Wild about Madagascar
Here at Quality Golf Destinations we are always looking for something new. We have started looking at activity based holidays (non golfing). With this in mind we were delighted to accept when the Madagascar Tourism Office invited us to attend the Madagascar International Tourism Fair and go on a fact finding visit.
Madagascar is the 4th biggest island in the world and has lots to offer to all kinds of traveller. it is especially famous for its wildlife, so much so the BBC commissioned a 3 part natural history documentary aired in 2011 and presented by Sir David Attenborough. We had an office meeting and Rachel our operations manager drew the short straw! Here is her Diary of what proved to be an unforgettable trip. Thank you Madagascar Tourism!
Day1 I took an evening flight from Manchester to Paris as the early morning connecting flight with Air France was not available. Not ideal but it saved me getting up at frog o’clock on Tues (I will explain frog o’clock later!) I then had to get to my hotel close to the airport. There is a free shuttle bus, the black bus from the airport but as I discovered the signs in Charles de Galle Airport are not great so no joy trying to find the bus stop! As it was late and I was travelling alone I decided a taxi was the best option. It’s was only 10 minutes to me hotel, the Ibis Roissy. It was pretty basic but the staff were all very helpful and gave me a timetable for the shuttle in the morning. Off I went to bed looking forward to the next week I was to spend in Madagascar.
Day 2 Not too early a start, my flight left at 10:45 so I needed to be at the airport before 9. Breakfast was canteen style but did the job and was perfectly adequate. The location of the hotel was more important than anything else. The shuttle bus back to the airport was on time and free so that is always a bonus. As I discovered everything seems to take ages at Charles De Gaulle airport so allow plenty of time. I just about had enough but no time to look around or do any shopping, not a bad thing I hear my husband saying! The flight departed on time and was not full so I was delighted to discover that I had 3 seats all to myself. It made for a quite pleasant flight. The in-flight entertainment on Air France was good with a wide choice of films and games to keep you entertained for the 10 hour flight to Madagascar. I arrived feeling quite fresh at 10 in the evening and was greeted by Roger, our guide for the stay in Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital city. The airport is typical of these places. Not too big, a bit chaotic but it does a job. The trip through customs took a little while but the visa is issued for stays of 30 days and is free of charge. We then made our way to the hotel which only took about 20 minutes. Our hotel for the stay in Antananarivo was the Hotel Louvre. It was only 3 star but first impressions were very good. We were shown to our rooms; mine was very comfortable with air con, mini bar and international TV. So of to bed I went. All in all, a comfortable journey to the other end of the world.
Day 3 My first full day in Madagascar! Roger meet us after breakfast and off we went for a city tour. The city is huge, about 2 million inhabitants and is built on a very large hill. The city is split into 3 areas, the lower, the middle and the top. We were in the middle of the city and started our tour with a walk down the steps to the lower end of the city. It was very busy and all the way down the steps, there are hundreds of them, there were people selling anything and everything from food to toys made from recycled cans. The Malagasy people like to recycle everything! At the bottom off the steps there is a long avenue with gardens in the middle which is in a very French colonial style. At the end of the avenue is the railway station, but it is a private station and only used for freight trains although it is a very grand building. We were then collected by our driver and taken across the city to a place with a fantastic view across the roof tops. Only then did I get a real impression of how big and hilly the city really is, it is vast! Our next stop was at an artisan shop. The Malagasy people make all kinds of beautiful things, wood carvings, raffia work and many other wonderful things, and I did have to make a few small purchases. This was my first real experience of the money, the Madagascan Ariary. The exchange rate is approximately 3300 to the £ which makes working out the cost a bit confusing. I am not too hot on the 3300 times table! Our next stop was the top of the city, some of the roads are very narrow and very steep but the views from the top are spectacular. After a rather late but very good lunch we headed back to the hotel with a little free time before the opening of the tourism fare. I had time to have a better look around the hotel and take a quick swim. For a 3 star hotel the facilities are excellent. We then headed of the Carlton hotel which hosted the fare. The opening was a little difficult for me as it was all in French but I just about managed to follow what was going on. There were a few speeches and some local singing and dancing. An interesting evening but it would have been more fun if I could understand all that was going on! We then headed back to the hotel for dinner. The restaurant was very pleasant and I had my first try of the local meat, zebu, just like beef really but from the local zebu cattle, which I was to discover during my trip are found everywhere and are very important in Malagasy culture. Off to bed after a long tiring and very interesting day. Antananarivo is a vibrant, bustling, African city with a hint of colonial Europe. Quite an experience.
Madagascar International Tourism Fare
Day 4 Today was the real work of the week! We attended the International Tourism Fare. It was great! I meet lots of people from ground handlers to hotel owners and many in between. There was a section of the fare for the regional tourist offices who gave me loads of information and maps about what you can do, where is the best place to do it and when the best time to travel is. I then moved on to the rest of the fare, if you want to go to Madagascar, I’m your girl. There are still lots of things I don’t know but now I have lots of people to ask. Madagascar has a good network of tour guides and national parks and has lots to offer to everyone. After the show we went to visit some hotels in the capital city. It is always interesting to see what is on offer and there are certainly some very good hotels in Antananarivo. After dinner in the hotel it was an early big as we were leaving at frog o’clock for our flight to Fort Dauphin in the South of the Island. Many Malagasy people do not have clocks and have interesting ways of telling what time something will happen. Early in the morning, sometime between 4 and 6am the frogs begin to croak so the locals call this the time of the frog. We christened I frog o’clock so next time you have to go somewhere really early frog o’clock it is!
