Madagascar is a country that’s been on the slide economically for the past 50 years. A combination of corruption and mismanagement has left this unique country woefully short of the infrastructure that could take advantage of its enormous tourism potential.
Not only does the country have a unique set of weird and wonderful wildlife, but it also has a superb set of beaches that are crying out for international tourists. However, the part of Madagascar that we were visiting, the island of Nosy Be in the north of the country, is about as touristy as the country gets – it’s now on the receiving end of low numbers of visitors (there are direct flights from Milan), but there’s still a feeling of visiting tourism’s wild frontier.
Of course, there’s no point visiting Madagascar if you don’t see any lemurs, so we joined the ship’s tour to visit Nosy Komba with its colony of wild black lemurs. I absolutely love lemurs, so I made sure to bring a banana with me to attract these beguiling little creatures. It worked like a dream – within seconds of meeting them, I had lemurs jumping down from the trees onto my shoulders, softly grasping my hand with their velvety fingers, and gently nibbling away at the bananas.
I don’t know if it was my imagination, but it seemed like they were a little more grabby than last time we were here – this might be the danger of too much exposure to us tourists. In fact, just to show that these were lemurs behaving badly, as I stood there with a lemur on each shoulder, I thought that I could feel a warm glow of happiness at being so close to nature. It turned out that I was actually feeling the warm glow of lemur pee spreading down my back!
I am now able to confirm that lemur pee absolutely stinks to high heaven, although it did seem like the lemurs I met afterwards were a bit more friendly – maybe the smell made them think I was one of their own.
Anyway, a little bit of pungent lemur pee was not going to spoil my day, so I had a fantastic time exploring the island, having boa constrictors draped round my neck, seeing brightly coloured chameleons that looked like they couldn’t possibly be real, and running the gauntlet of the rather desperate vendors that live on this very basic island.
On the one hand, Madagascar so badly needs more tourists to bring some much-needed foreign currency into their beleaguered economy; but at the same time, they need to be careful that tourism doesn’t spoil the nature that makes this country unique. It’s a fine balance and it will be interesting to see which way Madagascar goes; but for the time being it feels like a real privilege for us to be able to come here.