It’s our 3rd day in Madagascar and we finally have seen Lemurs. A relief from what has been a rough start of our visit to this remote and wild area of the world.
Before coming here we all had the romantic visions of stepping off the plane and having a lemur greet you by jumping on your shoulder and welcoming you to their island paradise. We probably have some cartoon movie to thank for that image.
Landing in Antananarivo was the farthest thing from that idyllic welcome. Tana, as the locals refer to their capital city, is a gritty city. The poverty is evident all around but it feels rough and dangerous. It might be our impression because of the warnings from our driver and hired guide to keep the doors locked and windows closed as we drove through the city. We’ve driven through slums of India, the night markets of Bankok, but this was different.
Apparently the hotel our guide wanted to book for us was full so he selceted an alternative. Usually a guide would find a comparable or slightly better replacement. Not ours. When our guide deposited us at our hotel he advised us not to walk outside of a 50 meter radius of our hotel and absolutely not go out at night. The communication we have had with this guide thus far, which has been limited to email, has already been difficult and there were many times that we thought of ditching him to seek out another. Honestly, we were so busy planning so many different parts of this trip that we did not have the time to seek another one.
The room was similar to an $8 room we’ve stayed in before in Saigon. Basically mid-range backpackers room (mid-range because it had a private bath). Although Nam and I have stayed in places like this before we made a commitment to up our standards for this year and while Avinash was this age. We also had paid our guide to select accommodations for us and this did not reflect the type of room we expected to get for the amount of Euros we had been asked to pay (which he was going to exchange at the black market)
The only other time on this trip that I have felt unsettled was at Taksim Square in Istanbul. Also, another time when I feared for our safety.
This was a bad start to Madagascar.
Nam, being the wonderful man he is, firmly informed Rakotosen, our guide, that
we were not staying in this hotel again at the end of our trip when we are scheduled to come through Tana again. Nam also asked to see the hotel that we would be staying at and also asked for a list of all places scheduled for our trip for him to review. You’re the man Nam!
The next day we were scheduled to leave and drive to the forest. This drive started out nice. I fully exhaled as we left Tana and breathed deeply as we started seeing the country. However the enchanted feeling was quickly overtaken by an ‘I’m going to puke’ feeling- for the next 4 hours. There was hairpin turn after hairpin turn. We also passed 2 overturn 18 wheelers. I was convinced that I owed for some sins from this life or a previous and I have come to Madagascar to settle the bill.
Luckily Avinash had been taking Madagascar in stride since we landed. Although he kept asking where the lemurs were, he barely did a double take as we walked by kids picking lice out of each others hair and 5 foot mounds of trash. This is what we wanted him to experience at some point…right?
On the last leg of the drive we stopped at our first ‘reserve’ where we were supposed to see crocodiles, chameleons and snakes. No one told us in cages! We were brought to a zoo! Besides having the lifeless personality of a cold wet towel,our guide was proving to be as useful as one too. I was pissed! What were signed up to do for the next 10 days?
We finally arrived at the Feon’ Ny Ala lodge and it was the first shimmer of hope I’ve had since we’ve arrived in Madagascar.
This morning we went on a walk in a primary forest with another guide, arranged by who I though was our ‘guide’ ( we now have 3 people tending to our 3 needs- guide 1, guide 2 and driver) Thankfully we finally saw lemurs today. In fact 4 types. They were deep in the primary forest and we walked through thick and thicket to see them. Although none jumped on our shoulders we were excited to see these beautiful animals that can not be found anywhere else on this planet.
As I write this now I am sitting on the front porch of our eco cabin at the edge of the Andisabe National Forest listening to the Indri Indri lemurs call out to each other, a sound similar to a whales calls. I believe that our experience will only get better and richer. I accept that the adjustment pains have been hard and, honestly, I have to remind myself that this is the type of experience we were seeking on this journey.
Madagascar is not for the faint of heart and we’ll see at the end of our 10 days here if the risk was worth the reward. The experience is true and authentic. There are no walls or barriers to experiencing it and that alone is a special thing in. One thing for sure is that this is the most remote and wild place we have ever visited, so at the end of the year it will certainly receive the recognition for that.