‘Errrr what?’ I hear you say, ‘what’s that mad eejit up to now?’ I shall elaborate. A lovely lady called Christine who does my Irish Dancing Class, told me about this initiative where you donate to this charity and they ‘twin your toilet’ with one in Africa where people don’t have a loo on which to pee while they check their phone/read the paper or just hide from their family. They then send you a picture of the loo you have helped to construct with your donation and you can hang it up in your bathroom and look upon it with a glow of satisfaction while emptying your bowels.
I’ve been meaning to get round to twinning my toilet for ages and I guess now I have no excuse not to get on with it, especially since it’s the weekend and all that home-schooling lark can get to fuck. Since there is a lavatorial theme to this post, I have included my latest Tenx9 story which I read last month in The Black Box. It’s all about my trip to Madagascar in the year 2000 when I fell prey to the sort of pestilence one would expect when travelling round the developing world at twenty years of age and paying blatant disregard to the advice to avoid ice-cubes in your glass of coconut rum.
Tenx9 story on the theme of ‘Nature’
They say if you travel round South America you have tales about hair-raising bus journeys, and if you go to South East Asia, you have tales about your bowels. For the record, I’ve been to both and it’s bowels all the way. But I don’t like to limit myself to just the two continents, and my trip to Madagascar off the coast of Mozambique, fairly took its toll on my innards too.
I have my Malgache adventure in January 2000, because at the time I am teaching (well, teaching in the loosest sense of the word) on Réunion, a French island utterly dwarfed by its neighbour, which is a whopping 233 times its size.
Jo, Will, Katie and myself form a gormless foursome of language assistants, off on a 3 week jaunt of the island, since we are off for the southern hemisphere’s equivalent of summer holidays. How ‘magnifique’, we think, being paid to go gallivanting in search of lemurs and tramping through rainforests.
Endless patience and a strong constitution are a must for trips like these, and sadly for me, I have neither. We are following a route outlined in our Lonely Planet guide, but of course we didn’t appreciate the lack of passable roads to facilitate this journey, which deteriorate the further south one travelled. Our entitled, first world backsides are in for a shock indeed.
Our lovely hosts in the capital, Antananarivo organise a car to take us to our first stop, Antsirabe and though it is rickety and fusty, the amenable driver who stops frequently and lets us commandeer his cassette player, replacing the jingly jangly Malgache tunes with the Beatles White Album.
We have considered a vegetarian diet once we left the confines of our host’s home, after their son took us to a market and pointed to a shack where hunks of meat hung from hooks, dripping blood onto the wooden counter. ‘Voila la boucherie,’ he said, while we looked on and tried not to retch. The bored looking vendor wiped at the blood with a grubby cloth and ineffectually batted the flies away with a brush, a display which we felt was only for our benefit.
However, as I have no patience. After one day of eating rice, I am ever so bored and decide to risk a ‘poulet coco’, as according to the Lonely Planet, Antsirabe boasts the island’s best restaurants. Trust me when I say that The Lonely Planet talks shite. My chicken is all bone and no meat, as though it had been thoroughly gnawed prior to serving. Still, hungry after a long drive and I clean my plate before tucking into a ‘banane flambé’, a dessert so liberally doused with rum that I am sure it would kill any bugs left from the main event.
No rum, as it turns out would be strong enough. Walking back to our guest house I feel the onset of cramps, as if rough hands are wringing out my colon as though it were the neck of the chicken which had so briefly featured in my curry. ‘You might as well just stay in there,’ says my room-mate caustically, as I crawl into the bathroom for the 4th time that night.
She and the others seem impervious to whatever pestilence I have fallen prey, and they lack a great deal of sympathy. I had visited the doctor in Réunion before the trip and upon hearing my destination he had raised his eyebrows and I left with a truck load of antibiotics, rehydration salts and Imodium. It cost me a bloody fortune.
