On the road in Madagascar

13/10/2017 10:24

Written by Daniel Austin

To celebrate the launch of the new edition of our Madagascar guide, author Daniel Austin took over our Instagram to share some of his photos and stories from his many trips to the island.

 

Hello Instagrammers! I'm @DanielAustin_wildlife and I've been handed the keys to the @BradtGuides account for the day. I write Bradt's #Madagascar #guidebooks, and the Madagascar #wildlife guide too (co-authored with #naturalist & photographer @NickGarbutt). To celebrate the release of the brand spanking new 12th edition of my guidebook, Madagascar has been selected as Bradt Guides' current Destination of the Month. Bradt have been pioneering English-language #tourist information to Madagascar since way back in the mid-1980s, when Hilary Bradt first researched and penned a 10-page pamphlet on this enigmatic and little-known #island. That was soon superseded by a 56-page booklet as Hilary rapidly gained respect as the authority on the country, and so – when I took over updating responsibilities with the 9th edition – I was well aware that there were high standards to be maintained if the Bradt guide was to retain its reputation as the unrivalled go-to reference on the country. The new 12th edition runs to 516 pages, with 60 detailed maps, 90 colour photos, and more than 100 special information boxes written by a broad range of experts in their fields, not to mention reviews of some 1,350 hotels and restaurants in more than 200 different towns and villages across Madagascar, as well as 85 national #parks and other wildlife #reserves. Follow my posts during my Instagram takeover today to discover what's involved in keeping all this information up to date and to learn about some of the wonders of Madagascar along the way. #Bradt #taketheroadlesstravelled

A post shared by Bradt Travel Guides (@bradtguides) onSep 29, 2017 at 1:45am PDT

 

The huge Indian Ocean island of #Madagascar sits just off Africa's east coast; it is best known as an #ecotourism destination and rightly so. #Conservation International designates the island as a #Biodiversity #Hotspot in recognition of its unparalleled wealth of #wildlife. These so-called 'Biodiversity Hotspots' cover less than 1% of the Earth's surface, yet are home to well over half of its #plant and #animal species. But even among the 35 official Biodiversity Hotspots, Madagascar stands out as being pretty special because getting on for 90% of its #flora and #fauna is #endemic; that's to say, almost all the #plants and #animals in Madagascar are found there and there alone. Take lemurs for example. #Lemurs are found exclusively in Madagascar, and there's more than 110 species of them there (this total increases by one or two every year as scientists continue to discover more). Like us humans – and the other apes and monkeys – lemurs are #primates. Worldwide there's about 450 species of #primate. Just think about that for a moment: that means a quarter of all primates are found exclusively in Madagascar. That's the same level of primate diversity as is found across the entire 50-plus countries of continental #Africa together! Lemurs come in many shapes and sizes. Even if you don't know much about Madagascar, the one pictured here might look familiar to you. It's a ring-tailed lemur, the type most often encountered in zoos around the world and most famously represented by King Julien (he who likes to move-it move-it) in the #DreamWorks animated movie 'Madagascar'. * * * * * * * * * * Today's Bradt Instagram takeover: throughout the day I'm posting about my specialist destination of Madagascar. Follow my posts here on @BradtGuides to discover more about the country, or check out my Instagram page at @DanielAustin_wildlife

A post shared by Bradt Travel Guides (@bradtguides) onSep 29, 2017 at 2:47am PDT

 

I mentioned in my last post that #Madagascar has not only an incredible level of #biodiversity, but that an almost unrivalled proportion of its #animal and #plant #species are found nowhere else. Madagascar is a truly unique place where 80 to 90% of the #plants and #animals you encounter cannot be seen beyond the island's shores. But how come? Part of the answer is geological. The landmass of Madagascar is incredibly ancient and it broke away from the rest of #Africa about 160,000,000 years ago. (It's mind-boggling to try to grasp how long that is. A snail could journey to the moon and back over 85,000 times during a period that long!) For a while, Madagascar was still attached to present-day India, but then that broke away too. Consequently, Madagascar has been effectively isolated from the rest of the world for longer than any other #island anywhere. #Evolution has been able to develop at a tangent, relatively free of interruption from any external influences. This otherworldly island is the closest thing we have to another planet here on #earth. #Chameleons are an extraordinary group of #reptiles. There are some 200 species and almost half of them come from Madagascar. Every last #chameleon in Madagascar is #endemic: none occurs anywhere else. The island's physical isolation has kept #Malagasy chameleons separated from their cousins around the world for many millions of years, and so evolution has taken them in different directions. The species living on the island today include the world's largest (as long as your arm) and smallest (tinier than a thumbnail). * * * * * * * * * * Today's Bradt Instagram takeover: throughout the day I'm posting about my specialist destination of Madagascar. Follow my posts here on @BradtGuides to discover more about the country, or check out my Instagram page at @danielaustin_wildlife

