We Like To Move It Move It………to Chris de Burgh Music (A Posting from Madagascar)

Verreaux's Sifaka (Lemur) in Kirindy Forest

We hadn’t planned to go to Madagascar for two reasons.  Firstly, because it is very expensive to get to (over $600 round trip for the three hour flight) and certainly not cheap once you do.  Secondly, because of the political unrest this year where a bloody coup of then-President Marc Ravalomanana by former Anatananarivo mayor Andry Rajoelina left over 170 people dead.

Franny and the impressive Avenue of Baobabs

But after seeing our friend Ayako’s photos of the amazing Baobab trees and the super cute lemurs (like the guy at the top of this posting) we decided to go for it.  And we are definitely glad we did.

The main street through Morondava

Madagascar is a paradoxical place in that it ranks among the poorest countries in the world and yet the people all walk around with smiles on their faces and are very friendly.  Or at least we found that to be the case in the seaside town of Morondava (the locals shorten it to Morandav) in the Western Central part of the island.  Perhaps that is because they are mostly fishermen and farmers and so they have their basic needs met in a self sufficient manner.  In any case, Francesca and I found the Malagasy people a very pleasant lot.

View from the ocean looking back at the beach front shanty town

We parked ourselves at “Chez Maggie” a collection of beach bungalows at the end of town.  They are simple, but clean and, importantly, Maggie’s has a pool which was key in fending off the blazing heat.

Our little loft bungalow at "Chez Maggie"

Because of tight connecting flight schedules we had to spend one day in the capital city of Antananarivo (the locals shorten it to Tana) both coming and going which left us with only three days in Morondav.  Therefore we quickly booked a tour to the Kirindy Forest to see Madagascar’s abundant wildlife which includes 5% of the world’s plants and animal species, of which 80% are endemic to the Island of Madagascar (the world’s fourth largest island).

A Baobab "forest" on the road to Kirindy

During the three hour trip to Kirindy we stopped to gaze in awe at the freakish, but mighty Baobab trees which, our guide Ludo informed us, were becoming endangered in Madagascar due to the increasing need for arable land to grow rice, the staple of the Malagasy people.  The farmers cannot cut down the huge baobab so they simply irrigate the land (necessary for rice growing) which floods the baobabs and they die (from too much water) and eventually topple over as they do not have very strong roots underground (which is why the tree is sometimes called the “upside down tree”).  I assumed that the government was stepping in to protect these trees which are the focal point of tourist travel (some Japanese tourists come to Madagascar just to be near the Baobab which they feel have transferable powers of longevity), but Ludo told me that there is really nothing they can do since the people need rice to eat and there is hardly enough tourism to feed the masses.

Capital city of Antananarivo (a.k.a. Tana)

Ludo also told us about the political situation in Madagascar.  He said that his country used to be a very prosperous nation (in the 1960s it one of the better-off African nations in terms of per capita income and living standards), but it had fallen to one of the poorest due to decades of poor government with over two thirds of the population now living below the international poverty line.  The recently ousted President, Marc Ravalonana, had done a lot to increase the international awareness of Madagascar which would bring in potential tourist and investment dollars which would, in turn, benefit the economy as a whole.  But Mr. Ravalonana was a businessman in addition to being a politician and many people had accused him of formulating policies that were favorable to his businesses (does that sound familiar to anyone? A-hem…Haliburton…).  For this he was ousted in a bloody coup.  Ludo said that while he may have created policies favorable for his business they were policies that were favorable to all businesses and therefore good for the economic growth of Madagascar.  Now, he says, there is no real leadership of the country and no plan in place to improve things.

Typical pot-hole ridden street in Morondava that ousted President Ravalonana had planned to spend tax dollars to fix in an effort to increase tourism to the area

Ludo shook his head and said profoundly that often times the people who are good at rallying the masses and staging coups are not well suited for running a country.  Interestingly, John the bartender/manager at the Africa Centre Hotel in Johannesburg said that same thing about the post apartheid government in South Africa.

Our shack and outhouse in the Kirindy Forest camp

When we got to Kirindy we were shown to the shack where we would be sleeping and introduced to the outhouse located just out of peeing distance from our little porch.

Franny and our guidie Ludo hanging out in the common hut

We ate our meals (which were basic, but tasty) in the common hut….

Typical Malagasy dish of beef and rice

….and passed the time reading and sleeping in our shack during the hottest parts of the afternoon when the heat was too strong to go into the forest.

Fran reading during our afternoon 'escape the heat' siesta time

On our forest walks we saw a variety of animals, plants and insects including six of the eight species of Lemur native to Madagascar.

Verreaux's Sifaka lemur - one of eight species of lemur found in Madagascar (2 diural and 6 nocturnal)

And a whole host of lizards, snakes and iguanas.

Oplurus Iguana

Hog nosed snake

Madagascar Grandis

We even got to witness up close a female iguana laying her eggs in a hole she dug right near the camp’s kitchen hut.  It just so happened that the BBC was there filming a nature show for kids and captured all the magic on camera.  I was there with my camera too capturing the BBC capturing all the miracle of iguana egg laying.

