Madagascar is a bit of a weird one. Lying in the Indian Ocean some 400km off the east coast of Africa, it's the world’s fourth largest island having broken free from the African continent many millions of years ago. It evolved in its own individual way and astonishingly around 80% of its flora and fauna (of which there are around 250,000 species) is found nowhere else on earth.
The country is mildly chaotic, government corruption is rife and little money has been spent on the country's infrastructure: trains take days to get anywhere (if they leave at all); the roads are as pot holed as the face of the moon; and the national airline (Air Madagascar) has a monopoly over internal flights meaning it can (and does) change it's timetable at will and that's often a few times a day - as the Hubby and I found out. However, if you can get through all that, it is truly an amazing country; the Malagasy people are warm and friendly and I cannot think of anywhere that I have travelled to, where I've seen more things than I did in Madagascar.
LIFEON THE ROAD
The Hubby and I did a road trip from the capital Antananarivo (more easily referred to as Tana) along the RN7 which snakes its way south west to the coast at Tulear. The journey took several (often back breaking) days but, it was full of rewards from encounters with local villagers, to wildlife spotting and an ever changing landscape.
I was hoping these children were interest in me but, I think it might have been the sweets and money that they (mistakenly) thought I'd brought for them!
RAINFOREST TO BARREN LANDSAND A FEW SMILING FACES ALONG THE WAY
In one day we left the dense primal rainforest of Ranomafana and within an hour the landscape became dry and dusty, reminding me of driving through the Australian outback. Then suddenly (oasis style) the land was dotted with verdant terraced rice paddies interspersed with villages consisting of a cluster of mud houses - you can tell which tribes inhabit which village by the style of the house. As we rose up we crossed undulating hills - like the barren moors of Saddleworth - and then descended into a swarm of locust which covered the entire plateau as far as the eye could see. As the swarm cleared, in the distance were sandstone rock formations like a scene out of a Wild West movie.
BIZARRE BULBOUS BAOBABS
After a few days hiking in Isalo National Park we headed to Tulear in the south west of the island and the bizarre spiny forest - which occurs only in especially dry areas - with its unique plants whose spiky succulent limbs thrust upwards across a landscape often peppered with ancient baobab trees standing tall like upright torpedoes - it's hard to comprehend that the tree below was 1,200 years old!
Lemurs figure high on any trip to Madagascar - there are apparently 105 species but the pesky little things don't always play ball and can be quite elusive when they want to be, which is where patience comes in! However, when you do spot them you really are transfixed and spend a lot of time just sat there in the bush watching them. During our trip (we were told we were very lucky) we managed to spot seven types of lemur including: a family of Ring Tailed lemurs with their mischievous baby; the Greater Bamboo lemur; the Nocturnal Red Tailed ‘Sportive’ lemur; and the Coquerel's Sifaka, also known as the dancing lemur because of the funny way it leaps sideways with its arms flailing in the air (a real sight to behold).
It was amazing to see chameleons up close.
BLISSED OUT BEACH
The mainland of Madagascar is ringed by a halo of smaller islands scattered in the Indian Ocean and Mozambique Channel, which come with pristine white sand beaches and crystal clear waters. We opted for a tiny island off the north east coast and a stylish, intimate lodge set on a hillside amongst tropical foliage and overlooking a pretty bay. With just eight villas it was boutique at its best where privacy was assured for total relaxation. Here the daily decisions consisted of where to sunbathe (our own private deck, a sun lounger on the beach or a day bed under a swaying palm with the sea lapping the deck), which rum cocktail to have before dinner and which freshly caught fish we should eat. Six blissed out days - a perfect antidote to our time on the road.
Madagascar certainly has its challenges and is not one to travel around unguided or without a 4x4 (unless you're an especially intrepid traveller) but, it's definitely rich in experiences.
WANT SOME MORE IDEAS?
If you'd like some help on deciding where to go on your next holiday or need help arranging the trip you have in your mind but don’t know where to start, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call me (07734 540914). I can provide you with lots of ideas and put together an amazing itinerary.
[Images - the Hubby and me]