Madagascar is not easy tourism. But it’s very rewarding tourism.
We’ve spent 2 weeks on the island and came home full of experiences and learnings.
On immigration you can feel already that you’ve arrived in real Africa. One person takes your passport with immigration card, carefully reviews it, gives it to a person who’s allowed to stamp, who gives your immigration documents to a person who’s allowed to sign and after long investigation you get the signature – welcome to Madagascar!
The trip from the airport to the hotel showed that Antananarivo is one of those cities that takes a while to understand. It’s the type of city that feels very chaotic – foot traffic everywhere, busses pulling over at random places to pick up people, old trucks almost giving up driving 20km an hour and the obvious brand new Range Rover in-between. But after some observations you realise that it is organised chaos. Chaos, that’s not chaos for people having spent every day of their lives in this city.
Strolling through the on-street market expanding from our first Hotel Le Logis showed immediately how poor Madagascar is. I have not seen such poor people ever before – 70% of all citizens on the island live with 1 USD or less a day. Madagascar feels however safe – no-one begged for money or tried to intimidate us even tough we sticked out of the crowd like a sore thumb.
After a day in the capital we drove towards Mantadia, the rain forest. Being someone enjoying individual travel I was first sceptical on hiring a driver through an agency who helped organising the whole trip. But after a few kilometres on the road I knew we made the right decision. The roads are in rather bad shape – we’re not talking potholes but 3 meter craters in the main road. Signage? Forget it. No signs no where.
I can highly recommend Priori – an extremely friendly and helpful agency who’ll make sure that you’ve got exactly the experience on the island you’re looking for. Thank you Pelasoa.
Walking for a few hours through the rain forest was an amazing experience – the fact that it rains every single day of every single year creates an interesting vegetation. The hairy, jumpy animals who appear in all shapes and sizes on the island were for us nice to look at but not main incentive for the trip as it seems to be for so many people. It’s however beautiful to see that the monkeys are just living their normal live – they are not caged in or controlled in any way. If you’re lucky you’ll see a few if not than not.
After 2 days in rain we were looking forward to travel towards the sunny East Coast. Tamatave – the main harbour city – is very busy and the most cosmopolitan city on the island. Everyone hustles and the ships seem to bring some international flair which can be seen in fashion, shops and food on the streets. The roads are dominated by Tuktuks, they form 3 lanes on each side of the road giving the cars just little space, resulting in colourful mayhem on the road. When leaving the city on a Sunday at 05:30 the streets were busy already – our bus was rather basic but the best form of transport to reach Soanierana Ivongo to take a boat. Sitting in the bus, without any network, no language knowledge and no orientation whatsoever triggered a feeling I haven’t had in a long time. A feeling of a beautiful helplessness. That’s how kids must feel when you take them on a nice Sunday trip – they don’t know what what’s going to happen but also won’t ask. Because they know it will be good good times.
Coming closer to the end of the 90 minutes boat ride to Sainte Marie the water started to take those crystal clear blue tones. It was the first sign that we’ve reached a special destination – sitting a few minutes later at the beach enjoying a good glass of wine together with grilled fish felt like being in paradise. The landscape forms those disgustingly magnificent pictures – those ones that Samantha the clerical assistant of the corporate in her grey cubicle used since years as her Windows desktop background.
Hotel Princess Bora is a beautiful place to be – spend at least 3 nights there, better stay 5 or 6 to enjoy life and yourself. I’ve enjoyed my- and ourself very much.
Madagascar is not easy tourism but you’ll leave the island with wonderful memories and stories to tell. It is rewarding indeed.