Thursday began with our first visit to Antananarivo stadium’s kickboxing gym. After a bus journey slowed by the rush hour traffic of rickshaws and market vendors, we set to work with a tough upper body session. Some of the players quickly warmed to the local body builders, and there was a mutual fascination in each other’s training methods. We returned to our motel to have breakfast and test out the pool before leaving to the hilltop ‘Queen’s palace’ that overlooked the stadium and much of the city. We were treated to views over the vast city-scape, and soon had a group of followers from the local village who were keen to know our positions and show us the highlights videos of their favourite Madagascan players. While some players sipped coffee in a French-style hotel, others visited the palace, and Tom Stileman was challenged to lift an Atlas-stone by some locals. He managed this and soon seemed to take a spot in local folklore. We then descended to the stadium to train, with local schoolchildren circling the pitch in seemingly endless training laps. Once this was over, we returned home for supper and a rendition by the boy band of The Proclaimers’ 500 miles, starring Vincent Tang as lead singer and dancer.
Learning from our mistake in attempting to drive through the rush hour traffic on Thursday, we set out to the gym early on foot on Friday. The outside of the stadium was filled with market vendors and children playing football, and all along the stands people were stretching and running. We trained in the gym before returning, passing stalls that sold everything from iron weights to iphones and chickens. The afternoon was spent exploring the centre of Antananarivo. We parked beside the old Town Hall before splitting up into groups to explore the labyrinth of market stalls. Many players were asked to pose for photos because of their height, and while some managed to pick up some brightly coloured local shirts, others found their way into the audiences of games of boules beside the lake. The evening was spent playing cards, before the team for the match on Sunday was announced.