Stories of my adventures in Madagascar… for my daughter and son

Posts tagged “swimming

Just a Five-Hour Truck Ride

Though not many, there were several non-French expat families living in Madagascar, particularly in Tana.  The kids came from a wide variety of families, backgrounds, countries and schools.  Embassy workers, NGO workers, missionaries, American School teachers, business owners, etc.

Life as an expat kid can be exciting: friends from around the world, experience in a foreign culture, learning new languages.  Life can also be difficult, especially for kids of government workers, who may move every few years, leaving friends behind and forced to make new ones.  It can also be difficult for those that left their home country later in their childhood, leaving a lot of established friends behind.

Of the many great things about growing up in a foreign country, the pure adventure may be the best.  A young couple living in Tana,; one a pastor from South Africa (Hennie), the other an American missionary kid who had grown up in M/car (Shelly); had started an outreach to the kids, organizing monthly hang-outs, trips to the favorite coffee shop, and best of all: the annual youth trip.

Countryside of the central highlands

The year I was there, the trip was to Mahajanga, Shelly’s hometown, where we would (theoretically) spend the majority of our time camping at a waterfall outside of town.  Our trip started by taking a bus (which of course arrived late) from Tana to Mahajanga, about a 10 hour trip.  When the bus arrived to pick us up, we quickly realized that it had spent the previous day hauling loads of fish.  It took several hours of the drive before we no longer noticed the stench.

The 10 hour drive went fairly quick, and I took the opportunity to enjoy the scenery of the central highlands.  We arrived in Mahajanga late Saturday night, and made home at Shelly’s parents house.  Sunday was Easter so we had a short service, then spent the afternoon hanging out at the beach.  Monday morning our real adventure began.

Early in the morning, all 20 or so of us loaded up our gear and ourselves into the back of a large lorry for a five-hour drive to the waterfall where we could camp for the next few days.  Starting out, even early in the morning, it quickly became hot and uncomfortable in the back of the truck.  But for five hours, we could endure anything.

Our home for the next two days.

An hour and a half into the trip, we got stuck for the first time.  All of the back tires were buried up the axles in mud from the rainy season.  The biggest hindrance to getting unstuck was the fact that all the tires on the truck were bald.  Through the course of our trip, several tires on the truck became so worn, that there was little more than threads holding them together.  Truck tires are expensive, maybe $500-$1000 each, in a country where most people make only $300-$400 annually.

The next four hours were spent digging out the back end of the truck.  Through this, I learned the Malagasy method of getting out of the mud: dry sand.  No matter how the truck was stuck, the driver and his helper’s answer was dry sand.  Everyone would dig the tires out of the mud, then promptly bury them in dry sand.  However, dry sand or wet, with bald tires its hard to go anywhere.

In the truck, we had with us four live chickens that would later be our meals.  The stress of baking in the back of the truck during those four hours caused one chicken to start laying eggs, and another chicken to die.  We made a small dish out of  a water bottle and attempted to feed and water the remaining chickens in the hope they would stay alive long enough to become dinner.

Eventually, after a lot of pushing and digging, and at the expense of a chicken, we got out and back on the “road.”  After a couple more hours of driving, we came to a river and took a break.  We all had a snack and jumped in and swam.  A small concrete dam had been built across the river to serve as a bridge, creating a beautiful swimming hole and a welcome break from the back of the truck.

After a half hour of relaxing, we loaded back in the truck to finish our trip to the waterfall.  We drove across the dam and onto the sand on the other side where we immediately became stuck.  Ironically, we were now stuck in dry, beach-like sand.  The driver and his helpers stared at each other confounded.  Their only previous solution to getting un-stuck was dry sand.  Now  stuck in dry sand, they had no way out.  Despite this, one of them still offered up the solution of burying the tires in dry sand.

