Ever since I watched the movie I had wanted to go!

So why wait and wish any longer? At least that was my thinking when I made a rash decision to book a flight to Madagascar. Two days later and I had landed in Antananarivo, capital of the Land of Lemurs. To say that this trip was unplanned or un-researched would be a complete understatement. I literally grabbed the travel book off the shelves, charged my camera and stuffed a backpack.

The goal: To cheaply travel around Madagascar for 17 nights trying to see as many Lemurs, Baobabs, birds and chameleons as possible. To explore a different culture!

I arrived in Antananarivo; known affectionately as Tana, with absolutely no clue what direction I was going to head in let alone where I would lay my head to rest. And so began an adventure that will go down as one of the more crazy that I have ever embarked on.

Diadem Sifaka

At times I loved the country and at times I hated it. Travelling solo as an English speaking tourist in a very French Madagascar is a very difficult thing to do. I very quickly learnt that the few tourists who do brave the ‘political instability’ of Madagascar, do so from the comfort of a rented air conditioned 4 x 4 car, driven by a bilingual driver/guide who knows the backroads and places to visit, who knows the prices to be paid to street vendors and which areas are to be avoided. I, on the other hand could not speak a word of French and had no guide or car…I used the non-existent public transport system to journey around the southern parts of the island…alone!

The island is huge and I decided to try concentrate my efforts on the regions supposedly more rich in the crazy biodiversity that I had ogled at over the years on the Discovery Channel. I knew that most tourists went north to Nosy Be and so decided to avoid that area trying to get a true taste of Malagasy life. One might say that I got a little too much…I hardy saw any tourists and heard my first English accent on Day 8! I walked long stretches of the route, hitch hiked and even travelled by boat to speed up my movements. Countless hours were spent waiting for the notorious taxi-brousses to find enough passengers to fill their mini-busses and begin the slow trip to wherever.

The route I took meant that I ventured through rainforests, rice paddies, mountain ranges, gorges, granite domes, baobab avenues, spiny forests and white-sanded beaches. It meant I saw 14 different Lemur species and 80 different birds (60% of which are endemic). I had pictures taken of chameleons the size of my forearm and saw beetles with necks 10 times as long as their body. I listened to the eerie yet gorgeous call of the Indri. I saw the rare Long-tailed Ground Roller and watched the full moon rise from a piroque in the Mozambique Channel. I walked in canyons as grand as any and held frogs that looked like jewels. I ate rice and bread three meals a day, everyday!

Street Football

There are many who describe Madagascar as a half-finished world. That is a very accurate description of the strange, weird and wonderful landscapes, creatures and plants that call this land their home. Nearly everything you see here is found nowhere else in the world! The scenery is spectacular. The biodiversity, exceptional!

Unfortunately one is continually reminded of an ever-growing hungry, poor developing population putting massive pressures on nature. Deforestation is rife…massive tracts of forests are being felled and used for charcoal. Any suitable land is carved into picturesque rice paddies with tons of silt flooding into the catchment areas. The rivers carry silt to the sea bleeding life out of the land!

Wildlife is being forced to survive in fragments that are called reserves: islands in a patchwork of subsistence agriculture. It is sad to visit a country like Madagascar as a conservationist, to see a magical spot, a spot so special and unique being slowly depleted and destroyed by people. To witness first hand that we as a species are to blame for the demise of one of the true wonders of the natural world. Political instability has meant that aid has dried up to a country that even by African standards must be considered very poor! And where people are struggling to get money, what hope does a leaf-tailed gecko have!

To say the trip was easy would be a lie. The transport was tough. A 350 km drive would take 14 hours and involve countless breakdowns and corrupt roadblocks. My record was 45 people in one car…in this car we also had half a cow and an alive octopus in a plastic bucket. Chickens stirred on laps whilst goats bleated on the roof rack above. And everyone is out to make an extra buck!

Giraffe-necked Beetle

To say the trip was magical would be the complete truth. ‘Doing’ Madagascar the way I did it, the unconventional way, meant that I saw the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, of what it means to live here. The people are very friendly and accommodating. The country is safe and they appear to be looking after the natural areas that have been demarcated as ‘protected’. I achieved my goal of exploring a new area and saw lemurs, baobabs, birds and chameleons. I also met some fascinating characters along the way, even if I did not understand a world they said, and managed to get some powerful images on film. Hours spent alone also meant that I had time to reflect and think about my priorities and self. It enabled me to be a little selfish for a change spending time the way I wanted. It gave me huge appreciation and pride of how my home country, South Africa, and how it has handled many similar problems.

I urge you to travel to Madagascar; the country needs tourists! I did not notice any political unrest and felt safer here than anywhere else I have travelled. You will see things here that will blow your mind. Not only will see the most beautiful wildlife but you will change as a person…you perspective on life will change! My one suggestion however is to either speak French or do it as a group! Enjoy, you wont regret it!

