Madagascar Part 1 of 8: Initial Impressions.
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I’d long wanted to visit Madagascar, and David Attenborough’s documentary on this unique island was the clincher. Lying in the Indian Ocean to the east of Mozambique, Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world and astonishingly is home to 5% of the planet’s flora and fauna, much of which is endemic to the island.
I flew with the impressive Ethiopian Airlines via Addis Ababa into the capital, Antananarivo, more simply referred to as Tana. The airport was small as expected and I obtained my visa on arrival without too much fuss. However, changing money was not as straight forward, in that I had brought US dollars with me, not realising that they weren’t all the newest bills, so I was only able to change half of the money I’d brought – so be warned!
I had a hectic schedule and I had to pack in as much as I could within 12 days here, so I am ambitiously tackling the western part of the island and part of the south making my way back to Tana. My driver for the first half of the trip, Unis, met me at the airport and from there we headed straight to the city of Antsirabe, about 4 hours drive in order to cut down some of the drive the following day. Although I didn’t enter the city centre there was a lively atmosphere with multi-coloured small shops lined up along the roadside selling everything from mobile SIM cards to clothes and snacks. The French influence here was immediately noticeable with most signs in the native Malagsy language as well as French. My French is certainly better than my Malagsy, but fortunately Unis spoke very good English! He told me that many locals considered themselves different from mainland Africans and they had more in common with other cultures in Asia and the Indian Ocean, and the local language derived from these influences.
It took some time to get out of the city and then very quickly the scenery became more rural. People tended to their paddy fields and kids wrestled with each other, momentarily looking up to wave and then getting back into the thick of it again. The sun sets early here, around 5pm, so when I arrived at my lodge for the night – Couleur Cafe – it was already pitch black. The room was large and tastefully decorated with hard wood floors and wooden furniture to match. After a much-needed shower, I went to the restaurant for dinner. My first introduction to Malagasy food was excellent: pea/cream soup with delicious bread, followed by fish, rice and a salad, finally topped off with a very tasty mousse. It was a nice way to end what had been a pretty long few days travelling. Tomorrow I have a 10 hour drive to the west of the country known for the famous baobab trees, tsingys (unique rock formations) and wildlife.