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Madagascar, Off The Tourist Trail
Madagascar - A Unique Indian Ocean Island
Madagascar! Not the film set, but the real island...
The fourth largest island of the world; geologists believe that Madagascar broke away from Africa around 165 million years ago. The island now sits in the Indian Ocean, surrounded by small peripheral islands.
Madagascar is beautiful, a veritable biodiversity treasure trove. It has a wide range of ecosystems, from coast, through to rainforest, and more than 90% of its wildlife unique to the island. For a beach holiday, why not try the resorts around Nosy Be? Here you can find clear turquoise water, tranquility and seafood feasts. But, remember, that's just a tiny portion of Madagascar.
My visit to Madagascar was not for tourism. It was to visit the Boxe Francaise Savate Federation, based in the capital Antananarivo. I hope this article will give you a taste of what I experienced. The photos on this page are mine, and I retain the copyright, so if you would like to use one, please contact me first.
Our Hotel - "First we made the bricks, then we built the hotel"
Antananarivo has a selection of tourist and business hotels. We stayed a little way out of the centre at Andoharanofotsy. Our hotel was a little less standard, and a lot more interesting. The owner told me that he and his staff had built it themselves... "first we made the bricks, then we built the hotel".
My room was one quarter of a bungalow, with its own entrance, shower and toilet. The electrics were slightly dodgy, with the light switch buzzing from time to time, and the TV gave me a limited choice of half a dozen snow storms. It didn't seem safe or even possible to have the light and the TV on at the same time! But, the food was very good, and the staff helpful and attentive. At lunchtime, we ate in the garden, next to a pond, and entertained by the hotel chickens. In the evening, we dined in the hotel restaurant on zebu steaks, chicken, or fish that looked like they might eat us! Bananas, fresh from the trees around the grounds, were offered at breakfast.
Our Hotel At Andoharanofotsy - basic, but perfectly comfortableClick thumbnail to view full-size
Who's For Supper?
One thing to be aware of in any adventure travel to exotic destinations is the food. I had some very nice meals in Madagascar, including local specialities like Zebu. This meal looked like it might eat me first. Fortunately, I won, and it tasted ok!
Recently, someone asked me what kind of fish it was. I think it was Tilapia... It had lots of tiny needle sharp teeth!
The World Around Us
Madagascar has a hot rainy season lasting from November to April, and a cooler dry season lasting from May to October. The eastern side of the country gets most rain, and this is where you will find a narrow, steep escarpment containing most of the rain forest. It is drier and cooler in the central highlands of the country, which range in altitude from 750 to 1500m above sea level. Antananarivo, the captial, is in the central highlands. These are the most densely populated areas of the Madagascar, and mostly deforested. In this area, you can see terraced, rice-growing valleys and grassy slopes. The west is the driest part, with areas of semi-desert in the south. This part of Madagascar has tropical dry forests, shrublands and thorn forests.
Madagascan Scenery - A selection of my photosClick thumbnail to view full-size
Making A Living In Madagascar
Madagascar is a poor country, rated "low" on the United Nations Human Development Index. Agriculture, fishing and forestry are important strands of the economy.
The streets of towns and villages are lined with tiny open-fronted shops, market stalls and sellers sitting around the produce on the ground. I had the impression that almost anything you might need could be found in one of these road-side enterprises. Food, clothes, electrical goods, car parts, artisan crafts, bicycle repair services... If you want some credit for your mobile phone, there are numerous little booths ready to supply you. Driving along one country road, we passed through several areas where all the roadside stalls sold the same things... a zone of hand-made musical instrument stalls, a zone of vegetable stalls selling only carrots and potatoes, and another zone of hand-made wooden truck toys.
Making A Living In Mada - PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
Palaces In And Near AntananarivoClick thumbnail to view full-size
The real place or the tourist destination?
Is it more interesting to see the country and the people as they really are or better to stick to tourist areas?
Archaeological evidence suggests that the first Indo-Malayan settlers arrived in Madagascar around 1500 years ago, bringing with them food crops. The terraces of rice paddies and the Malagasy language still hint at this past. Later, Bantu-speaking migrants crossed the Mozambique channel from east Africa.
