The lizard showed me the way
Not that kind of lizard, more the sort that lounges on street corners looking disreputable. I'd arrived in the gemstone-laden ares in the south west of Madagascar, the scene of countless documentaries and journalists' articles. I was riding along RN7, a major road, though the words major road should be taken with a pinch of salt over here, there was tarmac and that was about all that can be said for it.
But instead of the bare countryside stretching away on both sides that I had become used to, there were long rows of gem shops, some of them gaudily lit up.
The area has a dodgy feel about it- lots of get-rich quick schemes and even the lowliest person can find a fortune in the earth.
After asking around- and having to approach some dubious blokes, I found a guy who leads tours through the sapphire fields, he invited me to tag along with his Italian group- who all nodded approvingly at my black leather trousers- not seeming to find it odd that someone would be wearing them in the Tropics.
Feeling like stray recruits in the foreign legion, we were led to the mines
The lines of men, shovelling the sand and dust by hand were a sobering sight
I attempted sorting through the trays of loose stones and gravel in search of a sparkling blue gem.
Afterwards I was shown a tray of polished sapphires
These stones earn a fortune for the gem shop owners but hide the reality of the poverty-stricken miners' families who struggle to live on the 5,000 Ariary wages they get for working. Less than $2 a day.
I passed one of the villages on my way out
Sad scenes where little grows.