By Amelia Winter
Welcome to Antananarivo, Madagascar… an unexpected gem and a place I was told I would dislike. But it has everything I love – interesting buildings, beautiful scenery, an intriguing history and locals with a sense of humour.
It’s a place full of surprises; a built-up city with rice paddies right in the centre of town, traffic jams caused by an ox and cart, groups of young people dressed like they’re heading to their wedding and/or space… so many little things that put a smile on my face (lucky I brought some patience and a sense of adventure).
I was told not to expect much from Tana and that’s probably why I loved it. Sure it’s dirty, chaotic and sometimes confronting – but it’s the kind of place where every time one turns their head something out of the ordinary is happening. This, in my opinion, is one of the best bits about travelling and it really got me excited about the rest of my time in Madagascar. It also has an older part of town high up on the hill. Here the French history and culture is really evident, so it’s very easy to find lovely little restaurants and out of the way cafés too, and to wind down after a long day with a beautiful glass of wine overlooking the lake (a stunning view).
Heading East to Andasibe is an adventure in itself. It’s a three hour drive passing through several villages along the way. On arrival in Andasibe, we drive through the national park and past the town itself, which has a train station and many interesting long houses (as the population of Madagascar has its roots in Borneo, the traditional longhouses are similar in structure and design to those found in South Asia). Settling into my room in the Vakona Forest Lodge, I could hear the faint sound of lemur calls and found lots of friendly little geckos on the balcony.
When night falls, it’s time to head out to the reserve for a hike. The night hike is the best opportunity to spot chameleons as they can’t camouflage against a torch light. At first it’s hard to know what to look for (hint: inspect dead leaves closely – you’ll probably find tiny curled up chameleons!). It’s also the time to look for the six species of nocturnal lemurs found in Andasibe, especially the Mouse Lemur which is Madagascar’s smallest and the Aye-Aye which has to be the weirdest.
The next morning after breakfast we head back to the Analamazoatra Reserve to hopefully spot the diurnal lemurs, among other animals. The calls of the Indri Indri, Madagascar’s largest lemur (with the craziest call) can be heard well before they can be seen, and tracking them down is half the fun. There are two distinct familial populations of Indri Indri in the reserve, as well as three other diurnal species – the Diademed Sifaka, the Ruffed Lemur and the Brown Lemur.
Many species of birds, frogs, trees and yes, insects can be found here in Madagascar and the mind boggles at the diversity in such a small reserve. In the afternoon a trip to Lemur Island, near the Vakona Lodge, is a must to encounter lemurs up-close and personal – be alert though as they might jump on you without warning!
I took a canoe around the island which was fantastic; the famous ring-tail lemurs can be found on the island and, even though they’re meant to be shy, they wasted no time in jumping on board and hitching a ride. They will also steal any food you have and are quite cheeky about it too – you’ve been warned!
All in all these first three days in central Madagascar were a fantastic introduction to this fascinating country; I highly recommend this journey to everyone but to nature lovers in particular as the wildlife experiences can’t be beaten!
You can visit Madagascar on a Bunnik independent tour. More details available here.