Madagascar - a country we had often looked at on our world map and wondered if we would ever make it. Then an opportunity arose. The total solar eclipse that should have been visible from our part of England, the South West, had got us (and most of the rest of England, it appears) interested in eclipses. A cloudy day in England spoiled our view, but looking forward, the next total solar eclipse was due in 2001, and the path of totality would pass through Southern Madagascar. That was when we decided we must go.
We booked our flights to Madagascar in early 2001, via South Africa. We
hadn't been to SA before either, so planned a three week trip in each country. It would have been rude not to drop in as we were passing.
Madagascar is fantastic country, the people are especially friendly and, although the poverty is obvious, I don't think I've met people who are happier.
Ironically, our holiday there was marred by the very thing we went to see, the eclipse. Aside from us missing the total eclipse due to a rather large cloud moving in just at the wrong time, a risk we always took but are still disappointed about, the whole of the country seemed to be gearing up for a massive influx of tourists. Not only did prices for transport
and accommodation escalate out of proportion, but everybody's focus, including ours, was directed at getting to the best location for the eclipse. It was only in the days after the eclipse that we came to realise how much we had focused on it, and that if we had come at a different time we would have visited a more diverse area and had a more relaxing time. The crowds didn't materialise in the vast numbers expected either, so we felt very sorry for the local people who had erected tent villages and viewing platforms especially for the occasion, only to have in some case nobody turn up at all.
Still, we did manage a 3 day hike in the Isalo National Park in the days leading upto the eclipse, we cycled around many of the small towns and villages around Ambositra, and we visited the tropical rain forests around Ranomafana.
I'm sure we will be returning to Madagascar, it has so much to offer. Next time though, no eclipse.
In South Africa we stayed with friends near Jo'burg, before hiring a car and setting off touring the Eastern side of the country, with visits to Lesotho and Swaziland. We camped in our tent every night except one, which we spent in a roundal. The highlight of our stay was the 5 days we spent in Kruger National Park. We definitely got the bug for safari parks there.