Stuck again

Luckily, after about an hour of brainstorming, another truck passed by that was able to pull us out.  However, by this time, it was around 5:30 and nearly dark, so we decided the beach would be a good place to spend the night.  It turned out to be really great.  It was warm, the swimming was fantastic, and the sand was soft and comfortable for sleeping.  We all had a good time.

Our campsite the first night

The next morning, we repacked and loaded back into the truck.  We were all still expecting just a few hours left to go.  It wasn’t an hour out of camp before we were stuck again, for a third time.  Perhaps rainy season was not the best time of year for traveling dirt logging roads in the grasslands of Madagascar, but the weather was great for us, and the scenery and greenery amazing.  It just meant getting stuck in the mud.  A lot.

This time we only spent about three hours, gathering rocks and cutting down trees, trying to find anything we could to throw under the tires for traction to get the truck out of the mud hole.

Again?

What amazed me during the whole two day trip, was the fantastic attitude of the kids.  If this had been in America, it would have been nothing but incessant whining.  Though two days in the back of a truck seems extreme, even in hindsight, at the time, it seemed almost normal.  This was just how things go in Madagascar.  Everyone knew it and dealt with it.  It was frustrating at times, but expected, and everyone enjoyed it and had a good time.

After getting unstuck, we continued our journey.  Now deep into the bush, Shelly, our guide, began to realize that a lot of new logging roads had formed since the last time she had been out there, and began to lose her way.  We spent a lot of time testing roads trying to find our way.  Then we got stuck again, for our fourth and final time.

Unbelievable

This time was inexcusable.  It was almost as if the driver drove directly into a ditch on the side of the road and dumped the front wheel in it.  Even the driver’s helpers gave up on him and took a nap under some trees.  The driver was either crazy or blind, or both.

While the driver worked on digging out the truck, I took a walk up the road.  While walking I discovered one of the more sinister insects of M/car.  I don’t even know what their called, like horse flies, but nearly impossible kill and relentless.  They began attacking my legs, at least a dozen of them, immediately latching on and digging into my skin.  No amount of swatting could keep them off, so I just ran.  I ran until they were gone, hoping not to see them again.

Somehow, I wasn’t paying attention, Todd was able to dig the truck out.  After a lot of revving, spinning of tires, and pushing, we got the truck out.  Now, it was only a matter of finding our way to the waterfall.  With the truck low on gas and Shelly at her wit’s end, we found the waterfall just before sundown on our second day of travel.

It was beautiful.  We camped on the smooth rock next to a trickling creek, above a magnificent 55-foot waterfall.  There were trees all around us and a huge pool to swim in below the waterfall.  That night we set up camp and swam in a few pools above the falls.

Finally at our campsite

We also had our first real meal in two days.  In addition to riding in the back of a truck, on hot summer days, that we had to dig out four times, we also barely ate.  We had some small sandwiches for lunch and some beans for dinner the first day, and nothing but some slices of banana bread for breakfast the second day.  That night, we ate chicken and beans and rice, and it was maybe the best meal I have ever ate.  The next morning we ate the leftovers for breakfast and it was still amazing.  We were all just so tired and hungry.

Camping in the bush was a special treat, because M/car is a country with few city lights, and being in the bush, were even more removed from any trace of artificial light.  The stars were bright and clear, brighter than anywhere else I’ve ever been.  The added treat was seeing the stars of the southern hemisphere, different enough that it’s noticeable, compared to what I’m used to seeing in the states.

First thing in the morning, we drove a short 30 minutes to the Anjohibe Caves.  This cave is truly in the middle of nowhere and rarely visited.  The first thing you come to before entering is a small patch of concrete and a flagpole.  According to rumors, the caves had been used by French soldiers at some point in time, and possibly also be Malagasy soldiers, though I can’t imagine what they would be fighting or defending out here.   At some point around WWII, the cave had been fitted with electric lights, which is phenomenal, considering you can barely get reliable electricity in the capital.  However, I don’t remember them working at the time, so maybe not so phenomenal.

