A year-in-review

2009 kinda kicked ass

2009 kinda kicked ass

This past year pretty much rocked. And the New Year came in fine manner.  No kisses, but a bonfire amid the palm trees (above), new friends, lobster, a decent cigar (thanks, C!), champagne and even the Harry Connick, Jr., band playing Auld Lang Syne at midnight (never leave home without the iPod).

I meant to post this sooner, but here’s a little look back at my new life (as chronicled on this blog):

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Things Africa taught me

I’ve now arrived in India and am getting settled and spending a little time with family in Pune. I’ve also been coming up with a list of lessons learned from seven weeks in Africa. In no particular order, here goes:

  • French, that language I really thought was useless, is so not useless. Especially if you’re in Madagascar in non-tourist towns, trying to report and the only people you meet competent enough in English to be a translator are either employees of the company you’re writing about or  activists in the community.
  • mudReef flip flops are awesome. Seriously. Reef. Write it down. Best sandal I’ve ever worn. Damn near the best thing I’ve ever put on my foot. For example, when I accidentally stepped into two and a half feet of quick mud and lost a flip flop (again, thanks Sara from London, for a great laugh), I immediately paid the local who pulled me out another 500 shillings (a little more than $7, probably his weekly wage) to get back in the mud and retrieve my flip flop. (Dear Reef, I’m hoping for an endorsement deal. “Backpack journalist in Third World swears by Reef sandals.” Sounds good, no?)
  • I like parentheses.
  • Eat bananas. Leg cramps suck.
  • Save some bananas for the lemurs.

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MBG: Development through conservation

Chris Birkinshaw (right) and Christian Camara (center), both of MoBot, inspect flora at the Ankafobe reserve

Chris Birkinshaw (right) and Christian Camara (center), both of MoBot, inspect flora at the Ankafobe reserve in Central Madagascar

Solofo, president of the local fokontany, shows off sohisika seedlings

Solofo, president of the local fokontany, checks sohisika seedlings at the nursery

Seedlings of sohisika, a tree endemic to only a few small stands of forest in central Madagascar

Seedlings of sohisika, a tree endemic to only a few small stands of forest in central Madagascar

Before leaving Madagascar, I took a day-trip with botanists Chris Birkinshaw and Christian Camara from the Missouri Botanical Garden to inspect a small nature reserve and several associated projects.

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Meat, glorious meat

Plastic wrap isn't exactly an option.

Plastic wrap isn't exactly an option.

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Tana’s charming views

Winding streets of Tana's hills

Winding streets of Tana's hills

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Sunset on a quiet beach

Isolated and beautiful

Isolated and beautiful

I’ve been in Ft. Dauphin, where the keyboards have the French layout and very few people speak English, for three days now. This, by right of its natural beauty, should be a perfect sun and surf tourism destination. Unfortunately for the local economy, it’s mostly empty (not withstanding the four French guys I met playing foosball who, again, spoke almost zero English).

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What can you do with 100 Ariary?

A gangster roll, but only $300

A gangster roll, but only $300

Madagascar’s currency is a mind-trip. Inflation (and I’m guessing poor central banking) has left large denominations mostly meaningless. At the airport in Tana on Wednesday, $1 was just shy of 2,000 ariary. The largest bill I’ve seen is a 5000 AR note. Do the math ($2.50).

Though my airfare was astronomical ($700 for the roundtrip from Nairobi to Tana and $425 for the roundtrip from Tana to Ft. Dauphin), prices on the ground are relatively cheap.

A coffee is between 50 cents and a $1.50. A 500 ml beer of Gold (the upscale brand that is actually not bad for a lager) is between $1.50 and $2.50.

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Antananarivo: cheap, culinary heaven

Chez Sucett's

Chez Sucett's

On a darkened street, in a pouring rain, after walking past it twice, I finally spied the door I was looking for. Inside, I found the best meal I’ve perhaps ever had. Photos and menu after the jump.

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Madagascar: French colonial with Asian flavor

Madagascar or Southeast Asia?

Madagascar or Southeast Asia?

Antananarivo — or just Tana — on the drive from the airport. The entire city has maintained its French colonial feel, but the people and the culture bear distince resemblance to Asia. (Thai food is popular here, for example. Mmmm… Thai.)

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Goodbye Kenya, hello Madagascar

Headed to the airport at sunrise

Headed to the airport at sunrise

After 26 days in Kenya, I’m headed to Madagascar. I’ll be reporting at a large titanium mine Fort Dauphin in the south of the country — one that a conservationist boldly told me was “on balance, better for the environment.” I’m also hoping to check out some biological preserves with St. Louis ties.

In the downtime, I’ll be chilling on the beach, maybe kite surfing, definitely fishing and playing with a lemur or two.

And probably not speaking much English. Madagascar is a francophone country, so while Malagasy is the official language, French is the Western choice. (If broken e-mails from my hotel in the capital Antananarivo are any indication, English isn’t exactly popular.)

S’il vous plait, I might be screwed. Or it will make for more entertaining adventures.

My plane departs in 67 minutes. Catch you on the flip side.

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