That’s a good question and not necessarily one that you want to test.
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In the USA and in Europe you find folks that drink bottled water or put filters in their house more out of vanity or personal preference than actual need. Here in Madagascar, it’s a necessity.
Pretty much every family and most restaurants that serve tourists, have has a ceramic filter system sitting around that it is used for drinking water, hot drinks, and to wash your fresh fruits and veggies.
In our town of Fort Dauphin, the water is supposedly treated, but it shows up at the house full of sediment and dirt (we know because we store water in a cistern for the days that the city water doesn’t run).
Drinking Water as a Tourist
Most visitors stick to Eau Vive which is the Malagasy Bottled Water equivalent of Evian or Aquafina. The problem with Eau Vive is the bottles. If you, plan on drinking a liter per day and you visit for say 30 days and maybe you also want to wash some fruits and vegetables, you’ll be going through at least 30 bottles.
30 Bottles that will not get recycled and might end up in the ocean.
For this reason, for short term visitors to Madagascar, I highly recommend a personal water filtration system.
Water Bottles with Integrated Filters
One of the neatest inventions of the last two decades is super efficient personal filtrations systems. You can get straws that go in any cup or bottle or you can buy water bottles designed with an integrated filter. I’ve gathered together a few options:
Standard Life Straw
According to LifeStraw, their filters remove “99.999999% of waterborne bacteria (including E. coli and salmonella), and 99.999% of waterborne parasites (including giardia and cryptosporidium). Unlike your standard Brita or another household filter, these guys don’t just improve taste, they really clean your water.
The LifeStraw Go Water Bottle
This is LifeStraw’s water bottle with integrated filter. These work well and folks that I know like them. Something to keep in mind is that these to of the lesser expensive versions of LifeStraws are not guaranteed to remove the smallest parasites and or metal contaminants. If your water is questionable, you may still want to treat it with a chlorine tab or “sirop” (see below) and then use the filter.
LifeStraw’s Stainless Steel Version
This version is more expensive, but if you are not a fan of plastic in any form, you might want to give this newer model a go!
Large Water Filter
If you are traveling as a group or family and want to be able to filter larger quantities of water, LifeStraw also offers this bag system which can pack fairly compactly, but then filter larger quantities of water.
Traveling with Kids?
LifeStraw also has a kid friendly version of their best water filter.
Backup water safety.
Water filters can fail and they can also get lost. I always travel with chlorine tabs in my purse if we are going on a day trip or overnight. I’ve yet to have to use them, but I’d rather know that I can drink safe water if I need it.
Chlorine tabs generally treat a larger quantity of water 1 to 10 L or Gallons, so be sure to read you box and make sure to follow directions. Here in Madagascar you can also buy little blue bottles of “Sur Eau” which means “sure water” in French and is pronounced like “syrup” minus the “p” in Malagasy.
Some water purification tabs come in a glass bottle, I don’t like to travel with those, so I keep these Aquatabs on hand.
Things to Ask
When you are in Madagascar it is advised that you wash your fruits and vegetables in filtered water before eating them. If you want to eat lettuce or other salad greens, you should wash (soak them) in a fresh batch of water treated with Aquatabs or Sur Eau for at least 10 minutes.
When eating out, you will notice that many tourist friendly restaurants have more expensive prices that some of the local spots. This is partially because of their food preparation practices.
The general rule of thumb is to only drink bottled (filtered water) and eat cooked food, unless you are sure of the preparation. This will help keep your tummy happy and the doctor away!
In July 2018 our family of four kids and two adults hit the road to do 4500 + miles (2750 km) in 15-days. We had a blast, but we also learned what not to do on such a trip!
We started off our trip on the right foot, although it wasn’t planned: to make up for a previous car rental snafu in France, the Denver Budget office upgraded our minivan to a brand new 8-passenger Chevy Suburban.
I cannot imagine how we would have survived a smaller vehicle, as we fell in love with the Suburban.
Bonus: thanks to an “eco-drive” it miraculously gets about 23 miles to the gallon!