During the 17th century, European and North American buccaneers based themselves in Madagascar, especially around Ãle Sainte Marie. As trade with European merchants grew, powerful kingdoms began to develop on the island. There was a long period of warring, famine and unrest. Eventually, in 1895, the French captured Antananarivo and the island became an official colony in 1897. Although the French constructed roads, improved education and abolished slavery, they also suppressed the Malagasy language. By the 1920s, Nationalist movements had developed, and there was a revoly in 1947. Madagascar eventually gained independence from France in 1960.
For a taste of history, the palace of King Andrianampoinimerina (1787-1810) can be visited at Ambohimanga. In Antananarivo, you can visit the Rova, a royal palace complex that was home to the sovereigns of the Imerina Kingdom in the 17th and 18th centuries. The largest of the buildings was Manjakamiadana - the "Queen's Palace". It was built between 1839 and 1841 for Queen Ranavalona I. Later it was encased in stone. Tragically, in November 1995, the buildings of the Rova were badly damaged by fire, shortly before they were to join the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Queen's Palace is being restored and will eventually become a museum for royal artefacts saved from the fire.
Madagascar On Kindle
A Kindle is a great way to carry all the travel information you need for your Madagascan adventure. The travel guides below are two of the best available, and sure to enhance your holiday.
This Kindle book is packed with useful information about Madgascar, whether you are reading for interest or planning a holiday to Madagascar.
Perfect for travelling, the Kindle paperwhite 3G has an 8-week battery life, and can download the books you want anytime, anywhere. Better contrast and higher resolution than rivals to deliver clear text and crisp images. Capacity of up to 1,100 books.
Boxe Francaise Savate in MadagascarClick thumbnail to view full-size
Being on a working trip, I missed out on wildlife. Hopefully, I can correct that in the future.
I saw only domesticated animals, like zebu and chickens. Sadly, no lemurs...
Zebu are domesticated "humped" cattle. They have drooping ears and a large fatty hump on their shoulders. Zebu have many uses in Madagascar. They are used to pull carts, as dairy cattle, and for their meat, which can be tough and chewy. Their hides are used for leather, and their dung is used both for fuel and for manure.
I didn't yet get to see the National Parks, but there are some, and if you have time they are really worth seeing.
Cool Clothing For Hot Weather
Have you ever noticed that the bad guys on the "cops" programs are often shirtless? It may be hot outside, but do we have to join those guys?
The ideal fabric for travelling in a hot climate is strong and soft, something that can be washed frequently and that will dry quickly. For preference, I also like fabrics that protect against UV and have an anti-microbial finish.
One good example is Coolmax clothing which is designed for hot times. Coolmax / ClimaCool is light and keeps your skin dry when you sweat, by wicking the moisture away.
Ducks, Geese & ZebuClick thumbnail to view full-size
More Information On Madagascar
Wikipedia article on Madagascar
The capital of Madagascar
- Madagascar country profile - Overview
BBC News provides an overview, basic information and key events for this island nation which lies off Africa
- Madagascar Travel Information and Travel Guide - Lonely Planet
Madagascar tourism and travel information including facts, maps, history, culture, transport and weather in Madagascar. Find popular places to visit in Madagascar - Lonely Planet
Hotels in Antanarivo
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- hotels.com | Cheap Hotels, Discounts, Hotel Deals and Offers
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- Antananarivo Hotels | Compare 44 Hotels in Antananarivo | with 992 Reviews | TripAdvisor
Antananarivo Hotels: Find 992 traveler reviews and 1,714 candid photos for 44 hotels in Antananarivo, Madagascar on TripAdvisor.
- Travel Deals: Flights, Hotels and Holidays - Travel with Expedia
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- Travel Guide - trivago.co.uk
The trivago hotel metasearch comparison with prices and reviews from more than 40 different online travel agencies for hotels in . Tips from the trivago travel community for Top Locations
Antananarivo Hotels, Madagascar | .