A post shared by Bradt Travel Guides (@bradtguides) onSep 29, 2017 at 4:10am PDT

 

#Wildlife is far from the only thing that #Madagascar has to offer. While the unique #flora and #fauna are what initially attracts the majority of #tourists to visit, most will go on to leave Madagascar #feeling #enriched by their #experiences in many other ways. For all the country's challenges with #poverty and corruption, the ever #smiling #Malagasy #people are #proud of their country and will go out of their way to make #travellers from all corners of the globe feel #welcome. The island is undeniably part of the #African continent geographically, yet first-time #visitors are instantly met with an image of #Asia. #Landscapes around the capital #city dominated by #rice paddies, the unmistakably #Asian #faces of the highlands, and #traditional villages with huts that follow typically Indonesian designs make it easy to forget you are in #Africa at all. But follow the Route Nationale 7 southwards, and you will witness a gradual change. Those Asian faces transition, in imperceptible steps, to predominantly African features, and the rice fields give way to arid #grasslands where Bara #tribesmen graze their precious herds of zebu oxen. Madagascar truly is a #cultural melting pot where Africa meets Asia. And the reason is that – improbable as it may seem – the first settlers in Madagascar came across the Indian Ocean from #Indonesia rather than the short hop across the Mozambique Channel from Africa. The striking similarities between the Malagasy language and dialects spoken in Borneo leave little room for doubt about that. * * * * * * * * * * Today's Bradt Instagram takeover: throughout the day I'm posting about my specialist destination of Madagascar. Follow my posts here on @BradtGuides to discover more about the country, or check out my Instagram page at @danielaustin_wildlife

A post shared by Bradt Travel Guides (@bradtguides) onSep 29, 2017 at 5:19am PDT

 

As a #travel #guidebook author, I spend a lot of time checking out #hotels and #restaurants. There is a very broad range of types of #accommodation in #Madagascar, ranging from simple huts for #backpacker prices to some truly #luxurious #lodges, a few so exclusive that they are only accessible by light aircraft or helicopter. I usually try to travel incognito, presenting myself as a regular #tourist so that I don't get any special treatment on account of who I am. Much of the time, budget dictates that I stay in quite basic places. But I also lead small-group #tours of Madagascar a few times per year, and that gives me the opportunity to experience many of the country's more #upmarket hotels. This photo is from one such lodge called Anjajavy, in the northwest, where from time to time they serve dinner for their guests right on the #beach as the sun sets over the Mozambique Channel. * * * * * * * * * * Today's Bradt Instagram takeover: throughout the day I'm posting about my specialist destination of Madagascar. Follow my posts here on @BradtGuides to discover more about the country, or check out my Instagram page at @DanielAustin_wildlife

A post shared by Bradt Travel Guides (@bradtguides) onSep 29, 2017 at 7:32am PDT

 

#Madagascar is a huge country – four times the area of England – with poor infrastructure (very few good #roads), and so it can take a long time to #travel around. If you are planning a #trip, it is important not to be too #ambitious. Trying to cover all parts of the country in a short #visit will result in you spending most of the time on the road, or in airports. #Backpacking and #travelling by public #transport is a fantastic way to experience the country, but it is only practical if you are not limited for time. Those who don't have the #luxury of a lengthy trip are best advised to hire a 4x4 with a driver-guide to maximise their mobility and flexibility, to ensure they get the most out of their trip. Here is a scene from the east coast: a truck – heavily laden with dozens of passengers and all manner of goods – drives onto a raft #ferry in order to cross a #river. Those with an #adventurous #spirit, who choose to get off the beaten track and see the real Madagascar, can expect to encounter plenty of scenes like this. * * * * * * * * * * Today's Bradt Instagram takeover: throughout the day I'm posting about my specialist destination of Madagascar. Follow my posts here on @BradtGuides to discover more about the country, or check out my Instagram page at @danielaustin_wildlife

