I remember being completely floored by the place immediately. It was so BUSY. There were people everywhere I looked, and so much color. The buildings were richly painted and there were humans in bright outfits everywhere I looked. It seemed like every aspect of life was happening right there on the side of the road.
We rented a car that came with a driver. In Madagascar it’s almost impossible to rent a car solo – you have to hire a driver along with it. Once we hit the road we realized why. I’ve been to plenty of third-world countries in my life, but driving in Madagascar is something else. The largest highway in the country is barely the width of the side street I live on in Portland. It’s riddled with pot-holes, some that spanned the entire road. There were huge trucks passing motorbikes passing vans passing children carrying carts all on the side of a hill while going around a curve at 50 mph. When I got over my initial fear for my own life, I continued to fear that at any moment we were going to murder one of the tiny, beautiful children wandering along the side the highway.
I didn’t realize it when I planned my trip, but Madagascar is the 10th poorest country in the world. People live SO differently there. Even compared to South Africa where we had just come from, Madagascar was worlds apart in terms of infrastructure and basic amenities.
I also didn’t realize how important rice was to the Malagasy people. The cities I visited were all built around rice patties, and even the main highway twisted and turned along the hillsides to avoid taking up precious flat rice patty land.
The sad thing about all the rice patties is that the forests have been absolutely decimated. And with that, the sweet lemurs and crazy unique birds and wildlife. The patches of protected land were small and definitely few and far between.
When I planned the trip, it was absolutely impossible to figure out what to do with just about 8 days there. Their airlines are crazy unreliable and the roads are so bad that it takes several full days of driving to travel parts of the country. Ultimately, we decided to drive and made our decisions based on seeing national parks and unique birds and wildlife.
When we landed in Antananarivo, the capitol, we immediately drove south. We spent our first night in Antsirabe, then awoke early the next morning to continue on our journey south. After almost 12 hours we made it to our destination – the town of Ranohira. Then we spent the next few days exploring Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park and Isalo National Park. This is when we saw our first lemurs in the wild, including one that ONLY lives in the tiny Zombitse park, and is super crazy endangered. We also got to drive through the super-sketchy town of Ikakaka, home to the sapphire mining and trading industry. It was crazy to see the “luxury” sapphire shops that actually had glass on their windows, and then drive out of town and see the tiny, 4 ft high stick huts that the miners actually lived in. It made me think twice about any of the gemstones in my future.
After a few days in the south, we drove back through the gorgeous countryside and huge granite mountains to Ranomafana National Park. We spent a few days staying at a hostel there and waking up SUPER early for birdwatching. We saw some more super-rare lemurs there, and got a lovely bout of food poisoning as well! The rainforest was stunning though.
Finally, we drove back north again and then a little bit east to Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. This is where we got to see (and hear!) the famous Indri – the largest species of lemur left living. They have these crazy loud but sad sounding calls that echo through the jungle and it’s pretty magical to hear. They have never been successful at keeping Indri in any zoos, so they will likely go extinct once their small habitat is lost.
We finished with our last night in the capital, which in my opinion was awesome but pretty scary. We got lost in a thunderstorm and were terrified of being mugged so I only took about 2 photos the entire time I was there, with the exceptions of photos taken out the car window.
Ah yes, the car window. I hate to admit it, but the alternate title for this blog post is “Madagascar from a car window.” We spent SO MUCH TIME DRIVING. Like, probably more time driving than not driving. Or at least it felt that way. But working within the constructs of a car window was actually pretty fun, and I’m super pleased with the photos I was able to capture despite that.
I could go on and on about the uniqueness of the place, but I’d rather show than tell. I wish I could have stayed longer, and I wish I could go back and explore more – it’s a massive country and we were really only able to see one small piece of it.