I start this tale with the car as, without it, I don’t think we could have survived our executed trip with nearly as much fun or enjoyment as we did.
Planning several months in advance, we’d decided we wanted to hit a few key places, such as Yellowstone National Park, Seattle, the Redwoods, HWY 101, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and the Grand Canyon. We’d also been hoping to catch a few friends and family: Bozeman, MT; Olympia, WA, a handful in the Bay Area, my Aunt in northern Utah, and my brother in southern CO.
We started out by heading North on I-25 from Denver into Wyoming, where we cut across to Yellowstone, spent a night on either side and rolled into Bozeman, MT.
From Bozeman, we headed towards Seattle, and from Seattle to Olympia and then down HWY 101 to the Redwoods through San Francisco into Santa Cruz and then on to LA.
From LA we headed east to Las Vegas, where we continued on to Flagstaff, AZ and the Grand Canyon. From the Grand Canyon we hit Cortez in SW Colorado, before heading north back into Utah and Dinosaur Nat’l Monument.
We only stayed in each location for a single night (except Olympia & Las Vegas), we had some amazing visits with friends, and we missed a few friends. We never did make it to my brother in southern, CO — by day 15 we were fried (particularly the driver).
What not to do…
Technically, our road trip was a HUGE success because we traveled with four kids who managed to avoid arguing and vomiting; basically, a feat unheard when it comes to family road-trips.
It’s never happened to us before and who knows if it will ever happen again!
Mistake #1: Moving Too Often
The biggest mistake we made was to only give ourselves enough time to stay in each location for one night. Except for LA, we managed to snag super sleeping spots (Booking; Airbnb; KOA Campgrounds; and friends) and we would have loved to stay in each spot for at least a few nights, if not a week.
Of course, this also kept everyone on their toes, avoided boredom or getting too settled and is perhaps the reason we managed without any arguments!
On the flipside, we now have about a dozen future vacations planned of places that we want to visit and we already know where to stay and how to get there!
Mistake #2: Driving Too Far
Driving 4500 miles in 15 days basically means an average of 350 miles per day. As we didn’t drive every day (just most) our average daily trips were 400 to 600+ miles which is doable, if not a tad uncomfortable, if you are on VACATION.
We generally chose to follow roads with slower speeds for the scenery and of course with four kids we had to plan not only for scenic stops but to eat and use the toilet.
On driving days we did a minimum of 5 hours in the car; our longest day was 12 + hours. This was the only day the driver and I had an argument. I set the itinerary, so his palatable frustration was more than understandable. Ahem.
What we learned is that if you are doing a road trip to get from A to Z; you can make a contest out of how far you can drive in a day. However, if you are driving for fun and to see the sights, you’ll want to keep your driving days to about 6 hours; with a leisurely lunch stop in the middle!
The days that we did this, we were able to enjoy breakfast and local scenery in the morning; and then arrive in time to enjoy the local scenery and a pleasant dinner in the afternoon. We did this really well between Colorado and Seattle, the place we failed was the entire coastal route from Olympia to LA. And then again driving back to Colorado.
The last place you want to feel rushed is driving through the Redwoods or along HWY 101! California and the west coast are MUCH bigger than you think or than they look on a map. We’ve learned to plan accordingly!
Mistake #3: Not Planning Where to Eat
I knew that neither our budget nor our sleep was worth risking not planning where to sleep, so I reserved all our sleeping spots well ahead of time. For the most part this worked out fantastic.
However, outside of preparing to have picnic breakfasts and picnic lunches, I left our dinners to be determined upon arrival. Sadly, this mostly met hopping from place to place, trying to find someplace open or that pleased everyone, and often ended up in yucky tasteless and too expensive for what it was dinners.
The only place we lucked out on dinner was eating delicious home-cooked food with friends and our dinner out in LA (which is good, since that is the one place our Airbnb was a flop).
This mostly makes me really sad, because I know that we went through some areas that have amazing local restaurants, but they were not findable or feasible last minute. Next time I will do some foodie research before we hit the road!
