The title of this piece refers to the sign (photographed), that imitates that of the Hollywood sign, yet it appears to be shrouded in mystery as does Madagascar itself…
Madagascar the island of immense history, has a biodiversity like no other and the title of a Dreamworks movie that had every potential of putting this island on the map to discovery and yet the film is more memorable than the actual existence of this unique place…
Very often when I say to people I have been to Madagascar, the general response I get is, “What the movie? Madagascar is a film right?”
Picture me with my head in my hands in utter despair at the level of ignorance the Western world has…. Yes you’ve guessed it, I am not into all this fictitious fantasy that Hollywood tries to shovel down everyone’s throat. You’ve probably realised by now from my other blogs, I don’t do holidays. I do adventure and far off places. I like the raw experience not the tourist glossed over experience, I like discovery.
Madagascar is the world’s 47th largest Country and the world’s 4th largest Island.
Before we get started, this was quite possibly the worst trip I have ever been on and I was only in Madagascar for 2 weeks. Granted I managed to salvage the trip, to some degree but, my first week as you will read from my blog, left me in floods of tears, itching and a near nervous breakdown with an incredible amount of sleep deprivation.
Clearly not a trip for the faint hearted.
So let’s start with my flight…
The flight from London Heathrow to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport was smooth, the flight to Antananarivo was the single most terrifying flight I have ever been on and you’d think, this experience would put me off flying… It hasn’t.
The flight in total from London to Antananarivo is around 12 hours. I was 6 hours or so into my flight when the cabin light came on and you get the pilot announcement “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re about to experience some slight turbulence. Please return to your seats and fasten your seatbelts.”
Slight was an understatement. I was securely strapped into my seat when I was not just shaken about, I was physically lifted out of my seat (seat belt still attached) and the oxygen masks dropped down as I hit the control panel above my head. To say passengers were praying and taking deep breaths is beyond a full description. We were literally terrified.
By the time I landed in Antananarivo, my nerves were still coursing through me like an electrical current and I wasn’t done on terrifying experiences.
If you have read the start of my Africa trip where I mention the driving rule book is out of the window, well in Madagascar it wasn’t applicable to start with. The roads are better than mainland Africa. But…The drivers would make a kamikaze pilot seem like a safer option. By the time I reached my hotel, shaken up more than a 1400 rpm spin on a washing machine, I wasn’t actually able to to sleep well and therefore I was on edge…
Waking up groggy the next morning, I looked out of my balcony window and the view reminded me of the pictured views you might see in Cuba, Havana or San Francisco. Whilst Antananarivo is relatively safe, you are warned there is a prolific crime rate of pick pocketing and possible robbery and therefore, you do need to hide your belongings and or secure them.
I met my driver and guide who at first seemed nice, but I was soon to figure them out within 48 hours of being in their company and the fact I was a lone female travelling which they thought they could take advantage of. They were about to find out that whilst I respect all cultures, respect works both ways and this was not an opportunity for them to abuse any vulnerability they thought I had because of my status.
Traffic and pollution in Antananarivo is high and you can probably see from the photos, there is a high level of smog. My driver and my guide were to drive me around the capital city and this would mean the views and the historic buildings. One of the places I was to visit was the Prime Minister’s Palace and in the late afternoon I would head to Lake Mantasoa.
The politics in Madagascar is pretty interesting as is the history. I saw the then Prime Minister Charles Rabemananjara a few times driving through Antananarivo and at that point he was popular. Since 1828, there has been 28 Prime Ministers in total and Charles was the 20th. However, fall out of favour with the public and things get interesting. Madagascar remains one of the world’s poorest countries, dependent on foreign aid. Since gaining independence from France in 1960, Madagascar has experienced repeated bouts of political instability, including coups, violent unrest and disputed elections. The most recent coup in 2009 led to five years of political deadlock, international condemnation and economic sanctions. Generally a political coup will take place or in other areas, Prime Ministers have been on the receiving end of a mysterious “accident” aka sabotage that resulted in death.
It is said the first settlers of Madagascar were possibly Indonesian and African around 700 CE. By around 800 A.D, it is believe Arab traders began trading activities in the northern region. Come the 15th Century, it experienced a French invasion, followed by the Portuguese in the 16th century and another French invasion coupled with a British invasion in the 19th century. This is just to give you an idea of the uniqueness of this country and it’s experience of numerous invasions as well as having strong links to piracy.
Centuries of invasions, meant Madagascar developed a mixed ethnic base of mostly East African and Southeast Asian settlers. This is distinctive in the native genetic features and also farming styles. There are two main languages, French and Malagasy, you will be hard pushed to find fluency in English. This is purely because the country still holds strong French relationships with exporting products to France include: textiles, agricultural and fish products whereas France’s exports to Madagascar include: mechanical and electrical machinery and processed food and drinks. Several French multinational companies operate in Madagascar particularly in the banking, telephone and energy industries. It is additionally a popular French tourist destination, despite Madagascar re-gaining its independence in 1960.
Following the tour of the Prime Minister’s Palace it was time to take in the city sights. Through the haze of smog you will see an array of colourful property, however the one thing that does stand out is the Mahamasina Municipal Sport Stadium.
The children of Madagascar have clearly picked up better begging techniques than those in mainland Africa, whereby, whilst they’re obvious impoverished status, you get puppy dog eyes and they will not leave you alone till they get at least 10 Malagasy Ariary local currency out of you. Unfortunately, water bottle and food donations will not cut it…
I did an exchange with this child on the grounds I could take his photograph and I would pay him a little bit of money. He was very polite and if not a little shy and possibly afraid of being arrested as begging is illegal in Madagascar without distinction of age. All beggars, including invalids, will be punished with at least six months to two years’ imprisonment.
It was now time to head to Lake Mantasoa…