Embark On One of Our Solo Travel Packages
For weeks, I researched one our most exciting solo travel packages. I’m excited to share what I’ve experience with you. Even though this package is not available I wanted to showcase the time it takes to put together one of these packages. Enjoy!
Anchored 300 miles off Africa lies the world’s fourth-largest island.
It is called “Island of a thousand faces” for its astounding biodiversity with rainforests to barren steppes. Half of the land, protected by national parks, is home to 5% of the world’s plant and animal species 80%, which are unique only to Madagascar! On one of our more memorable solo travel packages, you will see the emblematic lemurs found nowhere else on the planet. You will also find my favorite tree, the baobab, which looks as if planted upside down with tangles roots high in the air.
I landed to no runway lights to an antiquated airport. Waiting an hour in line for my free visa, I a spotted a pile of moldy luggage that will never see its owners. The bank ran out of money to change my dollars. Begging orphans surrounded me.
I thought, half my clients would hate this, the other half would revel in the Third World challenges ahead.
I met my team of 7 global tour operators, the grateful “chosen ones” selected for this familiarization trip. I’m the only American. They’ve measured me up to be a diva evident by my bulging bags. I want to shout, “Its shoes people! And enough tangled IT cords to reach a Starbucks in Cape Town.” We’re all Mada-virgins anxious to squeeze the countries sites into 10 days.
I knew right away it would be one of thse historic solo travel packages for those brave enough to accept the challenge.
The beginning was totally wasted in the capital Antanarivo, a ghetto of 3 million that looks like little advancement since its founding in 1610. Tourism only began in 1984 and is still in its infancy. For instance, there are only 146 hotels in the country, and no streetlights. We were made to inspect about 40 properties this trip which is always as dull as paint by number, but we know it’s a necessary task before we send groups to any unseen destination. Some “no-tell motels” were minus stars where “rustic charm” means having no pillows or sharing one towel
Others up north were truly deluxe, new resorts that made me want to linger. In Antanarivo, each time we stopped, our van was surrounded by hungry children. A teenage boy tried to sell me a puppy through the window for a dollar. At that point had reservations about selling this destination, until we headed into the lush interior.
We drove 5 hours past duck farms and rice paddies into the highlands. Everything bloomed in the vanilla scented air. There are 19,000 flora species and 1100 orchid varieties here. It presents an artist’s palate of nature with an explosion of color. Poinsettias were so red they looked inflamed. We made a surprise visit to a school with no roof (all I could give was dollars which the children disappointingly looked at as Monopoly money.)
After lunch of fresh fried frog legs, we visited a reptile sanctuary of crocs, snakes, bats, geckos and other endemic species. This is the land of giant chameleons. Hundreds of them camouflaged themselves from dull brown to brilliant neon colors. I love these herbivores.
My inner child so wanted to take one as a pet.
We overnighted in Andasibe National Park, a primary rainforest famous for birding. Our thatched huts were about as lux as a Girl Scout Camp. The verdant jungle setting, however, was breathtaking. We did a guided night hike in search of nocturnal creatures. My headlamp only revealed frogs, a biblical plague of frogs. What was way-cool was the noise, a cacophony of eerie calls that sounded like Muslim women wailing at a funeral, in surround sound. These were the Indri Indri, largest of lemur species.
For once, I enjoyed being a group member where I could leave my brain neatly packed in my carry-on and simply follow. And I was assigned a roommate named Louise, a young tour operator from Windhoek. She loved that I called her Miss Namibia. Each night was a slumber party with maps spread over our beds. We boasted passport stamps, swapped stories and planned killer itineraries. Together we dreamed. To share and share alike was a great life lesson for me in tolerance, open-mindedness, and loving kindness. We grew to adore each other and plan to meet in Mozambique 2012.
At 7am, I opened one eye to find a turquoise lizard on my pillow.
It was a God-shot of gratitude that prompted me to realign my sour attitude of those past few days.
Time for another hike. I asked my guide if I’d see a baobab. He replied, “No but it will be lemur mania.” We learned about medicinal plants and then canoed over to Lemur Island. What a delight this refuge is. Countless happy lemurs leaped from tree to tree and gently jumped on our shoulders. Unlike greedy baboons, these are timid trusting animals with fur as soft as mink.
