Madagascar: Visit Nature’s diversity before the Chainsaws get to it!

Travel is all about unique experiences, and this was certainly one of
them. And Madagascar is full of them: Exploding palm trees that
violently flower once at age 50 and then die. Ketchup-red Tomato
frogs. Giraffe-necked beetles. Psychedelic-colored chameleons whose
slow cha-cha motion is at odds with the lighting speed with which
their long, sticky tongues grab bugs.

Madagascar has a roll call of
unique inhabitants: It is home to 5 percent of the world’s plant and
animal species, 80 percent of which are endemic to this island off the
southeastern coast of AfricaAt the same time, it is also one of the
most threatened ecosystems on the planet. Deforestation has dwindled
once-lush forests to less than 16 percent of the land area. It has
been terraced, clear-cut, farmed and slashed-and-burned to feed the
inhabitants of one of the world’s poorest countries. Each year as much
as a third of the country burns and 1 percent of its remaining forests
are leveled. Madagascar is eroding horrifically, its rivers bleeding
great muddy red swirls out to sea. The few patches of remaining
forest, islands of vegetation, are zealously guarded within national
parks such as Reserve of Indri d’Analamazaotra, better known as
Perinet, where we saw the Indri lemurs. These days, Madagascar falls
into the see-it-while-you-still-can category. The fourth-largest
island in the world, Madagascar is home to 20 million Malagasy whose
bloodlines are a unique mélange of Indonesians, Arab traders, South
Asians, East Africans and European pirates. Here you can experience
duck with truffle gravy and braised witloof at a first-class French
restaurant or watch a “turning of the bones” ritual where the remains
of ancestors are removed from their family tombs, danced and partied
with for a week, then placed back in their resting place in a clean
shroud. Madagascar is one seriously weird country.

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