Which brings up another funny thing about M/car.  Electricity is so fickle anywhere you go, that you spend much of your time inside using candles for light.  During my time there, the electricity would go out 5-6 times a day for anywhere from 15 min to several hours.  Many of the missionary wives would comment that their idea of a romantic dinner was one with all the lights on, as candlelight dinners were so commonplace.

Once inside, the cave, we were amazed.  It may be the most unique cave I have ever been to.  Most of the caves I had been to were in the Pacific northwest are old lave tubes, smooth and without mineral formations.  This cave was completely different.  Stalactites and stalagmites were everywhere.  From floor to ceiling in all parts of the cave.  We wandered in and out of all the tunnels, exploring as much of the cave as possible, gazing at the rock formations.  Part of our exploring was also a race to find the entrance to an underground river.

The entrance was little more that a crack at the bottom of an obscure wall.  One at a time we slid down through the crack and into a cavern holding the river (or maybe just a lengthy pool of rain runoff).  We walked out of the caves through the river, which was about 500 yards from where we jumped in to where it came out in the open and completely dark.  The water was mostly waist deep, but there were few places that we needed to swim, helping each other along with the few flashlights we had available.  Sharp rocks littered the bottom of the river and all our legs were pretty cut up.

After hiking back to the main entrance of the cave and grabbing our stuff, we headed back to camp for lunch.  One of the driver’s helpers, we called him Rasta because of his dreads (generally, anyone with dreads goes by Rasta in M/car), tagged along with us all day and had the time of his life.  The whole time we were exploring the cave he was talking non-stop.  When we found the entrance to the river, he was the first to dive through the crack , even before we could get flashlights.  Later that night, he continued to talk non-stop telling anyone who understood Malagasy about his day.  When some of the kids were dancing around the campfire, he was joining right in.

After lunch we went down to the pool below the falls to swim.  To get to the pool, we had to climb down roots of trees sticking out from the side of the cliff.  Once down, we all jumped in.  The pool was pretty deep, but littered with large boulders just below the surface.

Swimming below the falls

After swimming for awhile, a small group started walking downstream, crawling up and over the huge rocks blocking the river’s path.  We scrambled down until coming to another small pool where we swam for awhile until it got too cold.  While there, a family of lemurs came and perched in the trees just above us.  They didn’t seem bothered by our presence and hung out for awhile watching.  With lemurs becoming scarce, it’s rare to see them truly in the wild, away from any nature preserves or national parks.

After getting cold, we scrambled back up to the main pool and swam more until climbing back up to camp for dinner.  After dinner we broke into small groups and had an opportunity for the kids to talk about life as a missionary and relationships with their parents.  While being an ex-pat can be exciting and adventurous at times, it can also be hard on the kids.  The kids talked about never living normal lives; they have few if any close friends, they generally move around the world against their will, their parents are always focused on work of the mission and often don’t have time for them.  It was a good opportunity for the kids to share their feelings and how they work through them, and to let each other know that they were not alone.

Walking behind the falls

Afterwards, everyone gathered around the campfire and sang and danced until late into the night.

The next morning we quickly packed up and got back on the road.  The drive back to Mahajanga was quicker than the drive out, it took only a full day, but not without hiccups.  We drove to the river where we had made our first camp without incident and stopped for snacks and a little swimming to cool off.

Shortly after starting out again, our troubles began.  First, the truck ran out of gas.  We had another car with us, that Hennie and Wilfred (Shelly’s brother-in-law) took off in to find gas, however, they were nearly out of gas also.  Luckily, they found another broken down truck that they siphoned gas from and were back in 45 minutes.  The battery on the truck was also dead, so it took us nearly forever, and all our remaining energy, to push start the truck and get it gong again.

