Africa Vignette Series


At the end of the month we’re heading to the Maasai Mara for the annual wildebeest migration. Between now and then, here is a blizzard of little African vignettes. They are just short little bits, not in any particular order, not particularly edited. Maybe they’ll entice you to visit too one day. Hope you enjoy them. All the photos in this series are from

5 Madagascar

The road had been curvy down to Ambatolampy, about halfway to Antsirabe. Zebu carts far outnumbered cars and refreshingly, there were almost no motorbikes or mopeds. At Ambatolampy, Manou knew of an American with a Malagasy wife who ran a horse stable. Did we want to stop?

So just on the other side of town we turned up a dirt track at a sign, “Manja Ranch 1 km.” and spoke English with the man of the house. He’d just awakened (it wasn’t yet 9:00), didn’t offer his name, and drank tea without offering us any. Just another anti-establishmentarian who couldn’t or didn’t want to do it the American way – from St. Louis, posted here as an engineer eight years ago.

Quit, married locally, stayed. Goatee, a little wild-eyed intensity, and a 70’s-mod orange and blue striped shirt. He’d started the horse farm, with a half dozen or so horses and more servants, and he was trying to entice groups from Tana down into the hills.

First, he needed to get into the guidebooks, of which there were then exactly two: Hilary Bradt’s Guide to Madagascar (“I don’t know why we’re not in there.” He felt it personally. “We’ve written her. People have written her for us. But you know, she’s getting lazy. She only comes to Madagascar three weeks a year anymore.”) and the Lonely Planet guide, in which he’d got a mention (“They stole a lot of stuff from Hilary.”).

He groused that the government counted every arrival as a tourist arrival and thus while there were 52,000 “tourists” last year, really there were only about 30 or 35,000. The government kept ticket prices too high, there was no reason this country should be as poor as it was.

He blamed Ratsiraka (the former ruler) but also his predecessors for taking too long to jump start tourism. This would be the year that decided whether they would stay or sell and go. He muttered quite a bit.

This entire series of vignettes will reside here, in the Africa section. If you enjoy them please have a look at my two travel books, Common Sense and Whiskey and Visiting Chernobyl.

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