The hard red dirt feels almost like concrete underneath the feet. Despite the hardness, loose dust is kicked up in the air as soon as the hard ground is broken. Apart from a thin, barely visible line of clouds on the horizon, the sky is an open blue expanseless blue. Groups of men, their skin shades of chocolate, their eyes, lost under the shade of every variety of hat and cap, walk in conversation with one another. Herds of long-horned cattle, the famous Zebu of Madagascar grunt and low as they are coralled and herded into tight groups under the gaze of the elder men.
Every Wednesday the Zebu market is held at Ambalavao in the southern highlands of Madagascar. Unlike the street markets there is a far more serious air amongst the buyers and sellers. It is almost completely the domain of men, with very few women taking part in the haggling of prices or even in the general milling about as people gossip.
Our small group stood out like neon lights, pale skins and cameras ensuring our status as outsiders. Yet, like all the other places we have visited on the island, people were more than happy to have us wander round, photograph the activities and generally just be voyeurs of the occasion.
An occasion it most certainly is, with a sense of gravitas as men bargain and seal agreements. Some of the cattle has been on the road for up to a week to get it to market. One gentlemen who could speak English explained that he had his cattle driven on foot by herders from the plains near Ihosy (some 130km away)! Not all the cattle comes from such a distance, but nevertheless the importance of the market is expressed by anyone who comes to chat with us.
Don't expect a sanitized tourist trap though. This is for locals, and it shows. We weren't the only visitors though, with two other groups of tourists also attending. As you walk about you have to be aware of the goings on around you. Large bull Zebu with their long horns do break from their herds and charge the young herders. they always manage to keep the cattle in check, but tourists might not be as savvy towards the wayward animals as the locals with their long sticks are.
It's an extraordinary experience and a phenomenal way to test the 'National Geographic Photographer' within you. Despite the lack of smiles in the images above, after each shot the person being photographed would break into smiles and ask to see the resultant image (some of which were subsequently WhatsApped back to them). This amazing market is one of the reasons we spend several days between Betsileo and Ambalavao on the 'Exploring The Island Continent' photographic workshop.
Continue to the A 15 day African Adventure Exploring the Island Continent - Madagascar Workshop page