Seeking Enlightenment After The End Of The Magical Madagascar Cycling Tour
It is my next to last day in Madagascar and the Magical Madagascar Cycling Tour has come to an end. I am still staying at the hotel next to where the tour ended, a small establishment with six or seven rooms overlooking the beach. It is an idyllic simple place, run by a charming Malagasy woman whose father was Vietnamese and who speaks a dozen or so languages. She has worked and travelled the world and now runs her own little place which includes a day care for her employee’s children.
In the morning, I open the door of my room and find the table on the porch overlooking the beach is already set up for breakfast. A little green gecko is checking the butter and the jam and then stands still beside the warm container of tea as if to warm up before exploring the rest of the table. Peaceful waves rhythmically flow and ebb over the golden sand.
Many of the riders on our tours, in particular the challenging expeditions where we are all often beyond our comfort zones, have mentioned that TDA prepares them well for their tours, but that they feel lost once they return home after the tour. After cycling over two thousand kilometres from south to north in Madagascar, I feel the same way. I have been exposed to so many new sights, sounds and ideas that they are rushing around in my head like thousands of loose electrons bumping into each other.
The way I deal with the issue of being a bit overwhelmed is to try to find a quiet corner somewhere and just allow my system to adjust and give my subconscious mind the time to rest and do its work. Walking the streets of cities for hours on end will have the same effect. I find that a period of two or three days usually allows me to return to my regular life at home with little or no disruption.
Madagascar is a land of incredible vistas, diverse landscapes, humid rainforests, high plateaus, dry deciduous forests, endless savannah, secluded...
Yesterday, as part of this simple routine, Ruth and I went into Hell-Ville, the largest town on Nosy Be. There was not much to do and see in the town in spite of its portentous name but a half hour walk outside of the city limits there was a place we had decided to visit.
It is there, around the year 1800, that a tree, now considered sacred, was planted by Indian traders. Though our expectations were low, once we arrived we were pleasantly surprised to find a colossal ‘ficus religiosa‘, also known as a Banyan tree. Unfortunately, I do not travel with a drone so I can’t really show you how impressive the tree actually is. Think of an area of a football field taken over by one tree.
There are other sacred trees on the island. As part of the Sakalava culture, one of the main Malagasy tribes, these locales are places where communication between heaven and earth takes place. It is in spots like these where the spirits of the elders (Razana) reside.
Madagascar has plenty of its own amazing trees and some have been designated as sacred places, but this one unique tree is an import. However, it was designated sacred by Queen Sakalava Tsiomeko because it was here that she was made the queen of the island. Banyan trees are also venerated by Hindus and Buddhists and it was under the Bodhi tree where the one called Siddhartha Gautama, better known as Buddha, attained enlightenment.
Seeking some enlightenment of my own, it did not take much time for me to realize that in just six weeks I would be embarking on another challenging bike tour, the Trans Himalaya Cycling Tour, from Kashmir to Kathmandu. One of the places we will have a rest day is Lumbini in Nepal, the birth place of the Buddha. Frankly, I have no idea what all of this means except that when I am there, I will likely be thinking of a tree in Madagascar and pondering my own future spiritual path. Stay tuned…