When Karel and I first talked about taking this trip, Karel asked me which part of the world I wanted to see next: China and the Far East, South America, or Africa? In recent decades, I’d heard, China has intentionally destroyed much of the old cityscapes and surrounding countryside that made it unique and interesting. The old China is long gone. Although I still want to see China and Japan and the Far East, they probably won’t change much in character from what they are now during the next ten years. From what I could gather about South America, on the other hand, that region is changing so slowly that it will also likely “still be there” in ten years. In Africa, however, big changes are underway right now. The Africa of legend still exists, but is disappearing fast. Also, much of the continent was in a period of relative calm and stability. And last, but not least, Africa was the most physically challenging destination, and we aren’t getting any younger.
When it comes to travel, I take care of packing and preparations, while Karel arranges our itineraries, lodging, flights, etc. He determines how much tour company support we need, or whether we can do some of it on our own. He does a great job!
For a great variety of reasons, we ended up starting our four-month African sojourn in Madagascar, which turned out in many ways to be the most African of places to start. Madagascar is less developed than most countries, and less altered by globalization or recent civil war or tourism.
We chose Madagascar because we wanted to see its extraordinary, unique ecosystems. The large island separated from the Gondwana supercontinent 145 million years ago. This was during the age of dinosaurs, long before Tyrannosaurus Rex had evolved! The first humans didn’t arrive there until 500 BCE, and the highlands weren’t settled until 1200 CE. Waves of colonists have arrived from Malaysia, Indonesia, northern India, China, eastern Africa, northern Africa, Arabia, France, Portugal, and England, resulting in an amazing genetic and cultural mixture.
Sadly, it’s all rapidly disappearing. As our guide in Isalo lamented, “Just a few years ago, Madagascar was a green land. Now it is a red land.” Most of the forest has been burned. The unique fauna has been driven into isolated pockets of protected land, and even these are under intense pressure. 40% of its population is under the age of 14. A baby boom is underway.
If you’re considering a career as an anthropologist, Madagascar is the place to go! It’s big enough, and has been settled long enough, to have developed an incredibly complex society with fascinating differences and similarities from tribe to tribe. It’s isolated enough to have developed many unique attributes, mostly during recorded history (in other words, there’s enough archeological material, plus written and oral history, to grasp the early roots and evolution of human society on the island). With an exploding population, with the forest nearly gone, with climate change altering currents, rainfall, and the frequency and intensity of storms, it’s now on the verge of environmental collapse. And it’s virtually unstudied! What is this place, and what’s going to happen to it? Madagascar is a natural experiment in multiculturalism and ecology.
While we were planning the Africa trip, Karel and I had watched a couple of nature and travel shows on Madagascar. Even though these programs were relatively recent, we found the country had already changed. The natural environment was not nearly as intact as we’d hoped. As we said farewell to the island, I worried. If things were so far gone here, what would we find on the continent?This entry was posted in Madagascar, Vacation 2016: East/South Africa