I’m not normally so dramatic but under the circumstances, I couldn’t keep my cool. Here I was in Madagascar, on an island near a swank Andasibe hotel, and there were lemurs jumping on my head.
The lemurs didn’t mind my screeching. They grabbed at my hair, my ears, anything that might give them a handle to hold onto.
I bent over, trying to keep the little crawly critters away from my face and eyes, but they just climbed around on my back then. I stood up slowly, and after the initial shock wore off, I laughed.
The lemurs didn't want to hurt me. They are small and pleasant. They didn't seem to want to bite or poke me or Guy, the backpacker I’d been travelling with for a few days. All they wanted was a tasty snack, and we were holding bananas that the guide had stuck in our hands when we’d arrived on this small private island.
These weren’t wild lemurs roaming around the nearby Andasibe Mantadia National Park. This was a kind of preserve or open-air zoo – the guide said they were rescued lemurs that had been illegally kept as pets.
I pried a brown lemur paw off my eye and looked over at Guy. He had two lemurs on his back and one tugging at his hands, trying to see if he had any snacks with his camera.
“It’s got your avocado!”
Guy reached into his daypack, but he was too late. A dancing lemur had deftly unzipped, stuck his paw in, and absconded with the avocado Guy had bought in the nearby village yesterday.
The other lemurs took off after the dancing lemur, leaving us alone. Except for the brown lemur. It was pooping on my head. We both grinned. What could be more fun than being mugged and pooped on by lemurs?
We headed back to town with our locally hired car-and-driver. Before, with a few exceptions, my trip had felt like an adventurous ordeal. Now, it felt like a holiday.
On Tuesday morning, I woke up early so I could track down some coffee before we started out on our three-hour journey back to Antananarivo, abbreviated locally as “Tana.”
I walked down the road toward Andasibe's centre just as the morning mist was burning off the rich green landscape, and hadn't even made it to the bridge over the small river when I stumbled across a little wooden shack with a Nescafé seller.
Teenage school kids were buying their coffee and tea in front of me, and they glanced shyly at me before one of them offered to help me order. Pointing at coffee doesn't need that much help but he did make the experience go smoothly.
As I walked back to the Mitsinjo NGO guesthouse, I tried to sip around the drowned ants. Andasibe is full of nature, and ants in coffee was a small price to pay for being surrounded by animals, insects, and reptiles for three days.
Jitneys – or taxi brousses – out of town leave every hour during the day, and cross in front of the guesthouse at the half-hour point after winding through the village picking up passengers. We caught the 9am departure to Moramanga. It chugged slowly over the hilly roads to where we'd transfer to a Tana-bound van.
But I had a plan for tomorrow. I’d seen stamp carvers downtown, and I wanted to buy a stamp.
Not a postage stamp. Rather, a rubber stamp, the kind you use with ink and a stamp pad. Usually, they say things like "PAID" or "DUE DATE" on them, but I'd gotten a MariesWorldTour.com one years ago in Hanoi, during my first trip around the world in 2001.
Here in Madagascar, rubber stamps are handmade and purchased on-the-spot at small tables that stamp-makers have set up on the street. There's a group of them at the bottom of the giant stairs that lead up the hill from the commercial downtown up to the residential and embassy neighborhood I was staying in.
I chose a stamp-guy at random, picked a sample design out of his huge booklet of designs he'd carved before, and handed him my words – MariesWorldTour.com 2011 – to add to the stamp. He had me spell out the words carefully on paper. No point in spelling a new stamp wrong! He had a challenge without even starting the carving – his first language was French, and stamps are carved backwards of how they print.
The stamp-guy took a sample image of a lemur and chameleon, stamped it on a thin piece of rubber, drew a circle around it with a compass, then went to work with a bare razor blade.
His dexterity amazed me. He carved tiny hairs on the lemur and little back-ridges on the chameleon. But what also amazed me was the fact that he used his trousers as a cutting board.
Noooo, I worried. He'll cut himself.
But he didn't hurt himself. I noticed a few slices in his pants from days things hadn't gone quite so well, but he didn't cut anything but the rubber stamp this time.
And when the carver was done, he used rubber cement to glue the rubber to a wooden pedestal that I'd picked out from the many on his display table.
And bargain-priced at $2.58.
I was pretty pleased with my souvenir-shopping score until my Wanderlust editor Peter innocently asked if I'd seen any lemur lamps.
Lemur lamps? What, I asked him, was a lemur lamp?
A stuffed lemur that decorates a stand holding a lightbulb.
No, I had not. And now I wanted one.
Maybe when I return to Tana later in the month. I didn't even know where to start to search.
"I should have tried to get Guy to come with me to Antsirabe," I thought as I sat on the taxi brousse the next morning in the Tana bus park. Entrepreneurs kept shoving the dollar store in my face as I waited for the van to fill up and depart.
"No. No thanks. I really don't want that. Or that. Or that. You again? I promise you that I don't want nail clippers or a watch. Why don't you sell something useful like a lemur lamp?"
But no one brought me a lemur lamp. Instead, they brought me another tourist and deposited him on the seat next to me. I'd left the backpacker Guy at the guesthouse this morning, and been alone all of 20 minutes.
This other tourist was confident, brash, knew everything, and had made a mistake once in 1979, when he was three. He was exasperating, because one thing I really don't like to be around is someone who has no concept of self-doubt.
When we arrived at Antsirabe, we tried Chez Billy – the budget lodge – but it was full so we headed over towards a hotel called Green Park, while pousse-pousse operators dogged our steps.
A pousse-pousse is the Madagascar version of a rickshaw, where a sometimes-barefoot man drags you around in a wheeled carriage.
This sounds horrifying, if you can imagine a barefoot man pulling you around a town where you could as easily walk. But that's how local people get around in Antsirabe, and there are hundreds of these pousse-pousses all over town. Every few minutes a rickshaw driver asks hopefully: "Pousse-pousse?"
The other tourist engaged the services of a pousse-pousse to carry our luggage while we strolled alongside. The pousse-pousse did try to get us to his own choice of hotels but in time, we ended up at Green Park, which turned out to be a series of bungalows set around a beautiful garden. My bungalow was wonderful, though we did go back to Chez Billy for dinner, where I ordered a zebu steak. That's a Madagascar cow-like thing, but with a fatty hump.
"Un peu rouge?" I was trying to get a little bit of pink in the centre and managed to get my needs across to the waiter. Then, while I was enjoying my zebu steak, my new friend decided I should read his poetry. On his iPad. He stuck it in my face and went outside to smoke a cigarette.
Uncertain, I read for a second.
Then, I ate my zebu steak a little faster.
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