My First Impressions of Madagascar

Harriet Reeves

18 Jul 2017

My First Madagascan Experiences

I didn’t really have a huge number of pre-conceived ideas about Madagascar before I arrived. It has always been on the bucket list, but I had never really thought beyond it being a cool place to visit. I mean, I knew the wildlife is bountiful and unique (one would have to be hiding under a rock during their ecology degree if they didn’t), but other than a few lemurs, it is just like mainland Africa right?

Wrong.

Madagascar is a melting pot of cultures with influences from India, Arabia, east Africa and most strikingly, Indonesia. 

The ethnic diversity appears to vary depending on where you are in the country. The highlanders and those on the east coast show strong similarities to the Indonesians, not only in physical features but also in their houses (animals on the ground floor, people above with a cooking fire in the corner) and their diet – rice is the flavour of the century here. Their interest in rice borders on the obsessive, beyond what I have encountered in wide travels around southeast Asia. Some people literally have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and maybe some Ambrosia for dessert too! For a self-confessed rice-hater, this proved interesting, however fortunately for me, they’re actually pretty good at making the stuff by now and it tasted marvellous.

The wildlife has been bountiful certainly, but it doesn’t get right up in your face, at least not in the less visited areas where the wildlife has not become accustomed to tourist’s tit-bits. It isn’t anything like a safari on the mainland, where you cruise about in a jeep and can have a 99.99% certainty of seeing antelope and giraffe etc.

In Madagascar you have to work for your wildlife, it isn’t handed to you on a plate. But my gosh do good things come to those who graft.

Madagascar is not the place to visit if you want to observe wildlife easily and quickly, and tick it off the list. You will be walking decent distances, in heat, up and down steep hills, and you will be rewarded for your efforts, with the most glorious wildlife encounters of chameleons, geckos, lemurs, birds and bugs. It is like an experimental island, or an ulterior universe, where evolution has just gone mad.

Madagascar is quirky. She is different. But she is also similar to many other places in a way that I cannot seem to pin down. There is a sense of familiarity for me with her and I don’t know why.

This magnificent country (the world’s fourth largest island) requires bucket loads of patience, but I am being rewarded for it, beyond comprehension.

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