Some time ago I was writing about Marshallese hello meaning ‘you are the rainbow’. I found it profoundly deep and beautiful. In the European culture (and most others as I investigated*) the rainbow is a symbol of beauty, promise and enlightenment… It’s about a divine connection that brings hope and transformation. Well, it’s not the same in Madagascar. In local tradition rainbow is a symbol of spiritual punishment (!) and represents angry God sending his knife (in a form of a rainbow) to cut tongues of naughty kids. Through legends and fairy tales children in Madagascar are thought to be honest, decent and humble to avoid a rainbow punishment. How bizarre!
Madagascar is unique. Full of surprises too. It’s not just about remarkable fauna and flora. With all respect to local customs and believes, I brought up this story to show how different Malagasy mentality is. The difference in perception can be disturbing and annoying, but on a deeper level it is alluring and fascinating. While visiting the island I took things for granted e.g.: I bought an airline ticket, therefore I though I would fly. Wrong.
Madagascar is a melting pot of many cultures: African, French, Indonesians and Arabic, each bringing their own customs and beliefs. To discover the subtle differences you need time. We didn’t have that. Lemurs, chameleons, baobabs, beaches, diving… so much to choose from and so little time. Most of the greatest attractions of Madagascar are spread all around the country and the country is huge… It’s so hard to choose which way to go and what to eliminate due to lack of time. We were caught in a greedy rush trying to build as many memories as possible. It was a painfully quick journey through the world’s most fascinating, the fourth largest island.
Landing in Madagascar, looking down from the plane window, I had an impression that the Earth was on fire. A deep maroon, sunset-like colour of the soil was really striking and unforgettable. A hilly land formation (typical for central highlands) looked like a red wavy ocean dotted, from time to time, with small clay houses, valleys and paddy fields.
The number of airports that host international flights is very limited, therefore for the most of the tourists the first contact with the country is through its capital. Strategically located in the middle of the island, Antananarivo — Tana in short — is not a place that you’ll fall in love at the first sight. It definitely has some charm, but the poverty is ubiquitous and impossible to ignore. It’s a shame to admit, but I wasn’t aware that Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world — the first contact with the capital was quite shocking. Most tourists stay in Tana one or two days or don’t stay at all. It’s a pity as it’s an obvious sign that the hidden beauty of a place is easily omitted. What I loved most about the place was its rich and fascinating history. The evident signs of French colonialism (like taxis, architecture, food selection), mixed with an African style gives Tana a unique character. It’s best explored on foot, but be careful of two things: the high altitude (it’s one of the highest capitals in the world) and petit thief.
One more thing: visiting Antananarivo without going to Lemur Park is incomplete. Don’t miss a chance of seeing King Julian and other species. It’s a short drive away from the capital, but very rewarding! A good start and introduction to an island. See the lemurs and off you go to the next, real adventure!
AMBER MOUNTAIN + TSINGY ROUGE
So it was my birthday. Me and Andreas didn’t feel very well (since we arrived a stomach ache was our faithful companion). It wasn’t good, actually it was pretty bad — even the celebration cake had to be postponed — and I am a cake lover, so that says a lot! Anyway as usual show must go on and early morning we left for a day trip. Us (and our damn stomach) together with a driver and a tour guide decided to explore Amber Mountain National Park and Red Tsingy. That was an official plan. Unofficial plan was to see as many chameleons as possible and see some other attractions in the mean time. To make a long story short: the park was disappointing, exactly as Andreas said: take out few plants and trees and you are in a park in London. Do you want to travel half of the world to be back in London? I don’t think so. Nothing special. No lemurs, no interesting wildlife, two average waterfalls and that’s it. To do justice, there were two interesting things close to the park (no, no, not in the park): the world’s smallest chameleon (cute!) and the world’s smartest camouflage—an animal impossible to spot (wow!)
The next stop — Red Tsingy (Tsingy Rouge) was much more of an adventure. Tsingy is an interesting limestone formations, rarely found elsewhere in the world. The formation is a result from years of rainfall causing the limestone base to erode. The extra bonus of these particular tsingy was an amazing colour. So we had not only unusual formation but also an incredible colour. Cool! It doesn’t take much time to walk around, but it is impressive and definitely worth visiting.
But again it was my birthday and I wanted to see chameleons so badly! So what about them? Well, I was not disappointed — our guide and the driver were chameleon magicians and they spotted so many of them, earlier that day and later, almost at night! Imagine: we were driving down the road 60km/h, twilight time, I can barely see Andreas sitting next to me, I’m so tired, and then an unexpected squeal of brakes, we are reversing and there we are: in a chameleon paradise! Three panther chameleons at the same time: two male and one female (I like this arrangement). All of them so freaking pretty! They were whispering happy birthday Gosia and I was in heaven…
I am still in heaven flicking through the memories of that day. They are so vivid and so fresh. I love chameleons more than ever and I discovered the most enjoyable activity ever: curling chameleon’s tail. I know, now you think a coconut must have hit my head, but I swear, if you have a chance: curl it, it’s great!
Madagascar I’m not done with you yet! There is so much more to share! A big piece of my heart was left there and I can’t wait to reveal next part of the story. So be in readiness my dear readers, shortly I’m coming back with more! Thank you for visiting and see you next time! Bon chic, bon voyage.