Morning still settles. The mouth of the Morondava River is resplendent with life. A lonely boatman finds himself anxious to respond to so much work.
From the bank where we enjoy it and as the flow passes and the day passes, some women with chores on the opposite bank of Betania climb aboard the worn wooden boat, carved from a single old trunk.
On the much more tropical side there, a small army of Malagasy rods, with large bowls on their heads, advances into the water, up to the edge where the vessel can collect them.
Once contact with the boat is established, they settle down and the fish that the men in the village have just caught. Your journey is completed in a mere three hundred meters, just over three minutes.
We photograph them throughout this short journey.
When they approach us, they cover their faces with their hands or use them to mimic money. They only surrender to our intentions when they are forced to balance the heavy bowls with their arms.
This logistical ritual is repeated throughout the time we spend there. Not even the arrival of two soldiers with machine guns on their shoulders, also imminent passengers, seems to bother him.
As it doesn't affect him, the passage of a small caravan of tiny canoes from the entrance to the great Indian Ocean, or the river fun of five young natives who dive from the keel of their azure dhow into the muddy water.
Women get fed up with our abuse. They organize to collect it. There are too many for us to do as they please. We change stops, further ahead, to where the Morondava gives itself to the ocean and the yellow one.
The Fishing Life on the Margins between the Mozambique Channel and the River Morondava
The vast beach in front of the homonymous village is also the scene of intense toil. Several groups of men and teenagers pull nets that they had spread in the sea in front of them and deposit the small fish caught in the semi-flooded interior of long canoes.
Others collect, wash and roll up nets already freed from fishing. Still others shove cartloads of fish clumsily across the dry sand.
In times of tourism in western Madagascar as low as the tide, our wandering itinerary along the seashore leaves most natives intrigued but also serves as a pretext for breaks that everyone thinks they deserve.
In one of their approaches, two young fishermen proudly show them a newly captured ray. We ended up bathing with them in the Canal de Mozambique love between Madagascar and the east of Mozambique, delivered to splashes and laughs.
With the sun rising to its zenith, the heat becomes unbearable. Gradually, fishermen retreated to houses around the village or, at least, in the shade.
At much greater risk of leaving there grilled than the natives, we took refuge in one of the restaurants installed on both sides of the small road to Morondava.
Lalah Randrianary led and guided us from the already distant capital Antananarivo. He was anxiously awaiting the time to return to fresher and more familiar Malagasy areas, closer to his merina ethnic group from the present-day Indonesian islands, instead of the sakalava, who originated in East Africa and with little or no affinity with the merina.
We had lunch two of the specialties that Lalah had advised us. Afterwards, we got into the van and pointed to the tribal interior of the Menabe region.
When the RT35 road demotes from the asphalt to the dirt road of the RT8, we become aware of the imminence of an African scenario that has seduced us for so many years.
In Search of the Great Baobabs. Or Baobabs.
The road heading north connects the region of Morondava to that of Belo Tsibirihina, a village on the Tsibirihina river that, until the arrival of the dry season, cuts off access to another of the dream places of the largest of the African islands: the incredible Tsingy de Bemaraha's forest of sharp, jagged boulders, unlikely home to Madagascar's most furtive lemurs and countless other species.
The dry season was, however, about to arrive. Portions of the path remained semi-muddy and streams that crossed the road forced us to take two amphibious crossings. THE "Avenue” soon. We passed tribal villages, clusters of huts consolidated with branches and dry mud.
We also pass through artisanal peanut and cassava plantations.
Finally, in the distance, we can see the branched tops of the gigantic baobab trees that, in their pioneering passage through the area, it is estimated that around 1000 years ago, Arab sailors described it as the devil having uprooted the trees and turned them upside down. , this is because their crowns look more like roots.
Minutes later, we arrived at the end of its majestic lane.
In Search of Passionate Baobabs
The afternoon is still halfway through. We agree with Lalah, who suggests that we should first take a look at the other great plant attraction in the area and proceed along sandy paths to the vicinity of the Baobabs Apaixonados, two baobab trees that grew intertwined with each other, centuries-old symbols of a legend of forbidden love between two young tribesmen different.
These young people wanted to live their lives together but the families and the heads of the respective tribes had already determined partners for them, so they had to conform. Those two baobabs will have embraced shortly afterwards. They celebrate their frustrated union and delight travelers forever and ever.
