The Wonders On The Magical Madagascar Cycling Expedition
Over my life, sometimes because I had no choice, sometimes because my job required it, often because my curiosity and interest took me there, I have travelled a lot. I believe I have visited, worked and spent more than a few days in about 100 countries. So if the 100th happens to be the country I am in right now, Madagascar, then it could not have been a more appropriate place to reach this milestone. The reason is simple. When it comes to the flora and fauna on this, the 4th largest island in the world, there is simply nothing comparable anywhere else in the world. Some of you may say, what about Galapagos Islands? I will respond simply by saying, come and see for yourself and then let me know if you do not agree.
Take for instance, since I am talking about travelling, the Traveller Tree, otherwise known as Ravenala. This beautiful, big, fan-like tree, which many people mistake to be part of the palm tree family, opens its’ ‘fan like’ crown from east to west. If a traveller is lost they can immediately orient themselves in the right direction. That is not the end of the wonders of this tree. A thirsty traveller can poke the tree at any point and a glassful of drinking water will gush out.
One hundred and thirty five million years ago Godwana, the prehistoric super continent, broke from Africa and South America, creating India which subsequently broke up 88 million years ago, spawning Madagascar. This ‘earth shattering’ development allowed plants and animals to develop in complete isolation, creating a rather amazing array of plants and animal species. As a result, 90% of the flora and fauna here are endemic to this island.
So even an old traveller, and not particularly observant individual, like myself can’t help but see the wonders everywhere. How can one miss the succulent Didierea madagascariensis, commonly known as the octopus tree, which grows to 100 meters high? On the other end of the spectrum there are wondrous medical plants such as the Madagascar periwinkle from which drugs that treat Hodgkin’s disease, leukaemia and other cancers are extracted. Even if you are not a great flower fan, you cannot help but be impressed when there are over 800 orchids species found here and, of course, there are the amazing six endemic species of baobabs, some even cuddle themselves in permanent embrace.
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Not to be outdone, the animal kingdom is full of its own marvels. First there are the 113 or so species of lemurs, primates that evolved separately on Madagascar. One can spend hours observing the dancing Sifaka leaping from tree to tree or, if you are patient enough, watch the bamboo-eating lemur feast on a species of bamboo that contains arsenic and would kill any other animal. This lemur eats dirt to neutralize the arsenic in their diet.
As a kid growing up in the countryside, frogs were always great entertainment but seeing the tiny golden species is definitely more fascinating. How about the insect called Giraffe Weevil? It has an intense red coloured body shell and a very long neck, which helps him compete with other males during the mating season. Talking about mating, how about the incomparable sexual prowess of the cat-like hunter, the Fossa, the villain of the famous DreamWorks animated movie, Madagascar. Incredibly, the head of production for that movie is a participant on our Magical Madagascar Cycling Tour!
On a nature walk a trained guide will point out the truly amazing variety of chameleons and geckos some of which literally flatten their bodies and disguise as branches on the trees. I can tell you one thing, from now on when someone mentions the word chameleon, I will remember the time in Madagascar when a guide pointed out a chameleon to me. Looking around and wondering what the heck the people around me were talking about, eventually I began to see its nose, eyes, head and, finally, its whole body.
The list of wonders of the natural world in Madagascar goes on and on. Unfortunately many, if not most, are under threat due to the pressure of this poor country’s population simply trying to survive. Many in the conservation and travel fields believe that ecological tourism can play a key role in saving these wonders, simply by coming here to see them and contributing to the local economy (watch this boat owner explain as well how our tourism dollars are so important). If that hypothesis is correct, the participants on the Magical Madagascar Cycling Tour have not only had a great adventure but have also contributed to preservation of the biological diversity of this wonderful world we live in.