Getting to Madagascar was a mission.
Despite only being 3 hours from Johannesburg the flights are expensive. Air Madagascar was the cheaper of our 2 options (South African Airways being the other). Less than 2 weeks before we were due to fly Air Madagascar cancelled our outbound flight and moved us to their next which was 2 days later. This was an arse. We didn’t want to spend any time in Jo’burg and we had literally only a couple of days before booked flights to go to Cape Town after Madagascar meaning we now didn’t have popping there first as an option. With an already too full wish list we eventually decided to suck up the cost of a visit to Lesotho.
We weren’t super disappointed when on the journey back to Jo’burg we’d got an email notification telling us the flight was again delayed. Not having to get up at 4:30am was welcome. The email told us to present ourselves at 9am for an 11am flight.
We were awake earlier and figured we may as well hang at the airport so we got there about 8am and after checking the screens it showed the flight was now scheduled to depart at 10am. Unlike all the other flights there was no check in counter numbers listed. We figured this was because it was before 9am. We had some breakfast and kept periodically checking the screen.
At 9am we got our rucksacks and started to walk the check in desks. Emma spotted a man on a desk with no queue and asked him. He told us the flight had closed and we’d missed it. Cue mild panic.
We explained we’d been told to present ourselves at 9am and no check in counter had been provided and that we still had an hour regardless. He made some calls and very kindly basically told Air Madagascar he was reopening check in. Then he told us even if we made the flight our bags probably wouldn’t. Not prepared to have that experience for the second time in 2 days and planning on heading out in the country the moment we landed in Madagascar, we were literally about to pull out our rucksack liners to carry the majority of our gear on when Emma asked if we could take our rucksacks with us.
He was hesitant but he hadn’t said no so we pushed the point – our rucksacks are light, they just have clothes etc (both an exaggeration). Eventually he agreed but he warned us security might not let us through in which case we needed to return to him quickly as the flight was already boarding so we needed to run.
We talked our way into being allowed to use the diplomatic lane and passed through both screening and immigration in double quick time. We legged it to the gate only to get there and be told we had 10 minutes until boarding after all. Marie decided to go to buy water (which became a hassle in itself as they required a boarding pass which she’d left with Emma, so she’d persuaded a random man in the shop to let her use his). Air Madagascar decided to board around the same time and with very few passengers this took no time and Emma had to work hard to persuade them not to close the gate.
Somehow we’d made it!
We now understood why our original flight was cancelled, there were 12 passengers for the whole jet plane. We’d had to give up our multi tool as we went through security (not a standard item we carry but later on we’ll have wheels and be camping). But somewhere over the Indian Ocean we realised Marie has a knife in her bag that wasn’t piked up at screening.
Madagascar is big. The 4th largest island in the world it is bigger than Spain and can boast 226,917sq miles compared to the UK’s 93,410.
It is also unique; 5% of all known plants and animals can be only be found in Madagascar. This is matched by a diversity of landscape that contains everything from rainforests to deserts.
There aren’t however giraffes, zebras, lions or penguins in Madagascar. Only lemurs and fossa.
Conservation International lists it as 1 of just 17 countries in the world that are considered ‘megadiverse.’ This is in part thanks to its long isolation from neighbouring continents and it being something of a lost world that lay undiscovered until 500AD.
A French colony Madagascar gained its independence in 1960. Although the predominant religion is Christianity (introduced by missionaries), most Malagasies are also animists, believing in their ancestors, taboo and magic.
Madagascar is also ranked the 10th poorest country in the world, with 75% of its over 26 million population living on less than US$1.90 a day. It has the world’s 6th highest rate of chronic malnutrition, with half the children under five years suffering from stunting.
Only 11% of the country’s roads are paved making travelling slow and hard going. Taxi Brousse run everywhere, these are mini vans packed with people, stuff on the roof and very poorly maintained, so few travellers take them. With a more time than we have it is possible to take a bus to some places, but with a few key places we really want to see in our limited time we did what most travellers here do and found a driver.
Our plan had been to spend the first couple of days in Antananarivo (the capital) when we arrived but having lost 2 days the day before we contacted a recommended driver on an online forum, already busy he passed us to his wife who said their friend could take us. So while at Durban airport waiting for our flight back to Jo’burg, on Whatsapp we worked on an itinerary with her, confirmed all the costs (we got a really good price, we think because we said the driver speaking English didn’t matter) and agreed he’d meet us at the airport with a sign. We were stoked to have something sorted. We just hoped we liked him otherwise it was going to be a long week!
Ps The blog post title had to be done! Who doesn’t think of that tune when they think of Madagascar??