone with a warm smile, have a positive attitude (even though you will get frustrated) and life will be a LOT easier. This is their world. You’re just visiting.
  3. Vazaha.  This means either foreigner or white person.  It isn’t intended to be derogatory, but you’ll here it, a lot.  It’s just what they know.  The funniest was hearing children who ran out of their huts as I rolled by, yelling Vazaha!!! with gigantic smiles.
  4. Daily power cuts are the norm. Plan accordingly if you need to charge electronics. Power cuts also affect availability of hot water or water at all. Fill up the bucket in your bathroom proactively for bathing or flushing.
  5. It is common for restaurants to not have even half the menu listed.   There just isn’t enough tourism to merit that even in the select few touristy areas. You can always get a cheap hot meal at a local hotely. This is essentially a road side café where locals eat. Sometimes it is just a table that someone sets up for the day. Eat there. It will initially confuse people but will ultimately make them smile. Tsaramaso and vary (beans and rice) are terrific and cost the equivalent of about $1.00 or less. Vazaha are looked at as having lots of money and thus in a different class. Vegetarian confuses people. Vazaha have money and with money, they eat meat. “Why would you want to eat Malagasy food?” “Ok, so no beef. What about chicken?” I got these questions a lot.
  6. Malagasy time – nothing happens quickly or on time. There is no Malagasy word for “rush”.
  7. No matter where you are, plan to be awakened by a rooster promptly at 5 a.m. That’s assuming you slept through the barking dog(s) throughout the night. It’s ok, because when the sun goes down at 5:30 p.m. most small towns and villages shut down since there is no power and you’ll be asleep by 8 pm.
  8. Malagasy people LOVE karaoke…and loud music in general, even when no one is around to enjoy it.  Hearing someone belting out Is this Love by Bob Marley is priceless.  They may not speak english but will know the words to this song.  If they have big speakers, expect that they will get used.
  9. The exchange rate is about 3,200 Ariary to $1.00 USD. Most ATM’s will disperse up to 300,000ar which is about $90.00 USD. However, many of the notes are in 5,000ar increments so plan to always have a stack of paper in your pocket because most places to not take credit cards.
  10. It’s normal to bargain over prices but remember at the end of the day, a difference in price of 5,000ar for a hotel is about $1.50. Although recently I got very annoyed having to pay 1,800ar for yogurt when I know at most it should cost 700ar. Difference of $0.30. Speaking of…you can buy local yogurt on the street in little juice sized glasses and its amazing. It makes for a good quick snack.
  11. People work hard and are resilient. They start work by 6 a.m. Tools are basic. When something breaks, fails, or simply needs to get done, they will figure it out.
  12. Take a taxi bruesse if nothing more than for the experience. It is essentially a Toyota Previa sized van. It is what the locals travel in. Never underestimate how many people can be packed in. I once counted 29 people and pretty sure there were still several available laps to sit on.  When you think its full, they will still stop on the side of the road to pick up someone else or another couple bags of rice or some chickens.
  13. I never got sick, ripped off, or pick pocketed. Don’t ask me how.

I seem to always go back to these thoughts that I included as part of a prior post. Most of us live life from A to B. Our lives in general mostly operate this way, and I too am guilty now and then. Get through the week to get to the weekend. I learned long ago and continue to practice the belief that the true joy and reward is in the journey, not simply reaching the destination. This is true not just in travel, but life in general. We all put so much focus on reaching the top of the mountain that we forget to pick our heads up and enjoy the struggle, the set backs, and the small victories (yes it is possible to enjoy the struggle and set backs). Sometimes getting completely knocked down is the best. Lean in to the discomfort.  Sure, occasionally it is necessary to just tuck your chin and grunt your way through it in order to live to fight another day. However, the journey is where the stories form, the relationships develop, and where our character and sense of self are molded.

I think (hope) most people’s goal in life is to live fully, continually grow as a person, make connections…all in an effort to become our best selves. I believe that we are wired for connection. This experience, like every other one in my life…whether it is in Africa, Vietnam, Bolivia, Peru (some of my prior bike tours) or back home in Colorado, is just another piece of that building process…that endless journey that we’re all on. We are defined by the choices that we make.  Every experience is a new taste…and I want more.  Tsara be!

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Njara and my first host family

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1st time packed in a bruesse

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Hanging out in Tana

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Rugby match vs. Senegal

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Starting my journey on secondary roads

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My 1st unplanned host family.  Their kindness was inspiring.

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On the way to the east coast

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Hanging with the Peace Corps in Vatomandry

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Football in Vatomandry

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Lemur in Andasibe

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All smiles

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Peace Corps digs

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Beach time in Tamatave

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Beach time on Ile Sainte Marie

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Pirouge tour on Ile Sainte Marie

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Bike inspection

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Welcoming crew

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Passing time and waiting for the boat to Ile Sainte Marie

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Boat to Ile Sainte Marie

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Don’t Stop Believing

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Roughing it on Ile Sainte Marie

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whale watching on Ile Sainte Marie

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Flying your bike in Mada is easy

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Getting lost on Nosy Be

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One Love with the captain of the boat leaving Nosy Be

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Best smile ever

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Room for 1 more?

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Lemur in Ankarana National Park

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Tsingy in Ankarana National Park

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Talked my guide into mountain biking in Ankarana National Park

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Exploring Ramena

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Exploring Ramena

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Ankle devouring sand in Ramena

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Sunset in Ramena

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3 Bays in Ramena

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Last dinner in Madagascar

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The World Spins By is an intimate journey of loss, curiosity, and love—recounted one pedal stroke at a time along Jerry’s two-year bicycle journey back to himself. 

3 Comments

  1. SPEECHLESS. PROUD.

  2. This post made me so happy! Well done!

  3. Don’t stop believing! We believe in Madagascar! in its future. Thank you Jerry! You found what really matters in Madagascar: the people. We (I’m Malagasy) may not have the most beautiful beaches, the most luxurious hotels, but we have the warmest hugs and the brightest smiles. Again thanks Jerry!
    By the way I am the guy who played “Don’t stop …” in Mahambo Fenerive Est with J. Smith.