Our visit to the Island of Madagascar in 1993 was interesting, leaving us with mixed feelings. The capital city of Antananarivo is
one of many contrasts. Extreme wealth in a very small part of the city with neat streets lined with impressive houses and gardens,
but for the rest it was filth, poverty and crime. The city had a general feel about it - as if any work on the streets and houses
ceased 30 years ago. In the evening we never felt safe, in fact we were warned not to walk around the city centre in the evening or
at night. We also experienced the poverty first hand - whilst having our meals in the hotel dining room that had glass windows that
fronted onto the main street. On every occasion there were scores of starving children, hands outstretched begging for food, if we
glanced in their direction. It was a most uncomfortable experience. After breakfast I used to take out a few bread rolls to give them
- they was literally a bun fight to get their hands on the rolls.
We had arranged a guide to show us around the city - advice that was given to us. I would recommend this course of action - but, beware, fix the price up front and confirm it as many times as possible before setting off. We had some nasty incidents with deals going sour.
A interesting bit of history I never knew about Madagascar was that it previously had a royal family - so after our visit to the zoo, we asked our guide to drive us to the Queens. A visit to The Queens' Palace (Rova) is well worth the effort getting there. It's impressive silhouette can be clearly seen from Lake Anosy. TIP - Catch a cab, the walk there is tough, but the views are great. There is an English speaking guide.
We also visited another Palace about an hour's drive from 'Tana, going through a number of small Madagascan villages like the one shown on the right.
We found the bribery and corruption in the city intolerable, especially at the airport. We missed our flight to Nosi Be Island because we would not bribe an airline official - this being in spite of us having valid flight tickets. All the locals got on the plane, but we did not. A day later we swallowed our pride and we then got onto a plane. It's the first time I have ever flown on a plane with standing passengers. No prizes for guessing we were overloaded.
As a result of being forced to spend an extra in Antananarivo we decided to visit the zoo, where we had heard the was a large collection of Lemurs. Armed with my 35mm camera and my video camera I proffered the advertised entrance fee of MF20 to the gatekeeper, only to be told that he wanted another 40 francs, "why, I asked", his answer shook me. "You need a ticket for all the pair of eyes you have, yours, your camera's and your video camera". So, after forking out F60, I was allowed entry. For another F10, I was allowed into a cage full of Lemurs. I noticed the F10 went straight into the attendants back pocket.
TIP - whatever you do, drink or even brush your teeth in faucet
water - at places we even had little brown lumps resembling raisins in the bath water. Don't eat salads or anything not well cooked.
I ate all my meat well done, although I far prefer rare meat -I did not drink the beer, and drank only Coca-Cola, I was fine but Dennis
became very ill and remained so for 2 weeks.
Our arrival at Hellville, on the island of Nosi Be changed the trip for us quite a bit, it is a typical tropical island. Beautiful isolated beaches, clear blue water and lush tropical vegetation - not to mention the good rum, available in an enormous variety. One can even take one's own contained to the sugar mill distillery and fill up, for a fraction of the normal price of rum.
We hired Vespa scooters and toured the island ourselves - visiting the craters of the extinct volcano, many beaches and we spent much time riding through the vanilla bushes, enjoying the aroma they give off. Also grown on the island is sugar cane, green pepper, Yang-yang and many tropical fruits. We were amazed to see the local gas station, the only one in Hellville. The one day we went there to fill up with gas, there wasn't any. Thankfully we were using really economical scooters.
One disturbing aspect of life on Nosi Be is the child prostitution - we saw many girls certainly under the age of 15 offering themselves to the mainly German & French tourists, who were never slow in taking them up on their offers. One night whilst I was sitting on the beach watching the sun set, I was really hassled by a young attractive girl, who even followed me to my room - then proceeded to bang on the door after I closed it. I found this most depressing.
Madagascar is a fascinating country but like all third world countries has just too many problems. We saw so much "burn and slash" taking pace on Nosi Be, and all this just to make charcoal. From the air, we could see evidence of the soil erosion, the water from the rivers was full of mud and this red mud coloured water washed far out to sea. We saw interesting cyclone proof houses on the island, they looked just like German WW2 helmets.
Our flight back to Antananarivo was not much better than our flight to Nosi Be - the plane was crowded, and many people had 'Delhi Belly', so for some it was an extremely uncomfortable flight. Dennis had been ill for nearly 7 days and as I had given him all but my last 2 Imodium's, no amount of begging on his part would make me part with the last 2 - I was saving them for the flight back to Johannesburg.
The flight back was also difficult, although the plane was in much better condition and the service a lot better.
Madagascar - it is a country of contradictions, naturally and scenically beautiful in places, but in other areas the natural vegetation is being destroyed at an alarming pace. It has so much potential but due to the corruption on crime it really has no way of lifting itself out of the poverty it finds itself in. Worth a visit? it depends on what you expect when travelling, for me, never again!