My Top 5 things to do in southern Madagascar

Hiking in I’Ilsalo National Park

Listening to the Indri calling at Andasibe National Park

Sunrise walk through the Spiny Forest near Ifaty staring at the strange Baobabs

Bird watching and Lemur watching in the rainforest at Ramanofana National Park

Eating Chocolate Ice Cream in Fianarantsoa

Ring-tailed Lemur

Verraux's Sifaka

Spiny Forest

 

Written and photographed by Adam Bannister

Filed under Life Travel

About the Author

Adam Bannister

Guest contributor

Ranger at Londolozi Game Reserve

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14 Comments

on Backpacking Madagascar

Jeremy
Guest

Seems like you had a nice trip, but yeah… the place is a shadow of what it once was (90% of original rainforest cover destroyed). Same goes for every other biodiverse place on the planet, victims of what comes with human overpopulation – deforestation, poaching, land encroachment etc. And the sad part is, there’s no way to stop this from happening if humans don’t stop procreate at this unsustainable rate.

Denise M.
Guest

Would the Londolozi model work there…..I know it sounds like a naive question….but in theory? Help the land restore itself….the animals would return, and the people could sustain themselves from the wildlife?
Anyway, loved the story…and your sense of adventure. And that photograph, “street football” is BRILLIANT!!!
denise
ps. Adam, I’m not stalking you….I’m old enough to be your mother….or at least your Older sister 😉
I just can’t get Londolozi off my mind. Please say hello to everyone from me.

Sheena
Guest

Adam
I wish we had known you were heading that way – we run medical aid into Madagascar (yes we are a French humanitarian group so it does make a difference). They go to Ambositra which is central but have some great contacts. The need for aid is great, and it is so hard to get the balance right with nature. When we see sick and needy children I am afraid they become our priority, especially when we have the solution to hand. Once again your photos are magnificent, and your words touch our hearts.

Denise M – I think we all still have Londolozi in our hearts, and long may it stay with you – it will certainly remain with me as a magical time – I hope the Londolozi team feel our joy and I for one will always be grateful for such an awakening.

S delaney
Guest

Sheena – I am going with 2 friends in October. While we certainly hope to be better prepared in advance than Adam, we have similar goals – avoid the big touristy parts, opt for getting closer to the people, traveling by taxi-brousse, etc.

If there’s something we can do for your organization while there, please let me know and I’ll try to make it happen. (I speak French and am a trained anthropologist, if any of that is useful…)

Denise M.
Guest

Beautifully said Sheena. I feel exactly the same….and my intent is to carry it with me always. To spread the energy of that magical experience where ever in the world I may wander.

Zoe
Guest

Well, Adam, you’ve pretty much sealed the deal, guess I’m going to Madagascar!! Always been a mystery to me and a place that’s on my radar. Your story and photos are wildly informative and exude your passion for the place! Thanks for the heads up!!

Linda Lunsche
Guest

Hi Ad,
Your article was beautifully written and I have really enjoyed reading all about your travels through Madagascar including looking at your magnificent photographs of all the lemurs, beetles and people.
Wishing you all the best and a few more exciting adventures!
All my love
Linda

Tallulah
Guest

Adam, you have done EXACTLY what I am planning to do in a few months! I am about to splurge and buy a plane ticked to Madagascar from the US to explore the biodiversity and rich culture and just live. I am a college student looking for a crazy adventure, and it is so inspiring to hear my dreams are possible. I am planing on bringing a tent to stay in and be as cheap as cheap can be. I would love to trek and hike for as long as possible. Did you run into any problems with land use? Are there any laws I should know about if I were to just pitch my tent in the middle of a forest or field etc.? What were your sleeping arrangements? I would love to know what books you recommend to better study the wildlife and country before I go. Any advice you have would be much appreciated! Thank you for inspiring me and instilling faith in this trip!

Tallulah

Matt
Guest

Hey Tallulah when are you going to be there??? I’m going too and am looking for a similar experience

Taryn
Guest

Hi Matt and Tallulah,

I am currently travelling around South Africa (am from the UK) and am really keen to fly out to Madagascar in the next week or so for 3-4 weeks or so. Will either of you be out there then?

zarwhitetaker
Guest

Located next to the Wicklow Mountains and the Clara Valey National Park, both oferring numerous forest walks/trails.Tent select

Florian Damien Singh
Guest

Dear Adam,

thanks for sharing your wonderful experience!
Such beautiful words!
Are you still willing to share some more of you experiences? Thank would be lovely, if not, no worries. 🙂

Greetings from Berlin,
Florian

thomas
Guest

Incredibly great post!

Traveling solo in Madagascar has been, and will always be safe than in any other biodiversity-rich country. In case somebody need a help, just refer to http://tsiky-tour.com/en/. Venture in guys, you will be amazed!

grosirklg.com
Guest

amazing and wonderfull
i’m imprtant with your post, i’m love it

Comments are closed.

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