Difference between revisions of "Madagascar"
Revision as of 19:56, 24 April 2013
The first people arrived in Madagascar between 350 BC and 550 AD from Borneo on outrigger canoes. These Austronesian first settlers were joined around 1000 AD by Bantu migrants crossing the Mozambique Channel.
Other groups such as Arabs, Indians, and Chinese continued to settle on Madagascar over time, each one making lasting contributions to Malagasy cultural life. The Malagasy way of thinking includes a mixture of cultures, as well as their appearance and fashion style. It is a melting pot. Madagascar is part of the African Union, but that is now being reconsidered due to the recent 2009 political turmoil regarding the African Union members.
That said, it is essential to the people of Madagascar that tourism continues to thrive. There is no reason why it should not. There is no violence in Madagascar related to the political crisis and certainly nothing a tourist need concern themselves with.
Madagascar's long isolation from the neighbouring continents has resulted in a unique mix of plants and animals, many found nowhere else in the world. This has led some ecologists to refer to Madagascar as the "eighth continent". Of the 10,000 plants native to Madagascar, 90% are found nowhere else in the world. Madagascar's varied fauna and flora are endangered by human activity, as a third of its native vegetation has disappeared since the 1970s and since the arrival of humans 2,000 years ago, Madagascar has lost more than 90% of its original forest. Most lemurs are listed as endangered or threatened species.
The eastern, or windward side of the island is home to tropical rainforests, while the western and southern sides, which lie in the rain shadow of the central highlands, are home to tropical dry forests, thorn forests, and deserts and xeric shrublands. Madagascar's dry deciduous rain forest has been preserved generally better than the eastern rainforests or the high central plateau, presumably due to historically low population densities.
The climate is tropical along the coast, temperate inland, and arid in the south. The weather is dominated by the southeastern trade winds that originate in the Indian Ocean anticyclone, a centre of high atmospheric pressure that seasonally changes its position over the ocean. Madagascar has two seasons: a hot, rainy season from November to April, and a cooler, dry season from May to October. There is, however, great variation in climate owing to elevation and position relative to dominant winds. The east coast has a sub-equatorial climate and, being most directly exposed to the trade winds, has the heaviest rainfall, averaging as much as 3,500 mm (137.8 in) annually. This region is notorious not only for a hot, humid climate in which tropical fevers are endemic but also for the destructive cyclones that occur during the rainy season, coming in principally from the direction of the Mascarene Islands. Because rain clouds discharge much of their moisture east of the highest elevations on the island, the central highlands are appreciably drier and, owing to the altitude, also cooler. Thunderstorms are common during the rainy season in the central highlands, and lightning is a serious hazard.
Antananarivo receives practically all of its average annual 1,400 mm (55.1 in) of rainfall between November and April. The dry season is pleasant and sunny, although somewhat chilly, especially in the mornings. Although frosts are rare in Antananarivo, they are common at higher elevations.
The Malagasy people are generally considered to be patriotic. When Madagascar gained independence from France, the Malagasy changed much within the culture and languages, returning back to their original customs and traditions again. Today, Malagasy is the daily language spoken by 98% of the population in Madagascar, and since 1972, Malagasy language has been used as the teaching language in some schools. However, some of Malagasy people are familiar or fluent in French which is very widely spoken except in some rural areas. English or German is spoken by a minority of people, such as municipal workers and guides).
At least a basic working knowledge of French will make communication easier.
Any tourist from any nationality can enter Madagascar with an initial tourist visa if staying no longer than 30 days and if your passport does not expire within six months after your final date of stay. A visa can be obtained via your country of origin or stopping point in travel prior (South Africa expedites within 24 hours). Or you can get one upon arrival at the airport. This creates a delay; be prepared. Visas for longer stays after 30 days should inquire at the consulate. SUGGESTION: It is always best to check with your country's immigration department and/or search for "VISA requirements for <your citizenship> citizens" on Wikipedia. However, the department will have the most current information and any travel advisories.
From Europe, the best connections are with Air Madagascar  ("AirMad"), Air France or Corsair  from Paris to Antananarivo. AirMad also flies from Milan to Antananarivo and Nosy Be (a small island off the North of Madagascar).
Air Austral (french) runs flights to Madagascar form Paris. Flights often transfer on Reunion Island.
Flights from Johannesburg, South Africa, using Air Madagascar codeshared with SA Airlink . Flights run 6 days a week.
Air Madagascar serves numerous destinations throughout the country, which is a good thing considering the bad state of the roads. Besides the big cities, lots of little hamlets are also served.
It is advisable to check the status of your flight in advance, as timetable changes can occur at fairly short notice.
There was some political unrest in 2002, which resulted in some airports being temporarily shut.
Passengers who arrive in Madagascar on a long-haul flight from Air Madagascar can benefit from reductions on the order of 50% on the company's internal flights.
With the Malagasy railway network dating from the colonial period, breakdowns are frequent due to poor maintenance, and a line may be closed for several weeks.
