Madagascar a great adventure

Exploring Madagascar A land of lemurs, baobabs, and chameleons.

Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world.  Situated off the southeast coast of Africa,  its land size is  587,041 sq.km.  Its population numbers 25 million.  The capital city is Antananarivo, known to the locals as Tana. Madagascar is a land of lemurs, baobabs, and chameleons

Antananarivo - Madagascar land of lemurs
Antananarivo

 

Harbour at Antananarivo
Lake Antananarivo

The official language is Malagasy, with French as their second language. Many of the people also speak English, and they refer to themselves as Malagasy. The landscapes are very varied.  With terraced rice fields, tropical rainforests, stone forests, deserts, and amazing baobab trees.  And last but not least, lemurs, which Madagascar is most famous for. And known as the land of lemurs.  Their other claim to fame and well-known export, Madagascan vanilla.

madagascar lemurs baobabs chameleons
Madagascar land of lemurs
Early History

The first settlers arrived around 2000 BC.  Most people are of Indonesian and African descent. Traders and explorers from Europe and Arab countries.  Pirates arrived from the 16th century onwards.  In the early 19thcentury, the powerful Merina Kingdom dominated Madagascar.  Kings and Queens enforced their own policies while trying to fight the British and French from ruling. In 1883, France invaded Madagascar and took control of the country.  As a consequence, it became a French colony until 1960, when it won its independence.

Following independence, life wasn’t easy for the Malagasy people. Many of their leaders were from military backgrounds.  This caused issues due to the many fragmented republics and constitutions. Political unrest continues to this day. Despite periods of growth and economic hardship, political corruption continues.

Madagascar remains one of the poorest countries in Africa. Therefore they experience many problems relating to poor health.  They also have minimal access to health care and education. Another problem for them is poor nutrition and economic problems.  80% of the population earn less than U$2 a day.  Deforestation has seen more than 80% of the original forest land disappear since the arrival of humans  2000 years ago.

village children madagascar land of lemurs
Local school
Cultures

Madagascar culture has many different ethnic groups.  Each has their own beliefs and customs such as taboo and magic. Their staple diet is rice.

rice fields
Rice Fields and drying bricks

I spent 18 days in Madagascar. During this time I visited: Morondava, Bekopaka, Antsalova, Tsingy.   Then Bemaraha National Park, Andasibe National Park, Mantadia National Park, Ambatolampy, Ranomafana, Ranomafana National Park.  As well as Ambositra, Ranohira, Anja Park, Ambalavao.  Isalo National Park, Toliara, Zombitse National Park, Reniala National Park, Ifaty.

local butcher
Local butcher cutting up a zebu

 

Typical rural home
Typical rural home

 

Zebu herding
Zebu herding

 

Average city home.
Village
Living Conditions

Apart from the main streets in Tana, and a few paved roads in outlying cities, most roads are in very poor condition.  Only 11% of roads are paved. They are narrow, winding, and full of potholes.  One-lane bridges, gravel, cobblestone, and no streetlights, make night driving virtually impossible and strongly discouraged.

Most vehicles drive in the middle of the road and will only pull to one side when they see an oncoming vehicle. Roads are shared with huge trucks, cars, bicycles, people, livestock, bullock, or human drawn carts.  All use the same road, making it very hazardous.  The roads are littered with broken-down trucks that blocked roads, often at blind corners.  

Pedestrian crossings, traffic lights, road signs, street names, and the concept of giving way is non-existent. There is almost no public transport.  However, Madagascar is a dream holiday destination as it has been relatively untouched and unspoiled by the western world and tourism. Amazing landscapes, animals, culture, and friendly and welcoming people, make it a joy to visit.

Typical rural school.
Typical rural school.

 

Zebu drawn cart.
Zebu drawn cart
Lemurs

The highlight for me were the lemurs (means ‘ghost’ in Latin). They are very elusive and mostly prefer to stay high up in the trees looking down at us!  This makes it quite challenging to get a good glimpse of them and, even more, difficult to photograph. Native to Madagascar, there were originally 101 species, of which, only 50 species are left.  Sadly, most of them are endangered or vulnerable.

The ring-tailed lemur is the most iconic of the lemur species. Lemurs are a protected species in Madagascar, unfortunately, many of them continue to be lost due to habitat destruction (deforestation) and hunting.  They are enchanting animals.  Highly interesting and at times display amusing behaviors.   They also make interesting sounds, jumping between trees at lightning speeds. 

ring tailed lemur
Ring-tailed lemur

 

Sifaka lemur Madagascar land of lemurs
Sifaka lemur

Sifaka lemur

Black and white ruffed lemur
Black and white ruffed lemur

When driving around Madagascar you will see most of the land being used for growing rice (staple diet).  Making mud bricks, and washing clothes also is very common. The majority of houses are made from handmade mud bricks.

Mud bricks drying and baking
Mud bricks drying and baking

 

Mud bricks baking
baking mud bricks

 

Men at work. No OH&S on site.
Men at work. No OH&S on site.
Wash Day

Women spend all day washing clothes in the rivers and then laying them out on the banks to dry.  Where do all these clothes come from and where do they go?

Wash day.
Wash day.

 

Every day is washing day
Every day is washing day

Every day is Wash day

 
No such thing as a clothesline.
No such thing as a clothesline.

 

Washing and drying clothes everywhere.
Washing and drying clothes everywhere.

Washing and drying clothes everywhere

Foods

The food here is very plain.  A lot of the menu is zebu (staple meat), which is very tough.  Refrigeration is minimal to none. Meat and dairy products, is offered for sale at markets, or local street stalls.  These are left in the hot sun all day. There is a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Dried fish.
Dried fish.

 

Fresh market produce.
The fresh market produces.
Chameleons
Panther chameleon
Panther chameleon

 

Chameleon
Chameleon

 Half of the world’s chameleons come from Madagascar. blue chameleonorange chameleongreen chameleon

Landscapes

Madagascar features very diverse and distinctive landscapes. Volcanic mountains in the north.  Humid rainforests in the east.  Dry sandstone cliffs in the west, and a forest of limestone pinnacles in the north. 

Tsingy de Bemoraha National Park
Tsingy de Bemoraha National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. High limestone pinnacles.

limestone pinnacles.

Tsingy de Bemoraha National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. High limestone pinnacles

Sunset over the mountains

Sunset over the mountains

Boabs

The Avenue of the Baobabs is a group of baobab trees, lining the dirt road between Morondava and Belon’i Tsiribihina. These trees are also known as the upside-down tree and tree of life. This avenue attracts travellers from around the world,  thus making it one of the most visited locations in the region. Some of the trees are over 30 metres high, and up to 2800 years old. I found the best time to photograph these trees is at sunset and sunrise when the colours of the trunks change and the long shadows of the trees are most pronounced.

Avenue of Baobabs at sunset. madagascar land of lemurs
Avenue of Baobabs at sunset.

boab tree

the net man fishing
The net man.

Traditional fishing boat at sunrise

Traditional fishing boat at sunrise

Glorious sunrise colours.

Glorious sunrise colours.

Madagascar is technically still a third world country.  This is due to its lack of infrastructure to cope with tourism. Madagascar is, however,  well worth a visit.  With its friendly people, stunning landscapes, iconic baobab trees, and delightful wildlife, a visit there would not disappoint. 

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