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* Be careful of what?!

August 27, 2015

Not sonile crocodile many days after my brother and I came close to walking on water as we fled the shark that popped up out of the water (see previous post titled “swimming with a shark–literally“), we were on a bike ride to Manantenina, 100 km north of Fort Dauphin/Tolagnaro. It was the end of December which is a very hot and humid time of year in that part of the world (about as far south of equator as Miami is north of it). So we decided to break the trip up into a day and a half and left mid-afternoon from Fort Dauphin, planning to sleep in a small village along the road for the night. The road to Manantenina was then (and is still) unpaved, with 5 <<bacs>> which are small ferries for the rivers too big to have a bridge, that can carry up to two Land Rovers or a big truck (see below picture). In those days, anyway (mid-1970s), none of these had motors, so were pulled across the river by hand, using a cable strung across the river which the men who manned the bacs pulled on to get everyone across the river. However, it had taken longer to get to the first bac than we had planned, so night was coming fast and unfortunately the bac was on the far side of the river, with no one around to pull it across for us. We called for someone, but no one responded (the normal method of summoning help was to honk your horn, but we didn’t have one of those). So I offered to swim across the river to get the bac.

As I got ready to jump in, I wondered about what I had offered to do. While the river wasn’t so wide, the water wabacs quite dark anyway and with the sun having gone down that close to the tropics, there wasn’t a lot of dusk, so it was quickly getting dark. There were also some creepy looking plants on both sides of the river. But as we didn’t have camping equipment, we needed to get across the river to see if the small village just up the hill from this bac had a guest house we could use for the night, as it looked like rain would soon be upon us.

So I started to swim across the river, faster than normal, as it was all a bit spooky. Getting closer to the other side, I thought this was all going to be OK when something brushed up against my legs. Pretending to not have felt it, I kept going, but then felt it again. And suddenly I was swimming at a pace to break my fastest time ever! Getting to the river bank, I gratefully crawled out and decided not to offer to swim across to get a bac at night again!

The next day, as we went across rivers on the other 4 bacs there are on that road and then, a couple days later on the way home when we did all 5 of them in one day, it was sunny and hot. So we jumped into each of the rivers from the bac as it slowly moved across the river and swam alongside, thankful for the cool water. And every time we did this the men pulling us and our bikes and stuff across the river would say, <<Tandremo ny voay!>> We knew what <<tandremo>> went, it was Malagasy for “beware!”, so they were warning us about something. But none of us knew what the word <<voay>> meant? When asked to describe it, the men would tell us about what sounded like a pretty big <<fia>> (“fish”) with a bunch of teeth. So we kept a look out for them, but continued to swim, never actually seeing these strange fish we’d never heard of before.

So you can imagine our surprise when, having returned safely to Fort Dauphin, and asking what the word <<voay>> actually meant–as in what kind of fish was this with all the teeth we had been warned about?–you can imagine our surprise to find out it was the Malagasy word for “crocodile!” Beware indeed!

We decided if we ever did that trip again, we’d forego jumping into any of those rivers!

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