Madagascar, Part I – An Unforgettable Trip
For the longest time I had wanted to visit Madagascar. I thought for sure there would be more to this place than only the cartoon characters… But I didn’t know anyone that had been there, and I wasn’t sure if traveling there solo as a female was a good idea or not.
One late night in my office, I was checking out some destinations in Madagascar that I thought would be worth visiting, when I suddenly heard my colleague behind me say; “Hey, where is that?”
“Madagascar”, is what I told him. And before I knew it, we booked a flight to go there, together. Obviously, someone crazy enough to just book a ticket somewhere is a good match for me, so this colleague is the same JP that is now my partner in crime (see: About Us).
My expectations for this magical place were sky high, and they were far exceeded. I wish we could have spent a few more months exploring the country, one month was not nearly enough. Not only because it takes FOREVER to get anywhere – honestly, if you are planning on going, you need to take the road conditions into consideration. After all, the Dakar Race looked at Madagascar as a possible destination for their extreme 4×4 races and decided that the roads were too outrageous.
The roads are narrow, full of holes, non-existent, covered in road blocks, in use by anything from trucks to cows (or ‘zebu’s’, as they are called in Madagascar), and you should expect to reach an average speed of about 50km/h. That’s what – 30 miles an hour? Looking at the fact that Madagascar is larger than France, and your mode of transportation will probably break down once or twice (if you’re lucky), you should really practice your patience and accept the fact that T.I.A. – This Is Africa.
As usual, I booked a flight first, and did the research later. We soon found out that our plan of renting a car was not viable for many reasons, first of all due to the fact that renting a car in Madagascar is simply not allowed for visitors – not outside the capital city of Tana (Antananarivo), at least. The suggestion was to rent a 4×4 with a driver that would take us everywhere we wanted to go. Hold on – adventure is what I signed up for – so there will be no designated driver!
When we first arrived at the airport, we got a taxi to go downtown. We hadn’t even left the airport grounds yet when the door I was leaning against suddenly opened and completely fell apart! Later on, we found ourselves on a minivan without a wheel (we didn’t just have a flat tire, the entire wheel fell off while we were driving), on an 18 hour seemingly indefinite road trip which brought us to the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night (what was that with not traveling after dark for safety reasons?), and finally – because there was really no other way to get to that side of the country – on a 4×4 with a driver, on the worst ‘road’ I have ever seen in my life. It was awesome!
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, we had to take our 4×4 across the river on a ‘ferry’. The pictures say it all – I wasn’t too convinced this gangway operation was entirely safe, but the ‘Captain’ and the ‘Chief Engineer’ did a great job in getting us across without incidents and I was massively entertained throughout the whole ordeal.
One thing you need to know about Madagascar, is that 5% of all animal and plant species in the world ONLY exist in Madagascar. That’s a lot, when you think about it! I may have missed out on a lot of exotic plants, because I don’t have a clue about plants. But weird animals, we saw plenty. Everything just seems to be weirder and creepier over there – like a bunch of massive bright orange and black crickets, bright yellow and black spiders, huge mantis, and the creepiest, longest centipede I have ever seen in our very own sink.
Insect-wise, I had to grow some balls quickly – there were so many creepers around that you have no other choice but to get used to them. By the end of the trip, I had a small cockroach running past my feet while I was lying in bed, and I couldn’t even be bothered to get up and do something about it. There was also the occasional snake and, on a different note, the out-of-proportion and slightly scary but delicious seafood.
Thankfully, not all the animals were creepy. Lemurs (a.k.a. ‘King Julian’ – the typical type of ‘monkey’ in Madagascar) are super cute and we even met a very friendly, domesticated one that had NO FEAR and jumped on our heads trying to steal our food.
When it came to food, my expectations were very low – partially based on results in the past, when traveling in lesser developed countries. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The food was fantastic, and in some places – even those where you would absolutely not expect it – better than many fancy restaurants I’ve been to. The best example is Mad Zebu, located in Belo Tsiribihina – a 5 hour drive from the nearest tard road, but somehow a true culinary experience. I was told the chef used to work on a cruise ship, which explains something – but still, where do they get the supplies?
Another place I can only recommend is the Idylle Beach Restaurant on Ile Sainte Marie, run by a French family, which receives all it’s good reviews for good reasons. But my absolute favorite was a meal I will never forget, not only because it was so delicious, but also because I had never eaten anything like it before. The seafood at Chez Maggie in Morondava is something you should really try for yourself.
I have to admit though, that it makes me sad realizing that I am lucky enough to be born in a country where I had the opportunity to travel to a beautiful place like Madagascar, and to sit here writing about the delicious food there – while it is also one of the poorest countries I have ever visited. Sure, I had seen poverty before – which anyway is a subject that has been keeping my mind occupied for years. But poverty in Madagascar is very obvious, especially in some of the more rural areas. It is one of the first things I remember when I think about my time there. But mostly I will always remember the beautiful places I visited and the amazing feeling of freedom I felt, having the chance to see this magical place.
The article ‘Madagascar, Part II – Tips and Tricks’ will follow soon, for more advice on planning your trip to Madagascar.