It was a long time ago but travelling to Madagascar was one of the most exciting and exotic places I’ve ever been to. The wildlife, the people, the landscape, the beaches – all incredible. It can be quite tough travelling in some ways if you’re not used to that sort of thing, but an eye opening experience.
During my globe trotting years I’d been planning a trip to India with a friend. Sadly the trip fell through due to unrest in the area we were visiting, so I was left with a hole in my diary and an unused travel budget! Overnight I planned the perfect round the world trip. I always wanted to do a solo round-the-world trip, now was my chance.
I had some amazing experiences on this trip but Madagascar was my first proper stop. I flew into Antananarivo, known as Tana by the locals, from Johannesburg where I had stopped for a couple of nights.
The journey from the airport into a new land is always an education. Despite the passing years I still remember the cacophony of traffic, and display at the butcher which consisted of a cow’s head sitting on a ledge made of cob. I stayed at a guest house with around a dozen other travellers. Most of them were sharing a dormitory but because I was alone, the hosts kindly gave me a bed in their office and turned it into a private room for me with attached bathroom. Bizarrely the loo was up on some kind of platform, so when you sit in it you were perfectly framed by the window opposite. Coupled with the main path outside the window for guests to get to the main road, and the curtains that didn’t reeeeaaally meet in the middle, this made for interesting loo visits. Such is the plight of the traveler. One of the many reasons a sturdy Sri Lankan sarong should be a permanent piece of travel kit. I made it into a tent that covered everything including my head, so the hordes of people trotting past the window just saw a tie-died monster and a pair of legs on the loo.
Having arrived in Tana with no real onward plan other than I knew I wanted to see Fort Dauphin and visit a charity I knew was working there. That was at the other end of the country. I’ve always loved to travel by road or train so you can see the country so I started asking around to find out the best way. This was generally met by quizzical looks and laughter. ‘Road? There’s no road.’ Turns out the only way to travel from north to south, at least back then, was to fly, as there’s no complete road. You can go a certain way by taxi brousse (a sort of commuters’ monster truck) and hiking when the road runs out (!?) but I didn’t have the time for that sadly, let alone the skill.
I spent that evening in the garden of the guest house chatting with other travellers, watching the silent lightening streak to the distant jungle floor from the pink sky, coming to the realisation I would need an internal flight. The next day I managed to get get a flight on the tiniest commercial plane I’ve ever been on, with the exception of a 5 seater pleasure flight over the Grand Canyon. There were 14 seats on this little plane and I seem to remember a return ticket costing around $100USD. As I say this was a long time ago, so I’m sure this is different now.
I’d learnt some basic Malagasy before I went, but really a bit of french would have been way more useful. Having opted for Spanish at school I really do have very basic French to the point of being useless. Being veggie, knowing the difference between ‘oeuf’ (eggs) and ‘boeuf’ (beef) would have been helpful when it came to my in flight snack. But I didn’t.
The landing strip in Fort Dauphin was literally just that, a bit of spare ground amongst the trees and the terminal was a two sided shed made of corrugated iron. The carousel was an old table where 3 bags were plonked, one of which was my backpack. While we were sorting ourselves out, the plane did a three point turn and just went back. This was definitely the most remote airport I’d ever been to – it made me feel like on of the flying doctors or Indiana Jones or something.
Onward travel choice was limited to choice of two taxis or walking, so I hopped in a cab and went to find somewhere to stay, armed with my Malagasy to English dictionary and a Lonely Planet.
Fort Dauphin “high street” began with a fruit and veg market, selling the most incredible mangoes 🥭 (pictured 😂) and bananas. This made up most of my diet for the time I was there, alongside ‘rice and beans’. Vegetarian heaven to be honest. The earth road stretched parallel to the beach with just a few guest houses, one eatery (that I remember, but it certainly wasn’t plentiful) and one or two roadside marketeers selling their wares, mostly mangoes and bananas. The street stretched up to a cliff point overlooking the ocean where an old colonial building survived, which now housed the post office. There was one hotel along the way to the post office, however I recall seeing only two tourist couples in the area aside from the charity volunteers I was there to visit.
This did make it easier to choose somewhere to stay. Being a guest house sort of gal, I picked a place, turned down the honeymoon suite, and was show to a bare and basic, but sizeable room on the first floor. Geckos 🦎 thronged on the walls and the scream of crickets 🦗 came from the jungly garden at dusk. My room was quite big with a double bed, and a loo that stuck out of the wall at the end of the bed. I was glad to be in there on my own.
There is so much more to tell you – the amazing volunteers I met, the biodiversity of the three types of tropical forests, the incredible beaches, the time I saw a spider have a wee, but for now let me tell you I fell into bed after the triumph of making it to my intended destination, having left London about 5 days before. The exotic land of Madagascar 🇲🇬