Mistake #4: Assuming Cellular Networks & Google Work
Old School: Plan Yellowstone Itinerary Before You Go
The first place we discovered we could rely on Google and our cell phones was on Day 2 of our trip in Yellowstone. Yellowstone is a wifi and cell-free zone. The good news is it made sure the kids work looking out the window, not so good for “googling” what to do.
Old School: Plan HWY 101 Itinerary Before You Go
One of the primary reasons we had trouble finding good places to eat, particularly along HWY 101 is that in many places there are ZERO cell towers.
On the day of our long drive, the driver decided he wanted a Chinese Buffet. We were still in Oregon when I searched Google, only to get a report back that Google Maps found the nearest Chinese restaurant to be in LA.
Obviously false, I tried searching restaurants up and down the coast during the short passes through little towns in which we actually got a signal (we were traveling with both Verizon and AT&T) and got just about zilch.
Finally about 9 PM (in the dark) we passed a Chinese restaurant that I saw out of the corner of my eye. They kindly let me order to go if I paid cash, as they were technically closed.
If I were to travel this route ahead of time I would identify several options for food and rest stops and give ourselves at least two to three days to travel the coast from WA to CA.
What Went Really Well
In my early 20s I worked in hotels, and I am a bit of a clean freak, which means that I am really picky about where I lay my head at night. I also adore camping and sleeping outdoors, but although I may have been overly ambitious with our route, I was clever enough to realize that actual camping (and setting/breaking camp daily, would have been too much!
My solution? Glamping.
I did a search on Airbnb for “glamping” and was pleasantly surprised to find old western canvas tents and RVs. I found two RVs, a canvas tent and a historic cabin.
In Montana, we stayed at the historic tiny town of De Borgia, a little hunters village with tents, cabins, horses, a big rec room and beautiful scenery. Our Canvas ‘pup tent’ was outfitted to the T with the most amazing gas stove, cast iron cookware set, solar shower, composting toilet, campfire, and luxury quality bedding.
We could have stayed in De Borgia for a week, hiking, riding horses, exploring, roasting marshmallows and telling campfire stories, but alas, we had a single night in this little paradise, before hitting the road again.
Retro Trailer (not so good)
In LA we got a retro trailer that the videographer owner had managed to make look twice as big in the pictures. It turned out to be tiny, rickety, the door didn’t lock, the neighbor’s floodlight kept turning on, there was no running water nor a bathroom…except in their house which was a bit awkward. The only good news is that we did sleep 6 in LA on clean sheets for only $100 bucks!
Outside of Flagstaff, we lucked out again, with a brand new RV on a little plot of land hosted by a young homesteading family. They provided us with pancake mix and fresh ground coffee, and freshly collected chicken eggs. The RV had water and a proper toilet, a beautiful view, and a functioning kitchen.
We chose this RV for its proximity to the Grand Canyon, but again the area was so beautiful, we could have stayed longer, both hiking around the camper and spending more time exploring Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon.
Updated Historic Cabin
Outside of Cortez I found us a historic wooden cabin, built originally by our host’s grandfather as a spot to sleep with his hunting buddies. It had a Coleman cookstove and a funky 50% modern/50% historic sink, a wifi-repeater, and wood burning stove.
He’d also added in running water, a shower and a proper toilet, so this spot was again the epitome of glamping and we could have easily stayed a week!
The Best Parts
The best parts of our trip were our days visiting friends. Scenery is lovely, but there is something about that time spent cooking, eating, hiking and generally doing things with other human beings that are part of your tribe, even if we are normally separated by miles and miles.
In Bozeman, MT we connected with our friend Jim and his family. We had an amazing BBQ with ribs made by his brother and plenty of local microbrews. The next morning he took us on a hike to a gorgeous waterfall on a hike that was just steep enough and just long enough that it challenged our littles but was enjoyed by all.
In Olympia, WA we connected with my friend Daisha and her family. We enjoyed cooking together, wandering Olympia and another hike to waterfall and swimming hole. Our kids were thrilled as were our grownups.
