The Indian Ocean Island of Madagascar has always fascinated me. 400 kms off the eastern coast of Africa it is part of Africa but not part of Africa; so near and yet so far. In breaking away from Africa some 165 million years ago it is now regarded by several ecologists as the eighth continent because it has an unparalleled blend of fauna and flora that are found nowhere else in the world. Richard Attenborough’s amazing TV documentaries have captivated me and I am determined to visit this ‘off the beat’ destination before too long.
What intrigues me about Madagascar? The geography, the history, the animals and the fact that anyone I know who has visited the island has really enjoyed it. How did people from Borneo find this isolated island (or African tribes for that matter) in outrigger canoes? The Malagasy people today are a mixture of Indonesian and African with a dash of Arab, Indian and Chinese thrown in: a real melting pot of cultures and appearances. Add in the establishment of a notorious pirate base on Nosy Boraha and the arrival of the European colonial powers such as the Portuguese, the British and the French and the current Malagasy Republic has a ‘spicy’ history.
Why are 90% of Madagascar’s 10,000 plant species found nowhere else? Why are animals with intriguing names such as ‘aye-ayes’, or ‘sifaka’ or ‘indri’ only found here? Or birds such as the ‘vanga’ and ‘couas’? And how can one island have over 1000 species of orchids or six distinctive types of baobab trees? Although Madagascar has myriads of beautiful sandy beaches, and coral reefs for snorkelling and scuba divers, it is the uniqueness of the animal and plant life that attracts most visitors.
After splitting off from Africa as part of the Gondwana super continent, and later India, Madagascar is now the world's fourth largest island, roughly 1500 km long and 570 km wide. In the north of the island Maromokotro rises to 2,876m (9436'). The population is in excess of 18 million with the capital, Antananarivo ('Tana' to the locals), the largest city with over 1.4 million people. The geography of the island intrigues me because there are several distinct regions and the island has its own rift valley complete with a lake 40 km long.
However, whenever the word Madagascar is mentioned I think lemurs, exotic bird calls, colourful tribes and bustling markets.