Day 211: An Hour in Tana

Noah’s arrival on the world’s fourth-largest island.

July 30, 2015, Mahajanga, Madagascar — A longish travel day saw me landing in Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo (Tana”), early this afternoon. I was picked up by a driver named Patrick and a friendly local birder named Genot, and the three of us jumped in a van and waded into city traffic.

Tana is a city of 1.5 million in north-central Madagascar and I smiled as we entered its busy streets, which felt distinctly more colorful and African than Cape Town’s heavy European vibe. It also seemed to lack the barred windows and razor wire I saw in big South African cities. “We don’t have much crime here,” said Genot, “except some people who steal cows. They go crazy about the cows.” It's estimated that 90 percent of Madagascar's population lives on less than $2 per day.

With some daylight remaining, we stopped by a rice field to look for wetland birds. Black Herons, Squacco Herons, and Little Egrets covered the waterlogged areas, and Genot spotted a couple of small, distant birds, which turned out to be Madagascar Munias—my first new bird in this country, and an endemic to boot.

Just then, Genot got a call from his ground agent and delivered some unexpected news: My domestic flight to northwest Madagascar, scheduled for tomorrow morning, had suddenly shifted to 6:00 tonight. That’s a new one! On the spot, we turned around and headed straight back to the airport, and Genot dropped me off where I’d met him just an hour before (I’ll see him again later this week).

When I checked in this evening at the Air Madagascar counter, having traveled through a dozen countries so far this year, I finally met a stubborn ticket agent who wouldn’t let me carry on my backpack. “It’s not the size,” she said firmly, “it’s the weight—we have a strict five kilogram limit!” I protested to no avail, and watched my pack disappear down a conveyor belt. It was the first time I’ve been separated from it this year; I’ve carried that pack on every other flight, and checking it felt unnervingly like abandoning a friend—at least for a couple of hours, until it arrived in Mahajanga with no apparent offense taken toward its owner.

New birds today: 1

Year list: 3757

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