The morning we left was the final game of the 2018 Football (Soccer) World Cup and they happened to have some neighbors who were half French, so we joined them for an early morning World Cup viewing party “Vive la France” before hitting the road once again.
A few of the things that made the trip a success were the small investments I put into our time on the road. These centered around comfy kids (pillows, blankets, lovies) and picnic gear.
Our two oldest kids were ages 11 and 14. They both had ipads with permission to watch movies for 1 to 2 hours per day; they also had books, their lovies, and their personal pillows and blankets.
Our two youngest kids were ages 2 and 3; I bought them sleep rolls off of Etsy that they could use both in the car and anywhere we stopped for a quick nap or a secure night’s rest.
On Etsy I also ordered us a picnic blanket with stakes that could be packed compactly and setup in a minute.
On Amazon, I ordered us stainless steel eating ware (easy to wash, unbreakable) and hot/cold stainless steel cups that we could use for water, coffee, and wine!
These stainless wine glass/coffee cups (see Amazon affiliate link below) made me happy EVERY DAY. Before we left I’d bought 16oz versions for the adults and 12oz versions for the kids. We used them for coffee, water, hot cocoa, margaritas, instant oatmeal, and wine. My only regret is that I left them in Colorado and did not pack them to take with us to Madagascar!
We also had a super cooler, and Tupperware. Each day I made sure we had healthy snacks (carrots, celery, fruit, nuts, cheese etcetera). All the kids had a personal water bottle and we kept the driver stocked with Redbull (I did limit him to 2 per day).
Day trips in big cities — when you roll in for the day and need to find parking, Seattle, San Francisco, and even LA lose their charm. These are all cities that I’ve previously enjoyed as a single person staying in a downtown hotel. However, visiting as a family on a road trip, the cities just felt dirty, crowded, expensive with not very good food.
We loved all the natural parks, hikes and moments spent in nature. We did not love the big cities. But that said, by the time we made it back to Colorado we had to cut our itinerary short. We’d hoped to visit my brother in Pueblo and Mesa Verde, but we were cooked, so we headed back to my parents house and didn’t move for two or three days!
Maybe road-trips are meant for camping, hiking and appreciating mother nature?
In Malagasy, there is a phrase and concept called “mora mora” that directly translates to “ slowly slowly.”
La vie Mora-mora is a huge part of why we’ve come to Madagascar.
To date, we’ve failed miserably at achieving mora mora.
Why have we failed? From 7 AM to 10 PM our house is as busy as Grand Central Station at rush hour in NYC.
We’ve been living life at full speed for the last two months.
From moving, packing, flying, traveling, driving, we’ve had a crazy summer.
We’ve got a bunch of pictures and stories from our USA visit with family and road trip to that we promise to share with you soon, but for today, I’ll just catch you up to speed on the last two weeks.
Arrival August 18, 2018.
Our plane landed in Antananarivo Ivato Airport on time — it was about 2 AM. We successfully deplaned and made our way through immigration, got all of our bags, plus an extra one that we had to take back (oops and sorry).
At this point, they brought out Elvis in his travel kennel. The poor dog had been terrified on the flight and as they say, scared shitless. The poor dog was swimming in dog shit.
We are good at finding the bright side in this family, and the bright side of Elvis’ putrid situation? Is that we got to skip the customs control. The airport staff kindly ushered our stinky dog and all of our luggage right out of the international terminal without scanning our suitcases and into the fresh night air and over to the local terminal.
After checking in for our next flight, one kindly airport worker invited Yves out onto the tarmac, and together they hosed down Elvis’ cage. It wasn’t perfect, but at least the poor beast got a bit of fresh air, stretched his legs and had the worst of his mess cleaned up before having to take his last flight.
We timed our arrival in Fort Dauphin just in time to attend the wedding party of one of Yves’ many nieces. For the past few years Andrea had been a nanny for a French family with a vacation home in St. Jean de Luz, so the kids and we had seen her periodically for a short visit each year, over the last few years.
