Madagascar, Lemurs and the 2CV

by Lynn McDougall (A runner-up entry in the inaugural Travel Writing Competition)

Day one of our month long adventure in Madagascar starts in the capital city of Antananarivo in our search for a taxi to take us the 25km to one of the capital’s top attractions, a private park and botanical garden, home to 9 species of endangered lemurs.

Sifaka lemur and baby
Sifaka lemur and baby

We delight at discovering the favoured taxi vehicle throughout Antananarivo is the 2 CV, a relic from French colonialism. Having settled on the price for our trip to Lemurs Park, around £10 for a 40 minute journey plus 2 hour waiting time, we pay our gasoline money up front.

We later find this is normal practice in the capital, as the Antananarivo taxi drivers’ first action on picking up a fare is invariably to find the gasoline to undertake the journey.

We spend the next 20 minutes appearing to drive around rather than out of the city before stopping outside a formerly grand church. Our barely school remembered French just about stretches to understanding that our driver’s elaborate detour is to pick up his wife and two year old son to take advantage of the long distance commission and the opportunity for a rare family day out. The next unscheduled stop is a small shack where the family picnic is purchased, a bottle of fizzy drink and a small packet of biscuits.

Madagascar - 2CV Taxis
2CV Taxis in Antananarivo

The Lemur Park is a gentle and cultivated introduction to those unique Malagasy creatures. The sifakas are the first to catch our eye, with their long limbed teddy bear appearance, affectionate family groupings, and curious nature as they stare down at us from the tops of tall trees.

Next are the ringtails, which strut across our path their stripy banded tails held artificially high, tiny babies clinging precariously to their backs. A little further into the park we glimpse the bamboo lemurs, with their short muzzles and round faces, scrambling between giant bamboos.

The tiny nocturnal mouse lemur, amongst the smallest of all primates, can also be seen in a darkened room although we feel uncomfortable with the large metal cage. A later night time trip in the spiny forest in the south of Madagascar, gives us a better appreciation of the furtive mouse lemurs as they flit amongst the tree branches on their nightly forages, and the slower moving sportive lemur with their wide-eyed stares momentarily caught in our torches beam.

Ringtail lemur family
Ringtail lemur family

The next day we set out for the airport for our 12 hours delayed Air Mad flight. We give our gasoline money, and pass a number of petrol stations with no gas. Our 2CV comes to a shuddering halt in an area of town we would rather have passed through much more quickly, gas reserves exhausted. With remnants of gasoline in our new 2CV taxi, and original driver firmly ensconced in the passenger seat on gasoline search duty, we drive past more empty gas stations as we creep steadily closer to our next Madagascan adventure, searching for Gold and the Gold-crowned Sifaka – but that’s a story for a future article!

Footnote: Our trip to Madagascar, part of a 12 month round the world trip, took place in October to coincide with the baby lemur season.

(Photographs were taken by the author and supplied after the competition had been judged.)