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Madagascar: Paradise

The Maroantsetra Airport is an experience in itself: Checking in.

Untouched primary rain forest on rolling hills that gently slope to a warm turqouise sea, raucous calls of red-ruffed lemurs and the gentle drone of the cicadas, empty sandy beaches dotted with boulders from a giants' playground, a healthy coral reef teeming with life – and amongst it all, a secluded spot, where a few tented huts have been put up, a few kajaks that silently split the sea, a footpath that leads into the mountains. No power grid, no mobile reception. Spending time at the Masoala Lodge is eco-tourism that lives up to the name – and an unforgettable experience. Yet for me, the beauty of the location immediately triggered a traveler's dilemma.

If you found Paradise, would you tell everyone how to get there? Probably not, for the very absence of humans, or at least of human impact, is the recipe for keeping it heavenly. Those places where you can experience what this planet would look like if it wasn't for us are getting extremely rare. Thailand, Sinai, Goa, Morocco... place names that once stood for individual travelling have lost their magic to the cheap and glitz of hotels and tour operators. And even the most remote beaches or mountain tops will carry the plastic litter of our age. So do I tell people about the wonderful things I have seen and experienced and thereby contribute to the process? Or do I keep my mouth shut, and somebody else will blurt it all out?

Monster en miniature: The leaf-tailed gekko Uroplatus.

Madagascar as a whole is prime example of how humans mess up their environment – deforestation and erosion have sculpted the landscape of the highlands, where once were lush forests, bare earth now bakes in the sun as far as the eye can see. In a process that took him not even 2000 years, man has stripped the land and made it inhospitable even to himself. But an speck of primary rain forest remains on the Masoala peninsula, protected from the onslaught by National Park status, and unfit for mass tourism by its sheer remoteness: it takes an international and then a domestic flight, a taxi and a 3 hour boat ride to get you to the gates.

Home of the clownfish: Amphiprion couple with host anemone.

Still, looking at the way the world turns, distances forever shrinking, one wonders how long this legal and geographical protection will hold. Madagascar is a country where coup d'états seem to happen with a certain regularity, and concessions to international firms for cutting wood are quick to be signed when money is scarce - as it always is, even if you are not running one of the world's poorest economies. Tourism is ever expanding – Europeans, Americans, Japanese, Russians etc are lining up to push into more and more far and away places, bringing noise, litter, pollution and aggression.

The Masoala peninsula is a potent tonic that serves almost immediate relief from tensions, worries and everyday stress. Just jump into the luke warm waters after a forest walk, or stroll under the lush vegetation lining beaches that are free from litter, listen to the birds and crickets sing in the morning or enjoy the silence when bouldering up a forest river. The mind goes into limbo - I almost immediately lost all sense of time, weekday names became just a fleeting memory. Locals are relaxed, and immensely friendly, nature is abundant and benign - bar the odd cyclone pushing through. “The only problem here is that there is no problem,” says Pierre, the owner of Masoala Forest Lodge, who came to this pristine spot with partner Sandra eight years ago, and makes sea kajaking trips around the peninsula available to those who are willing to put up with little comfort in order to experience nature. “The people here probably don't even know what a problem is.”

Even in Paradise Beauty and Death are closely connected: Mantis on Orchid.

It's hard to grasp – and I hope my own sense of foreboding for the future of this place proves to be just that: a Western incapability to stop worrying about loss.


Lieschen said...

Das nenn ich Luxus. Einfach einfach eben. Hört sich toll an =)

Liebe Grüße aus dem kalten Gmünd,

Storm said...

If you shot those pics by yourself (as I guess you did), you really seem to have found Paradise. Enjoy your time there, don't forget your friends back home, and keep rollin'!


Ulf Iskender Kaschl said...

@ Lisa: ja, muss du auch mal probieren :-)

@ Sven: of course all pictures on this blog are taken by myself unless indicated otherwise. An a yeah, a rolling stone gathers no moss, ne. :-)