Central Madagascar Highlands, September 2011

My latest travels have taken me through the central highlands of Madagascar where I hired a driver for 5 days to explore the area.  The scenery was magnificent – but not at all what I expected.  A section of the highlands is in fact World Heritage listed for its unique cultural value.  The slopes of the winding valleys are stripped bare and their red muddy hillsides etched for hundreds of kilometres with steep terraced fields of crops and rice paddies.  Dotted among the hills are villages with typical Malagasy architecture – 2 or 3 storey mudbrick house with steep tiled, gabled roofs, intricately carved wooden balconies and quaint shutters.  The look is “Swiss chalet” but in fact the style existed for hundreds of years before European colonization.  The effect is breathtaking with villages of ‘chocolate-box’ terracotta houses sitting atop valleys of iridescent, glittering rice paddies for as far as the eye can see.

Malagasy cuisine, on the other hand, is nothing to write home about. Typical fare is chicken, beef or pork served with rice, potatoes or manioc.  (Luckily the French introduced them to sauces!!)  In posh restaurants it would be termed ‘nose to tail cuisine’, but here it’s just a fact of life that you eat the whole animal. My chicken and rice dinner yesterday probably had more gizzards in it than other recognizable parts of the chicken that I would usually eat.  I did feel like somewhat of a traitor though as I chomped through chickens’ hearts!

My trip has now taken me to 5 National Parks / Reserves.  The schedule has generally been long days of driving interspersed with long days of hiking.  There’s said to be over 90 species of lemur alone in Madagascar – I have seen around 16 in my travels so far – but a glimpse of the amazing diversity on offer in this country.

Stay tuned as I set the compass north now for my whirlwind journey around Madagascar.

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