But by the next day, two Imodium and three hours of rough roads later, we all feel very grateful to my doctor. We arrive at Ramomafana National Park in time to hire a guide who takes us on a night safari, smearing banana onto trees to attract small mouse lemurs with bulbous black eyes. Others swing through the trees, chattering and singing, a sound which I can’t decide is endearing or eerie.
What is eerie though, is the immediacy with which my Imodium runs out after the four hour period. I try to ignore the rumblings of my guts but seize my moment when our guide goes off after a trail for the cat-like fossa. I dive behind some trees of which, thankfully, there are many. ‘Could you sing or something?’ I ask my companions. ‘Yes, because that’ll encourage the wildlife,’ said Jo, a straight-talking Yorkshire lass. It didn’t help that the guide is skulking about and appear about three seconds after I had pulled up my trousers. I’m sure he felt he’d witnessed nature at its very best.
The next day, despite having only ingested warm coca cola, I have been to the loo 19 times. By the 12th, it is less of a soup, more of a consommé. By the last few it is water, though I wonder how I have any fluids left to pass. My friends meanwhile go on safari. They see ring-tailed lemurs, brown lemurs, black lemurs, even the rare red-ruffed lemur. The closest I get to wildlife is a bold grey rat which I wake to find nibbling on crackers that supposed to be my dinner.
Once I recover sufficiently to travel, we head to Isalo, another park, this time via ‘taxi-brousse’ which is a dilapidated mini-bus into which a million people are squeezed. The journey will take hours but for £2 each we reckon it’s worth it. That night, however, at our guesthouse, three French chaps strike up a chat and take pity on us when they hear of our mode of transport. They are headed in the same direction and have a four-by-four. Of coursethey will take us, they say, and arrange to meet at 7am the following morning. We drink some rum cocktails before bidding them goodnight, barely able to believe our luck.
At ten to seven we are waiting at reception. We wait, and wait, then take a look for the jeep. It, like them, is long gone. ‘Oh my God, what did you say to them?’ asks Jo. ‘You talked about your bowels, didn’t you?’ she says. ‘They probably thought you’d have the shits all over their hire car.’
‘Gosh,’ I reply. ‘I don’t think I did, but I did have rather a lot to drink.’ I occurs to me then that when the French men had suggested that we join them for a coffee in their room the night before, and Katie and I had politely declined, that they may have retracted their generous offer.
Still, at least we had clear consciences when we set off to get our taxi-brousse. Three hours we wait under a leaden cloud of smog at the station. Our back packs are bundled on top and secured with ropes and slowly, seat by seat our bus fills up. We have bought four seats but one of these is only half a seat, and guess who ends up getting that.
After two hours of jolting along, I need to pee. We stop alongside some desolate huts where a few women and children sit around a fire. They point me towards a small dark hut, but they might as well have said ‘follow the flies.’ My North Down bladder refuses to comply and I can’t even go in, although my need is great. I board the bus again which bumps on for 50 or so excruciating miles.
Such is the terrain on one road that it chugs to a halt and my joy is immense. ‘Let me out!’ I shriek, leaping over a toddler and a basket full of hens.
The shrubbery is sparse, but I find a bush to squat behind and pee. By now I could crush watermelons my thigh muscles are so well developed.
Alas, the relief when I stand is mitigated by the realisation that most of the pee is over my sarong. The bleak scrubland affords little in the way of washing amenities, and my rucksack is firmly lodged on the roof. I stand on the urine drenched sarong hoping to squeeze the worse of it out. As it happens, it dries as we wait outside under a roasting sun for two hours while men poke about under the bonnet.
We reach Isalo and I am rewarded with incredible hiking and spot the rare black and white lemur, like a small pointy panda. At our final beach destination of Ifate, home to the spiny forest of Baobab trees, we see nature at its most peculiar: some trees are shaped like carrots, others have a circumference of ten metres. Here, the worst indignity is at the local disco, where a generator pumps out Cher’s ‘Believe’ on repeat. I feel like I could have lived without the lemurs and come straight here, with its kindly locals and coconut infused rum. I came to Madagascar for the nature, and my trip ended up more about answering its call.