Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Madagascar, Part 3: Wrapping Up

(Female indri in a duet with her mate, Andasibe-Mantadia National Park.)

A few Madagascar-related odds and ends: The rainy season started a month late, according to the people there. One of our guides said that climate change is already affecting them. But who knows, could be natural variation, so we should leave the poor innocent greenhouse gas emitters alone.

Speaking of which, I still haven't purchased carbon offsets for our travel contribution to the problem. I keep meaning to do a fairly intense amount of research on what offsets work the best, and haven't gotten around to it.

I've upgraded the wikipedia entry for Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, and created an entry for Man and the Environment where we did our volunteer work, so I hope that gives a little back for the experience.

Finally, I'm putting a trip report below, which is probably of interest only to people who might be travelling to Madagascar in the near future.

General info:

Our guidebook - Lonely Planet Madagascar. It was acceptable, getting a little old. Prices are now in ariary, not the Madagascar francs. Prices in general were 50-150% more expensive than listed in the book, but I'm not sure how the dollar's fall in value affected that. Some roads are in better shape than listed - in particular, Ranomafana Park is now an easy drive on a well-paved road.

Costs - our hotels cost between $7 and $70 for a room for two, meals between $5 and $20. Both of those could have cost much less if you're willing to stay at sketchier places and try your stomach out on food not prepared for foreigners.

Timing - we went in mid-December for 3+ weeks, which is in the beginning of the rainy season and the start of the low season for tourists. On the bad side it meant we had rain most days and were occasionally pelted, and were on the periphery of two cyclones. On the good side, we could almost always stay anywhere we wanted, and finding guides and transport wasn't a problem. Some things will be easier or harder for other visitors depending on when they're there.

Language - we took a very basic French course before we went. It was very helpful, although I think a fluent French speaker would get much more out of the experience. We found English-speaking guides almost everywhere, although none were fluent enough to have really complex conversation.

Annoyances - bed bugs and fleas almost everywhere. They irritated me and tormented my wife. Only one (expensive) hotel, Residence Lapasoa, didn't have them. We learned to put on DEET before getting into bed. Travelers might consider treating a bedsheet with permethrin and bringing it along. On the other hand, we had almost no trouble with mosquitoes, so our malaria prophylaxis was probably unnecessary.

Other: Our best guide was our driver, Andry, who we hired through Tany Mena Tours. Tany Mena did not have all the special offerings that the Lonely Planet guide described, but Andry was great and highly recommended.

I'm also happy to answer any questions in the comments, or just email me.

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