Madagascar �?? An Ancient, Living Museum
Madagascar could be described as a floating remnant of the ancient landmass called Gondwana. This incredibly primeval ancestry provides the modern world with a glimpse of how our home may have looked long before humans ever walked the earth. Located off the eastern edge of Mozambique, there is little evidence on Madagascar that actually connects it with Africa. This island was a solid “chunk” of landmass that migrated in isolation of the massive continent of Pangea. Gondwana or Gondwanaland was the southernmost portion once Pangea drifted northward, splitting to form two super continents, the other being Laurasia, North America’s origins. The Floral and faunal inhabitants of Madagascar have long intrigued me and for little wonder. This precious piece of history boasts over 12,000 plant species of which 80% are endemic or only found on this island, making it one of the most diverse floras on earth. Comparatively and by way of scale, Tropical Africa has nearly 35,000 species of plants but the region is 35 times larger. Perhaps the most unusual and “must see” regions of Madagascar is the globally distinctive ecosystem, the “spiny forest, thicket or desert”. One of the most bizarre collections of plants that you may ever see, this refuge is a force to contend with. Prickly bits, scratchy twigs, some plants with leaves other totally void and all arranged in what could well be a diorama produced by Fred Flintstone himself. Keeping in the “prehistoric” theme the iconic Baobab trees are truly a sight to behold. One of the most amazing trees on earth, these bloated, bottle-like specimens, six of the eight species are endemic to Madagascar. Adapted over time to endure dry conditions, their swollen trunks, massive root systems and ability to drop their leaves has allowed them to remain in situ for literally centuries. These trees are utilized by locals present and ancient for healing, as repositories for safe keeping, food caches and numerous other functions. The classic forest of Baobabs is often photographed but none do justice to the majesty of these trees.
Curiosities abound in Madagascar, not the least are the amazing Lemurs. Primates by classification and “cuddlies” by definition, these animals as incredibly cute. Lemurs and their families can be seen in selected reserves and if you are fortunate enough to take an excursion from the ship, you are pretty much guaranteed sightings. I love the way some Lemus stand up on the hind legs and scramble through the forest then bounce and hop to the next tree. Giant tortoises also can be found on the islands just off the west coast of Madagascar. Booking a tour or excursion to see them is well worth it also. Some of these specimens are a century old. The many amphibians, reptiles and flocks of incredibly unusual birds are common place. Crocodiles, well yes, but not on my list of specimens to see.
Our mode of Travel to Madagascar is aboard the MS Nautica, a sister ship to our beloved Nautica of the Oceania family. The mid-sized vessels in these particular cases, carry only 684 passengers, and have an agility that the behemoth monster ships do not. Nimble and swift these “L’il Girls” can dock at some of the world’s smaller ports without the need of tenders. I personally enjoy a tender ride but for some it may be more of a challenge for some. Travelling through hot, humid, tropical climates such as Madagascar and the other exotic ports of call in the equatorial regions, can take a toll on some folks, particularly those from more temperate environments. What I relish is that I can tramp through a steamy jungle, wade up to my claves in muddy water, endure sauna-like temperatures and return “home” to the ship (looking a lot like everyone else) and relax. The intrepid explorer is now in five star luxury, several showers and tub soakings later nestled into the comfort of the Grand Dining room, awaiting the reliably excellent service. Our itinerary took us from Dubai in the UAE south and east to several ports in India. These exotic ports offer a wealth of textures, tastes, sounds and actually a veritable buffet for all the senses. Sailing onwards Nautica negotiated the Seychelles and magnificent Maldives, Zanzibar and Mombasa before arriving in Madagascar. In short, the voyage of a lifetime.
In the event that Madagascar is not on your bucket list of places to visit, amend the list. Magical, magnificent Madagascar.