Presenter Ian Wright travels through Madagascar, ‘the red island’ 250 miles off the east coast of Africa. It’s the 4th largest island in the world, with landscapes ranging from rainforest to ariddesert, and animal and plant life found nowhere else in the world.
His journey begins in Antananarivo (Tana), the capital of Madagascar. Here he learns about the unique history and culture of the Malagasy. The earliest rulers were the highland ‘Merina’ tribe, and the first king Andrianampoinimerina united the island by marrying one wife from each of the 12 tribes. His granddaughter, Queen Ranavalona, came to power in 1828 and became the most notorious ruler – she threw foreigners out of the country, banned Christianity and slaughtered her own people in the most brutal ways.
Ian plans to leave Tana and head south but discovers there are no trains running that week. Instead, he finds a hira gasy performance in full swing at the station. It’s a mixture of song, dance, theatre and acrobatics revolving around a moral story.
With the show over, Ian finds a brousse taxi and travels for 3 and a half hours south through Antsirabe, stopping off at Ranomafana National Park. Ranomafana was created in 1991 after a new species of lemur, Madagascar’s national animal, was discovered in the rainforest around the Namorona River. Ian spends the night in a hut in the middle of the forest and the next day he’s lucky enough to catch sight of a golden bamboo lemur, the rarest of all the species.
Ian hitches a lift to the central highlands of Madagascar, home to the Bara people who graze their cattle around the regional capital of Ihosy. A Bara man’s status is defined by the number of cattle or zebu he owns. Ian observes the sport of zebu wresting, an activity which evolved from the practice of stealing zebu and is now an important initiation rite for the Bara lads.
Driving west towards the village of Ifaty on the west coast, Ian’s route takes him through the Isalo National Park. The Bara people bury their dead in the caves here and believe that the spectacular sandstone rockscape is inhabited by ancestral spirits. After arriving in Ifaty Ian hooks up with a dive tour operator and explores the coral reef, encountering a number of sharks at quarters rather too close for comfort!
After exploring the south of Madagascar, Ian flies north to Diego Surez, then journeys on to the small village of Anivorana on the shores of a sacred lake. Ian dons a lamba, a traditional Madagasci garment, then learns the legend behind the lake: Allegedly the lake was once a village itself, until one day a man came by and asked for a drink of water. No-one would help him except an old lady, whom the man told to leave immediately. When she returned she found her village had become a lake and all the villagers were crocodiles. Every year the people of Anivorana honour their reptilian ancestors by slaughtering a zebu by the lake.
On the final leg of Ian journey he flies to the historic island of Isle Sainte Marie. It’s a tropical island which, 200 years ago used to be the only buccaneer kingdom in the world. Thousands of pirates used to live here and were buried here too. There’s many tales of buried treasure on the island and Ian goes wreck diving in one of the many wrecks off the shore of the island.
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