Thursday, 24 November 2016

Reflections on Madagascar

For the past several weeks I have planned to summarize my feelings about the trip. Regular life, as well as quick trips to Labrador and then Calgary, Alberta and finally the acquisition of a new member of our family, a six-year-old boxer cross, have delayed me. But I do want to finish off the Madagascar trip with some final notes.

I have written this blog as chiefly my journal, a way to remember the trip. I made it public to share it with family and friends. Once it was public I expected it to be read by those interested in Madagascar, especially anyone researching a trip. I read several blogs as I did my research. So, in a way I am “giving back” thinking that my blog can be helpful to anyone considering a trip to Madagascar, especially anyone thinking about a trip like the Le Grand Boucle.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. It was an amazing trip. Every day José would tell us that he was taking us on our next adventure. And they always were an adventure.

I had done so much research that I was pretty much expecting everything that we encountered. The hardest part, as expected, was the roads. I had read blogs of tourists who had been on roads like the one to Tsingy. But the one hour or so detours off the main road are nothing like what we did driving down from Morandava and Tulear. We survived over 1,000 kilometres of the nastiest driving you can imagine.

Even the “good” roads in Madagascar are difficult for travelling. The roads go up and down the hills and around hairpin turns. The roads are busy, so there are lots of passing of vehicles, bicycles, carts, and people. There are huge potholes. We would often come to a complete stop before the big ones, the “ostriches” as José called them. In some places the road is totally gone. In others, the local villagers are doing the maintenance and look for payment from passing motorists to compensate for their efforts.

Other than the bad roads, we had no real difficulties. The weather was great. We only saw rain at our last stop in the rain forest. The daily temperatures were generally comfortable. We were a little warm on our outings in Tsingy and Isalo where it was a bit hot walking, but not bad at other times. Sleeping was never a problem. Once we headed east from Isalo the temperatures dropped to where we needed light jackets on our outings.

Bugs were not an issue. We did not see any. We saw a handful of mosquitoes that were so feeble they could hardly fly. A quick slap put them out of their misery.

We were pleased with our hotel accommodations. We stayed in what another operator termed basic to mid-range hotels. I never specified the level, but just accepted the hotels recommended by Espace Mada.  All the hotels were clean. Only a couple of the basic ones did not offer hot water. We found everyone in the tourist service industry to be quite helpful and competent.

I would also confirm that the “Grand Boucle” or big circle trip that takes you down the west coast from Morandava to Tulear is worth the effort. We got to see some baobabs (especially the forest) that we would not have seen otherwise and stay in a couple of wonderful beach front hotels with only a hand full of guests at each. We ate seafood that had been purchased from the fisherman that morning. We saw boat building and watched the fishermen as they went out in the morning and then returned in the afternoon.  Y
ou must do the Descente de la Tsiribihina.  It was the highlight of my trip, one of the highlights of my life.

I cannot say enough good things about Espace Mada. Everything about the trip was well organized. All our 17 hotel bookings went off without a hitch. You will find a driver waiting for you at the airport. All the arrangements will be done. Our vehicle was in fine condition.
 

We were in great hands with our driver, José. When he said that we would leave at 8:00, he would be waiting for us before 7:30.  As I wrote for the August 27 blog notes: 
 

We headed into breakfast. We saw that José was already waiting for us. There seems to be a pattern here. José is so reliable. He is an excellent driver, keeping the many bumps to a minimum bounce. He apologizes if he hits one too hard. We feel well cared for.” 

We felt quite safe the entire time. We were with our driver, José, or guides much of the time, but did do some walks on our own. We attracted a group of children everywhere. We were warned against walking in Antananarivo, especially at night. Since the restaurant in the hotel appeared to be the best one in the area, it made sense to follow that advice.  

What would I do differently? As I mentioned many times, I would book the hotels without the half board option. Instead we would have just ordered the food from the menus. I would perhaps have done a shorter hike in Isalo and then a longer one in Tsaranoro where it was not so warm.   

I came away with a lot of respect for the people of Madagascar. They work hard just to survive.
But the government seems to be missing in action.  The roads are bad, as are the public schools. Most city residents must get their water from communal taps. Rural residents get their water from streams.  Sanitation is an issue everywhere.   


Burning and cutting of trees was being done everywhere we travelled. It was sad to see the after effects, but I tried not to judge. The people are poor and need to support their families. We have done the same in our own countries. I have just finished an excellent book, The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed, by John Vaillant. It helped me to put the deforestation I witnessed in Madagascar into perspective.

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