Returning to the RT8 road, we have the first panoramic view of the baobabs, of the species adansonia grandidieri, the highest on the face of the Earth.
The Grand Avenida dos Baobás
They appear lined up in a segment of savannah with almost three hundred meters. There are between twenty to twenty-five trees, with an average height of thirty meters.
Goats graze and countless birds chirp around the spot that we like them, between three or four tribal groups half-closed in on themselves by a judicious thorn bush.
If today the place has a resplendent ecosystem enriched by the symbiosis of the trees themselves, with lemurs, fruit bats, ants and other insects, hummingbirds and dozens of birds, what would have been before, when the endemic baobabs of Madagascar were lost in a vast and dense rainforest.
The time has passed. The Malagasy population increased, with a great contribution from the Sakalava ethnic group there, also predominant.
The Millennial Sacralization of the Baobabs of Madagascar
The original forest thus gave way to rice fields and other cultivated fields and pastures. The natives, however, did not touch the baobabs they call renalas, the mothers of the forest.
Most Malagasy never get to see a baobab in their lives as they only grow on Madagascar's western fringe, the closest to the Mozambique Channel.
Baobabs do not exist in the higher, colder and more populous lands of the island's interior. They are, however, the tree and the main symbol of the nation, with deep spiritual meaning for several tribes that see them as reincarnation or habitat of ancestral spirits.
The Malagasy that live with them often leave honey and rum at their base in the shells of huge terrestrial snails. With such offerings, they try to obtain from the sacred baobabs help in the recovery of family members or, in times of drought, the rapid return of the rains.
As unlikely as it seems, in the distant Japan everything is possible and also in those parts the baobab has become mystic. Year after year, Japanese villagers participate in true pilgrimages to Madagascar, newly imbued with the belief that the baobabs are the sacred tree of the shinto.
As a result of this historic veneration, the impressive tree-lined avenue remains firm and rigid. We didn't take long to look at it longitudinally and, therefore, to go through it.
Daily life around the Giant Baobabs
Lalah retreats to a makeshift parking area along the south entrance to the road.
It coexists with the artisan and fruit sellers who try to take advantage of the visit of outsiders there, in the absence of a national park statute that protects their heritage and helps them to profit from tickets charged to the vahiny, as tourists are called.
Jeeps or modern vehicles that crossed the avenue were rare. Instead, there were ox carts pulled by teams of zebus, shepherds and peasants loaded with tools and the fruits of their plowing.
A small band of kids appears out of nowhere, each with their huge chameleon clinging to a branch.
They try to convince us to buy them as pets.
Faced with the unfeasibility of that business, they resort to the alternative, which is much easier to carry out: “ok, so at least take some pictures with them.
You have some good machines. Then give us what you want!”
Baobab Silhouettes on the Malagasy Sunset
The sun falls on the ground and squads of bats begin to fly over the lacy tops of those arboreal portents.
We also take a stand. We skirt a swamp below the plane of the avenue until we have it against the sky on fire.
The black of the baobab silhouettes becomes darker and more graphic.
This contrast of colors and shapes assumes a divine beauty that only intensifies with the twilight flow of local life. We settled on the other side of the pond.
Infernal flocks of thirsty mosquitoes from the soaked vegetation harass us.
Despite the repellent, they bite us to the point that that assassinated massacre leaves us worried about the boredom of contracting malaria, or another related ailment. But what we had ahead of us canceled out any inconvenience. We move a few meters to the left or right and make the sun ball sink between the gigantic trunks.
While the horizon glowed, several natives walked along the avenue at the base of the baobab trees, indifferent to the sumptuousness of the scenery. We see and register its tiny and graceful contours, one after the other, as if we were watching a natural and organic theater of shadows.
A peasant pushes a wheelbarrow. Soon, a cyclist and several women with bundles over their heads, followed by a dog that stops here and there, entertained by familiar smells.
The Night Trip to Antsirabe
The sunset gives way to a long twilight that we endure under attack by mosquitoes determined to record the panorama and successive scenes in different tones. Finally, the sunlight fades away and gives the stars the firmament above the baobabs.
Lalah had been waiting for us for an eternity. We went back around the swamp. We join him in the van shelter and return to the sultry bathing center of Morondava to spend the night there.
When, the following morning, we returned to Antsirabe and the highlands, merinas and betsileo, enchanted, we were certain that we would return to the most famous avenue in Madagascar, on our way to the no less fascinating lands of Tsingy de Bemaraha.