The falls

Shortly after starting again, the clutch went out and the truck could barely shift.  We now barely had any gas, with a dead battery, no clutch and threadbare tires.  Then it started raining.  The tarp over the back of the truck was tied up on top, and we couldn’t stop for fear of not being able to start again.  The rain just poured down on all of us, but by then, no one really cared.  Everyone just sat quietly and took it (needless to say, but I ended up throwing away most of the clothes I wore on this trip).  When we got to the top of a small hill where the driver wasn’t so worried about getting stuck, we stopped and pulled the tarp down.  But, this also had the side effect of making the back of the truck into a greenhouse.

It was then that the driver decided that he wanted to wait until after the rain stopped and the road dried before starting again.  Everyone immediately objected, and luckily, Wilfred was able to convince him to keep going.  The next stretch of road was crazy, it was probably good that the tarp was down and we couldn’t see.  The truck was sliding, and fish-tailing, brushing up against trees, spinning, and barely avoiding getting stuck.  But, the rain eventually stopped, we dried out and made it to the main highway before running out of gas again.

The famous thousands-some-odd-year old baobab tree in downtown Mahajanga

After Hennie and Wilfred got more gas, we made it back into town and back to Shelly’s parents.  We all crashed hard that night.  The next day we spent walking around town, shopping for souvenirs, and hanging out at the beach.  The following morning we all packed up early and got ready to take our bus home.  However, keeping in line with the transportation theme of our trip, the bus we had hired broke down that morning and they were scrounging to find two vans left in town that could take us home.

We left a few hours later than we wanted but still got out of town, and most everyone spent the ride sleeping.  Twelve hours later I was back home in the compound, where I could finally crash (however, I got up early the next morning to meet some friends to go to a concert and ended up staying up all the next night… oh to be young again).  It was a great trip, everyone enjoyed it, the kids had great attitudes.

Though the three days on the truck were obnoxious, it really made the trip.  Sometimes the journey is the adventure.


Isalo National Park

After checking into a hotel for the night in Toliara, we made our way to the bus station to try to arrange our trip to Isalo and back to Tana.  The bus station was insane, as are all bus stations in M/car.  We needed to (1) get a bus from Toliara to Ranohira, the city closest to Isalo; and (2) get a bus to pick us up on New Years Day a few days later.  This is difficult for a couple reasons.  First of all, we weren’t entirely sure that we could actually get someone to pick us up 4 days later.  We were taking a chance on them just stealing our money.  Secondly, on New Years Day, all the drivers will be sleeping off a night of drinking, so we would have to find the only bus driver in M/car not getting wasted on New Years Eve.

We proceeded down the row of buses and began talking with the bus companies.  We explained our situation (in my broken French/Malagasy mix) and quickly booked a bus to Ranohira for the next day.  Then we started looking for a bus to pick us up New Year’s Day.  It was then that we found out that there would be no bus drivers that day.  With no bus, we had to quickly change our plans.  There had been a man following us around this whole time saying that he had a car to take us to Ranohira.  We had been ignoring him because it sounded fishy, and it would cost 450,000, ~$45.  Realizing that we would now need to leave Ranohira a day earlier than planned, we decided leaving right away would be better than waiting until tomorrow.  We found the car, negotiated them down to ~$20, then ran back and cancelled our bus trip to Ranohira.  We also quickly found a bus that would pick us up on New Years Eve and booked three seats on that.

The car was leaving immediately, so we went back to the hotel, got our stuff, cancelled the room, quickly said goodbye to Tomasina, stopped at a store for some supplies, and got back to the car before they left.  We hopped in the car, picked up the front seat passenger and left town.  It turns out the driver and passenger were cousins heading back to Tana, just looking for some extra money for their trip.  Worked out for us.

The trip was quick and smooth, partly because our driver seemed to be friends with all the police.  We had an interesting event along the way.  We pulled over on the side of the highway near a small village not near any major town.  After a few moments a woman came out from the jungle.  The driver gave her three glass bottles and 25,000 franc (~$2.50) and the woman handed him a baby lemur!  Lemur trafficking is highly illegal, and it was amazing that the woman would do it for so little.  The rest of the trip, the lemur was kept at the legs of the passenger, a gift for his niece.

