7 Magical Reasons To Visit Madagascar
Madagascar has been called the 8th continent. What is it about this island that would earn it such a distinction? After all, there are three islands on the planet that are bigger then Madagascar – Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo – but there are no suggestions that any of them should be labelled as a separate continent. So why is this island, separated from mainland Africa by the Mozambique Channel, often thought of as the 8th continent? Perhaps it’s the magic. Read on and decide…
The Elephant Bird – Just 1 Egg In My Omelette Please
Once, not that long ago, perhaps just before seafaring Europeans landed on Madagascar, a big bird, called Aepyornis Maximus ( ‘largest tall bird’) still roamed Madagascar. This elephant bird (so-called due to its enormous elephantine legs) was over three metres high and weighed over half a ton. Its existence is so recent that flooding occasionally reveals old egg deposits. One elephant bird egg is equivalent to 150 chicken eggs! Even if you are just a visitor and find yourself in southern Madagascar you may still find the broken shells of this large egg. . This big bird is not the only animal that disappeared fairly recently. Other fossils of creatures that lived until recent times reveal a Pygmy hippocampus the size of a dog and a giant lemur the size of a pony.
Lemurs – Speaking In Tongues
Modern Madagascar is home to 33 different species of the unique trapeze artists called lemurs. According to National Geographic these animals “resemble creatures put together from odds and ends of the animal kingdom: rodent’s teeth, bat’s ears, monkey’s hand and feet and a flowing fox tail”. Some lemur species dance and others sing. According to Wikipedia, all lemurs have two tongues; a main tongue used for eating and a second tongue hidden under the first that is used for cleaning each other. Here are 8 other things you may not have known about lemurs.
Tenrecs & Fossa – Not Your Mother’s Menagerie
Lemurs are not the only unique animals that roam the unusual landscape of Madagascar. The Tenrec (Hemicentetes Semispinous) bristles like a hedgehog. When it rubs its spines together, it makes ultrasonic vibrations that are possibly a means of communication. Another strange creature is the tree lizard. According to wildmadagascar.org, there are more than 210 species of this lizard. One takes on the colour of bark when the need arises and disguises itself as bumps on the tree, making it invisible to predators while another one (Calumma Crypticum) is a hallucinogenic mix of brown, blue, green, orange and white. Additional unique animals include the tortoise (Testudo Radiate) whose painted armour unfortunately often ends up in Malagasy jewelry, the colourful Painted Mantella frog, the Madagascar Long-Eared Owl, a nocturnal primate called Aye-Aye, the striking Madagascar Fogy, the Fossa (a relative of the mongoose), the Comet Moth and many, many others.
Madagascar is a land of incredible vistas, diverse landscapes, humid rainforests, high plateaus, dry deciduous forests, endless savannah, secluded...
Baobabs & Orchids – An Enchanted Garden
Madagascar’s flora is as magical as its fauna, starting with six species of baobabs (whereas Africa has only two). How about a tangled forest of thorn-studded Didierea? There are an incredible 900 hundred species of orchids, 85% of them endemic to the island. There are also 200 species of palms and, lest we forget, the Madagascar periwinkle which is a source of the drugs vincristine and vinblastine, used to treat cancer. There are unique plants for each region: humid forests, dry forests and thickets, grasslands, woodlands and bushlands as well as wetlands. There are colourful plants as well as weird plants like the Ravenala tree, the symbol of Madagascar, medicinal plants and poisonous plants.
Tsingy – Not A (Barefoot) Walk In The Park
For the curious, or should I say the adventurous, who feel that the unique flora and fauna is not enough, Madagascar offers the Tsingy – meaning ‘the place when one cannot walk barefoot’. These geological formations, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are made of needle shaped limestone formations which can easily cut through equipment and flesh and thus discourages any human activity. For those who dare, however, the rewards can be magical.
Ylang-Ylang – Just Lie Back And Relax…
Have you ever heard of a magical tree called the ylang-ylang which produces a yellow/green flower? ‘Cananga Odorata’ is valued for the perfume extracted from its flowers and for the essential oils that are used in aromatherapy. According to Wikipedia “the fragrance of ylang-ylang is rich and deep with notes of rubber and custard, and bright with hints of jasmine and neroli”. Just imagine that smell! One internet site states, “Ylang ylang is known primarily as an aphrodisiac. It is also known for its use in treating sexual dysfunction such as impotence and frigidity. Its aroma is heady, deeply relaxing and euphoric. Ylang ylang is also indicated for use in nervous tension, in the case of frustration, restlessness, anger, anxiety, depression and stress. It is also the essential oil to use in the case of shock and trauma to body or mind”.
Malagasy Culture – Rum, Zebus & The Turning Of The Bones
Perhaps the most magical aspect of Madagascar is its culture. It reflects the origins of the Malagasy people – originally from South East Asia and East Africa but more recently followed by the arrival of Arabs, Indians, British, French and Chinese. Traditional practices such as zebu sacrifices, emphasize the links between the ancestors and the living, as does the famadihana, a ‘turning of the bones’ reburial ceremony. According to Wikipedia “the famadihana is an occasion to celebrate the beloved ancestor’s memory, reunite with family and community, and enjoy a festive atmosphere. Across the island, many Malagasy make offerings out of respect to the ancestors, such as by pouring the first cap-full of each newly opened bottle of rum into the northeastern corner of the room”.