The train is not the fastest and most comfortable means of travel, but it lets you admire the magnificent landscapes (especially on the line connecting Fianarantsoa to Manakara) and discover the Malagasy fruits and dishes offered at every stop. You can taste what is in season at little cost : crayfish, bananas, cinnamon apples, sambos, zebu sausages, oranges. Travelling by train is cheap (1st class from Fianarantsoa to Manakara only 25000Ar (less than 10€)). You want to choose a 1st class seat; or get up very early if you want to be sure to get a 2nd class ticket since it is always extremely crowded (the train is the only mean of transport for many villagers) and no booking is possible in 2nd class. Unfortunately, the train that runs between Manakara and Fianarantsoa has become less reliable lately (early 2007) due to poor conditions of the tracks.
This is the only inexpensive way to get around, but Madagascar's roads are almost all of very low grade (with the exception of 2 routes leading out of Tana). Many roads are studded with potholes and are quagmires in the rainy season. Be warned that travel by road will almost always take much more time than you would normally expect. Hire of a 4WD vehicle can reduce this problem but the cost will be higher but still very cost effective if you are not traveling alone and able to split the rental fee between the members of your group.(around USD70/day/car, updated Feb 2010) Due to the poor condition of the roads many car hire companies will only rent you a car if you use one of their drivers. In most cases, the driver can act as your guide and translator as well.
This is the way most natives travel around the country. There are three major modern roads in the country: RN7 from Tana to Toliara, RN2 from Tana to Tomasina (via Brickaville) and RN4 from Tana to Mahajanga. Trips between those towns take about a day whereas traveling between Tana and Taolagnaro, a south-eastern coastal town, would take about 3 or 4 days due to the condition of the road. Travel is cramped and don't expect air conditioning. Expect dust to be a problem in the dry season. Travel by Taxi-Brousse is guaranteed to test one's patience and sanity, but there is quite possibly no better way to meet and interact with the locals and experience Madagascar as the Malagasy do. Taxi-brousse is by far the cheapest way to travel, but do not expect to leave or arrive on time. Indeed, the drivers wait for their 15 seats small buses to get full before leaving, therefore a few hours delay is never excluded! However, during the trip it allows you to admire the breathtaking landscapes Madagascar holds.
In Tana, the cheapest way to get around is by taxi-be, or big taxi, which is a bit larger than a mini-van. There is one aisle with seats to fold down so they can cram in even more people. During peak season, buses run frequently.
If you are looking for an unusual holiday, a yacht charter to Madagascar might be a good choice. You can be sure that your neighbors have not been there and done that. For those who would like to bareboat (hire a ship or boat without provisions or crew), a “guide” is usually included in the price of the yacht charter. Although obligatory, he comes with the price and is essential for the multitude of services he will provide. He will prepare the food, recommend anchorages, know where to fish and refill the water tanks. He will speak the local language and have an established relationship with the local people. He will protect the boat from theft when you leave it to explore on land. The guide lives completely on the exterior of the boat and does not require a cabin. A yacht charter to Madagascar is a bit of a “Robinson Crusoe” adventure. Once you embark, you will not be able to stock up provisions again and must live off the fish and seafood you will catch for yourself (or with your guide). So take great care with your provisioning list. This problem can be avoided by chartering one of the crewed catamarans. Cats are designed for stability so sea sickness is not really a problem. The crew prepare the boat with linen, food and drinks before your arrival -basically these boats are like a personal floating hotel. Depending on which boat you choose you could receive excellent service and food and suggestions of where to go and what to do. Choose your catamaran carefully as there are some really old ones in service- make sure the crew can speak your language.
Madagascar is a great place to tour by bike and staying in small towns and villages along the way gives a real sense of what the country is all about. A mountain bike or heavy duty tourer at least is required as the roads can be in poor to terrible condition. In rainy season on the East coast the main North-south road can become impassable, possibly leading to a two day walk - over soft sand in one section - this is not an easily rideable route. Generally there is little to no traffic which makes cruising around a great pleasure. The people are amazingly friendly and you'll be greeted with crowds of children shouting 'Vazaha' in every village. There are little or no facilities for cyclists, so be prepared to camp rough (ask if it is somebody's land and never too near a family grave) or sleep in very basic guesthouses. Likely you will be invited to stay in people's houses. Bring a spare tire, puncture kit, chain, brake/gear cable, derailleur and all the tools you need.
The remarkable thing about Madagascar is that the entire island speaks one language: Malagasy, an Austronesian language. As well as being the name of the language, "Malagasy" also refers to the people of the island. Because the island is so large there are many different dialects. The Merina dialect is the "Official Malagasy" of the island and is spoken around highlands of Antananarivo. Most Malagasy, however, speak Merina across the island.
French is the second official language of Madagascar. The government and large corporations use French in everyday business, but 75-85% of Malagasy only have limited proficiency in this language. Attempts by foreigners to learn and speak Malagasy are liked and encouraged by the Malagasy people.