|Area||total: 587,040 sq km |
water: 5,500 sq km
land: 581,540 sq km
|Population||16,473,477 (July 2002 est.)|
|Language||French (official), Malagasy (official)|
|Religion||indigenous beliefs 52%, Christian 41%, Muslim 7%|
Madagascar is a country that occupies a large island of the same name, located in the Indian Ocean off the eastern coast of Africa. It is famous for pepper, vanilla, and of course the Lemurs.
- Toamasina ( Tamatave )
- Toliara ( Tul�ar )
- Majunga ( Mahajanga )
- Antsiranana ( Di�go-Suarez )
- Taolagnaro ( Fort-Dauphin )
The Malagasy people do not pronounce the first and last syllable of many place names. When the French took control of the island, they changed the spelling of many places to match the pronunciation. After Independence, the Malagasy changed it back; but you will still find the "shortened" names in literature et cetera. For example, Antananarivo is often called "Tananarive" or "Tana" for short.
Morondava is a nice little town on the west coast of Madagascar situated at the Mozambique Channel. Some small and comfortable hotels and great food.
While Madagascar is an island off the coast of Africa, it was originally settled by people from Indonesia. Only later did African and Arab immigrants mix into the population of the island. As a result, Madagascar is a little bit of an oddity when compared to other African nations.
Madagascar was an independent kingdom before it was taken over and made a colony of France. It gained independence in 1960.
- tropical along coast, temperate inland, arid in south
- narrow coastal plain, high plateau and mountains in center
As Madagascar is an island, you can only arrive via plane or boat.
From Europe, the best connections are with Air France, Corsair or Paris to Toamasina on the east coast and Mauritius.
Air Madagascar serves numerous destinations throughout the country, which is a good thing considering the bad state of the roads. Besides the big cities, lots of little hamlets are also served.
After the events of 2002, many airports were closed, so it is preferable to inform yourself from the company before reserving a flight.
Passengers who arrive in Madagascar on a long-haul flight from Air Madagascar can benefit from reductions on the order of 25% on the company's internal flights.
There are three rail lines in Madagascar :
- Toamasina. This historic train runs only on previous reservation (at least one month in advance) and the price is interesting only if all 18 seats are full.
The train is not the fastest and most comfortable means of travel, but it lets you admire the magnificent landscapes (especially on the line connecting Fianarantsoa to Manakara) and discover the Malagasy fruits and dishes offered at every stop. You can taste what is in season at little cost : crayfish, bananas, cinnamon apples, sambos, zebu sausages, oranges...
This is the way most natives travel around the country. There is only one major modern road in the country and that runs from Tana, the capital, to Tulear, a south-western coastal town. Trip between the two towns takes about a day whereas traveling between Tana and Fort-Dauphin, a south-eastern coastal town, would take about 3 or 4 days due to the condition of the road. Travel is cramped and don't expect air conditioning.
In Tana, the cheapest way to get around is by taxi-be, or big taxi, which is a bit larger than a mini-van. There is one aisle with seats to fold down so they can cram in even more people. During peak hours, buses run frequently.
The remarkable thing about Madagascar is that the entire island speaks one language: Malagasy, a language with Polynesian roots. Because the island is so large there are many different dialects. "Official" or the dialect of the highlands around the capital is taught in schools countrywide so anywhere you go, someone will probably speak official. The writing is phonetic so once you learn, it is very easy to do dictation, whether or not you understand what they are saying.
The other official language of Madagascar is French. It is spoken by about half the people in urban areas; beggars for instance show no evidence of speaking French. However it is almost impossible to find someone who speaks fluent French other than doctors or NGO members in the rural areas.
The unit of money is the ariary. This unit preceded the French rule, and Malagasy franc notes had the value in ariary printed on them too (50000 francs = iray alina ariary = one myriad ariary). The ariary is worth about half a U.S. cent.
Vanilla (3 euros for 2 pods France ; about 2 euros for 10 pods in Mada)
The cheapest way to get a filling meal is to eat at a "hotely". For about 7000 ariary (or a little less than $2) you can buy a plate of rice, laoka (malagasy for side dish accompanying rice) like chicken, beans or pork, and rice water. For 2000 ariary extra you can get a small glass of homemade yogurt.
There is no safe tap water so be prepared with bottled water. Or else you could just drink rice water.
- Bushhouse (http://www.bushhouse-madagascar.com/bushhouse.html) lodge in Pangalanes lake district on the east coast of Madagascar
If you are going to Madagascar it would be a good idea to take either a French or Malagasy phrase book.
Madagascar is a fairly safe country. You must, however, respect some simple principles:
- Don't walk around at night in big cities.
- Don't show signs of riches (cameras, jewels, ...).
- Don't resist in case of aggression.
- Keep your eyes on your stuff when you take public transportation or go to markets where numerous pickpockets swarm.
Unlike most other southern African countries, AIDS is not yet a major problem in Madagascar. However, you should take no risks and avoid unprotected sex in all cases.
Research malaria prophylaxis options, and follow through.
Everyday life in Madagascar is regulated by numerous fady (taboos) which vary from one region to another. They can forbid foods (pork, lemur, turtle... ), wearing clothes of a particular color, bathing in a river or a lake...
Fady are attributed to ancestors, to whom Malagasy owe a respectful worship whatever their religion. It is preferable to respect these forbiddings so as not to offend them, even if their well-foundedness is sometimes debatable. Inform yourself about local fady when you arrive in a new place.