Most were abandoned as pets and have names. Vincent (Van Gough) was missing an ear. When I revealed a banana, it was like kids at a pinata party. King Julian wrapped his body around my neck. His huge eyeballs looked longingly into mine saying please. Delicately, he peeled this banana with 5 dexterous fingers. I looked over at Deb smiling with 4 lemurs on her. With a one arm swish, they scattered (unlike our spider monkeys in the Amazon.) Adorable babies clung to mother’s bellies.
There are 55 species. Some live 90 years. Sadly poaching for pets still continues on the black market. These primates rarely survive in captivity. I was profoundly moved by this place and will bring groups. Tourism group travel and solo travel packages like ours is vital to support the conservation of lemurs.
We flew north to Diego, a charming seaport town that lies on the second largest bay in the world. It’s prettier than Rio. Here I saw twisted baobab trees. The boat tour over to Amber Mountain was stunning. Volcanic mountain ranges burst from the sea, covered in verdant forests and crawling with wildlife.
Our final flight was to the archipelago of Nosy Be with 36 islands scattered over the warm Indian Ocean. It’s a marine haven with thousands of miles of coastline and hundreds of miles of coral reefs. Lined with white powder beaches, this was paradise. No wonder it’s the favored spot for tourists to Madagascar. Our days were spent inspecting hotels and island hopping by speedboats.
Each day we overnighted on a different fun-filled island. First, Nosy Komba where 5000 lemurs roam. We hiked the forest to visit a group of habituated Black Lemurs Wild yet tame, these were even more friendly than the past ones. This is the place to bargain shop for fine handicrafts. On Nosy Be, we reveled in the amenities at Vanilla Resort where I’ll send my groups.
Evenings are wicked fun with dancing, grilled lobster, and champagne.
We stayed on Sakatia Island, marine reserve carpeted in orchids (no roads, cars, population 300.) An hour boat ride deposited us on Nosy Iranja, a turtle breeding reserve. Here we swam with football-sized Hawksbill turtles and did sea kayaking. Lokobie Island is a protected rainforest reserve crawling with creepy things like chameleons and boa constrictors.
My guide Cannibal wrapped a boa around my neck saying snakes here are handled so much, they are tame. My favorite isle was deserted Tanikely Island known for world-class diving. As others dived, it was snorkeling heaven for me. The calm crystal blue water was warm as a bath yet provided shocking visibility. Below was an ocean symphony of corals in vivid living colors and every fish imaginable. I feared the eels. From Sept-Dec here, you can swim with Whale Sharks 35′ to 60′ long!
The last night my roomie and I meticulously planned an escape to defect from hotel visits on our last day. At 7am, we surreptitiously hauled our luggage down a cliff to the bay where our hired dhow awaited. (This traditional wooden vessel with huge sail cost a whopping $25.) Our toothless captain spoke no English, but gave me an assuring smile when I told him “Amarina Ora resort.” Well, he got lost.
This half day adventure turned out to be nothing less than the Amazing Race with insane challenges too countless to list here.
2 pm, we finally arrived at our 5-star resort looking like seas urchins. The group would arrive by dinner. Louise and I had our own villa on a private beach. The guests assumed she and I were on our honeymoon which we had great laughs. She got an algae wrap. I splurged on “4 hand massage.”
This trip was what I call a “Ferrari Safari” as we moved so much my head is still spinning. One could spend a year exploring this big land. Now I know what’s hot, what’s not. With lack of infrastructure in the south (no roads), I designed tours in the lush north and its tropical islands. And I could write pages on facts and scenic beauty, but you can Google this.
I miss Louise who is now designing a perfect Namibia vacation for Adventures For Solo Travelers. I also miss the friendly Malagasy people who were grateful to receive us. Broken by poverty, they are generous and possess a spirit of gentility like I’ve never witnessed before, just like lemurs. Wild, untouched Madagascar is like a living time capsule where clocks tick slowly and nature shines her majesty. It’s a perfect escape for relaxation and adventure.
Suzy Davis President and tour leader of Adventures for Solo Travelers, has traveled the world for nearly 30 years initially as a flight attendant and now with her company Adventures For Solo Travelers. If you’re interested in one of our solo travel packages contact us today!