Back from Madagascar

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Dec 16th, 2012, 01:34 PM
  #1
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Back from Madagascar

I recently returned home from a three week professionally guided bird watching trip to Madagascar. This is a country that gets little attention here so I will do my bit to fix that. It was a most enjoyable trip and I have no qualms about recommending Madagascar as a destination. In addition to seeing a large proportion of the island's birds we also saw two dozen lemur species and lots of chameleons and reptiles. There was no time in the trip that I felt concerned for my safety. Notoriously unreliable Air Madagascar was pretty close to on time for our four internal flights although they did change the time of one flight on less than 12 hour's notice...luckily it was to a more civilized time.

Mobile phone service was available in most of the places we visited. At my guide's recommendation I bought an Airtel SIM card at the airport. and 50,000 Ar worth of time. The card cost next to nothing. I should have bought 100,000 or 150,000 worth of time because the 50,000 air time cards only seem to exist at the airport. Gas stations sometimes have 10,000 but puny 1,000 is the most readily available...and those are useless for making overseas calls. My guide helped me do a big top up with a phone to phone transfer in a shop. I was calling home once a day when service was available.

Food was often fairly tasty. On the coast we had some lovely fish. Minor (and for one participant, not so minor) G.I. complaints occurred for most of the group at least once on the trip. Eating strictly by the "rules" was not always possible because of the annoying tendency of many kitchens to place evil bits of uncooked garnishes on the plates.

Shopping: this was not a shopping trip but I was able to buy a bag of very good quality vanilla beans at a very good price. My guide was most helpful in knowing where to go. I did not know that Madagascar produces cinnamon but evidently it does and my wife says the bag of cinnamon sticks I bought is good stuff and it was also very inexpensive.

Currency: I changed 300 USD at the airport and felt absurdly wealthy when I got the immense stack of over 600,000 Ariary. The largest denomination is 10,000 Ar which is worth about $5. This was more money than I needed since most expenses were prepaid but I figure it's better to be rich than poor! I noticed that I could have exchanged Canadian dollars at a reasonable rate and saved the expense of exchanging Canadian to US but we Canadians never know for certain if our currency will be welcome in places that don't have ATMs, like Madagascar. As far as I could see credit cards are only accepted at a few hotels.

I will check back here for a while to see if anyone has any questions.
Gavin is offline  
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Dec 16th, 2012, 04:42 PM
  #2
 
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Where did you stay while on the road? Condition of the vehicles on the road? More info about the cuisine would be nice. Please also let us know what the itinerary was and the tour company with which you traveled.

I was lucky enough to be able to visit earlier this year by cruise ship. It wasn't what I expected, but then I find nowhere I've been is as I expect.
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Dec 19th, 2012, 01:50 PM
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For the most part we stayed in lodges near our birding locations. All the accommodation was at least reasonably comfortable if not fancy. A similar itinerary is on the tour company's website:
http://www.rockjumperbirding.com/tou...%26+Madagascar
I did a "comprehensive" trip which covers the southern two thirds of the country. I was surprised that we had people on the trip who are not hard core birders but it worked out well for them because Madagascar does not have a huge bird list and we spent a fair bit of time looking for lemurs, chameleons and other critters in addition to birds.

Not surprisingly food in Madagascar has a French influence. Zebu (the most common type of cattle) was the most common meat. It was sometimes very good and sometimes more grisly than I like. I always had soup when available since I could be reasonably sure that it had been heated enough.
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Dec 20th, 2012, 05:21 AM
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Thanks for the reply and most especially for the link. I missed this company when I was researching my trip. I particularly like that they limit the group size to eight.
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Dec 22nd, 2012, 05:07 PM
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Yes, eight is a good number. We saw a birding group that was at least double our size. How that can work on a forest trail I don't know. The bus they used was the same size as ours as well...they looked pretty cozy in there. Speaking of buses, I missed your question about condition of vehicles on the road. In general the motor vehicles on the road were in pretty good shape. Inevitably some heavy vehicles spew black smoke but many of the big trucks would not look out of place in Europe or North America. All the vehicles we used were in good repair and the drivers very professional. The reality of roads in Madagascar is sharing limited space with zebu carts, push carts, bicycles and pedestrians. It's not a place where I would care to drive.
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