Andrea in France at Cent Marches with family
We were a bit concerned that we’d be too tired and wrinkled to attend the wedding, but it ended up being an all around blessing. The joy and beauty of a Malagasy wedding held on Akomba beach were just amazing. The kids were free to roam and dance, and Yves enjoyed catching up with various family and friends, and our bellies were filled with local delicacies from rotisserie goat to fresh shrimp and crab. And of course, a little beer, wine, and whiskey.
Starting off our arrival with a wedding party was just perfect. We went home before the whiskey could be passed again, with our heads sound asleep on our pillows by 10 pm.
I like to Move It Move It
The next morning we woke up and realized the huge work that lay ahead of us. Because the family house that we are staying in is often closed up and uninhabited, we found it needed a bit more work than we expected for us to be comfortable simply.
Things like flushing toilets and consistently running water (hot!) water with actual water pressure are things that are hard to let go of. Ants that think they are invited to all meals, not just the occasional picnic are more than a nuisance.
And the sand. Sand everywhere. EVERYWHERE.
So, for those of you who’ve been trying to imagine Yves sitting around on the couch drinking beer and enjoying his retirement, let me set you straight right now.
He is enjoying his retirement, but not from a reclined position!
For the last two weeks, he pretty much pops awake at 5:30 AM and goes for a run or works out. By 7 AM we’ve got various workers showing up at the house and to our land, which he is then directing to deconstruct, construct, fix, repair, plant, and water.
On a daily basis, he’s got about 6 or 7 different projects underway. Somedays he barely sits down to eat, and I’ve got to catch him and remind him that even though he is doing all his work for his family, he’s got to take time to enjoy his family too!
High priority projects have been getting the shower and water systems redone, updating some electrical issues and lights, painting, repairing rotten holes in the roof, building stone and cement pathways to reduce the sand, and getting fiber internet service installed. We’ve also planted about 40 trees from papaya and banana palms to litchi trees and travelers palms.
Just to make things more complicated, Yves also had a last minute 4-day trip back to Tana to deal with bureaucracy and customs and secure the delivery of our container which is supposed to arrive in the next few weeks. If he hadn’t gone, we would have had to pay something like $25,000 in customs duties to receive our stuff.
In Tana, he also picked up Gotty our Malinois pup and future evil guard dog. Thankfully, before he left for Tana, he’d found us several women to help in the house with both cooking, cleaning, and essential sand mitigation duties.
I will go into more detail in future posts, but for better or worse (the jury is still out) we are very much still living with traditional methods for cooking and cleaning. From meals cooked on a charcoal stove in a small external house to laundry washed by hand, we need “help.”
As a lonely extrovert, I welcome the two ladies who have joined our household from 7 Am to 6 PM, and I seriously appreciate not having to cook, clean and do my work, but it’s also an adjustment.
In France, if we wanted to eat a traditional Malagasy meal like Ravatoto, cassava or manioc leaves pounded and then cooked with meat, we’d have stopped by the Asian market and bought a few bags of frozen leaves for less than 5 Euros. Here in Fort Dauphin, one buys the leaves fresh and pulverizes them by hand.
We say grace before every meal here because thanking those who have prepared our food and honoring those who don’t have enough to it is simply part of recognizing the reality of our situation and demonstrating gratitude for all that we can do and have.
I’ve been incredibly grateful for the opportunity to focus on both my work and my kids, and start my day with both yoga and running. I also love that there are always people around. The life of a military wife can be so lonely, so this is a beautiful change, especially since I hate being alone.
I’ve set up an office in an upstairs bedroom, and I am looking forward to the construction of a remote work true bungalow aka office in the next few weeks.
On the flip-side, when I work, I do need to focus, so I’ve periodically been escaping to a local hotel lobby with wifi when the construction noise is too much.
It’s been a good summer. It’s been a busy summer.
So now you know why we’ve only published two blog posts this summer. It’s not that we have nothing to share, it’s that we have too much to share.
And now as we approach Labor Day the traditional “divider” of seasons in the USA we are ready for the next phase.
A phase in which we hope to incorporate a bit more “mora mora” into our daily lives, while still making shit happen.