Madagascar the Magnificent
Madagascar had long been a bucket destination of mine since I dreamed of seeing a baobab tree. The trees live on asteroid B 612 in The Little Prince, my favourite book. After finding myself funemployed, I decided to venture to my most inaccessible dream destination (in terms of distance and logistics.)
Ironically, I never went to Allée des Baobabs, the iconic site most prominently featured in Madagascar travel materials. I got an amazing deal on my flight but the promotion was on for a short period, so I only had two days to decide on dates. It wasn’t until after booking that I realized I had left myself insufficient time to visit the Avenue; it’s in a fairly inaccessible part of the country. Despite my bad timing, I still fell in love with Madagascar. I will use alliteration to honour this beautiful country.
Madagascar did not disappoint and I would rank it amongst my favourite countries. It is often called the eighth continent because of its size (the fourth-largest island) and varied landscape.
People are gentle, friendly and kind in Madagascar. They were approachable and very willing to pose for a photo. My last day in Madagascar was spent at Tana airport, a long layover of 11 hours from La Réunion . I was the lone passenger in the airport because they have no flights during the day and so the security guard went searching for a wifi code for me on his own accord because he felt bad that I had to wait so long.
I was very surprised by how diverse the people of the country is. The Malagasy originate from Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. There are 19 tribes but intermarriage is commonplace. The largest tribe, Merina, mostly originate from the Malaysia peninsula. Some people thought I looked Malagasy, which was a huge surprise to me!
50% are 15 years and under in Madagascar, just over 60% are under 25 years old.
The Isalo National Park, which encompasses a large sandstone massif, was the highlight of the trip. The scenery is beautiful and varied: arid with amazing vast vistas up high and deep canyons with oases, lush and green, down low. Lemurs, sifakas and other animals are easily spotted.
The island is quite large and the infrastructure is poor. There are a few decent highways connected to the capital, Tana, but the roads are mostly in bad condition; you won’t move faster than 30-50km/h. The trip consisted of a lot of driving, 6-8 hours a day, and that was the most exhausting and frustrating aspect of the Intrepid Tour. Most of my tour mates also felt that they squeezed too many destinations in. I initially had hoped to take local transport but seeing how crowded and uncomfortable the taxi brousses looked, I’m glad I was in a comfortable tour van. The most ideal situation would have been to rent a car with others.
The country is amongst the top ten poorest countries. Only 15% have access to electricity in Madagascar. Thus, they plan their activities, including cooking, around daylight hours. Internet was available in some places but it was very weak and not even worth using. And like other developing countries I have been to, the smell of diesel gas was prevalent in the cities.
It was refreshing to be somewhere where people weren’t looking at their devices and instead, observing the world around them. (I have some opinions about the technology of today.) Of course, for the betterment of the Malagasy people’s day-to-day life, I wish that their plumbing, electricity, and healthcare were better. They had a minor plague epidemic recently.
Mora Mora means “slow down, slow down” in Malagasy and life seemed to move at that pace. It was a nice change from the rat race of a North American city. The island of Île Sainte-Marie is somewhere where you can lounge for days on end, enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful beaches. I am not a lounge-y, suntanning beach person but I could see myself enjoying living on the island for a few months, just letting life pass me by.
Madagascar is called the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean since it has been an island for 90 million years and therefore has many flora and fauna endemic to the country. The most famous animal is the Lemur and many of our days were spent searching for different varieties like the ring-tailed Lemur, brown lemurs and Sifakas. They were majestic to observe in the wild.
Madagascar is not a common destination of choice for Canadians since it’s a bit out of the way. Most of the tourists there are French, Italian and German. But it’s well worth the trip out there to experience a place unique in people, scenery and animals.