Madagascar MapFrom day one of my arrival in Africa it was my personal mission to try and get to the mysterious island of Madagascar with its unique plants, wildlife and people. After reading quite a bit about it and hearing stories it seemed to me to be the last of the real African outposts and the perfect place for some adventure.

Eventually, whilst in Kenya I got my visa sorted out, and after trying to get across by ship but failing, I had to settle for an flight. It was way over my budget, but what the hell! What struck me immediately on arriving in Madagascar was how green it was compared to other African countries.

spare a seat for a goat?

TanaOn arrival I spent a few weeks nosing around the capital city Antananarivo getting my bearings. It has a very Colonial French feel to it. The main market is huge where there must have been a few thousand people squashed into the Street.

It was at this point I had to start remembering my School French because nobody spoke English. This was a good thing as it made me feel I was really getting away from the usual easy traveling where everyone seems to know what the hell you're talking about. Then it was time to venture out of the city.

I decided to slowly head for the tropical island of Ile Sainte Marie just off the East Coast. Hitching a lift and using the local bus services (great fun). Imagine being in a 26 seater bus, but with 50 people, 2 goats, a dozen chickens and 2 huge baskets of vegetables..oh and not forgetting the 10 people sitting on the roof.


BoatEventually I arrived at a small coastal village which was the nearest point from the main Island of Madagascar to the small island of Ile Sainte Marie. The only way across to the island (apart from flying) was a very cheap and precarious Dhow boat, which I found out after an hour of talking to a village local in what I thought was proper French.

It was a tiny thing which was in danger of getting tipped by the waves every minute of the 1.5 hour trip. I was enjoying the journey and every now and then popped my hands in the water. The boat owner didn't like this one bit. He was explaining in Malagasy and hand signals that there were sharks in the area. I soon stopped that.

The island was everything I expected and more...absolutely stunning! The people were really friendly and relaxed, the food great and cheap, the beaches empty and untouched, Lemurs hopping around everywhere in the forests and it was damned hot. There wasn't a day that passed that I wasn't invited to stay with a family for tea or a local beer.

Paradise Beaches and Tornado's

LemurI eventually rented a tiny shack on the beach and just chilled for a few weeks, doing the odd walk along the island's coastline. For two days I was stuck in the shack as a small tornado was passing over. I have to say it didn't feel like the safest place to be at the time but it was that or tying myself to a tree. Luckily I had some supplies and just laid low for a while. I did get to visit a Lemur sanctuary and was told to bring along some Mangoes. I stood in the middle of a cluster of trees with Mango bits on my shoulder and hands with small, wild Lemur's clambering up and down me.

BeachAfter a few weeks of this Robinson Crusoe living I decided to leave Ile Sainte Marie and explore the real Madagascar, and embarked on a solo walking trek from the east (Maroansetra) to west coast (Antsohihy). The British Consulate called it 'stupidity' (at the time a lot of bandits and gangs still roamed the rural areas of northern Madagascar)...I called it adventure.

Ouest Le Direction?

JungleIn all it took me about 4 to 5 weeks to get across. It was absolutely fantastic! I went through such a variety of landscapes: totally unspoiled areas of rain forest, rolling hills, vast open meadows and dry semi desert areas; meeting some weird and wonderful people on the way.

I can't remember how many times I got lost and went in circles but somehow (even with my useless sense of direction) my trusty compass, the few waving locals I met in villages and a lot of luck got me to my destination. Most of this trek was really hard going with frustration and anger setting in quite a lot mostly over my terrible sense of direction but this was cancelled out when I saw the beautiful landscapes, animals and met some truly wonderful people on the way. 

Ouest Le Ghost?

Semi-DesertDuring one of my many days of getting lost i came across a village where the people on the outskirts were screaming and shouting at me as I approached. I thought, hold on, this isn't looking too good. I was getting very nervous so decided to go around the Village (ready to do a runner any minute). Then a guy came running towards me smiling and told me in broken Malagasy/French that the Villagers' thought I was the Ghost of someone (God knows who). It was only when I removed the white T-shirt wrapped round my head that they all calmed down even though the kids kept pinching my arm just to check. Apparently they hadn't seen a foreigner (especially one as pale as me) for 40 odd years. I stayed here for a few days where I was shown lovely hospitality; eating local food, drinking local beer and trying to understand what they were talking about.

Most of the Villages I stayed in let me camp in the middle of their Village square. I didn't find this odd until waking up at dawn each morning, climbing out of my tent I'd be greeted by the whole village sitting in a semi-circle staring at me and then they'd burst out laughing. Now I'm not the best early morning person and I did find it quite unnerving (and to be honest, irritating) the first few times, but I got used to it after a while and woke up laughing every time. I even tried getting up earlier to catch them out, but they were always there. laughing at me. 

rice...rice...rice...more rice and water

VillageMy daily routine on this walking trek was usually: getting up at dawn, eating a cold bowl of rice with water, looking at the map, packing up the tent and trudging off (sometimes the wrong way).

I relied heavily on the Villagers' directions and my trusty compass. I'd stop if I came across a special spot or if I was hungry, then have more rice.  By late afternoon I would keep going until I found a good place to camp for the night. I'd get a small fire going and have hot rice. At these times I really missed treats like a piece of chocolate or even some sugar for my tea.

Early evening really was my favourite time of the day. For me nothing comes close to the sun setting in Africa with the different colours, a sudden hush, the insects come to life and then the stars come out. It's really beautiful to see and hear. 

What is known as an English Rake

Sadly the end part of my Trek was spoiled with some health disasters. I'd used up all my iodine and water purifying drops (allot I had given away in Villages I stayed in) so had to drink slightly boiled or river water and gradually developed severe Diarriah, a swollen stomach (the size of a football), weakness and exhaustion.

River I was as skinny as a rake. I later found out my swollen stomach was Giardiosis with heat-stroke and exhaustion thrown in. I started to get really itchy feet too and one day stopped to have a look at them. I saw these tiny little maggoty things in the cuts of the soles of my feet (Jiggers). I have to say I did allot of hopping around and shouting. I soon got rid of them with a razor blade and a needle.


LizardI had come across the most hospitable people on this part of my journey, and have now got nothing but the utmost respect and gratitude for the Madagascan people. Madagascar is by far my favourite country in Africa; as well as unique plants, animals (the lemurs and Chameleons are really something else) and traditions there is a unique friendliness and beauty in the people.

Great shame on a global scale about the rain forest though. It is now being chopped down at a scary rate every day, so sooner or later this will effect people locally and globally alike.



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