The trip was a nice few hours, we were all grateful to be riding in a car.  The driver knew of a decent hotel in Ranohira and dropped us off there.  We booked a bungalow, then went to the visitor center to arrange a guide.  The tourist services at Isalo were pretty nice.  There were many certified guides and camping gear was also available for rent.  We arranged a guide, porters to cook and set up camp, and camping equipment.  We would take a three day trip at a total cost of about $25 each.

We went back to our hotel just before thunderstorms hit.  We sat in our room looking out as one thunderstorm after another rolled past.  Being out in the grasslands, I imagined that this was what the settlers in the west must have seen as they came across the Oregon trail.  We could watch the storms come and go and the driving rain in between.  As the sun set, the whole sky glowed red in the mist and low clouds of the storms.  It was one of the most amazing sights I have seen, and sadly one my camera could not capture.

The next morning we started out on our three day trip.  We packed our clothes and went into town to get some bread and tea for breakfast from a roadside stand.  Our guide met us there and we started hiking through the grasslands along the face of the hills.

The park consisted of a massive area of sandstone formations that rose out from an otherwise barren landscape.  The eastern edge of the park formed a wall of stone, like the massive ruins of an ancient fortress.  Small canyons broke up the wall, gates through which we could cross into the wilderness of the interior.

We walked north, parallel to this wall across rolling hills and small rivers.  We came across small villages along they way, and watched as farmers prepared their rice fields for planting by running cattle around in the mud.  We also saw the makeshift distilleries where toaka-gasy is made, an alcohol so primitive and strong it kills hundreds each year.  We stopped at a grove of mango trees where we would camp for the night.  We set down our stuff and once the porters arrived, we set out to explore a couple canyons.

The two canyons we hiked to were the Canyon des Makis, and the Canyon des Rats.  Makis was heavily forested and we walked under the canopy and through the jungle.  While in Canyon des Makis we were fortunate to see some ring-tailed lemurs lounging in the trees, grooming each other.

Canyon des Rats was much less forested and filled with giant boulders.  We crawled up, over and around these boulders, as far as we could go when we came to a bright, open pool.  We swam in the cool water and climbed up the canyon walls to jump in.  We ate a snack of egg and tomato sandwiches, and pineapple so sweet it burned our mouths.  Nowhere have I found pineapple that tasted so good.  After our ‘lunch’ we all napped on the sand and relaxed the rest of the afternoon.

Late that afternoon we hiked back to camp where we found a fantastic meal being prepared for us by the porters.  We had a tea and ramen appetizer, followed by the standard rice and chicken loaka.  As far as cuisine goes in M/car, you have two food groups: rice and loaka (loosely translated as: stuff you put on rice).  Rice is most important; you have not eaten until you have had rice.  Our meal was finished off with some bananas flambee.  Needless to say, we slept full and happy that night.

Breakfast the following morning was again bread and tea, before we began our hike back up the Canyon des Makis.  Once through the jungle and into the canyon we hiked for about a mile and a half over, around, and under every rock and boulder.  Deep into the canyon, we finally got over the last of the boulders and began walking along the small stream that flowed through the canyon.

This part of the canyon was very narrow, with sheer cliffs going up hundreds of feet on both sides.  More often than not, there was no room to walk along the creek, so we just took off our shoes and walked through the water and mud up the canyon.

Remember, Scott had only brought sandals on this trip, and badly sunburned his feet on our long walk to Ifaty.  While in Toliara, before driving to Isalo, he had bought some wool socks to wear with his sandals.  Scott, now dressed in his socks and sandals, walked ahead of me tromping through the creek, not even bothering to take off his socks.  The image is burned into my mind, and is so funny, that I could barely write about it in my journal later, without choking in laughter.

