Just outside the national park lies Andranofasika, which may be the largest settlement in the area, but is usually a dusty, one-zebu town that cannot compete with the charms of the forest. However, every Wednesday the usually sleepy little spot is transformed into a throng of activity as people descend upon it from miles around for the weekly market, and whilst nearby I could not resist going along myself.
Being used to how the place normally looks, seeing the crowds and sheer number of ramshackle stalls that lined the entire length of the main road was a shock. The first that caught my eye was that belonging to a witch doctor, still an important figure in many small communities throughout the country, despite the best efforts of missionaries. Noticing the interest that I had shown and perhaps sensing a good sales opportunity, the old medicine man moved with a speed belying his years, quickly offering me strings of beads that would apparently provide luck, protection, or even success with the opposite sex! It was clearly going to be an interesting introduction to the island’s rural life.
Much of what else that was on offer proved to be less exotic and more down-to-earth. Everything that a household might want was available, from pots and pans to zebus, the distinctive humpbacked cattle that play a crucial role in both Malagasy agriculture and ritual. Surprisingly, there were also fresh loaves of bread on offer at regular intervals, indicating that the French had more success introducing the baguette than the bible. Meanwhile, much less unexpected, but more eye-catching were the numerous brightly-coloured piles of locally grown citrus fruits, bananas and papaya.
But when it came to vibrant displays, nothing could compete with the stalls selling lambas, the garment of choice in Madagascar, which has a number of uses including sarong, headdress, or even improvised baby carrier. They are also perhaps the best souvenirs available at such non-tourist orientated markets. However, certain that I would look comical rather than fetching in one, the decision not to buy proved easy enough to make.
Having finished browsing, but not yet ready to leave, heading for a hotely felt like a good idea. Despite what the name might suggest, these common establishments are often little more than shacks that offer refreshment rather than accommodation to the passing wayfarer. Basic it may have been, but the drink was cool and the shady veranda was the perfect place to watch the scenes of local life. Stallholders and shoppers from all over the region mingled and talked, having a good time whilst catching up on the gossip and doing business at an easygoing pace. What had initially seemed hectic began to look rather civilised. Making my way back to camp, it was obvious to me that this kind of shopping expedition was infinitely more pleasant than forays to the supermarket back home.