Weeks before our actual departure, we (as is said in Malagasy) “built a program” to hike out to Masoala and back along the coastal trail. While this would be an eight-day commitment at the least, it would save us the exorbitant cost of the boat and, as most of the trail was not actually in park, also the cost of a guide. There was only one hang-up with our brilliant plan: it required Malagasy approval for an unorthodox undertaking, in this case approval from the National Parks office. An initial visit received the expected reply: “um, yes, well, please, return at a later date.” So we did, again and again and again, to receive the same reply and no apparent change in the status of our request. Our hoped for departure date came and went.
Initial plan: abandoned, without lingering attachment. We cleaned out our bank accounts, hired a guide (Beonique, who would become well acquainted with our philosophy of success), begged a boat discount, and were on our way!
With great enthusiasm, a new plan was built. We would hike from Tampolo (located about halfway down the peninsula) to Cap Masoala (the peninsula’s tip). Though this was traditionally a three-day endeavor, we would attempt to do it in two. This accelerated pace would still put us a day behind Malagasy grandmothers and the partially disabled in overland trekking speed. Once there, we would stay for a day, then return along the same trail.
We started out on that first day with a sense that our task was ambitious, but doable (not, you may have noticed, an uncommon mistake on our part). Embarking early, we headed south along the trail, paralleling the ocean. Frequently we would encounter vinany crossings, places where river meets sea; previously friend (see: LEPTY LEPTY LEPTY, April 2012) these were now largely foe. We would find ourselves chest-deep, sinking in sand, backpacks precariously perched atop our heads, straps suddenly numerous and cumbersome. “I am fine, totally fine!” we would tell each other and reassure Beonique. “I do this every…” would often be partially lost in the rising water and sound of thrashing limbs. Beonique did not look reassured.
After lunch, we left the shore and climbed into the forest. This portion of the trail had been described in a very Malagasy manner as “three ups and three downs then you are out.” We climbed one short hill: “ONE UP!” we congratulated each other. Premature high fives all around.
Seven hours and countless ups later, we our still deep and disoriented in the rainforest. We have long since stopped with the high-fives. The high-fives were a stupid idea in the first place. We have likely succumbed to heat stroke. Night is falling and we have no idea how far remains to the village at the edge of the forest. We push on until it is so dark we can hardly see. Finally Kerry, who in her delirium may actually have shown the most logic, simply sits down in the trail and refuses to walk further. A hurried conversation determines that really, girl is not budging. While I search for a flat-ish spot that is not 99% roots, a brown-tailed mongoose (rarest of forest sightings) strolls out and stops to sniff Kerry’s toe. “What the [expletive] is that? An [expletive] ferret??” she demands. Ok, that seals it: we camp here tonight, on this flat-ish spot that is only 93% roots.
Though we crawl from our tent at dawn feeling like we slept on a pile of sticks, the plan that second day remains ambitious, but doable. We will finish our journey! For most of the day we press on, leaving the forest and coming upon the village in two hours. Not long thereafter the trail reconnects with the ocean and we can almost see our destination along the shore. The heat builds and builds; every second in the sun feels like you have been cruelly locked in the car on a hot day by your neglectful owner. You wonder why you are thinking of yourself as an abused pet. You realize that you are undoubtedly delirious again. Stopping to get water, you look up and see a perfect little cove with a perfect little campsite.
Change of plans: we will be spending the night here!
The next morning, instead of completing the final two hours on foot, we choose to go by lakana, dugout canoe. As a local proverb makes clear- Antimaroa tsy mandeha tsy andakana, people of Maroantsetra won’t go if not by canoe- this is the area’s most reliable form of transportation. Or so we thought. A one hour journey dragged into three, as we bobbed like a rubber ducky on the swells and paddled into the wind. Gasping with sea sickness, we crawled ashore at the Cape. It was an hour before I could even talk.
Countless changes of plan. One [expletive] ferret. A day late. We had at last reached our destination.
Now all we had to do was return…