We eventually were able to hike out the side of the canyon, and onto the high prairie of the interior.  It was then that our guide informed us that he had never taken this route before, but thought it would be a good time to try it since we looked like a strong group.  We hiked across a few more small canyons before eventually coming to a trail.  We hiked until we came to our second campsite.

This campsite was very well built.  It had a flushing toilet, running water, flat tent sites and stone picnic tables.  We chatted with some other campers then headed for a swim.  The first pool we came to was called “Namaza.”  It was a deep, dark pool, surrounded by high, dark rock walls, with a beautiful waterfall flowing into it from above.  We swam, and jumped from the rocks, the cold water soothing our sore muscles and joints from the last two days.  Each day we hiked about 9 miles.  We then swam in Piscine Noire; a slightly muddy pool, with a warm waterfall; and Piscine Bleu; a small, crystal clear pool.

We finished off the day with large plates of spaghetti and again, bananas flambee for desert.  We woke up the final morning of our hike and immediately started off with a long staircase, back up to another long prairie.  On this day, we stopped at one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, the “Piscine Naturelle.”

The landscape we were hiking through seemed so barren, just grass and rock.  It appeared in hospitable.  Yet out of the wilderness, hidden in small canyons, were these amazing oases.  This pool had a small water fall on one side, a rock wall on another, a small beach, and the exit creek with beautiful tropical plants on the other.  It was such a surreal place.  The seclusion of a place like this preserved their natural beauty and made it a cool place to visit.

After spending a good time swimming and jumping off the rocks, we hiked the rest of the way back to Ranohira and our hotel, stopping at a high overlook along the way.  The experience was great; we found a good guide and porters that made amazing meals.  Each oasis that we came to was more amazing than the next.  Exploring the entire park would have taken months, but I was glad we could explore even a small section.

The next day we pulled ourselves out of bed and waited along the side of the highway for our prearranged bus that we hoped was coming.  After a two hour wait, we found our bus and hopped on.  Our bus was so loaded down, that it couldn’t make it through the largest pot holes on its own, so every once in a while we would all pile out of the van and push the bus through the mud.  After a couple hours we were all dying of laughter.  We laughed so much on that trip.

This may have been my best trip in Madagascar, though I loved everywhere I went.  Being with Nate and Scott was a lot of fun and the places we visited were just amazing.


Club Natation

In May of 2005, I swam in the Madagascar National Swimming Championships against current and former Olympians.  A great and unique experience.  There’s a little story as to how I got there.

Sports have always been my way to fit in.  No matter where I am at or what the situation, I have often found my place through sports.  In Madagascar, it turned out to be no different.

As I mentioned during my first trip, a large part of our ministry was playing basketball.  It gave us the opportunity to get to know people and make friends.  In Tana it was no different.  During July/August/September, in between W&W teams and the start of teaching, I played what sometimes seemed like endless amounts of basketball, volleyball, and table tennis.  It was great fun but tough at times.  The previous December I had torn my ACL so I was still in the recovery period from the surgery (only 7-8 months out).  Some days it didn’t feel so good and I was still wearing a bulky brace.  Playing those games, though, gave me the opportunity to hang out and get to know some of the young adults and teens of the church and gave me a chance to fit in.  Michael, Draza, Valeria, Patrice, Felena, Pastor Richand, Mbola, Ari.

Sometime in October, as I was driving from the compound to do some shopping, I came across Felana on her way out.  So she got in and I gave her a ride.  I asked where she was going, and she said that she was going to a school to ask about learning to swim.  It sounded interesting and not wanting to miss such a vital cultural experience, I offered to go along (I’m not sure if she thought this was a good idea).  We went to ESCA: Ecole Secondaire Catholique Antanimena.  I waited while she inquired about the swim lessons and tried my best to follow along in French.  When she was done, looking for a way to get more exercise, I began asking the director about coming down to swim for exercise.  The coach then began telling me about their swim club.  Not really knowing what this was, I thought, sure that would be great.  The fee was only about 12 dollars for the school year and would give me a chance to get in shape while my knee healed.

