Walking is is how the body measures itself against the earth.

My feet that took me across the peninsula. Before the gash of my toe.

My feet that took me across the peninsula. Before the gash of my toe. 

I had a gash on my toe. I was tired, hot, and miserable. I was dumb enough not to bring a proper first aid kit, and I’m even embarrassed to admit that I am a certified wilderness first responder. But I went on a three day walk through the forest without one. Above all, I was in pain and I had to keep walking. There was no other choice I had. I sat for a moment and thought about how I could be creative to make a bandage that would survive the rest of the way. We had been going in and out of water, through rivers and mud all day. I pulled a pair of my underwear from my backpack and my mini Swiss Army knife to cut a piece to bandaged my toe together. It looked completely ridiculous but that’s how I remained for the rest of the way. Four of us volunteers decided to walk the path from Antalaha to Maroantsetra with the help of our two friends, Ertice and Rado.

Up close map of the Masoala Peninsula. Find Antalaha. The  find Maroantsetra.

Up close map of the Masoala Peninsula. Find Antalaha. The find Maroantsetra.

There is no real road that connects the Masoala Peninsula to Antalaha. People walk, or fly if they can afford it. We were definitely up for the adventure that most people don’t dare to go on, unless it is absolutely necessary.

We left Antalaha very early in the morning and were packed into the back of a pickup truck, along with over thirty other people. That ride is one that I will remember forever. I sat as crunched as possible with my knees almost touching my chest the entire time for two hours. And life seemed to keep going inside the truck. Babies were being breast fed, kids were sick and vomiting, others were peeing their pants, and old men were chanting. It was a great start to the adventure that we were about to embark on.

Kid climbing for coconuts. We hydrated by drinking coconuts on the trail.

Kid climbing for coconuts. We hydrated by drinking coconuts on the trail.

Bird of paradise flower. My favorite!

Bird of paradise flower. My favorite!

Along the trail, we ate many kinds of tropical fruits like pineapples, mangoes and coconuts. We passed through many villages where we took breaks or stopped for lunch. Lunch was always rice, rô masava (broth with greens) and chicken. Dinner was the same. We walked through amazing forest landscapes. We were surrounded by Palm trees, coconut trees, jackfruit trees, and many others. Beautiful flowers, like my personal favorite, a relative of the birds of paradise grew wild! The path ran along the river for most of the time, which we were grateful because it was our water source for drinking and for cooling off. Our first night, we walked until it got dark, however many hours of walking that was is unknown. We stayed the night at the people’s home in the village where we had dinner. There was a spare room with mattresses where we stayed. The girls and I walked down to the river that evening to shower before dinner. I felt like I was really in the jungle!

Our days would typically start at 3:30am wake up, to start walking by 4am. The goal was to take advantage of the morning hours before the sun settled in. Walking in the sun was brutal! One of the reasons I decided to do this walk was to really experience more of the culture, and how people travel in this region. We saw it all! People of all ages, babies, young kids, pigs, dogs, men carrying heavy loads, some even barefoot. On the trail, we were all one. Smiles were exchanged as we walked by new groups of people, with a mutual unspoken understanding of our determination and also of our suffering in the heat. There was a sense of unity between us and other groups walking. We would meet at some villages to chat, or see them during lunch. We always knew who was on the trail, and who was heading north or south. Every time a group of people that looked energized walked by, we would ask what day they left their destination, to determine how far away we were from ours. Everyone had a different answer. And everyone had a different answer about how many kilometers it was to reach the other side of the peninsula. Even our guides that walked with us changed their answers along the way. No one knows exactly how long in distance the walk is, not even google knows. Some people can complete the walk in a miraculous day, and others in five. It took us two and a half days.

Me in the forest in front of Madagascar's very own, Traveler's Palm.

Me in the forest in front of Madagascar’s very own, Traveler’s Palm.

We walked through many villages. Each one of them was beautiful and very unique in its own way. Each time we spent some time at a village, or during our overnight stays, I would wonder how different life would be to grow up in a place like this that was so isolated. Madagascar is isolated as it is. But even on this isolated island off the coast of Africa, it is possible to find areas with a wifi connection. Here, not even cellphones worked. The kids in the villages always stared and gathered in groups to watch us.

