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Published: December 26th 2011
The reason I came to Madagascar, like so many others, was to see lemurs and baobabs (and so forth), so it was a no brainer that Abby and I would make the long journey from Antananarivo to Morondava. Although an easy hop by plane, we were on a bit of a budget and the domestic flights, while convenient, were pricy.* So taxi-brousse (bush taxi) it was – 15 hours, overnight (see previous entry - I may need therapy soon).
However, once we stumbled out of the cramped confines of the mini-bus and met Riga, the taxi-driver who would become our go-to guy for driving around the area, I knew the pain of the trip was going to be worth it. I sensed immediately that I was going to like this sleepy little seaside town called Morondava. By the end of our stay, I was planning ways to settle in permanently (indeed, we only half joked about just spending the rest of our trip in the town).
Morondava has an utterly different feel from the bustle of highland Tana. There is only one main commercial drag, dominated by a surprisingly large white mosque, one belonging to the Khoja Ithna’ashari Shi’a
community.** That road ends at the ocean, where another veers to the left, forming an L. This stretch, meandering along the beach, is where most of the hotels and restaurants are clustered.
Late December in western Madagascar was apparently not high season (it was supposed to be rainy, but the seasonal rains were a month late), so there were only a handful of other tourists hanging about. But I got the sense that Morondava is enough of hike away from the main travel circuit that it never gets too crowded. We nearly had Chez Maggie, our charming seaside hotel, almost to ourselves; Gary, the American owner, treated us very well! When we ventured out onto the perfect white sand beach, we saw almost no one else, save the occasional local.*** A bit of paradise.
But the main point of the long journey we made to Morondava was not the beach - it simply proved a wonderful bonus! - but rather the famous Avenue of Baobabs, a short drive out of town.
If I asked you to close you eyes and conjure an image of Madagascar, I would bet that you’d either come up with singing/dancing
cartoon animals OR an image of towering bottle-shaped trees lining a dusty red road. Probably due to a National Geographic article or two, the Avenue of the Baobabs is the most iconic image of Madagascar. It’s hard to explain just how impressive a single baobab can be – it seems so out of place in the stark, scrubby landscape in which it resides; a giant not quite of this world. Yet to see ROWS of baobabs, starting to glow red in the late afternoon sun, is something you can never forget. I know I won’t. Riga seemed bemused by our obvious wonder and giddy excitement as we walked among the baobabs taking countless photographs!
Continuing down the bumpy dirt road stretching north of the Avenue of Baobabs, you come across an important nature reserve, Kirindy. We ventured into the hot, dry lowland forest with one main goal in mind: lemurs. And we were not disappointed. Perhaps ten minutes into our guided hike – we attached ourselves to two Hungarian tourists who had managed to snag an English speaking guide – we saw a Verraux sifaka lemur come swinging through the branches, straight at us. We realized he had come
to join a small troop high in the branches just above our heads. Our first wild lemurs, up close and personal. On the rest of the hike we saw a wild array of lizards and birds, as well as two more species of lemur – the red-fronted brown and the red-tailed spotted (though only a peek of the last one, as it is normally nocturnal). This was the Madagascar I had dreamed of!
A fifteen-hour taxi-brousse ride to this special corner of the world to see baobabs and lemurs? Of course!
*We did opt to take one at the end of our trip, from Toliara in the south back to Tana. Just the thought of retracing the length of Madagascar by taxi-brousse makes me want to cry.
**Why do I always seem to find Khojas wherever I travel? Though, to be fair, they are a merchant community, spreading far and wide around the Indian Ocean world.
***Well, there was the handful of European men who seemed to be enjoying the company of Malagasy women/girls. We had been told that Madagascar had become something of a destination for “sex tourists” – so it was
hard not to jump to conclusions every time we saw a white man with a local bombshell…. Abby is just waiting for me to get approached!
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