Down South to the Sun
Day 5 This is where the adventure really begins. Our flight from Antananarivo to Fort Dauphin departed at 8am so we were up early and off to the airport. A big thank you to the Hotel Louvre who had made breakfast for us before we left even though the restaurant was not open. The flight is a local hop which first goes to Toliara where it stops for about 20 minutes before continuing on the Fort Dauphin. We were joined on this leg of the trip by Nika who works for the Madagascar Tourist Office. She proved to be not only good company but also a mine of useful information as she used to be a tour guide. We headed to our hotel, the La Croix du Sud which is beautiful. All the rooms are a little different and mine even had a sea view. Perfect. After lunch we set out for a city tour. Fort Dauphin is in the south east of Madagascar and was once a French settlement hence the name Dauphin. We went to the fort although to be fair there isn’t really much of it left! After looking round the town a bit more we visited a project which gives jobs to local women weaving and making things from raffia and sisal. Gosh those ladies work hard. They have a number of portacabins and they sit on the floor to produce some beautiful items. Of course at the end there is a shop but having seen how hard these ladies work and how skilled they are it would have been rude not to buy something, it was only a shame my suitcase was not bigger! Our final stop of the day was the local daily market. Oh my, what an experience, noisy, smelly, bustling and a wonderful experience. Nika was a great guide and explained what it was all about. Most of the stalls were selling food, fruit, vegetables, rice and so on. Many people do not have electricity or fridges so they must go to the market each day to get fresh food. We even tried some local donut type of things which were delicious. It was brilliant, certainly not like the markets I know. All the people were happy and friendly and were as curious about us as we were
about them. Brilliant!
Berenty Private Game Reserve
Day 6 Another early start for the journey to the wildlife reserve at Berenty. It is only about 60km but everyone kept warning us that the roads were not very good and it would take a long time to get there. They weren’t joking! We did stop lots of times as there were many wonderful photo opportunities but the journey took us almost 4 hours!! It was generous to call it a road in some places. Apparently parts of the road were tarmacked in 1972 and have never been repaired since. It was more of an adventure than a journey but wonderful to see the countryside and people going about their everyday lives. We arrived at Berenty I time for lunch and then went off on our first wildlife walk. Berenty is home to five species of Lemurs some are rather shy and others are not. We saw lots of these amazing creatures during the afternoon, a real privilege. After dark we headed off into the spiny forest for a nocturnal walk and again managed to see lemurs although spotting them in the dark was a little more challenging. It is fantastic to be able to see nocturnal creatures in their natural habitat. We then returned to the camp for dinner. Berenty is a private game reserve and is pretty basic but has everything you need and the setting is beautiful. We were very well looked after and enjoyed the hospitality of the staff. It was just a shame our stay was so short
Loving the Lemurs
Day 7 Another early start for a last look at the lemurs and also a chance to see some very old and very big Baobab trees before the long and bumpy journey back to Fort Dauphin. We were very lucky to see some lemurs jumping from tree to tree, which is an amazing site and also another Chameleon before we left. The journey back was very interesting but we did not stop too many times as lunch was back in Fort Dauphin at yet another hotel!! The Kaleta has some great views over the ocean and I was lucky enough to get one of the rooms with a view. After lunch we visited Saiadi Garden which is a private park cum nature reserve, home to some lemurs and crocodiles and lots of interested plants and flowers. As usual we were running a little late so it was getting rather dark by the time we finished looking around the park but it was certainly very interesting and good place to stop for a couple of hours.
Beachcombing Madagascar style
Our last full day in Madagascar and we were given the opportunity to try one of the local day trips, and see more of the local area. We left the hotel and were taken to a fresh water lagoon where we boarded our boat for the trip to the coast. The lagoon joins a salt water lagoon and there is a lock which connects the two. After passing through the lock we continued to a local fishing village where we meet the locals and had a look around before walking over the hills to the coast for a picnic on the beach and a quick swim before the walk back. On the beach we were greeted by a local fisherman who had caught some lobsters which he was only too happy to sell to us, he then built a fire and cooked us fresh lobster for lunch. From the sea to our plates in less than an hour! You don’t get fresher than that and they were delicious. Another lady appeared over the hill with a bucket on her head. When she put it down, bottles of beer!! Excellent. What more could we want, fresh lobster, cold beer, beautiful scenery and all for about £6!! We then walked back to the fishing village and took the boat back to the car for the trip back to the hotel. It was a fantastic day out with a chance to meet some local people and see how they live, so different to our lives but everyone we meet was smiling and made us feel welcome. It was great.
Day 9 Unfortunately back to reality today. We did a number of hotel inspections in the morning before heading to the airport for the flight back to Antananarivo. There are a good range of hotels in the Fort Dauphin area with excellent levels of service and very friendly and helpful staff. Back in Antananarivo there was just time for a quick shower and dinner before returning to the airport for our flight home. Once again I was lucky with 3 seats to myself which provided a great end to what had been a very memorable trip to the other end of the world!
So my overall feeling, well Madagascar is amazing! The people are very friendly and welcoming; the standards of accommodation are great, even the basic ones are clean and comfortable. It is a country which has so much to offer from beautiful beaches to rugged mountains and curious creatures, I only scratched the surface but I am sure one day I will be back to see more. It is not a country for the faint hearted, the roads are often terrible and the journeys long, but there is always something amazing too look at on the way, the bumps are soon forgotten and replaced by memories of sights, sounds and smells unique to this wonderful country. if you have a passion for wildlife or Photography and enjoy an adventure to see some truly unspoilt locations Madagascar could be perfect for you.