Madagascar – November 2013

 

Like no other place on earth!

Madagascar is remote, rugged and untrodden. It’s like no place else on earth. In fact, it barely qualifies as part of Africa: the two are separated by hundreds of kilometers of sea and 165 million years of evolution – long enough for Madagascar’s plants and animals to evolve into some of the most unusual forms on the planet. Together we visited some of the most interesting and off the beaten path places in this unique destination…with incredible guides, breathtaking sunsets, and lots of cultural insight, stories and laughter. Read Mike’s full account of our adventure below!

OUR TRIP AT A GLANCE

  • Antananarivo (Tana): Tana, also known as “City of Thousands,” is one of Africa’s most unique capitals and was built on and around twelve sacred hills are clusters of red clay houses and churches
  • Fort Dauphin: One of the original French territories in Madagascar, Fort Dauphin enjoys one of the sunniest and least humid climates on the east coast and is the gateway to the more remote parks of So’n Madagascar.
  • Ifotaka Community Forest & Mandrare River Camp: This sacred forest includes spiny and gallery forests and is home to ring-tailed lemurs and the wonderful Verreaux’s Sifakas. The bird life here is abundant.
  • Manafiafy Beach Lodge: The rocks, islands and bays surrounding Manafiafy provide endless opportunities for exploring and within a short boat ride it is possible to find deserted beaches, scout for whales, or snorkel in the clear water viewing corals and tropical ‘aquarium’ fish
  • Tulear: Tulear is a coastal town in the “deep south” of Madagascar, a lively and young city housing one of the best universities in Madagascar.
  • Isalo National Park: Isalo is known for it’s dramatic landscape of sandstone rocks which have been cut into deep canyons and eroded by the wind to create unusual shape such as Le Fenetre,  a natural rock formation window from which to view the sun setting. The forest is home to the ring-tailed lemur, red-fronted brown lemurs and the Verreaux’s sifakus.

 

TRAVELERS’ COMMENTS

First, but certainly not last, is fellow Sojourner Mike. Mike has taken the time to write a synopsis of the entire adventure entitled “The Road to Madagascar”. Here is an excerpt…

Some of you may remember the old Bob Hope/Bing Crosby road pictures, thus the inspiration for the title of this recap of our crazy quilt sojourn.  Anyway we shall begin this epic with a quote from our intrepid leader, Priscilla. “Go with the flow.”  This was definitely sage advice as we began our Madagascar adventure. And I believe we were the perfect group to do just that as the specter of uncertain schedules and travel routes began to emerge early on beginning with the news that the airstrip at Manafiafy had been shut down. More on this later. Meanwhile we all converged in Tana, short for Antananarivo the capital city on November 4, for the start of our incredible time in Madagascar.  To continue reading Mike’s account of our trip, please click here.

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Madagascar was a fantastic experience!  The wildlife was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. All the accommodations were top notch. Being able to visit schools, clinics and villages gave great insight into the culture. And the group was so fun.  The whole trip was wonderful (except for my bug bites…I will never forget my deet again!) and I would do it again in a heartbeat. As I know perfectionism is important to you, let me assure you – beyond the shadow of a doubt – this trip was perfect from start to end, hiccups and all (though there really weren’t that many…Mike would say the fried eggs were a problem but that’s about it). I wish I’d had more time in Cape Town. My time with Pam was spectacular! And the last morning with James…as they say save the best for last! And thank you for allowing me to experience Jikeleza. I could have stayed there all day! So inspiring! So thank you, thank you, thank you a million times over! Never have any doubt that what you do has a tremendous impact on many lives. You are extraordinary!  I can’t wait to get involved in with the giving circle!

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Still savoring our great adventure.  Reliving it through the photo gallery is added joy.  It was a truly wonderful group, with you leading the charge, working to make sure everything went smoothly, and unflappable as usual.  Our stay in Cape Town was continued education.  Our tours were terrific, seeing the gorgeous peninsula views, watching the dedicated teachers and dancers at Jikeleza, and especially our time with James at the projects.  We loved that guy and his passionate work!

So many tidbits to remember:

  • Mike’s quest for the holy grail: the perfect “over very easy” eggs — realized the last day by dint of his precise coaching, while hovering over the cook.
  • Judy’s birthdays. Kim explaining that I have a lemur hand (which, I hate to say, is made clear in the pictures.)
  • The Laurel statues at Manafiafy.  And on and on.
  • Finally, I had to laugh at the picture of the girl with the t-shirt: “The Million Dollar Dress Show.”  Priceless!

To me, our trip was a crash course in, “It’s complicated.”  I feel honored to have experienced Madagascar before the inevitable onslaught of tourists.  We waded into the home of lemurs and ancestor tombs, the fabulous pristine coast and mangroves, and the desert spectacle of Isalo — all unparalleled!  I was fascinated by the diverse ecosystems and rich cultural traditions, but disturbed by our glimpses of rain forest destruction and disruption of the social ecology (via sapphire mining.)  I’m left with this question: being among the most biodiverse and mineral rich, yet poorest, countries on earth, major change from development will come to Mada; but can it occur while preserving the unique ecology and that special, sweet, spirit of the Malagasy?

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Here are some delights.