A couple weeks later I showed up ready to swim.  I had no idea what I was getting into.  When I heard “club,” I was thinking, a group of people swimming around for fun.  This was not a “club” but a high school swim team, that I, a 22-year-old, had joined.  The first day I nearly drowned.  These kids swam hard, year round, for who knows how many years, and I was nowhere near their level.  I had swam on a park & rec swim team in middle school and that was the extent of my competitive swimming experience.  The workouts with this team, were intense, and non-stop.  The first week I was choking, swallowing a lot of water, cramping; it was no good.  The kids on the team must’ve thought I was nuts.  Keep in mind, I’m a 6’2″ Caucasian in an African country with an average male height of probably 5’4″.  I stuck out.

While the first few weeks were tough, I eventually powered through and slowly began to keep up on the workouts.  At the end of one day’s workout we did 25m sprints for some speed work and practice.  It was then that I beat everyone in the short sprints, thus justifying my place on the team, and earning respect from my teammates.  I fit in much easier and was a part of the team.

We would swim anywhere from 4,000-6,500 meters a day (2.49 – 4.04 miles) often swimming for 2 1/2 hours.  It was a lot of work, but I loved it and got into great shape.  It was probably great for my knee recovery, giving me some low impact exercise.

A competition at the ESCA pool

The team also competed in some competitions.  My first competition was in December, on a cold and rainy day.  I didn’t know what to expect and the coaches eased me into it.  I swam the 50m freestyle and butterfly and was also on the 4×50 and 10×50 relays (yes, ten).  I took first in the freestyle and something else in the other races.  It was fun and gave me the feel of competition.

We had a few other races throughout the year.  I ended up participating in about 3 competitions.  I never knew exactly what was going on, there may have been more races that I missed while I was out of town, but I remember going to at least three.  I eventually worked up to where I was competing in the 50 and 100m freestyles and butterflys, as well at the 4×50 freestyle relay, and the 4×50 medley relay.  I was usually able to place in the top 3 in my events, sometimes winning (of course, I may have been competing against high schoolers).

The best time I had swimming was probably in February and March.  At that time, I had finally gotten in shape, got used to and was now leading the workouts, and I was at my healthiest, finally over all the bronchitis, sinus infection, and malaria.  I was swimming hard, 4-5 times a week, the weather was warm, it was great.  I probably would’ve posted some great times during that month, but maybe because of the timing of my out of town trips, there were no competitions.  I also became semi-famous.  Felana told me once that she had heard some people talking about the swimming “vizaha.”

In April and May, the weather got colder, and I got a little sick again, and I found myself unable to keep up with a lot of workouts, so my performance declined some, but I still went as hard as possible in the championships to come.  On April 9th and 10th, the regional (like a county) championships of Analamanga were held.  For two days, teams from all over the Tana area competed in their races, from 5/6 year olds up to “masters” divisions of people in their 20s and 30s.  It was a lot of fun, and a tough couple days of racing.

50m Free medal ceremony - regional championships (I look like a giant)

One the first day of competition, I made my way down to Youth Sports Academy in Ampefiloha.  I had no idea where I was going.  I got off the bus when I thought I was in the area and walked around a bit not seeing anything that looked like it would have a pool.  After asking around in a couple businesses, I finally found the center and the pool.  Despite all my wanderings, I will still the first from my team there.

The first day, I had very few events.  Mostly I sat, and waited (you do a lot of this in M/car).  Finally at 5:30 I swam the 200m freestyle.  I then waited to swim the 4x100m free a couple hours later.  By the time we swam that race, it was dark, and the pool did not have lights, except for one nearby street light.  Being dark, I couldn’t see the wall coming and when I made by flip turn, I flipped early, and barely got the wall with my toes.  The judges saw it different, and our team, despite coming in 3rd was disqualified.

