Madagascar, Land of Lemurs

April 17, 2019


​April 8, 2019, Fort Dauphin, Madagascar — The world’s fourth largest island is the world’s tenth poorest country, with a per capita income of just $1,505 (World Atlas, 2017). The population is around 27 million. Its economy is based mostly on agriculture — rice, tea, cotton, dairy, peppercorns, silk, its world renowned vanilla — and mining, including for mica and for ilmenite, a titanium-iron oxide mineral used in artificial joints. Fishing includes lobsters and oysters.


We docked at Fort Dauphin, founded by French colonists in 1643, but I didn’t see much of that city of 95,000 before we hit the road. 


Years of political strife and coups have not boosted business, and the Malagasies are looking to Lemurs for helpThe country boasts lush rainforests, beautiful white sand beaches and many unique indigenous animals and plants. Ninety percent (!!) of their flora and fauna cannot be found anywhere else. As in so many other poor countries, tourism can bring much-needed income and jobs, and Madagascar’s best known tourism spokesmammal is this little ring-tailed guy + 104 other lemur species unique to this island:

Also baobab trees — 6 of the world’s 9 species are found here — though I managed not to see a single one. I also missed spotting a giraffe-necked weevil and a sweet tiny primate called the aye-aye, which Gerald Durrell immortalized in his book The Aye-Aye and I.


Historians long wondered if the original human inhabitants came from Asia... or India... or Indonesia. They now know they came from Africa — and Borneo. Anosy is the name of the  indigenous people. 


The Portuguese began trading on the island around 1500. In 1643 French colonists settled at Fort Dauphin, and the French East India Company established trading posts. As  many as 1,000 pirates — including Captain Kidd — hid out here in the 1600s and 1700s as they plundered treasure-laden galleons in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. The Brits attempted to colonize but disease and climate forced them to give up. British missionaries arrived in the early 1800s but Queen Ranavalona I (who reigned 1828-1861) hated Christians so much, she mass murdered her own people who had been converted — killing 50% of the population in 6 years (1833-1839). One website called her ‘the female Caligula.’ Ranavalona increased the size of her kingdom and struggled to protect the island’s culture from English and French influence — though her son had other ideas: in 1854, he invited Napoleon III to invade and govern. By 1897, the French had folded the island into their empire and held on to it until they granted it independence in 1960. 


Today Madagascar is a melting pot of nationalities and cultures including Christians, Muslims, and Hindus. While the people speak and are taught in Malagasy, French is the language of government and corporations. There are 18 tribes, each with its own dialect. The Malagasy are strong in theatre arts, influenced by the French, and they are very big on music and dance. And the ‘sport’ of bareknuckle fighting.


I spent my time off-ship on a guided tour of the Saiadi Botanical Gardens, begun in 1950. Besides lemurs, it is also home to Nile crocodiles (we were ‘entertained’ watching them be fed) and tortoises. The garden owes its lushness to the weather: it’s on the eastern side of the island, where it rains 10 months of the year. The west side is dry, and the temperature can reach 45-50C — a scorching 113-122F.


 Feeding the lemurs and ducks at the garden...

Next stop was the white sand beach at Filaos, where we were entertained by local musicians and dancers...

​As soon as I set foot on the beach proper, I was surrounded by women selling vanilla and jewelry... even this little boy... that’s the Sun in the upper left. 



But, you know me by now... what I really love to do is grab ‘road shots’ from the bus.

When the windows slide open horizontally and are dirty, it makes the job a bit tougher, but I got a good idea what the countryside looks like and how the people outside the city live.​

​Houses and roofs may be made from ‘octopus’ trees or from ‘traveler’ palms, named for the fact that a thirsty traveler can poke a stick into the trunk of this large palm tree and get water to drink. Locals also sell palm charcoal. You will note how much natural material is used for fencing and housing. It is so plentiful — and cheap.







Owners of the next two houses can afford brick and cinder block.


Random road shots...




At Filaos beach... 

Before we arrived, the Sun had collected donated clothes, shoes, and toiletries from guests and added items from the ship’s stores. The packages all read ‘Madagascar.’ Another way tourism can help impoverished countries. ​

​Next up: A brief look at Mozambique. #




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