So, this isn’t actually a story about Madagascar, but rather the story of getting to Madagascar for the first time. Before going on my first trip with Youth in Mission, we spent a week training for our trip in Pasadena, CA.
On Thursday of training camp we got our flight information. We assumed we would be flying through Paris and had all hoped we would get to see the city. We opened up the envelope with great anticipation and saw what we had all been waiting for, an overnight layover in Paris!
We arrived at the airport on Monday as one of the last teams to leave, and would definitely be the last team to arrive at our destination. We would have an 11 hour direct flight from LAX to Paris; by far the longest flight I had then been on, arrive at around 2 pm, stay overnight, then catch a flight at around 10am the next morning for another 11 hr flight to Madagascar. When checking in, the attendant asked if we would like to volunteer to be bumped, and the airlines would pay us $100 each just for volunteering. With our long layover, and a lack of cash, we quickly accepted. This meant waiting in the check-in lobby until right before the flight was to leave.
It turned out that we would not be bumped and when notified we quickly ran to the security and began to go through. At that time I realized my sunglasses had dropped out of my pocket. I left the security, ran back to the lobby, didn’t find them, ran back through security, and ran onto the plane, presumably close to the last one on. After the waiting, running, and barely getting to the plane, we then sat at the gate for 2 hours – all that rush for nothing.
We landed at the Paris airport at about 2pm, cashed our $100 checks at the Air France office, then boarded the train into Paris. We had just found out we would be in Paris a couple days before, and our combined knowledge of Paris was not good (internet access at hotels must not have been popular then either, because I don’t remember looking anything up). Not knowing where else to go, we got off at the Notre Dame stop. This was my first experience in Europe and it was amazing to come up out of the tunnel and see the Notre Dame Cathedral, something I’m used to only seeing in pictures.
Having grown up on the west coast of the U.S., architecture more than 100 yrs old is pretty rare. In the city I grew up in, there’s probably nothing older than the 1940’s, and even in Seattle where I live now, there are only a few things older than the 1920’s. So, seeing buildings centuries old was an entirely new experience for me
We took lots of pictures, walked around, and then decided we wanted to see the Eiffel Tower as well. We tried to find a taxi thinking we could just stand on a corner and wave and one would stop. There may be something that we completely missed about Paris culture, but we couldn’t do anything to get a taxi to stop for us. We tried different corners, tried to get away from traffic, all waved together, but for whatever reason, none would stop. So we just walked.
We figured the right direction to walk to get to the Eiffel Tower, walked until we started to see it, then just walked towards it. Keep in mind, we all still had our carry-ons with us. We ended up walking for about an hour and a half before we arrived at le Tour Eiffel. We got to sit and watch the sun set behind the tower. I thought it was so cool that there was a huge park in front of the tower, with people picnicking and enjoying the weather, it just seemed like such a beautiful place.
Another thing I remember about that time in Paris, was that no matter how hard you tried speaking in French, people would hardly even acknowledge that you were speaking to them. I think we’re very tolerant of how people speak English here in the US.
Along our walk, we inquired at a few hotels about their pricing, but all were incredibly expensive. We had no idea where the hostels were, and didn’t make a lot of effort to find one. After hanging around a bit, we decided to go back to the airport. We found a subway entrance, and got back on the train to Charles de Gaulle.
We then learned another thing about Paris, the airport is nearly completely empty at night. Nothing. No security guards, no restaurants open, no passengers. It was this way from about 10pm to 6am. We had almost the entire airport to ourselves, and we also hadn’t had dinner. We didn’t eat while in the city because we figured we could just go to a restaurant when we got back to the airport. We found some vending machines and spent 35 euros on snacks to tide us over until the restaurants would open in the morning. We then spent the remainder of the night, alternating between sleeping on the floor and wandering the halls of the airport, waiting for the resturants to open; we all barely slept. I remember a maintenance guy buffing the floors near where we were sitting, and watching him slowly complete the large section of the lobby. Not the most exciting night, but how many people get to say they spent the night on the floor of a Paris airport.
Finally, morning came and we were able to get breakfast, get to our gate, and get on our plane to Madagascar. The flight to Madagascar was another 11 hour flight, over the Mediterranean, over the Sahara (a cool sight from the window of the plane) and into Antananarivo (Tana) the capital of Madagascar, but still not our final destination.
We arrived their late at night, and were picked up by Tom and Lauralee, the Nazarene missionaries in Tana, who were also with our translator Patrice. We stayed the night at an inn close to the airport. The beds had down mattresses that weren’t fully filled, so by the end of the night I was just sleeping on the hard bed frame.
The next morning, Thursday, we boarded the plane to reach our final destination; a two hour flight to Nosy Be (“big island”), a small island on the north end of the main island. The plane was a rickety old Air Madagascar 737 with paint chips and dents in the wings and seatbacks that all flopped forward when the plane braked, unless someone was sitting in them. There also seemed to be much more steep banked turns on that two hour flight than necessary.
At the Nosy Be airport, we were greeted by David, the missionary we would be working with for the summer, and Don, our colorful tour guide, thus completing our three day trip.