The terrain changed from climbing up mountains, to walking through fields, to stone stepping over rivers, or sliding through mud. Sometimes we were in thick lush primary forest that felt untouched and surreal, and other times we were in whole areas of burnt forest. People in Madagascar use slash and burn methods to grow rice. They have been doing this for centuries. I wondered about other solutions, and could never come, up with one. How can we tell people to stop burning the forest if we can’t find a way for them to feed themselves?

I was grateful that it never once rained during our walk. We were warned about the rain and we were lucky that rain came only at night while we slept. I was also grateful to have a hot meal every evening before crashing into a deep sleep at night. We were all exhausted at night. My legs had never hurt so bad. I had never experienced being in so much pain caused simply from walking. On one day, while we were close to being done, I was walking slower than a turtle can move. Literally. Rado walked slow with me. He sung in Malagasy for hours and never said a word. I appreciated him for those hours.

There were many fun moments and encounters on the trail. We made many friends along the way. Laughter and singing were ways of coping for the reality of how much longer we would have to walk or at the sight of the next peak we would climb. On the second morning, we walked with a brother and sister team. They were visiting their family. The brother carried his sister’s daughter on his shoulders, along with their luggage in a backpack the entire way. It was impressive. It was all impressive. The sacrifice, the determination, and the journey. The sister was a bigger lady. They became our friends. Seeing them made us happy. Sometimes we got ahead of them, and other times they passed us. On our last morning, we decided to walk together in one big group. Lunch that afternoon was rice, rô masava, and goose juice! It was the best! After lunch was when I discovered that I was missing my wallet. This meant that I was missing my money, US and local bank cards, passport copy, and resident card. I was pretty upset. This really affected me. I was suddenly smacked in the face with adversity. I had no choice. I cried for twenty seconds but I had to pull myself together. Crying and feeling sad about what happened to me wasn’t going to fix anything. It wasn’t going to help our group morale, and it certainly wasn’t going to make me get to Maroantsetra any faster. I had a piece of my underwear tied around my toe and I no longer had any money. I felt like I was in a deep canyon, and the only way out was by walking each step back out. No one was going to rescue me. I suddenly forgot about my situation as we continued with jokes and laughs within our group.

When we approached the last village as the sea came closer to us, we knew we were there! We took a pirogue to Maroantsera and just like that, we had managed to complete our journey to the other side of the peninsula.

While in Maroantsetra, we visited the island, Nosy Mangabe, known for its ancient pirate rock carvings, ancient tombs, primary forest, and aye aye lemurs. It was a beautiful place! The boat ride to the island started in a river and went straight through the opening into the ocean! We saw many endemic wildlife species, including leaf tailed geckos, lemurs, and many different kinds of chamelions. This area of Madagascar is very special because it houses so many endemic plants and animals, but also because it is one of the only places in the world where the rainforest meets the sea.

In Maroantsetra, I visited my good friend Guyot’s family. They welcomed me with warm hugs like I was part of the family. The last time Guyot was there to visit his family was in 2013, when he got married so it was an honor to have me there. I stayed for two nights. On one of the days, we walked to the cemetery to bring their ancestors new clothes for the new year. The whole family came along. The eldest son lead a prayer while we prepared their clothes. The men helped to lift the tombs open, while their clothes was folded inside. Perfume was sprayed inside the female tombs. Everyone was happy to be honoring their ancestors together. We had Bon-Bon Anglais, a very sweet soft drink loved by all Malagasy people and toka Gasy (moonshine) was also available. I was asked if in my country, people are buried in the ground or cremated. I answered that some are cremated, and others are buried into the ground when they die. I learned that in Malagasy culture, people are first buried into the ground. After seven years, they are honored with a Famadihana, where the bones are cleaned and wrapped in white cloth and put inside a tomb above ground.

All of the family at the Cemetery.

All of the family at the Cemetery.

Honoring ancestors by spraying perfume into their tombs, happily.

Honoring ancestors by spraying perfume into their tombs, happily.

After our time exploring the cool town of Maroantsera, we flew back to our prospective sites. I regretted not having the time to explore around in Masoala National Park, (Madagascar’s largest national park and largest primary forest area.) It was very cool to travel with my feet, literally. I also was grateful to experience another aspect of culture and the meaning of death and the continued honoring of ancestors in the lives of Malagasy people.

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