The second day was a full day of swimming.  In the morning I swam the 100 free, taking 1st, the 100 fly, and the 4x50free.  In the afternoon, I swam more, swimming the 50 fly, 50 free, and the freestyle leg of the 4×50 medley.  I placed in the top three in the 50m,100m, and 200m freestyle.  The weather was nice those days and some of my friends even came to watch, so I really enjoyed the experience.

The ESCA relay team

My main competition and what prevented me from coming in first were two brothers, about my same age, 20 or 21.  They swam for the team from the Youth Sports Academy of Tana and had been swimming competitively for more than a decade, I hadn’t even been going for 10 months.  They were the only ones I could never beat.

After another month of swimming and lagging behind in my workouts, on May 12-17th, I had the opportunity to go on the big out of town trip to the National Championships.  Earlier in the year I had attended a benefit dinner put on by our swim club, that raised funds for this trip.  I met the rest of my team at ESCA and we loaded up in vans for the long road trip to Toamasina. We got there late, ate a quick dinner at a Chinese restaurant then went to bed.

Our first full day, Friday, we did not have competition, but was a practice and workout day.  We had two time slots, one in the morning and one in the evening for practice.  Before this time we only swam in 25m pools.  This was the first time that we were swimming in a 50m pool.  So we used this time to warm up, and get used to the length of the longer pool.  Otherwise, we spent a lot of time resting and watching TV at the hotel.

Saturday morning, the first day of competition, we did not go to the pool until the afternoon.  So in the morning I took some time to walk around Toamasina, see the beach and take some pictures.  Toamasina is one of the largest cities in M/car, and is also the location of the largest port.  After lunch, we went to the pool.  Again it was another long day of waiting, ending with back to back 200m races.  At about 6:30pm I swam the 200 free and at 7:15 the 4×200 free.  That night, after the races and dinner, I went almost immediately to bed.

The national championships

The second day was again a long, full date of races.  The morning started for me with the 50m free, followed by the 100 fly and the 4×100 free.  I had a frustrating incident with the 100 fly.  I was supposed to be in the top heat, as I was with all races.  At the last minute, I was bumped from the top heat to the next heat.  As a result, I ended up swimming almost alone, winning by heat by more than 10 seconds and taking 4th overall.  With some competition in my heat, I may have been able to do as well at 2nd.  I didn’t understand the reason for being bumped.

In the afternoon I swam the 50 fly followed by more waiting until finally finishing my swimming career with the 100 free at 7:00pm and the 4×100 medley at 8:30.  Thankfully, this pool at least had lights.  Madagascar is a tropical country, but nonetheless, it does cool during the winter months.  Since it is a southern hemisphere country the winter months are June-September, so our races were taking place in the fall.  I remember during the final race looking out of the water to take a breath and seeing the stars in the night sky.  I thought to myself, this is no time to be swimming.  I ended up being the last one in the van back to the hotel, leaving the pool for the final time around 9.

Overall, I was disappointed with my performance, but I greatly enjoyed the experience.  My results at the national championships declined from the previous month, due again to my lack of conditioning.  I only placed in the top 3 in the 50m and 100m free, just barely missing 1st in the 50m free.

Race start (I'm the white guy)

After going back to the hotel that final night, we had a party back at the hotel and handed out the medals earned during the weekend.  Our team, overall, did really well.  I hung out until 12:30 but by then was too tired to stay up any longer.  My roommates stayed out until 4:30 and came back into the room still loud.  The swimming team was a great experience and one of my fondest memories of Madagascar.

My shirts and medals

Regional Championships Results

50m free – 2nd

100m free – 1st

200m free – 3rd

50m fly – 5th

100m fly – 4th

4×100 free – 3rd

4×50 free – 3rd

4×50 medley – 3rd?

National Championships Results

50m free – 2nd (by a hand)

100m free – 3rd

200m free – 5th

50m fly –  7th

100m fly – 4th

4×100 free – 3rd?

4×200 free – 3rd?

4×100 medley – 3rd?