“Boat!” is called out just after dawn as I head down to the beach to catch the daily boat en route to Nosy Be. After a pleasant 40 minute ride, we arrive in the port and wade through oily water to get some breakfast before our long journey to the amazing tsingy rocks in Ankarana, on the mainland of Madagascar.
Local skippers spot us walking to the main port and swarm- where are you going? Nosy Komba? Ankify? We negotiate in French for a speedboat (2 hours faster than a regular boat) to Ankify, the mainland, get searched by the police, and jump in a packed boat full of locals. Sticky legs press together as more people get on the boat, filling it to capacity. As we pass by lush, mountainous islands, the hilly mainland of Madagascar stretches out before us. Crude wooden fishing boats sit effortlessly on the calm turquoise water. Sailboats resembling pirate ships float around the coast of Nosy Be.
Hands grab me and locals push me forward as I am greeted by the bustling port of Ankify. We are led to a taxi brousse (beat up van) which will take us the remainder of the way to Ankarana, just- in Malagasy time. Irritation creeps up as I wait, but what else would I be doing now? Is there anywhere else I’d rather be than here, now? We hang out near our designated transport as refrigerators, televisions, mattresses, and random items are placed in, on top of, and all around the vans. Every inch of space is used, if not occupied by a person, it’s filled up with tiles, pipes, bags, or whatever will fit. I watch as our van grows taller with mattresses stacked a few feet high. Men pull at ropes, securing the Dr Seuss van, smoke cigarettes, hand out money, and return to their vans to deliver the goods.
Green fields, hills, and trees fly by us as we dip in and out of rocky craters in the dirt road. Curious eyes watch the villages, wood huts, thick baobab tree trunks, chickens, and beautiful Malagasy people who pass by. Chiseled men on bicycles, elegant women with flawless skin, almond eyes, and long graceful necks watch our clown car full of sweaty, disheveled tourists drive onward. Green oranges are passed through the window on a rolling stop and upbeat Malagasy music blares through police stops, stops to let in more people, and exchange bags full of leaves, food, and sticks.
We abruptly end our journey on the dirt road in a small village- this is you- and happily crawl out of the packed van, looking around for some sign as to where we are. I set my backpack down in a small hut outside the National Park of Ankarana and take a walk down the dirt road to stretch my legs and watch the sun set, the only light we have in our remote village. The sun goes down over a rocky river, painting the sky and clouds a kaleidoscope of yellow, pink, and orange. I breath in the sweet, dusty air as I walk back to the village, jumping to the side as cars speed past me on the narrow dirt road.