Cycling Madagascar

13 June - 14 July 2008


Longing to be back on the saddle and discover another spot of our wonderful planet, this year I decided to sail to new waters and chose the island of Madagascar.
I told myself that it would be easier to approach Africa starting with a country that is renowned for the friendliness of its people and its relative safety. Moreover, because of the colonial past of Madagascar, I thought that my current French resident status could be an advantage, at least as far as the language and the price of the plane tickets were concerned. And so it was, indeed.

I left Paris on June 13, spent 30 days on this extraordinary island and came back literally reinvigorated by this unique experience and the inspiring encounters made during the trip.

The surface of Madagascar is bigger than France’s, but only a few main routes are sealed and bear resemblance to actual roads. Most of the regions are reached through tracks that are (or aren't) passable, depending on the time of the year,rainfall, cyclone-damage and the kind of vehicle you chose.
The road factor can transform a journey of 500 km in an exhausting 36 hour drive by 4x4.

As soon as you leave the biggest towns and you reach the "brousse" (French for bush), it feels as if you had travelled through time. Madagascar is a poor country, but the richness of its nature (where it is still preserved) and the hospitality and kindness of its people more than make up for the hardships of road-travel.
Provided there is a track, you can almost go anywhere by bicycle, but you have to take into account potholes, sand, mud and rocks. The unpredictability of the tracks makes it difficult to plan in detail how many km you can cover in a day, so I preferred to improvise and actually decided my itinerary along the way.



                                 click on maps to enlarge

Improvisation is thus one of the reasons for the quite erratic pattern of my tour in Madagascar, the others being:
- the pouring rain I had in the North-East
- the existence of only one road to places, which meant I had to backtrack several times
- the lack of time (4 weeks are too short for a big country like Madagascar, especially in winter, when night falls at 5:30 pm)
- the desire to see different regions in order to appreciate the variety of cultures, vegetation and fauna of this incredible island

In the end I covered 1000 km by bicycle and the rest by taxi-brousse (the local mean of transport, varying from minibuses to pick-ups and trucks).
Bewitched by the unusual animals and plants of Madagascar, I ended up visiting 8 natural parks/reserves, alternating cycling and hiking. I encountered relatively few fellow travellers and only 2 cyclists.
I camped whenever possible and experienced all kinds of climate (rain in the East, cool weather in the mountains, hot and dry weather in the West).

For pictures and details of the different sections of the travel, click on the pics below