Madagascar is a truly fascinating place. Such a unique country, split from mainland Africa so many years ago it evolved separately preserving and enhancing species who dies long ago in the rest of the continent. Lemurs swinging from tree branches, rainforest, chameleons roaming around like dogs or cats do in the Western world. Every where you turn there is something enchanting and taken out of a Disney movie.

First impressions of Madagascar’s Red Tsingy

Madagascar impressed me.

So much of it is unique that it feels at times like you are in a different planet.

The island broke off from India 88 million years ago and most of it evolved completely separate with minimal interaction with the mainland. Several of its species are incredibly interesting. Instead of dogs or cats roaming the streets one can find chameleons and lemurs. Its people are an interesting combination of native Malagasy and French. They are extremely polite and quiet and they look like they could be a mix of Indian and African with a European twist. I was lucky enough to do some work there and hence I interacted with the Malagasy people not just as a tourist but also as a work colleague. They are extremely nice and friendly and very hospitable.

Tourism has yet to take off, after all, the country is extremely remote and very hard to reach with only connections to Joburg, Mauritius or the occasional flight to France, so interactions with Malagasy will be genuine and very real.

The Red Tsingy

The Red Tsingy

Its isolation from the rest of the world and the diversity of its natural world place it in a completely separate category on its own. It can’t be compare to any other country. Sadly, deforestation and human development are taking a toll.

Much of the forests and mountains are converted into farmland to grow rice or other crops. It is one of the poorest countries in the world with 90% of the population of roughly 20 million living with less than USD2 a day, and year after year, it is ranked in the bottom 10 in the development list. Subsistence agriculture requires that much of the forest be converted into crops. And with it, the fauna and flora, which in 90% of the cases exists only in Madagascar.

During my two weeks there on vacation and the several business trips I had the chance of interacting with a range of people and to see the country from various perspectives.

If you go, avoid the rainy cyclone season from Nov to Mar because most roads become impassable and large parts of the country are inaccessible. It is always hot in Madagascar except for the higher mountain areas where it can be remarkably cool.

If you take a tour around the country accommodation will unavoidably be a mix of lodges, basic options and some higher end resorts. We slept at a variety of places from basic huts with limited electricity and food cooked on an open fire for a couple of nights to beautiful beach resorts that only the French seem to have heard about.

The Red Tsingy

The Red Tsingy

For a trip that offers interaction with the local culture and opportunities to enjoy the stunning beaches in the north, charter you own sailing boat and explore the area. You are guaranteed to have it all to yourself and will have the chance to jump on shore to explore the local villages and the ways of life.

What is the Red Tsingy (or Tsingy Rouge)?

I can only describe The Red Tsingy as nature’s response to human destruction. It is a temporary performance put up to prove that no matter how hard we try, Mother Earth will adapt and survive.

This geological oddity did not exist 50 years ago but it has appeared as a result of the deforestation. The red clay soil began to erode and over time this revealed the pink sandstone, or tsingy, that can now be seen. At the base of the valley, the soil is solid clay and hence the water does not permeate into the ground but merely runs off. 

The sandstone will wash away over time and so the tsingy will not exist in a few year’s time. However, with the continued erosion of the red soil, it is believed that other sections of the pink sandstone will be revealed.

This is a stark reminder that we can cause ever lasting and permanent damage to nature and, whereas sometimes it may be able to adapt, other times, animals and plants may not be so lucky and simply disappear.

A chameleon by the side of the road in the Red Tsingy

A chameleon by the side of the road

Getting to the Red Tsingy is not easy. One needs to fly to Diego Suarez, in the north, and then drive to the park by 4×4. The roads are inaccessible otherwise. A lot of Madagascar is like that.