Written by: Dr Sibis Mouton
Situated 400km off the coast of East Africa, Madagascar is roughly two and a half times the size of Great Britain, and is the world‘s fourth largest island. I was very blessed to have booked a trip there with Africa Geographic Travel in early 2016, and they provided me with a superb guide with whom to visit the rainforest in the east of the country, as well as a friendly driver.
Madagascar is home to 71 species and subspecies of lemur, which makes it one of the most important countries in the world for primate conservation. According to the evolutionary scale, the lemur developed before the monkeys.
The Malagassy people speak Malagassy and French. They are friendly and visitors can feel safe there as there is little petty crime. The population is approximately 16 million but by Western standards, the average Malagassy person is extremely poor.
In today’s hi-tech world, most of us find it hard to really relax and just enjoy the beauty of the present moment. However, in Madagascar I could do just that. I had no laptop with me and my cellphone was not on roaming, plus I did not have to drive. The Malagassy people are also extremely polite drivers – they will wait for oncoming traffic and will always yield, so I never saw any aggressive driving, which is common in my home country.
Another factor that added to my total relaxation was the fact that I did not have to cook or do the grocery shopping. Wonderful food was prepared for me and this all added to my total relaxation. Nobody hurries in Madagascar!
The fear of not coping with life often prevents people from unwinding. However, we really need to look for those moments when we can appreciate the grandeur of Mother Nature, so that we can live in the present moment and not in our minds. And in Madagascar I could do exactly that.
Another thing that added to my peace of mind was that there are no poisonous snakes or spiders on this island! I saw about four snakes on hikes during my trips, but the Malagassy people just calmly take the snake by its tail and move it out of the way!
Seeing lemurs for the first time
Lemurs belong to a group of primates that are called the prosi mians, which means “before monkeys”. They are said to have evolved 40 to 50 million years ago. The largest lemur is the indri – a black and white kind of teddybear and the only lemur without a tail. They are known for their voluminous cries before they go hunting, which is something I heard every morning in my hotel room on the edge of the rainforest.
One of my best moments in the rainforest area was seeing these indris jump from tree to tree, normally in groups of six, with the agility of great athletes. They have hands and feet that can grasp branches very well. An indri sits for a few minutes to contemplate its route before flying through the air and jumping about 10 metres towards its chosen branch. An English proverb – “look before you leap” – comes to mind!
My personal favourite amongst the lemur species were the sifakas, which are otherwise known as “dancing lemurs.” They were very fluffy, and brown and reddish white in colour, and they were so friendly that they were not afraid to come close to myself and my guide!
The green turtles
On the small island of Sakatia, which is only about 15 kilometres in circumference and located just a few kilometres from the popular Nose Be, I was privileged to see the huge green turtles. These sea turtles are enormous and look ancient. By snorkelling you can see them graze slowly on the sea grass in the mornings, and they have a very peaceful nature.
The key to happiness
It was refreshing to be amongst people who focused on the essentials in life. Madagascar is known for its great fishing, and on Komba Island the villagers depend mainly on the sea to survive. The Malagassy people I spotted on Sakatia Island and Komba Island seemed happy and carefree; they lived off the land and/or sea and were very family-oriented.
Accepting and being content with our circumstances can help us to feel more relaxed, and my time in Madagascar highlighted the importance of friendship and communities living in peace and respecting one another.
Madagascar is verdant and butterflies abound. Walking in nature on this island restored my soul. I could feel the ancient connection of man with nature and also its beneficial effects. I hiked to the top of Nosy Komba with a group of six people and the view from the top overlooking the whole of Nosy Be was exquisite. Even the huge and calm seas surrounding Nosy Be instilled a feeling of peace and perspective.
A magical moment at the lake in Mantadia
Andasibe has two big national parks called Analamazotra and Mantadia. Since the 1990s these two combined are known as Perinet Park. Analamazotra is the easier destination to reach by ordinary car or bus, and it is popular with groups of school children.
Mantadia, on the other hand, is about 20 kilometres to the north but only reachable in a good 4×4, as the road there is atrocious. Since it is so difficult to reach, the rainforest there carries a definite spark of solitude as there are very few visitors. Here I had a real moment of peace, alongside my guide Maurice. We went to the natural lake there, by walking through verdant fields with an abundance of different butterflies, and we enjoyed a silent lunch on the shores. Huge dragonflies were flying around us and on the far side of the lake we could see a Madagascar grebe and some moorhens. This was an unforgettable moment with only the sounds of Mother Nature to accompany us.
Take a holiday and relax
I want to conclude that Madagascar is a fantastic destination for a nature lover. I would urge you to go there to enjoy the peacefulness of nature in its original state. A trip here is well worth every penny.
To discover more about Madagascar, read: Madagascar