Ambositra 16/01/2016

We arrived at Ambositra just before lunch time.

Our trip here included a zebu/ cattle horn processing plant, makers of miniature cars, scooters, bikes and tapestries and finally a gem stone store. Ok, with regards to the processing of cattle horn, I certainly was no fan! However, I was part of a group that were not vegan and it wasn’t all about me after all.

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I guess the ‘good’ part is that the horns come from the abattoirs so at least there is no wastage. Male horns are of course larger but can often be damaged from fighting And the age of the horn determines quality. The horn colour is the same as the colour of the hide so they can be black, white or mottled. They are boiled to extract the bony core which is crushed and used as crop fertiliser. It is the outer keratin layer which is softened in hot water, dunked in an oil and wax mix to kill any parasites and then while soft, it is molded into the desired shape eg spoon and trimmed. It then goes through three ‘sanding/buffing’ processes with glass paper, denim fabric ( cut from old jeans) and rice husk and limestone to do the final polish. Dye is used if colour is required for example in the making of jewellery and a final coat of resin seals it all. The motor of an old washing machine is used for the cutting/ sanding/ buffing process and the guys hand make all their tools and saws from scrap metal. There is quite an array of products and I guess the ingenuity of the people and their willingness to share their skills compels one to make a little purchase at the end. Erin bought a tobacco (etc) pipe and Shannon purchased a wee jewellery box.

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The little miniature shop had me the most intrigued as we watched the assembly of a bicycle. The wheel rims are cut from tin into 4mm strips and punctured with tiny holes for the spokes and the free ends are welded together. Spokes are made from fishing nylon and the axil is a slice of electric wire. The tyre itself is made from medical tubing, is folded around the rim and painted black. The rest of the framework is made from electric wiring, copper telephone wire for the brakes, a tiny wooden seat and little rubber pedals made from jandals/ rubber foot ware. I was entranced by their cleverness and by how nothing goes to waste so naturally I purchased a little bicycle. It will be a constant reminder of the Malagasy resourcefulness, skills and lateral thinking ability…and of the throw-away society back home.

The gemstone factory was all glitz and glamour, big cheesy smiles, announcements of, ” you’re family!” and incredibly firm handshakes plus a rather ‘creepy’ handshake received by one of my daughters…perhaps a marriage proposal! There was a spectacular array of stones and fossils extracted from various regions of Madagascar, jewellery and other show pieces. The biggest draw card for us though, were the large tortoises they had strolling around. A great marketing tool, but of course we were so distracted and ‘ah-ing’ and ‘Ooo-ing’ over their little reptilian legs and heads that we weren’t exactly shopping for gems. A few ‘gifts’ of ‘lucky’ gems from the mound of off cuts obligated us to distribute a sneaky few 5,000 notes in return. The most beautiful stone was the local labradorite ( spelling?) but the prices were pretty much the same as back home so no real bargains to be had. Shannon bought a little ruby ring and managed to haggle the price down somewhat to “family prices”. Other than that, we left with only fond tortoise memories.

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The rest of the day’s trip went smoothly…well…apart from some rather huge potholes in the road. The landscape changed as we climbed into more mountainous areas and aside from the fertile zones along the rivers, we noticed the vegetation changing slightly, become dryer and sparser. The land is terraced and well utilised but we did see the unfortunate scarring and erosion on the mountainsides due to human plundering and burning off of forests for fuel.

Our hotel in Ambositra is aptly called ‘The Artisan’ and it is decorated with arts and crafts from the region. Ambositra is renown for its wood-carvings and other crafts such as sculpture and weaving. After lunch, Mami took us into the village to have a look at some of the stores. Unfortunately ( or fortunately for our wallets and weight allowance), the black clouds rolled over and we had the earliest cloudburst so far on the trip, turning the roads into orange mud baths. We were more than happy to call it a day and head back to the hotel to our pile of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Mo Hayder and Jodi Picoult books. Relaxing on the bed with shutters and windows wide open to the city below. Thunder rolling, a cool breeze to cut through the claustrophobic heat and the sounds and energy of roosters, children, dogs and wood chopping filling our room.

Tomorrow we have an approximate 165km/ 3 hrs trip to Ranomafana where we will stay for 2 nights at Chez Gaspard.

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