One of my first blog posts was about how media and travel warnings might give a distorted perspective on travelling in some countries, putting off potential tourists. I now feel compelled to elaborate on a case in point: Madagascar. Madagascar has been on my wishlist since I was a little child. Many times in the past few years I almost went and each time the stories in the media and travel warnings put me off (I know, I should have known better right?!). Not this year. This year I decided to go there no matter what. No matter that there supposedly was a devastating locust plague of biblical proportions which was turning the skies black and would throw the country into an unprecedented famine. No matter that this locust plague was predicted to get even worse in September, the time I was intending to travel. No matter that the elections were keeping on getting postponed and could end up right in the middle of our trip and the situation was described as being very volatile and unstable. No matter that whatever you do you should not really visit the south as it is dangerous. Those were the pearls of wisdom from the revered media and the western governments. Surely they know best? RUBBISH! What I found was an amazingly beautiful and friendly country, a nirvana for animal lovers, with so much to offer. I never felt unsafe at all. I know this is such a cliche but Madagascar is a place that is unique place in every way, with something fascinating waiting to be discovered around every corner. I enjoyed every minute. And I saw a grand total of 1 locust – so apologies, no dramatic images of biblical plagues!
The locust plagues are actually a natural phenomenon that happen every year. And not only in Madagascar for that matter either. I am not saying they don’t have a devastating effect on farmers – they do, especially in the south – but the news was clearly blown out of all proportion. Interestingly enough the tagline of such articles was that lots of money needed to be donated. This was while an election was looming, so I’ll let you draw your own conclusions here. There was also a perplexing lack of French tourists.
Looking around at the Western governments travel warnings, especially the French one, I found them to be a bit harsh and on the alarmist side. After some political turmoil a few years ago all sort of news was discouraging people to visit simply because Madagascar became undemocratic – or rather their new leader was not to the West’s liking. Clearly some political undercurrents are putting out news which is harming Madagascar’s tourism – and that is the real bad news here. You see, the Madagascar information in the media which is true is that it’s natural heritage is being destroyed. From the ground and air one can see far too many fields and fires – the island is almost totally deforested. Slash and burn is a way of life here. Everywhere you look they are selling charcoal or cooking using wood fires – this is a poor country, there is really no other option currently for the vast majority of the people. The national parks and private reserves, although absolutely stunning and teeming with the most weird and wonderful wildlife, are just mere pockets in a sea of ecological devastation. Tourism is needed to help ensure the survival of those small pockets of nature and perhaps creating new ones – nothing speaks louder than tourists visiting, paying the park fees and contributing to the local economy.
The point of this article? Very simple, visit this incredible country before it is too late. Too late is sooner than even the media is letting you think.