Letters from Madagascar: Magic pools and amazing food

(From November ’14)

To my lovely family and friends,

After about a week and a half in, I packed up my still-wet stuff and we headed off to a site managed by Missouri Botanical Gardens (it’s a big whoop in the botanical world) a little bit to the north.  We spent a night there, and then drove one hour north to another protected area.  There, we walked through a rainforest for an hour to a pool formed by a spring in the middle of the forest.  It was my first time in a rainforest, and I felt so incredibly overwhelmed by its beauty—for me, it is a place of palpable magic.  I would walk five feet into the forest and be completely and totally surrounded by vines and massive trees and the smell of rain and light filtered through leaves.  It feels so absolutely pristine, isolated, and safe.  I don’t know how to express what it was to me, to be in that place, and then to swim in that pool, surrounded by its beauty, but suffice it to say that it was magical.

Afterward, we hiked out of the forest, ate lunch, said goodbye to the CEL students, and headed north to Manakara.  After spending one night in a hotel there, I met my host family, and moved into their home.  After all of the excitement and challenges of my host family in Fort Dauphin, living with this new family felt just like settling into home.  It was just a mom, dad, and 15-year-old sister, and while none of them spoke all that strong of French, they loved to laugh, smile, and hug.  They were affectionate and kind and loved to bond over good food.  They reminded me, in many ways, of my family back home.

It certainly didn’t hurt that the food was amazing.  My host-parents run a little food stand on the edge of the market, and so there was always excellent food.  They woke up every morning at 3 am to begin cooking, so that they would have food to sell by the time most people were awake.  Oh, and all they had was a charcoal-burning stove.  On top of that, in Manakara, there is only electricity for about four to eight hours a day, and running water for far less than that.  So, long-story short, my host-parents were super-people who cooked by the light of a flashlight, with water that they had collected the night before.  So, every morning, by the time I woke up, went for a run along the beach, showered, and sat down for breakfast, they had already cooked and served me two plates filled with delicious, fresh food, a loaf of crunchy French bread, a cup of yogurt, and a massive cup of tea.  Of course, it was far more than even I could attempt to eat, but that didn’t stop me from trying.

Hoping you are stuffed with love,