Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Winter Solstice 2017

Here's a lovely article on this topic, which includes fun things you could do with photography and the sun:

And I'm going to start with my er... small steps... on the shortest day of the year. If can do "so much" on this day, I can do "so much more" on others. And if I manage to do "nothing" (that being quite difficult to achieve) on this day, I can do so much more of that too!

There's one thing I've had on my mind for a few years. And I might as well give that a go now that I'm thinking of "doing something" (whatever that means). There's a lovely little tree on my way to work and I have often thought of taking a picture of it every day for a year to compare how it changes colors and how its foliage looks glorious in all its forms. I've wondered about what would be an appropriate time for this activity, such that there's sufficient light to take a good picture and not too much traffic on that route and that I don't have meetings to attend at that time of the day. As of now, 12:30 pm comes to mind, because that's the official beginning of lunchtime at work, and so mostly there aren't any meetings scheduled around that time. Of course, there will be days when I can't make it at that time. In which case, I think 16:30 or 17:30 would be a good time. Anyway. I'll shut up now and just get to it tomorrow. Off to set a recurring reminder!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Madagasikara - Day 05


Woke up around 5:30 or so, because we wanted to leave by 7:00. As the day dawned, I took pictures of the rising sun--zoomed in to check if I could see nostril hair... I mean solar flares. :P

The barrenness of the sand and the dead twigs lying around made it look like some alien landscape.

The guide and the boatmen got to prepping for day, while we wandered about looking for places to hide and do our erm... business. Apart from that nasty necessity, though, the misty morning was quite thrilling after the full-moon night.

In a bit, we all had breakfast.

Then we had some time to while away while the tents dried out. There were dewdrops from the mist that settled on the tents through the chilly night.

So I went click-happy with our neighbors. The hut was about a mile away, the shrubs were all around, and the cautiously curious dog was furiously wagging her tail in her excitement at meeting us, but refused to come too close.

Spotted these beauties too.

Then, on the last leg of the safari, which lasted only about an hour and a half, we saw these guys. The croc was about 12ft long, and was sunbathing with its jaws open. I guess it was too lazy to make breakfast and he wanted some in bed. :P

Our boat ride ended at a village, which we had to pass through in a bullock (zebu, as they are called locally) cart. Twenty minutes of pain in the behind. I wasn't too happy for the bulls, either, poor fellows! Part of the road was submerged under water, even though it was farmland. Our cart owner brought his little son along. The path was so uneven that a few times during the ride,the plank (gosh, I don't know what it's called!) would slip off and a bull would stop or drag us in a different direction. A little 9-10YO lad ran alongside our cart for part of the way, and helped put it back in place! The things that rural kids do! City folk would shudder at the very thought of how dangerous something like this could be for their kids.

The next mode of transport was a ferry across the Tsiribihina river, further northwest. It took us about half an hour, and our SUV was loaded onto a ferry made of two little boats held together with planks. There were several such makeshift ferries, that would take upto 6 SUVs on them! How they managed to get the vehicles on and off the boats itself was amazing... the coordination, the precision, the trust!

Next stop: lunch at the Karibo restaurant and lodge. It was lovely place with clean, unique place settings and knife holders and check holders and whatnot. Even the simplest meals were served with such flair... the little decorations on the plate are made with honey!

This how the place looked from the outside. Apart from the dining area, it also had a karaoke room. The painting on one of the inner walls was a glimpse of the main tourist attraction of that place--the Tsingy. The little was hiding near a bamboo close to where the toilets were and he was so still that Pawan completely missed him after looking at him directly for a few seconds. I only noticed him accidentally. Or maybe my brain is better wired to spot non-human creatures. :P

We moved on for a few more kilometers are lunch by road until we had to cross the Manambolo river by ferry. This time we were in a smaller ferry and the ride lasted only about 10 mins or so.

Finally, at dusk, we reached our hotel, L'Orchidé Du Bemaraha, which was delightful too, but my heart still pines for Chambre Du Voyageur, the one in Antsirabe. BTW, we were told that this one and its neighbor, L'Olympe Du Bemaraha, are both owned by Indians.

The sight of a proper toilet was SO welcome after 3 days out in the open!