Here is the edited version of the footage I shot.  In the first few moments you can see the BBC cameraman (or his legs anyway) passing right in front of my shot and the producer apologizing for it.  The BBC guy doing the commentary is apparently pretty famous in the United Kingdom, at least among kids.  You can’t tell from the video, but the guy is rippling with muscles with washboard abs and (perhaps not coincidentally) kept taking off his shirt around camp.  Franny no doubt enjoyed the spectacle, but still took to jokingly referring to him as “The 300”, a reference to the 2006 Zach Synder IMAX action flick where the Spartans all walk around with their ridiculously chiseled abs exposed.

During our stay in Kirindy we also picked up a stray trekker from North Carolina named George who had been living in Durban, South Africa for the past year on a Rhodes Scholarship.  Francesca and I took an instant liking to him and his wicked sense of humor so we invited him along on our night tour through the forest.

A sleeping Forcifer Oustaleti (Chameleon) on a night walk in Kirindy

Afterwards we all ended up getting pretty drunk and singing songs with the local Malagasy guides and crew (cooks, etc.) from the camp.  Amazingly these guys who spoke little or no English knew all the words to an obscure Garth Brooks song!

Sing-a-long at Kirindy camp with guides and kitchen staff. We Americans voiced our dissappointment in the famous "Jumping Rats" by singing "No Rat A No Jump" to Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry"

The next morning we were too hung over to go on another forest walk, but it turns out we didn’t need to because many of the forest creatures had come to us, including a thirsty lemur….

Lemur stealing a drink at Kirindy camp

….and a fossa, the only predator in Madagascar, who took refuge from the heat under the BBC crew’s equipment shack.

The predatory fossa (pronounced foosa). It looks like a dog, but is actually related to the mongoose and it is the largest mammilian carnivore in Madagascar. (The largest carnivore is the Nile Crocadile).

We convinced George to stay at “Chez Maggie” when we returned to Morondav and we enjoyed a few days and nights trading travel stories, eating good Malagasy food…..

Beach access

….and drinking….

A selection of exotic acoholic elixirs at a local bar

On our last night George arranged for a local pirogue pilot (who incredibly recognized George from a brief encounter a week earlier in another part of Madagascar) to take us on a sunset cruise.  A pirogue is like a wooden outrigger canoe and is the fishing vessel of choice in Morondav.

Our pirogue for our sunset cruise

We brought along a bottle of rum and some cokes and had a great time plying the waters right off the beach from “Chez Maggie”, exploring the mangrove canals and visiting a fishing village on a nearby island.

Little girl in the fishing village. She was very excited to see her image on my camera.

We also witnessed another gorgeous sunset.

Sunset at the fishing village off of Morondava

Here is a short video of our pirogue ride.

After saying goodbye to George and Morondav, Francesca and I flew back to Tana and took a long walk around the city.

Food market in Antananarivo

During a meal at our hotel (the famous Sakamanga) we could have sworn we heard the distinctive voice of 1980’s singer/songwriter Chris de Burgh coming over the stereo speakers.  The waiter confirmed that it was, indeed, a Chris de Burgh CD playing, although he said that it wasn’t a “real CD” followed a few seconds later with “pirate!” and a mischievous grin.  Francesca was shocked that Chris de Burgh even had a whole album as she, like most people, are only familiar with his 1986 ballad “Lady In Red”.  I, on the other hand, knew that Mr. de Burgh was not a one-hit-wonder as one of my favorite songs (and MTV videos – back when they still played videos) was his haunting “Don’t Pay The Ferryman” single.  As the restaurant was closing and we rose to pay our check we could hear the kitchen staff enthusiastically singing the lyrics to a succession of heretofore unknown Chris de Burgh tunes.  I wonder if he knows how popular he is in Madagascar…..and that they are pirating his CDs!

Franny enjoying the view during our Sunday afternoon stroll in Tana

While tourism and its infrastructure is not likely to appeal to high-end travelers simply looking to relax Madagascar is a fascinating place with a rich history and culture and we look forward to returning one day to explore the rest of the island.

Another brilliant sunset in Morondav

Country Stats:

Official Name: Republic of Madagascar (formerly Malagasy Republic)

Official Language: Malagasy, French & English (recently added to increase tourism)

Country Name in Native Language: Madagaskara

Population: 19,625,000

Capital City: Antananarivo

Government: Caretaker Government

Current Leader: Andry Rajoelina (President of the High Authority of Transition)

For more information about the Republic of Namibia click here.

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5 Responses to “We Like To Move It Move It………to Chris de Burgh Music (A Posting from Madagascar)”

  1. amazing wildlife !! love those lemurs …. hop, skip and a jump from my dad’s birthplace mauritius – did you get by in French ?

    • Hey Jules, we ended up choosing Mada over Mauritius. That latter was just too expensive. 😦 we definitely plan to go there at some point….

    • Hi Jules,

      unfortunately we didnt make it to Mauritius this trip. But its on our list!

  2. i’ll forgive you this time ….lovin’ the blog !

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