Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wild and Foolish

Some stories are just impossible to invent. The truth can be more incredible than be the most fantastic fiction. And more horrifying than a horror movie. 

I went on a white water rafting trip last weekend. It was an organized tour that started in Ampefy, about 2 hours west from Tana, where the riverLily. Soleine was staying with a friend, and Michel was visiting a national park for his work. For many years I believe the term was ‘wild water rafting’, until I did it for the first time on the Zambezi in Zimbabwe. It’s called ‘white’ because there is so much water in the river that it turns white. I could have been called ‘wild’ too, for that matter.

Anyhow we start the trip after a security briefing where we are told how to paddle, and what ‘position securit√©’ is – all sit on the bottom of the raft with the paddle in the air. Off we go. The first rapid is actually quite a rough one, and we’re all pretty surprised by how ‘white’ (or wild) this rafting trip is. We are accompanied by a young French guy with dreadlocks in his kayak. He seems very able to steer his little plastic boat through the wildest waves. Our guide keeps yelling instructions to us : ‘right forward, left backward, stop, right frorward only’, etc and we happily bobbing on the river.  But suddenly we seem to be stuck in something like a hole, in the river. I still don’t know what it was, how can there be a hole in the water, but that’s how it felt. The raft tilts, and all six of us plus the guide are forced to lean off to one side, because the violent water seems to want to push us over. We’re hanging there, trying to balance the boat, not knowing whether it might flip forward or backward.

Meanwhile the guide keeps shouting: ‘pagai, pagai’, which means paddle, he wants us to stick the paddle straight in front of us in the water, but it’s impossible to do so with one hand, I need the other hand to hold on to the rope.  At last, one of the guys in our raft shouts that we should let go of the boat and save ourselves. I leave the paddle and am in the rough water for minutes. The water is not very deep, but there are big rocks, made out of volcanic stone that hurts like hell. I try to stay calm, but I go under water over and over, barely time to gasp some air before the next wave takes me further. I tumble along the river, lose my shoes, swallow liters of water, try to call for help but there’s nobody around. Suddenly I find myself in a quieter part of the river, and the safety kayak is there. I hang on to it and he helps me across the shore.

Still shaken we arrive at the Lily Waterfalls. Wow, quite impressive. Not like Victoria falls but certainly impressive. We’re just admiring the view and the steam that comes of the falls, until we hear that the two young French kayakers are going to descend the falls in their kayak. What? It seems like a foolish plan. We hardly dare to watch this scene, but they’re is doing it. At the same time, a young Swiss man named Luca from our raft has decided to jump off the falls. He’s all psyched up as he waits for the kayak to arrive,  in his safety vest and helmet. He makes it. He climbs back up, and I talk to him, curious to know how he feels.

He’s is still trembling from the first jump. I can almost see his heart beat. I walk away from the scene, already deciding that we're no longer continuing with this rafting company. Enough dare-deviling. Then suddenly, before anyone realizes, the young Swiss decides to jump again! This time without safety vest and helmet! As he reappears from the waves he’s on his belly. The kayak guys who are still near the water are going in, trying to save him. To no avail. O My God. The body is washed away by the wild river. From above the falls, the other rafters are screaming. Groups of village people are crowding together in disbelieve. What happened? I will never know.

May he rest in peace.

Les chutes de Lily minutes before the fatal jump

Oh and my advice: don’t go rafting in Madagascar.

Friday, March 11, 2011

International Ladies Night in Tana

On the occasion of the 100th international women's day on March 8, I hosted a girls nite...with all the different nationalities I've had the pleasure to get to know so far. From left to right: Huguette (Madagascar), Emmanuelle, Beatrice (France), Hasi (Inner Mongolia - China), Laura (Canada), Francoise (Burundi), Susan (USA), Caroline (Canada), Ietje (Netherlands), Britta (Germany), Joelle (UK), Soacha (Mada), Maude (France), Mioko (Japan), Tiana (Mada), Betsy (USA), Me and my beautiful daughter (NL/B), Angela (Brazil), Rina (Cannada). Some came later - as per typical Latina culture :-)  Nieves (Venezuela), Clara (Colombia), Majory (Equador) - not on the pic but for my 'institutional' memory.

My personal collection of international women. Ha ha!