We had a HOT shower (the last time was a cold one right under the waterfall 2 days ago!) and proceeded to check out the place for a few minutes until our dinner was served. There was bougainvillea adorning the railings of the straicase that led down from our rooms to the restaurant. That bright green gecko with the red polka dots was so fun to watch--and I'm one who can't stand lizards! And, finally, the meal was good too.

Bathed and fed and in a warm bed, we drifted off to sleep quickly, super excited about tomorrow.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Madagasikara - Day 04


After waking and freshening up, we found this laid out for us on a wooden table+bench right next to our tent. There were several other tourists around us--about 3-6 different groups--and they had breakfast in/near their tents or in their motorboats, but our guide and boatmen seemed to be so much more cooler spreading a treat out this way for us. We just felt so blessed!

Soon after we cleared the table, it was Lemur time! Scores of brown lemurs flocked the very table+bench where we ate a few minutes ago.

A guide from another group brought them fruits and fruit peels. Tourists are told not to feed them so that they do not get dependent on humans, but once in a while some locals indulge them. People used selfie sticks to take pictures of the lemurs from up close. Thankfully, they weren't as cheeky as monkeys and didn't grab anyone's camera. :)

We set off after drying our tents and cleaning up the site, with bright West views ahead of us and a brilliant sun behind. We crossed a few tourist motorboats that were coming back upstream after completing the river safari. Those complete the journey in half the time, but I guess they don't have as much fun as us because they camp for only one night on the river. I'm conflicted about this, because this way, our boatmen get paid well, but it's a LOT of physical effort for them.

We saw a lot of migratory birds in the trees where the terrain was hilly.

And then some gorgeous view like these...

A few minutes later, our boatmen spotted the house of an acquaintance who made oars, so they made a quick maneuver and docked the boat. They checked out a couple of oars and settled on one, which they would use immediately.

Later, we watched as locals went about their day--washing clothes, bathing, fishing, cooking...

This one in particular caught my eye... see how coolly she's swaddled her baby and tied it up on her back so she can go about her day? Amazing!

Further ahead, we saw a few boats docked near a group of huts/houses. Our guide mentioned that this was a popular spot for lunch, but we moved on...

Because he had better plans for us. He knew we liked calm, uncrowded places, so the boatmen stopped at a private spot next to someone's miniature farm. A bunch of kids surrounded us, but we gave them some eatables and then they left us alone. The meal, needless to say was amazing--they made pasta and a simple salad and we also had chilled juice from the cool box!

Post lunch we encountered large flocks of birds gathered on the banks and on trees and shrubs...

And some lone wolves, erm... birds, trees, men...

And some kids loafing about...

Until we got to the spot where we'd spend the night. For about a mile before this spot, we ran into really shallow waters. The boatmen asked us to walk along the sandy bank while they pushed the boat for a bit by hand until they reached deeper waters and took the long-winding route to our camping spot.

While the sun set beyond the west bank...

The moon appeared on the east...

While, we found a lone, dead tree branch some distance away as a cover to erm... cover our behinds while we relieved ourselves, the boatmen and the guide went about preparing our dinner. We asked for plain french fries, so they gave us exactly that. And then made a dessert out of banana, sugar, and wine! Man, those guys were resourceful!

The full moon that night was a beautiful synchronicity. It was just the 5 of us in two tents, with this heavenly orb watching over us.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Madagasikara - Day 03


Started with a wonderful breakfast in the airy, sunlit restaurant at around 9:30, and then headed off to the Tsiribihina river in our SUV. I made an attempt to drive for about 10 mins - yay! Didn't do more, because it would have slowed us down with me being careful and learning my way around the gears and pedals of the vehicle. The river entry was about 20 kms from the hotel. Our boatmen and their families rode with us into the village on the banks.

While waited for the boat to be brought, a bunch of kids surrounded us and demanded (very sweetly) that we give them something. We gave away a few biscuits and some empty bottles, which they use to carry water to school sometimes. To get into the boats in the middle of winter season, we have to climb down the bank and walk about a hundred feet. River safaris are not allowed during the monsoons, of course--the rivers turn into muddy monsters and the crocs are annoyed at the lack of visibility.

We saw a variety of boats cross us all through the morning. Other tourists, locals going up/down the river to different vilages/towns, fishermen going about their jobs, and some people ferrying grain via the river!

Our boatmen rowed for about an hour and a half before we took a break. We were at the front of the boat, our guide in the center, the boatmen rowing at the back, and all of our luggage interspersed.


