The Desert Southwest…of Madagascar

We spent three weeks in Madagascar in 2011 and it was one of our favorite trips ever. From our standpoint, it had it all: friendly people, beautiful scenery, temperate weather and approachable charismatic wildlife. We rarely return to a destination but Madagascar seemed like it deserved a sequel. If you’ve seen the sequel to the movie Madagascar, you know that a sequel is never as good as the original but can still bring a smile of recognition and few new surprises as well.

This time we came during the rainy season, so rather than visiting the interior highlands which have the lemur-rich rainforests and picturesque rice terraces, we spent our time along the east coast. Shielded from the rain by the highlands, it is very dry with unique spiny vegetation and people who make their living from the sea. We started in the south and worked our way up the coast (more about the more northerly parts in future posts).

The favorite place we visited in the in the southwest was the little fishing village of Andavadoaka. It rarely gets tourists so we enjoyed one of our favorite travel experiences, a mutual exchange of happiness and curiosity.

The main city of the southwest is known as Tulear or Toliara. Most cities in Madagascar have two names, one French-influenced and one more true to the Malagasy pronunciation. “Malagasy” is the word used to describe the language and people of Madagascar. According to the best genetic, linguistic and archaeological evidence, the language and the people came to the uninhabited island 1500 years ago, then mixed with Europeans and Africans in more recent centuries to produce the unique culture that exists on the island today.

But we digress, Tulear/Toliara was not a sleepy village like Andavadoaka but a bustling city that sees it share of tourists, with the associated proliferation of pushy gift shops, touts and beggars. It still had some charm and a lot of visual interest but not a place we’d say was our dream of Madagascar. Outside of town were some little nature reserves that showed off the resilient desert plants and wildlife, including salty Lake Tsimanampetsotsa (a prize to anyone who can pronounce that!) which boasts a resident population of flamingos.

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