Local Rum: A drink with a strong taste and an even stronger punch locally distilled rum or toaka gasy as it known, is widely available right across Madagascar even though there is only one place that is legally allowed to produce it.
I got my first taste local rum in Bernoone which is the last village before the start of the Makay hike proper when it was passed to me in a plastic bottle doing the rounds. Clear as water and of unknown and varying strength which I would guess is somewhere about 40% or more based on my experience of other strong liquor but without the refined taste of legally brewed tipples. Rumour has it that it may go up above 50% in some places and I would say this may be possible as there is obviously no regulation in its production. Made from sugar cane and available much cheaper than any other strong alcohol in the country it is even cheaper down south where distilleries have more freedom to operate.
Toaka gasy is culturally important right throughout the country and appeared at the end of many days while hiking with Hery in Makay where the porters and everybody else joined in for a sip. I saw it being offered to people we encountered along the way in the park where it was sipped over updates of what was happening. Makay is roughly 150 x 50 kilometres in size with large areas not covered by phone reception so those who venture in and around the hundreds of canyons and rivers always swap news with people they meet.
I was also in the privileged position to sip some local rum with members of the Bara tribe in Bernoone after the Makay hike as they sat around in a large open hut talking, guns laid down at their sides catching up with other men from the village in a relaxed atmosphere. As the bottles did the rounds there was louder more boisterous chatting and laughter with some of the group asking me to take pictures of them posing with their guns to see what they looked like.
This rum is also consumed during marriage celebrations and is drunk by the Bara tribe during the ceremonial celebration when the bones of the dead are moved from their provisional to final tombs. The meat of the zebu, which is also hugely important culturally, is shared among those attending the celebration.
I was advised by the cook for the Makay trip, Jackeenou, that it is fine to drink local rum but not to carry it on a taxi brousse because if a tourist is found with it a large fine will be issued and will be much more than a Malagasy carrying the same goods would be fined.
One of the few regrets I have about my time in southern Madagascar is that I didn’t spend more time at the rum factory at the side of the road on the way to the coastal city of Tulear. I was on a taxi brousse and the driver very obligingly stopped so that I could have a quick look and take some photos. As it was a normal bus full of passengers I couldn’t dwell too long but I would loved to have had a really good look around and seen how its all done. That may be an excuse to visit the south again though.