Dom's Trip To Madagascar

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From late May to mid-June 2007, I had a trip on my own to Madagascar on a whim just before I visit Croatia early July with J.R. It has been a vivid memory to me in addition to a rewarding experience. It is really a different world. There, you are guaranteed exotic new surroundings and you forget about European life the time of your stay. Indeed, I was only with Malagasies and I lived like them, with them, away from trails of tourism. I shared their daily lives sometimes in Spartan conditions, which has in no way spoiled that adventure. On the contrary, it is precisely what makes the charm of that kind of journey. But let us be honest: most of us would have great difficulty living that way every day, for we have been so accustomed to comfort.
The «Red Island» is amazing because of its incredible diversity, as much for the fauna and flora as for minerals. It has many endemic species. I visited a part of its West Coast, on the side of the Mozambique Channel, particularly the regions of Mahajanga, Morondava and Maintirano. Unfortunately, I have no pictures to share with you on this website because I only had at the time disposable cameras.
Once I got to Antananarivo, the capital, I had a connection flight to Mahajanga, to be specific a small propeller plane from the Air Madagascar airline with a 40 or 50 people seating capacity. I was like a child amazed by the aircraft, which reminded me the Tintin comic books I devoured when I was young. It was a thin slice of adventure, a prelude to what was awaiting for me all along the trip. Then someone picked me up in a taxi and I crossed colored streets with a hectic life, with many pedestrians who were heckled by rickshaw drivers, who were heckled as well by bush taxis and car drivers at the wheel of very old French vehicles which also reminded me to my childhood. But all that was happening in mutual respect and contentedly.
What impressed me in Mahajanga was the huge daily market, colorful, authentic and picturesque. I was particularly amazed by large baskets filled with crabs covered with mud, and another one - smaller - which contained an alive flying-fox. And what about that enormous baobab on the seafront? Very old, the width of its trunk was very impressive. Be aware that there are several categories of those trees in Madagascar.
In the Morondava area, next step, I had the good luck to visit a reserve, where I could see close to me many lemurs, which are to Madagascar that koalas are to Australia. Those little creatures are very endearing, with their very expressive round eyes. I even saw dwarf lemurs, which exact name I forgot. When I saw their small heads emerge from the foliage of small shrubs to watch me as I was approaching, I immediately thought they were babies, but it was not the case. It was a discovery to me, just like the chameleon that the guide put on my shoulder. Despite its small size, it was also an adult, but of a different species to those we got used to. I saw with wonder a few oranges specks appearing on its skin, totally faithful to the garish color of my t-shirt. Then those specks got more and more numerous until it is completely covered with them, at incredibly full speed. That is part of the images that really made a lasting impression on me during all my journeys.
A few days later, we took the trail to Maintirano in a 4-wheel drive vehicle, driving particularly on the fabulous «Baobabs Road», idealized image of the island. We crossed large areas of bush, so remote that silence was incredibly deep. We made stops in small villages among family members of the people who accompanied me. Homes were very rudimentary and above all very typical. Sometimes poultry ventured inside, as well as lizards, mice and large cockroaches several centimeters long. We could even find wasps' nests. One night, we slept in a garage on old mattresses laid on the floor in the middle of old unused furniture and old motorbikes in the process of being repaired. Indeed, Malagasies are skillful mechanics despite the limited means they have.
On two occasions, we had to ship the vehicle on barges to cross a river in a splendid panorama. The track was in places hardly practicable, and the second day we got the car stuck in the middle of the bush after we lost our way. Then, a native who was passing by came to help us. It was an extraordinary and unforgettable meeting.
We got to Maintirano the very evening, all exhausted. I was blown away by the purity and the depth of the sky. The almost total absence of pollution allowed us to see countless stars, even the most minuscule. I spent a few days in that nice village, but my journey was coming to an end. I had to get back to Mahajanga and catch my flight back to Paris via Antananarivo. However, it was too dangerous to go there by 4-wheel drive vehicle because the trail was apparently hard going. Moreover, there was no aircraft between Maintirano and Mahajanga for eight days yet. I had to find a solution quickly. I had no other option than taking a cargo boat to Mahajanga. My departure was very hurried because I had been aware of that possibility only 40 minutes before boat leaves the port. I packed my luggage at full speed, and then I took what to drink and to eat in a hurry, wondering whether it would be enough for those two long days on board waiting for me.
In any case, it was a fabulous human experience: I shared during those 48 hours the life of a crew, conversing with those who spoke French, and then trying to communicate with others using the few Malagasy words I had learned in two weeks. Certainly, it was not ideal as far as comfort was concerned because I slept in the cabin on a bench near the engines with a few chickens to keep me company. A pretty foul odor bothered me, and then I realized it was a large container on the ground half-filled with some meat gone bad in a rotting sauce. A member of the crew came to pick it up a few hours later. I thought he would throw its unappetizing content into the sea, but he put it on the stove to cook it over a low heat, while preparing rice and tomatoes to serve with it! He even killed and plucked a chicken to add it. Needless to say I did not join in that meal. On the other hand, I accepted to try some handicrafts brandy they kept in a big plastic can. They told me it was prohibited for sale and I quickly understood why! It was incredibly strong and it went to my head immediately!
When I finally arrived safe and sound, I left that friendly crew with a touch of nostalgia. Then, I enjoyed the last three days in the beautiful city of Mahajanga before I return to France, exhausted but filled with wonder, with my mind exhilarated by many images forever engraved in my memory.

Published on December 1st 2012