Our failed attempt at doing a Europe tour made us work on a Plan B or should we say Plan A? Because what we are about to share is not the story of a continent but our discovery of Planet Africa.
15 days, 30 species, 2 countries and countless memories which may not get wiped out even if we forget who we are.
Kenya followed by Madagascar can be one of the most enriching travel itineraries, if you are a wildlife enthusiast. But it could also be a life changing escape if you are interested in human evolution, world politics and studying cultures.
It’s a tribal country wearing a modern costume. The Agama lizard, the cheetah, the Masai giraffe, the Nile crocodile, the wilderbeest, the Colobus monkey, the gerenuk or the wrap-around wearing Masai people; they all shout of a soul that’s slowly getting stuffed inside the western change.
It’s not like India where people are unclear about their own roots and adapting to various things blindly. It’s far more dismal. The country is poor, it’s full of conflict but what the people know is that they can’t survive without jumping to the other end.
Yes, they are jumping. Which is why they are still marrying multiple partners, follow the Bible but get annoyed when they have to talk about how they need to be monogamous according to their religion. They are decked up in modern attire, eat English breakfast, drive European cars but when the sun sets, they go back to their farms and to their many families.
They are suffocating. The leap has made them miss all the learning that comes with gradual change. They are supporting the American tourists and the European backpackers but are only superficially friendly towards them.
Even the money-making business set ups are so insecure that they will do anything to amass wealth. They will speak in the tourist’s language, they will wear what appeals to the tourists (even if that means you wear your own traditional attire as fancy dress), they will offer you a cushioned bed & a pint of Tusker beer; they will do everything not because they want to share their world but because they want you to part with your surplus money.
And it’s reasonable & justified. But for a travelers like us, if we have to pay a mandatory amount of $20 every day to the driver, our faith in the conversations that we have with him goes away. We are never sure if he is telling us what we want to hear or the truth. Worse, when we get dhokla in the dinner buffet, we lose all hopes of ever knowing Kenya deeply.
However, Kenya is amazing!
For all the wildlife in Sambharu where we saw lions 10 feet away, for all the hunting games in Masai Mara where we saw a cheetah brushing past our jeep and 8 lionesses doing their catwalk together; for all this and more, Kenya is an unbeatable destination. Add to this, if you go to an old British farmhouse for a lunch session like we did, you will know all about colonization, modern education system and how the first tea plant in Kenya was brought from India.
In this post, here is where we slow down a bit to absorb everything that we had never seen before in our lives. And probably very few have.
Madagascar – All that we knew was King Julian and what we had seen in David Attenborough’s documentaries. What we were not prepared for was the real Madagascar. The huge island country which was once a French colony and whose tiny people are small in stature but beyond big at heart.
The country will amaze you from the moment you step out of the airport. No wait, even at the airport. We exchanged our dollars for their local currency at Antananarivo airport. G came out of the exchange counter with a big smile and an overloaded pocket.
“I have half-a-million of their currency in my pocket.” (1 USD = 2000 Ariary)
It suddenly dawned on us that we had landed in a lost continent where the economic conditions are far worse than anything we had seen anywhere else. The political situation is highly unstable with a 37 year old DJ who is a self-proclaimed president of the country. But despite the destitution, the people of the country are warm and extremely hospitable.
If in Kenya we had to pay anyone who lifted our bags, here in Tana, people came, lifted our bags and ran away without an expectation of a reward. Yes, they rewarded us with their overwhelming kindness.
In Madagascar we visited Mt Amber, Ankify, Ankarana Reserve, Antananarivo and Nosy Be. In terms of its ecosystem, its unique and most creatures are a delight to see. We saw the world’s smallest chameleon, lemurs and geckos among other things. Montogne D’Amber (Mt Amber) has a number of chameleons and some easy sightings of lemurs. Ankarana Reserve has some more lemur species but we were unfortunate and saw some owls, chameleons and crown lemurs.
Ankify is a small beach town where the real estate still speaks of French influence. The interiors, the exteriors, the food and the people. In fact, we were joking that we might still have landed in some place in France. Nosy Be is a small island but is a major tourist hub. It has a large influx of sailors from South Africa and is crowded. We were not greatly impressed by the sudden increase in the density of people but it’s blissful to drive on a two-wheeler through the entire island.
As we write this, the flora & fauna of Madagascar still doesn’t seem like a major part of our travel experience. Somebody or something was always outshining the fact that we were in one of the greatest geological wonders of the world.
Like our guide Shielo‘s story.
Shielo is among the highly educated people of Madagascar. This is because he not only is a graduate but is also fluent in English. He is from Diego Suarez, a small town near Mt Amber and has 3 children from his wife. He shared with us his greatest dream of taking a shared-bus road trip with his family from his hometown to Antananarivo, like we talk about taking a cruise in Antarctica. And he has to save for 2 years to get there! We still don’t know if we will ever get to Antarctica but Shielo has no doubts. No worries, no sadness. Life is about taking one day at a time and taking it easy till you realise your dreams.
This is the soul of almost every person in Madagascar. In fact, you might even read the kindness, hospitality and warmth in the eyes of a fruit bat there. The lemurs might look at you like babies do. The gecko will stare at you from a corner like a curious child does. They all love you, they are happy to see you and most of all they all want you to take it easy.
Or as they say in Malagasy, Mura Mura.