In this extract from Beastly Journeys, Ash Dykes tells of hiking the length of Madagascar and the unlikely companion that joined him for the last leg.Read more...
Madagascar - The author’s take
Madagascar has brought me the best of times and the worst of times.
In 1975 I attended a slideshow in Cape Town given by a zoo collector who had just returned from a country called Madagascar. By the end of the evening I knew I had to go there. It wasn’t just the lemurs; it was the utter otherness of this little-known island that entranced me. So I went, and I fell in love, and I’ve been returning ever since.
Madagascar has brought me the best of times and the worst of times. I have exalted at the discovery of some of the strangest creatures in the world, laughed at the dancing sifakas and gushed over baby lemurs; I have snorkelled over multi-coloured coral and watched a lobster make its cautious way over the seabed; I have made the only footprints on a deserted beach overhung with coconut palms and swum in the sand-warmed sea in the moonlight. I have also endured the misery of 14-hour taxi-brousse journeys, the exhausting heat of the lowlands and the unexpectedly cold nights in the highlands. And I have been robbed on several occasions. Yet all I remember are the good times. A few years ago someone wrote to me: ‘I went for the lemurs, but in the end it’s the people I’ll remember.’ Me too. Even now, over 40 years since my first visit, this is still one of the poorest countries in the world, yet the overriding impression is of joy and laughter.
I can hardly remember a time when I wasn’t writing each new edition of this guide, and I never imagined that I would find someone to hand over to, but in 2006 I was contacted by Daniel Austin who had just finished a six-month exploration of Madagascar. For subsequent editions, he became lead contributor, then updater, and is now co-author who should take all the credit for the extraordinary amount of information in this book. Any gaps in his encyclopaedic knowledge are filled by Madagascar experts who have added their contributions as boxes to this book. Daniel’s enthusiasm is inexhaustible: in numerous visits over the last decade or so, he has spent a total of 25 months travelling to every corner of this incredible island.
Daniel Austin’s fascination with Madagascar began long before he managed to muster the funds to go and see the island first-hand, on what he planned to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip before submitting to the inevitability of getting a ‘proper job’. Whether it was his aversion to such drudgery or the allure of Madagascar that was stronger than he expected isn’t certain – perhaps both – but the trip changed the course of his life and he has returned every year for the decade and a half since, often for three months at a time. Now occupied full time with all things Malagasy, he leads small-group tours to the island (www.danielaustin.co.uk), gives occasional lectures on Madagascar, is secretary of the London-based Anglo-Malagasy Society (pages 137–8), founded the Madagascar Library (www.madagascar-library.com) and co-authored the other Bradt titles Madagascar Wildlife and Madagascar Highlights.
Hilary Bradt’s career as an occupational therapist ended when potential employers noticed that the time taken off for travel exceeded the periods of employment. With her former husband George, she self-published her first guidebook in 1974 during an extended journey through South America. As well as running Bradt Travel Guides, Hilary worked for 25 years as a tour leader in Madagascar. Her in-depth knowledge of the country has brought her lecture engagements at the Royal Geographical Society, the Smithsonian Institution and on board expedition cruise ships, as well as numerous commissions for travel articles. She received an MBE in 2008 for services to the travel industry and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the British Guild of Travel Writers in 2009. She now lives in semi-retirement in Devon and is delighted to have handed over the hard graft of researching new editions to Daniel.