A post shared by Bradt Travel Guides (@bradtguides) onSep 29, 2017 at 8:48am PDT

 

One particularly fascinating aspect of #culture in #Madagascar is the people's reverence for the recently deceased. The #Malagasy venerate their #ancestors. While their #traditional belief system does include a god, it is to their ancestors that they pray for good fortune. And if that year's harvest is particularly good (or bad), it usually interpreted as a reward (or punishment) from the ancestors who oversee the lives of the living. Most of the 18 #tribes that make up the Malagasy population have elaborate funerary rites and often construct elaborate #tombs, that can be far more sturdy and expensive than the houses occupied by the living. It makes sense: a house is just for life but a #tomb is for eternity, as one Malagasy proverb goes. The tomb pictured here is from the far south of Madagascar. It is decorated with carved wooden stelae, known as aloalo, and the #horns of #zebu #cattle sacrificed at the #funeral. * * * * * * * * * * Today's Bradt Instagram takeover: throughout the day I'm posting about my specialist destination of Madagascar. Follow my posts here on @BradtGuides to discover more about the country, or check out my Instagram page at @danielaustin_wildlife

A post shared by Bradt Travel Guides (@bradtguides) onSep 29, 2017 at 9:40am PDT

 

The job of a #travel writer is certainly not all travelling and #glamour. (Rather too much of it involves sitting at a computer at home until all hours, as deadlines loom.) But even when I am not away #exploring #Madagascar, it can give rise to some interesting and #exciting #opportunities too. A couple of weeks ago, the #President of Madagascar was in London for – amongst other things – the reopening ceremony of the Embassy of Madagascar in the UK. Hilary #Bradt and I were invited to meet him and present him with a copy of the newly published 12th edition of our Bradt guide to his country. He remarked that "to understand Madagascar is difficult… to write about Madagascar is a very great challenge" and thanked us for our work in promoting the island, its culture, and its unique biodiversity, adding that "it is a very useful book for anyone who would like to visit Madagascar". Another of the most enjoyable aspects of my job as a Madagascar specialist is leading small-group #tours of the #island. I love exploring Madagascar while sharing my passion with other #travellers for the simple reason that all clients are different; travelling with others allows me to continually see Madagascar through different eyes, and often notice new and fascinating things as a consequence. Late in 2018, accompanied by Hilary Bradt, I will be leading a particularly exciting tour to some rarely visited corners of Madagascar. Anybody interested in joining should speak to @Rainbow_Tours. * * * * * * * * * * Today's Bradt Instagram takeover: throughout the day I'm posting about my specialist destination of Madagascar. Follow my posts here on @BradtGuides to discover more about the country, or check out my Instagram page at @danielaustin_wildlife

A post shared by Bradt Travel Guides (@bradtguides) onSep 29, 2017 at 10:15am PDT

 

I hope you have enjoyed my Instagram takeover today, and that you have learned something interesting about #Madagascar and what a truly #unique destination it is. There's just time to squeeze in one more #lemur – because you can never have too many #lemurs! This shot of a Coquerel's #sifaka – one of the most handsome lemur species if you ask me – made it onto the front cover of the 11th edition #Bradt guide. (The new 12th edition features ring-tailed lemurs on the cover.) If you are lucky enough to have been to Madagascar before, then hopefully my posts have awoken some wonderful memories. Otherwise, if Madagascar wasn't already on your bucket list, I hope you have been tempted to add it. If you'd like to see more of my photos (mostly #wildlife and mostly from Madagascar, but occasionally from my #travels elsewhere), you can follow my personal account on Instagram at @danielaustin_wildlife. Feel free to message me there if you have any questions. Thanks everyone for following today. For now, from me: over and out…

A post shared by Bradt Travel Guides (@bradtguides) onSep 29, 2017 at 10:45am PDT


Want to find out more? Get 10% off our guide to Madagascar:

Madagascar the Bradt Guide by Daniel Austin Hilary Bradt

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