  • Stuck in traffic in a country the size of Texas that has not a signal traffic light. Loved the opportunity to see  close up the colorful, vibrant, crowded Tania life. Have never been delighted to be stuck in traffic before. This was a first.
  • Staying flexible. When flight time was moved (with just a few hours notice) from late afternoon to early morning and we had to leave camp at 4:30 am. I enjoyed this test.
  • Sundowners. Unused to this practice, but quickly became a believer of the peacefulness and beautiful scenery this tradition allowed. An evening meditation.
  • An endless birthday celebration. Two/three cakes and much singing. Then weeks later a final and unexpected “Happy Birthday” song at the airport.
  • The group dynamic’s of fun, laughter and being introduced to others stories and interests.
  • Learning the traditions and observing the life and customs of the local villagers. The importance of cattle.
  • Spiny forest. Adorable lemurs. Pristine beaches. Learning from the knowledgeable and friendly guides.
  • Amazing food beautifully presented.
  • Thank you to all who made this trip possible and to the travel companions who made it fun.

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It is so hard for me to put this trip in words.  Madagascar was surreal.  All four landscapes we hiked/boated in were different from anywhere else I have been.  They looked familiar but were so different in the plants and trees—rarely saw one that is elsewhere.  The hikes/walks were meditative — there is a peacefulness in Madagascar unlike any other place I’ve been.  The village people were fabulous – very hard life from our viewpoint but so very happy.  Would they be as happy with all of our modern conveniences?  That is the million dollar question.

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Global Sojourns does it again!  Spotting lemurs (and boas-up close!), learning about the Malagasy and their politics at a crucial time of elections in the country, top-notch food and accommodations and the camaraderie of fellow Sojourners earned this trip a 10 in the Adventure Travel Olympics!

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Sandy: The Global Sojourns trip to Madagascar was its usual over-the -top, perfect trip.  The people were sweet, humble and kind. Want to go back there!
Linda: Enjoyed everything about the trip!  We have wanted to visit Madagascar for many years and this trip exceeded all expectations. Loved seeing lemurs, swimming in the Indian Ocean, touring authentic villages, interacting with the lovely Malagasies, taking spectacular day and evening nature hikes, enjoying the French inspired meals, staying in the eco lodges and traveling with fantastic adventurers. Madagascar is not yet on the tourist route – NOW is the time to visit.

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The camps were nice, Manafiafy being my absolute favorite.  It was paradise to me.  I was in or on the water all the time. I appreciated the education I received about Madagascar. I had no idea what the peoples’ lives were like…the daily struggles and challenges that they have to overcome everyday, just to survive! I believe this is a trip for someone who is at least is somewhat familiar with the socio-economic condition of the country. I appreciate having been on this adventure and my I also appreciate my heightened awareness of the plight of people in 3rd world countries.

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I recently came back from traveling through Madagascar. It is an amazing country with an amazing history. Some tidbits: The local markets are a very big deal for the villages, they happen once a week and you can buy just about anything, including rock salt, baby ducklings, kittens, soap, dried fish, French bread, zebu meat with flies, and used dead white men’s clothes. It’s a big social occasion for all the villagers and it’s how most people make their money for the week. These lemurs were hilarious. We were in the Sacred Forest of Ifotaka along the Mandrare River. The white lemurs are incredibly friendly and hammed it up for us for several minutes. They can also do just about any yoga pose. Sundowners with the ladies, outside of Isalo National Park. My travel companions are the best, they’re like my family. The sunsets kept getting better and better. The thing that struck me the most about Madagascar was the muddy water that people would bath in, and wash cars and clothes in. Then they’d take that same water home in a large jug carrying it on their heads for miles to their tiny mud and straw huts for drinking and cooking. When we drove back to the airport to come back home, we filled up all the water bottles we had used on trip with our hotel tap water, and handed them out to people on side of the road. It was mostly little kids and they were so grateful and had huge smiles on their faces. The Malagasy people are beautiful and pride themselves with having a simple stress-free life. “Mora mora” you hear them saying, meaning “slowly slowly.” It’s their way of life. Coming back to NYC was a hard transition after such a great adventure. To read more, please visit Laurel’s blog.

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I used to think of nature, unique landscapes and lemurs when I thought of Madagascar.  But after two trips there, I now think most about the people and culture.  I’ve been fortunate to both live in and visit many places in the world, and what I find truly unique about Madagascar is the way in which one can get a real glimpse into how the people live their lives. It’s refreshing how truly sincere and relaxed the people are with visitors. Rare to experience these days.  And of course… what a treat to travel with my fellow sojourners! Thank you for being “fun, flexible and fearless”.  I love the conversations, the laughter the adventures.  I feel blessed to explore the world with you. Thank you!

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Last but not least….a huge thank you to our terrific team of guides, hosts, pilots and more for making us feel so welcome in Madagascar and for helping us gain insight into the culture, nature, socio-economic and political issues that affect every aspect of life in this one of a kind destination. Not only did we have a great time but we learned so much as well!

*****

Thanks again to our group of intrepid Sojourners…thank you for your sense of adventure, your inquisitive nature, your patience with Air Madagascar, and most importantly, your overwhelming respect for the land, the people, the wildlife and the culture of this unique and complicated destination. Madagascar welcomed us with open arms. It was truly like “no other place on earth!”