By: Marc Lambert
Madagascar; the 4th largest island in the world, and to me, a modern day Jurassic Park. There are animals and plants that live on the Big Red Island (as it’s known locally) that can’t be found anywhere else on the planet. A must see for any explorer or adventurer, and for me, a place I had to visit. It turns out; I had a bigger adventure than I could ever have planned!
My 40L rucksack was home to my tent, my camera, a load of water and some basic clothes, and that was my kit list. Thankfully I also packed my sense of adventure, and this was pushed to its limits, hitchhiking and walking in extreme temperatures is made even harder when you can’t speak the language! I set off to walk/hitchhike around the island, a distance of over 4,800km’s, camping and sleeping under the stars where I could. Before I could even start my journey, I had to travel for two days and wait for a further two more for a 12-hour train to get me to the coast. Fro there, I passed along the wet and greener east coast, often drenched by the monsoons that rise up and over the central mountains of the Hants Plateaux. I struggled to find roads and pathways in the semi-desert South, roasted in the scorching sun of the dry and lengthy West Coast and finally enjoyed some local beers when I made my way toward the more touristic areas in the North.
Throughout my adventure, my eyes were opened to island’s darker side, acts of human destruction on such a scale that soon, nothing of this great land will remain. Deforestation has ravaged the Great Red Island to unrepairable levels since 1990 over 10% of the natural forests that exist on Madagascar have been destroyed. The damage is so severe that it can be witnessed from outer space, astronauts comment that when the rains fall, it looks like Madagascar is bleeding as the falling water washes millions of tonnes of exposed, iron-rich, red soil into the vast arterial network of rivers and lakes that adorn the island, the red water flowing for thousands of kilometres and literally washing the island away.
As for the wildlife, thankfully, it was just as incredible as I had hoped for. Lemurs jumped from every tree, with different types found on all corners of the island. Spiders as big as dinner plates, insects as colorful as coral and Chameleons the size of your thumbnail stay hidden in the leaf litter while their giant cousins, the Panther Chameleons, sit proudly in the trees, each bulbous eye moving around in search of the next meal. As for my food, that was just as interesting! I found supplies in the tiny villages, swapping my t-shirts for bags of rice and loaned out my iPod for fresh water.
I was proud of my achievements, exhausted but satisfied. I had journeyed for over five weeks and almost covered 4000km when mother nature got the better of me. There’s nothing like a tropical illness to stop you from walking! It turned out that I had contracted malaria, and after a particularly harrowing 24 hours spent in an isolated and dirty hospital, I had to fly to Mauritius for better treatment. But that's another story. As for my lessons learned in this one? See Madagascar; it’s stunning wildlife, its beautiful people. Because soon, it'll be too late.