Sunday, 5 November 2006

The Amazing Race 10, Episode 8

Bel Ombre (Mauritius) - Antananarivo (Madagascar)

What do you do as a traveller when what you find doesn’t match what you expect?

That was the question faced by the contestants on The Amazing Race when they arrived in Antananarivo, the capital and sole international air gateway to the 1500 km long (1000 miles) island nation of Madagascar.

Their clues told them to find the “Black Angel”, perhaps the best-known (albeit as “l’Ange Noir” in this former French colony) landmark in the entire country.

Yet when their taxis got to the Lac Anosy in the center of town, what they saw — overlooked by the even more monumental, but much uglier, Madagascar Hilton where I presume the racers and the rest of the cast and crew of the TV show were staying — was a large white statue of a winged angel. And their cabs keep on going past the lake. (In case you were wondering, those distinctive taxis were classic Madagascar-built Citroën 2CV’s, French counterparts of the Volkswagen Beetles formerly assembled in Mexico and Brazil and still common in those countries as cabs.)

Was this not really the Black Angel? “It’s supposed to be black,” one of them says. Did their cab drivers not understand where they wanted to go? Were their drivers lost, or taking them on an unwanted detour?

None of the above, actually. Their drivers knew better than they did, and were all on exactly the right track. Several years ago the “Black Angel” was repainted white. The only causeway to the monument was on the far side of the lake, so the drivers had to continue past the first sight of the statue, and leave the lakeshore briefly, to get to the foot of the causeway.

I’ve had my share of lost taxi drivers, especially in the USA. In a foreign country, though, the odds are that local drivers know their way around better than you or I do as visitors. Unless there’s been a miscommunication (our fault, if we as guests don’t speak our hosts’ native tongue), the odds are that if they go in what seems the wrong direction, there’s a good reason. Think about how many times it has seemed that you were being led or driven astray, only to realize that your driver or guide knew something you didn’t.

As I say in The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World :

If a guidebook says, “A bus leaves A for B every Tuesday and Thursday,” that’s a fair indication that it will be possible for you to get from A to B by bus, probably at least once a week. But you certainly shouldn’t turn up in A on Monday, counting on there being a bus the next day. Nor should you blame the guidebook writer if there isn’t.

One of the most useless things to say to anyone is, “But it says here in this guidebook that …” The outsider who argues with reality, on the basis of a book, will be interpreted only as stupid, closed-minded, unwilling to learn, and/or contemptuous of local people.

Names of sites and sights and like that of “the Black Angel” can be quite misleading about appearances, even if the look of what you are looking for hasn’t changed since your guidebook was updated. L’Ange Noir stands atop a monument to the dark-skinned people who died as French colonial “subjects” fighting a war (World War I) started by lighter-skinned people in Europe, at the same time that light-skinned French conscripts were using military force to put down the stirrings of rebellion by those dark-skinned “natives” which would continue until the independence of Madagascar in 1960. I wouldn’t presume to tell the people who live there today whether it “should” be painted white, black, brown, or in zebra stripes to most appropriately commemorate this intersection of personal, national, and global histories.

Of course, if we don’t leave home, we may never have to think about these questions, much less have a ocntext in which to do so. As Mary said after being eliminated from the race this week:

The race has made me appreciate where I’m from…. I love my little place in the world, but it’s also made me appreciate the fact that I don’t need to be stuck in one place, that I need to get out and take my kids to see the world.

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 5 November 2006, 23:59 (11:59 PM)

I had a similar experience in Las Vegas. We took a taxi
from our hotel on the strip to another casino a few blocks
away, but on the other side of the strip. At first I
thought we were being ripped off, as the cabbie headed in what I thought was the opposite direction. It turned out
that he was taking a street parallel to the strip behind
the hotels and then turning left from a cross street onto
the strip in front of our destination. It was probably a
lot faster than the direct route of going up the strip
and trying to make a U-turn.

Posted by: Anon Y. Mouse, 8 November 2006, 04:12 ( 4:12 AM)
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