With a short break in my study deadlines, I have finally got round to doing something I have been meaning to do since 2008; mapping my adventure through Madagascar.
So here it is, complete with photos and videos…
(1) Diego Suarez
Apart from catching a connecting flight in Antananarivo, Diego Suarez gave me my first taste of Madagascar – and it was very sweet indeed. I’m not only referring to the abundance of tasty sugar-coated ‘street food’, but the city itself is safe, quaint, colourful and tropical. I spent several days here staying at ‘Le Village’ hotel. Highly recommended for budget travellers – a little bar selling food and drink all day (complete with in-house ecosystem; plants, geckos etc), a pool, individual bungalow rooms and in a great location close to the city centre. I was in Madagascar on my first ever expedition, with Frontier – aged 18.
After acclimatising in Diego we deployed to our field site near the small rural village of Tsarakibany; our home for the next 10 weeks. Our aim was to investigate the health of the remaining secondary forest ecosystems in the area. We trekked across the golden grasslands exploring patches of forest on the hillsides and within the valleys. Over the next 10 weeks we photographed, collected, measured, and weighed every critter we set eyes upon. Most Sundays we would be challenged to a football match, and lose; swiftly drowning our sorrows with a glass of some of the strongest rum I have ever tasted. Our expedition team was only small meaning the 10 of us quickly grew to know each other well. One of the most untouched forests we found, lay in a long wide valley about an hour from base camp. Rising above the last hill crest, we would be faced with the breathtaking view of Madagascan Flying Foxes Pteropus rufus circling above the forest canopy, so we named this forest, ‘bat roost’. A highlight was attending a traditional village fight festival.
Falling in love with Madagascar is not difficult. Its stunning landscapes, strange creatures and lively culture make it a beautiful place to be, but it was also here that I became fascinated by dragonflies and subsequently undertook my first piece of research.
(3) Lac Sacre
Lac Sacre (french) or The Sacred Lake was within a full days trek of our base camp. So on the ninth week of the expedition we set out before sunrise to reach the lake, where we would set up a temporary camp for several days. The lake is sacred because the Nile Crocodiles that inhabit the waters are believed to be the ancestors of the local people. The tale goes “Several generations ago a ‘witch’ came to the nearby village asking for water, but the locals refused to provide. Thus, the witch cast a spell on the village, turning the inhabitants into crocodiles.” To this day, the local people have been caring for their ‘ancestors’ by feeding them meat. We got incredibly close to the crocs – and I had some brilliant encounters with the local lemur population.
(4) Diego Suarez
Towards the end of the expedition I climbed a hill near base camp and phoned Air Madagascar, and got my return flight postponed for two more weeks. The airline did not charge – but I racked up a hefty phone bill (£££) using my UK mobile. We returned to Diego and stuffed our faces with as much sweet tasty street food as possible; then I suffered for several hours – as it turns out this is standard protocol for 18-year-old’s post-expedition.
We flew south to the capital, ‘Antananarivo’, found a little hotel and withdrew 1,000,000 Ariary (£260) ready for our independent travels! I was travelling with two of the chaps from the expedition; Gareth (Gaz) and Bobby.
(6) Andasibe-Mantadia National Park
Probably the most famous National Park in Madagascar, its located east of Antananarivo. We saw numerous lemur species here including the famous Indri, well known for its siren-like vocalisations. The forest here was unlike anything I had seen before – intact primary rainforest, moist from floor to canopy, every tree hung with orchids, mosses and ferns.
We returned here to catch a taxi brousse south. Taxi brousse’s are your standard small minivan, luggage on the roof, groceries (veg, chicken etc) inside, often filled with many more people than the recommended passenger allowance. Great fun! We made all our journeys in these.
Ambositra is famous for its handicrafts – regarded as the best place to purchase souvenirs in the whole country – the best quality and price (a fraction of what you would pay in the capital). We arrived very late here but managed to check in to ‘Hotel Jonathan’. We spent a couple of days here, exploring the dusty streets by man-drawn cart and some time was spent ‘nursing’ stomach bugs.
Ambalavao is around 450km south of the capital – you notice a huge difference in culture compared to Diego in the north. Ambalavao makes a fantastic base for various adventures. The market, which was located just across the road from our hotel was a bustling hub of colours and noise, and further up the main street is the Zebu market. Locals from far and wide come to the markets at Ambalavao every Wednesday.
(10) Anja Community Reserve
Here you can walk amongst the northern-most population of ring-tailed lemurs – they are fully wild, but semi-tame due to generations of human-contact. I couldn’t have come to Madagascar without seeing this famous species in the wild! Got some cracking photos!
(11) Pic Boby
Pic Boby (french) or Peak Bobi is the highest accessible mountain peak in Madagascar. The highest; Maromokotro (2876m), is formally protected, and as such, you can’t just climb it willy-nilly. Boby stands at 2658 metres and we decided to take a 3 day hike to the top. We chatted to a local tour guide (who found it hilarious Bobby had the same name as the mountain) in a little wooden hut and got the whole package for £30 each – 1 English speaking guide (in fact runner-up in Madagascar’s national English-speaking competition), 1 porter and hot cooked meals (2 live chickens came with us). I will forever remember the magic of experiencing the transition from the sun-baked hillsides, through the forested slopes, onto the alpine meadows and finally to the rocky peaks. Highly recommended – one of the greatest experiences of my life.