Saturday, 27 September 2014

Madagascar diaries

It has now been over a month since I returned from my unforgettable trip to Madagascar. Unforgettable is an ambiguous word. Most often it is synonymous with wonderful, fabulous, splendid. But if you think what it actually means, it is “hard, or impossible to forget”, and it can have both positive and negative connotations. Something can be unforgettable even though we would like to forget.

Over a month after I came back from my unforgettable, overwhelming, life-changing trip to Madagascar I am probably ready to share my experience. Carefully. Gently.

I kept a diary when I was there, many pages every evening. A lot of what I wrote is too private to share, and I will try to make sense of it, not by omitting anything, but by sorting, structuring, reflecting in retrospect. There will be a selection of pictures from the two thousand that Anton took.

But let me start from the beginning. I may have seen Madagascar the movie or I may just have seen trailers and posters. It didn't leave a lasting impression. One of my fellow travellers shared an anecdote she ascribed to her sister-in-law, whose little daughter, on receiving a globe and studying it for a while, asked: “Mummy, where is Madagascar?” to which the mother replied: “Oh, it's not real, it's just a movie”. So much for education.

All I knew about Madagascar when I was that age came from my stamp collection. Thinking about it now, I wonder how a Malagasy stamp found its way to Soviet Russia and into my stamp album, but I remember the stamp well (featuring, unsurprisingly a lemur, although I didn't know it then), and because I, as appropriate, sorted my stamps into countries and countries into continents, I eventually found out that Madagascar was an island off Africa's east coast. A strange tear-drop in the ocean. Madagascar wasn't on my school curriculum in any subject.

I wouldn't swear that this is my stamp, but something like it. 

Madagascar didn't feature in any of the adventure novels I read as a child, nor in any children's books I read professionally. If there are any, I would like to know. I can imagine that it is a gratifying setting.

In my dreams of exotic countries I wanted to travel to when I was young, Madagascar did not appear at all, and when my dream of Amazonas came true three years ago I thought that I had seen everything I wanted to see.

Then Staffan and I watched David Attenborough.

Let me tell you: Attenborough's nature programmes are a pack of lies. They are compiled of rare moments captured on film in areas far too remote for any mortal to reach. They give you the impression that, contrary to alarming reports about ongoing extinction of species, there are places where “millions of...”, “biggest in the world...”, “largest diversity...” Yes, yes, I know. But, seriously, my own garden has larger diversity of species than I saw in Madagascar. Yet, I am ahead of myself. After I had watched Attenborough's Madagascar programme I decided that there was one more place I wanted to visit before I died, and there was one person I wanted to do it with, Anton. There are many reasons why Anton: because we share interests in strange things, because we have travelled to Australia together, twenty years ago; but mostly for very selfish reasons. I knew that I wouldn't dare to travel alone, I knew that Staffan wouldn't want to go with me, and Anton seemed a natural choice. I wanted it to be a wild safari rather than a luxury trip, and I knew that Anton would find it attractive.

Anyway, I asked Anton whether he would like to come to Madagascar with me and whether Kory, his girlfriend, would mind – or whether she would like to come too (to which Anton informed me that Kory preferred culture to nature).

Very well, when were we both available to go to Madagascar? What was a good time to go to Madagascar? Apart from Attenborough's technicolour paradise, I did not know anything, I repeat: I knew absolutely nothing about Madagascar. But a year is ample time to do your homework. Because a year it would take before we were both free to go and before it was right season; and I searched the web and found the best travel agent for the kind of trip I was looking for, not “Madagascar's beautiful beaches”, but “Unique Madagascar” with ten days on the road, basic accommodation, no more than twelve people per group. People who come on these trips are usually people I can stand.

That's how it started, and there were many small issues during the year, but some time last spring I bought a guidebook, and Anton gave me the book Mammals of Madagascar for my birthday, and I got my medical statement signed by my GP, and we bought insect repellent and head torches.

Let the big adventure begin!

To be continued.

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