As we reach the last step he opens the double doors for us onto a new floor, another level, another genre of music. The techno hits us like a thump to the chest, as flashing laser lights crowd the room. We breathe in the heat of the herd of tourists partying as if this night is their last and the heavy scent of beer, sweat and perfumes that hang in the air. The moment slows down. Women in little more than leather panties gyrate around in their designated cages for our viewing pleasure. As we pass through the room to the bar at the other side you catch individual snap shots of the weekend ravers you pass by. The 20-something stag drinking away his last few moments of bachelordom, the raven haired Eastern European girl confirming her bohemian existence, and the group of business men cutting loose after a week in the rat race. Red, green, yellow, and blue illuminate their faces.
In the country’s capital, Antananarivo, the team from Secret Compass established the meeting point. With the help of a few good pints of Three Horse Beer, strangers rapidly became friends and got to know a bit more about their new “brothers in arms” for the next 20 days... From experienced hikers with fancy GPS systems, to first time adventurers with fresh-out-of-the-box walking boots, our new-found family was quite diverse in experience and origin, which only served to make this adventure even more so promising!
Equipped with French Army maps printed in 1962, we started our journey on the deserted beaches of Sambava, our official east coast starting point. From there, four to five days of grueling 25km+ walks were awaiting the group. What made the start of the trip so enjoyable, despite the hot and humid weather, heavy rucksacks and the usual stomach disturbances, were the people of Madagascar. We came across countless villages during the first days, each time only to be welcomed by charming, smiling and intrigued Malagasies. White ghosts they called us- ‘Vaza’- in Malagasy. Kids by the dozen running around us, laughing and screaming with excitement at the sight of foreigners; ‘Vaza! Vaza! Vaza!’ went the chant! ... As we were usually camping in the village football field, each campsite arrival created a special event of its own, attracting each time a larger crowd of intrigued villagers. Even more so when our second-in-command, Ali, had to undergo a series of foot treatment sessions due to a nasty heel blister. One such procedure involved a three-inch needle, in front of a crowd of 50 or so of our new-found friends!
The alluring metropolis of Jaipur is often referred to as the ‘Paris of India’, because of its effervescent appeal and flamboyant architecture. The city lends itself to a tradition shared by several major towns in the state of Rajasthan, whose identities are categorized by a series of vibrant colors. In the same way that the buildings of Jodhpur and Jaisalmer to the West are painted blue and gold respectively, Jaipur is India’s fabled ‘Pink City.’
The grand City Palace stands resplendent at the center of Jaipur’s historical quarter behind striking walls and seven towering gateways. Outside of these illustrious fortifications, modern development sprawls out in every direction as more and more people move from the surrounding areas in search of working opportunities and a supposed “better life”. The grass, however, isn’t always greener, as I would soon find out.