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    Posted June 25, 2013 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    The Africa we don't see

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    The Madagascar That Almost Wasn't


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     LLCoolJew says she took these photos while passing time in the town of Nosy Be and a nature reserve. Although her travel in the country was limited at the time due to political conflict, the beautiful scenes she saw made her trip still worthwhile.
    - alexislai, CNN iReport producer

    Paul Theroux once said that travel is only glamorous in retrospect. Should this hold true, then perhaps one day my memories of Madagascar will weave themselves into an exotic tapestry of colorful anecdotes to dazzle myself with when life seems dull.

    Before my arrival to the country in 2002, there had been a political crisis. An election gone sour; one man who didn’t win declared himself President anyway, assigned a cabinet, and staged a coupe. In the uprising that followed, people were killed, electricity and phone lines were sabotaged and several bridges mysteriously blew up, thus shutting down transportation and supplies to much of the country. All non-essential visitors were made to leave, tourism came to a screeching halt, and the nation’s economy- which had already been a bit shaky, went to hell. Eventually, things blew over. The previous leader left to France in exile, and I was one of the very first tourists… and quite possibly the ONLY tourist let into the country.

    Once in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, I quickly recognized that the weak infrastructure would not easily support travel to much of the country. And it didn’t help that I was completely by myself, unable to speak two words of French. So, I opted to fly to a small island called “Nosy Be” in the northwest part of the nation. There, I decide I will scuba dive… relax a little. But I am the only guest at my hotel. All of the dive shops are closed. No one speaks English. There aren’t any phones, newspapers, or internet, and there certainly doesn’t appear to be anything familiar to eat. So, I wandered around the island, passing time with my camera. I took photos in the colorful marketplace, and tried to capture the beautiful faces I passed along the way.

    But I reminded myself why I came in the first place.  Located off the coast of Africa, and surrounded by the Indian Ocean, Madagascar lays claim to some of the richest biodiversity in the entire world. It is estimated that 90% of all living species found on the island do not exist anywhere else. Take, for example, the legendary lemur- an adorable group of primates that are endemic to Madagascar. It was my hope to meet one, and I wasn’t going to allow a little bit of political strife stand in my way!

    Despite the language gap, I somehow managed to arrange a trip to visit the rainforest. I found myself climbing into a narrow, dugout wooden canoe with 4 Malagasy men (one of them my guide), who promptly handed me an oar, and instructed me to paddle to a nature reserve over an hour away.  The five of us rowed together in silence, gliding beside the thick mangrove trees that stood at the edge of the sea. It was wonderfully surreal.

    Within minutes of arrival, I saw neon orange frogs, spiders with gladiator-like horns, and rare insects that I never knew existed. Brightly colored snakes and lizards slithered by my feet, and a giant boa constrictor hung from a branch waiting to greet me! We walked further into the forest, and I finally spotted the lemurs! They were clinging to the trees like tiny koalas, their big brown eyes gazing at me sweetly, and it took every ounce of restraint I had not want to hug them! My guide mimicked their sound, causing the lemurs to leap from the trees over head, and jump from branch to branch in a strange and fascinating frenzy. They are beautiful animals! There are over 50 species of lemur, and I was thrilled to see just a few different types, even though I had to live with the smell of lemur urine on my jacket for several days to follow.


    In retrospect, there was nothing especially glamorous about my time in Madagascar, and there didn’t need to be. I simply went. It may have been easy to allow the less-than-ideal political conditions dampen my enthusiasm, and cancel my plans. But I chose to take the journey that almost wasn’t, the Africa that was meant to be unseen. Sure, it was complicated, challenging, and quite a bit risky. But sometimes, the true value of an experience does not make itself apparent until the journey is completed. In hindsight, perhaps that is what Theroux was actually trying to say.

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