We also saw people going about their chores, birds doing what they do, and reptiles chilling--until they saw us. One of the first sights as we began the safari was a baby croc (almost 2 mtrs, about 1-2 years of age) sunbathing at the edge of the water, not 20 feet away from us!

Our boatmen and guide found us a nice spot in the shade of tree, settled us in on a mat, and brought simple, but hot and yummy food to gorge on. They were heroes and angels all at once.

Then onwards, it got sunnier and hotter, but our boatmen went on for another four hours or so, while we could only hold on to our umbrellas! (Psst... I forgot to buy sunscreen even though it was second on our shopping list... the first being mosquito repellent cream.)

Post lunch we came across stunning landscapes, amazing shapes and colors of rock that formed the banks...

The trees were fantastic too. The sun was beating down on us, but the water made us (okay only me) feel calm and serene.

As the evening drew nearer, the colors seemed even deeper, enticing.

The river, in the middle of the winter was about a 100 mtrs wide. Imagine how swollen and angry it gets during the monsoons! I splashed about a it, because the water was so close... at the center, the edge of the boat was only about 4 inches above the water!
By the time we reached our destination for the night, the boatmen were tired and we all hurriedly unloaded our stuff let them get on to their next chores. The guide took us up the campsite to the base of a waterfall, which felt like a magical place. The water was crystal clear, and not too cold, so I promptly jumped in. The husband did too, but I was 'in the zone' and so didn't click any pictures of his--my poor, sweet fella. It was a moonlit night and I could capture this...

Soon after we got back from the waterfall and dried ourselves and changed, the guide got us dinner--another lovely meal. We went to sleep at about 10:00 or so, after chitchatting in the moonlight for a bit, in our tent, on a sandy slope. If it weren't for the mosquitoes, we'd have slept under the stars!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Madagasikara - Day 02


After just-enough sleep, I got up, showered, and went out to look around Cambre Du Voyageur in the daylight. There were about 8 teeny-tiny but comfy-neat-clean independent units with different layouts. The bathrooms were impeccable and adorable: a wash basin at the center, a shower area to the left, and toilet to the right, all at slightly different levels--easier to maintain. Wish I had pictures to show just how cute even those things were.

The variety of plants crammed into that little plot was impressive. There were a couple of people cleaning and tending to the gardens all through the morning.

The flowers were equally amazing: some dainty, some mimicking reptiles or insects, some very brightly colored, and they all seemed rather happy in their surroundings. Or maybe I was projecting! :P

Every nook had some lovely detail worked into it to make the place even more interesting. Vines, statues, mirrors, window locks, salt-and-pepper shakers with unusual shapes, and well-reused bullock-cart!

So, basically, we did just this for a couple of hours...

The restaurant also was so warm and welcoming, just like the people that ran the place. Every wall, every table, every corner had something that catches your eye.

We had a hot, satiating breakfast (not all of it is visible in this picture)...

This was the wonderful team of people who ran the place. Only the hostess (leftmost in the pic) would be out and about asking people what they need and serving it. The others were either in the kitchen or the garden or doing chores elsewhere. They obliged very sweetly when I invited them for a picture.

This place and the people were so delightful, I cried because I didn't want to leave... this hasn't happened to me in 25 years!!

Around 11:00 am, we checked out and went to the local market, to shop for the stuff that would sustain us for the next 2 days on the river. The two boys helped carry the loads of vegetables and grains back to our SUV. Love those grins!

Then, we fueled up, passed through town and headed west to Miandrivazo. We made a stop for lunch at some point, but didn't find anything that we could eat, so we binged on chips and other such things that we carried from the Antsirabe market. Our guide and driver had their usual zebu meat and rice meal, and while waiting for them, we sought refuge under a lone tree in a large open area where groups of kids played with abandon. It was quite hot outside, and we were warned to be careful about our stuff, so we didn't take out the camera for pictures.

On the way, we stopped to ogle at some locals who were collecting gold from a stream. It's a legit activity there

By 5:45 pm, we reached our destination, La Princesse Tsiribihina, where a kid name Prince, a cheeky chameleon, and lovely, sunkissed room welcomed us.

After watching a wonderful sunset, we went for swim in the pool, came back refreshed, and then had dinner in their spacious wooden-floored, completely wooden-furnished restaurant.

...and then it was time to make good use of that gorgeous bed.