Madagascar!

So recently I came back from an amazing 2 weeks in Madagascar with my family. Was a bit worried before I left due to everything I had heard about bubonic plague, armed attacks on tourists, political instability, malaria and other horrible diseases. After all the fear-mongering from people in Réunion I was actually more scared of going to Mada than possibly any other country I’ve visited. Luckily we had no problems whatsoever! (Unless you count my sister and cousin shouting for help every time there was a cockroach/lizard/large insect in their presence).

For those interested in the route we took here’s the quick version: Antananarivo; Andasibe; Antsirabe; Ranomafana; Manakara; Fianarantsoa; Ambalavao; Isalo; Ifaty.

Now I know the blog is entitled ‘Africa, America and Anj’, but up until Madagascar I didn’t really feel like I’d been to Africa this year. La Réunion is a French department and as such is properly developed and organised, like a tropical Europe. Mauritius receives so much money from tourism that it also seems relatively well-developed (plus with all the Indians there it feels closer to India than an African country). Madagascar on the other hand really reminded me of mainland Africa in terms of the landscapes, infrastructure and people.

Here’s a little overview of this wonderful island: it is the 4th largest island in the world, encompassing 227,000 sq miles; to put that in perspective it’s about 2.5 x larger than Great Britain. We spent most of our trip in our minibus driving from town to town, spending roughly 8 hours a day on the road and I couldn’t say that we covered even half of the island. It is biodiversity hotspot and supposedly 90% of its wildlife is endemic, which means that I’ve seen things on this holiday that most people will never see in their lives. Pretty cool!

On our first proper day in the country we stopped off at a reptile park where we were able to feed some lemurs that hung out in the forest nearby, saw loads of cool chameleons and geckos – including the smallest chameleon in Mada and the famous leaf-tailed gecko – and I got to hold a couple of snakes. My favourite being the Madagascan tree boa (red snake in the pictures), and I quickly decided that I wanted one as a pet when I’m older. Unfortunately they don’t stay as small as the one I was holding, they can grow up to 2m so I think I will shelve that idea.

We visited 4 national parks when we were there (Andasibe, Ranomafana, Anja Park Reserve and Isalo. The best part about them was seeing so many types of lemurs in the wild; I think we saw maybe 8 species and they’re all so cute and yet really different. In Andasibe there was the Indri-Indri lemur, the biggest of them all which has a morning call that can be heard up to 2km away! In Ranomafana we saw Red Belly lemurs and the Golden Bamboo lemur (which my mother insisted on calling Golden Bum lemur to the guide ha). What was funny was that my dad and I decided to delve deeper into the jungle to try and get a look at the some of the Golden Bamboo ones, unfortunately we only got a view of their arses through the branches and when we finally disentangled ourselves and made it out to where the rest of the family was waiting there was this tiny, little one just sitting in the trees next to them casually nibbling on some bamboo. In Anja Park Reserve we found a whole family gathering of ring-tailed lemurs, made famous by King Julian in ‘Madagascar’, complete with little babies learning how to get food for themselves. We also spotted some more lazy snakes, really interesting bugs, beautiful butterflies and impressive spiders that could make webs with the centre being more than 11ft from either side of its two attaching points!

Finally there was Islalo National Park. Up until this point the parks had been jungle-y and quite dense, similar to Costa Rica but Isalo was completely different. It was comprised of open plains and really cool rock formations – it is home to what is known as Madagascar’s Grand Canyon and we had an excellent guide who told us all about the local fauna and also the Bara tribe that used to live there. Since the area became a national park they have been moved on, but they are still allowed to bury their dead there. A tradition that involves finding a small easily accessible cave to put the body in, covering it in stones so no animals can get in, then returning 3-4 years later when it has decomposed to re-bury it in a larger, more secretive cave. The family have a big party, invite all their friends and neighbours and it is seen as a sign of wealth to get as many people as possible drunk. The only problem with this is that occasionally when the drunken family members are climbing up high to re-bury the body, they sometimes have fatal accidents…
Ah yes, also that day it had been raining quite a bit so after hiking for 4-5 hours in drizzly rain we discovered that the road to the park had flooded and the car couldn’t come pick us up. We walked for a further hour/hour and a half to get to the car and then had to get out to push it 3 times as it was stuck in the mud!

Our long road trips gave ample opportunities for seeing the varied landscapes of the island. It went from reddish soil and maize fields to rolling green hills supporting tiers of paddy fields and all dotted with the tall, narrow mud huts. Having our own driver also allowed us to shout STOP whenever we spotted fruit/food being sold on the road that we wanted which happened frequently and at one point in the car we had about 4kg of lychees, a basket with around 20 mangos and a bag of freshly cooked peanuts. My father even got the guide to ask permission for him to climb a tree in one lady’s garden so he could pick a fruit he hadn’t seen since he left Uganda!

After 10 days of travelling and hiking and a final stop off to see the incredible water-storing Baobab trees that live up to 2000 years old we finally got to the relaxation part of the trip, 3 days at the beach in Ifaty. It was certainly worth the wait. As it was low-season for tourists we had the beach virtually to ourselves and the sea was lovely and calm (though unfortunately filled with jelly fish so we avoided it) but spent a lot of time in the pool and I got braids done which prompted people at the airport to ask me if I was malgache or mixed-race! I looked more like a local guide to my family than an actual member by the end of the trip.

All in all it was a fantastic trip and definitely worth a visit just for the wildlife alone.

(I think this post is long enough now but in addition to all the above we went on a canal trip to local fishing villages, saw how aluminium pots are made – more interesting that it sounds at first – I learnt how rice is produced and acted as translator for my family as the official language of the country is French).

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