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One With Nature: Exploring Madagascar’s Unique Landscape

TM: What makes Madagascar’s nature so special?

Margherita: Madagascar is sometimes called ‘the eighth continent’ because its nature is so unique. The island separated from mainland Africa millions of years ago and nature has since evolved in total isolation. In Madagascar, you’ll find native animals and plants that cannot be found anywhere else, like lemurs, the fossa, lots of geckos, chameleons, and birds.

The country also offers a variety of natural landscapes in a reasonably small area. For instance, following RN 7 between the center and the southwest of the country you’ll cross mountain ranges, rainforests, spiny forests, and even canyons before reaching the stunning tropical beaches near Tulear.

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What is your favorite thing about being among nature in Madagascar?

One of the best things about nature in Madagascar is that you’ll often be alone. The country still sees relatively few tourists and national parks are usually quite big. Most tourists on organized tours only spend a few hours in the morning in national parks, so if you stay the whole day you’ll have the place to yourself!

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What is “ecotourism”? How do you practice it when you travel?

Ecotourism, in my opinion, means paying respect to nature and the communities you visit. Madagascar has a serious garbage problem, so we made sure we didn’t add to it, and even cleaned up a little when we could.

We also decided to travel by public transport to minimize our carbon footprint and stay in close contact with locals. However, public transport is only recommended for experienced travelers, as it’s very uncomfortable and difficult to navigate.

Using a local guide is another way to get in touch with local culture, and learning a little bit of French will definitely help you if you head off on your own.

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How much of a threat is there to Madagascar’s forests? What is being done to help?

The situation of Madagascar’s forests has definitely improved since the 20th century, when it was estimated that over half of the country’s forests had been lost to illegal logging. The country has established a network of national parks. Access is only allowed with a local guide, and rangers patrol the protected areas. Some instances of logging still occur. The system is far from perfect, but at least the first steps are being made.

How does local life and nature intertwine in Madagascar?

The most locals in Madagascar still live in rural areas. Farming is a lot more common than hunting and gathering, although the latter still happens in remote communities. Malagasy (people from Madagascar) believe in spirits, and have fascinating tales and legends to explain the origin of the world and of nature.

They are at ease around nature, and our local guides knew nature in a way that we as Western city dwellers cannot imagine. They knew the name of every animal, every tree, and every shrub. They were able to identify even those that looked identical to us.

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What has been the most profound impact Madagascar has had on you?

Madagascar is a very poor country. Witnessing how corrupt politics halted the development of the country really broke my heart.

Since 2009 there have been a series of coups d’etat in the country and as a result, foreign investment has stopped, tourism has dried out, and the conditions of the local population worsened. Several people rely on tourism to support themselves, and for this reason I recommend either traveling independently or with an operator that gives back to local communities.

Madagascar is a fascinating country with a huge potential in terms of ecotourism. Personally, I hope conditions for locals will improve with the arrival of more tourists.

Picture Credits: The Crowded Planet

About Margherita

d77646_48a0c21a29904be3a4f0f06d83df1a42Margherita is a cat lover and mountain junkie, and the creator of The Crowded Planet, a nature and adventure travel blog. Coffee, sleeping in and eating are some of the things she loves.

March 24, 2016
Life In Nicaragua: The Ins And Outs Of Moving Abroad

Why did you choose to move to Nicaragua?

My wife and I vacationed in both Costa Rica and Nicaragua on multiple occasions. When it came time to choose a place to live, the decision was easy. We currently live in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. It reminds us of our favorite beach town in Costa Rica, but the decade old version.

Costa Rican prices are similar to Canada, but prices in Nicaragua are seemingly rolled back to a decade ago. In San Juan del Sur I can still find a restaurant that serves lunch with a beer for under $5. Travel outside of my little tourist village prices drop considerably.

We love the raw authenticity Nicaragua has to offer. We didn’t want to live in a sea of American chain restaurants. There are some cruise ships that pull into our port, but most are whisked away to the Colonial City of Granada.

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What were the hardest things to adjust to?

There were definitely a couple of things that were tricky to adjust to. The obvious one is language. We didn’t speak any Spanish when we moved to Nicaragua, but a month of lessons set us on the right track.

One thing we didn’t think about was shopping. We don’t have a Walmart on every corner, so instead we go to dozens of mom-and-pop shops to find all the things that most people are used to shopping for in one stop. We often drive two hours to the capital city of Managua to get variety in our items. Ordering from online shops like Amazon are not easy, as many items will be held to pay duty.

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How did the people around you see you when you first moved? And now?

I’d guess the Nicas thought we were lost when we first moved to Nicaragua. We were living in a tiny beach village with vacation homes for wealthy Nicaraguans who only came for holidays.  Most of the time it was just us, and a town full of people whose language we didn’t speak.

I vividly remember Christmas Day. The town was packed full of vacationing Nicaraguans. The restaurants were all completely full and we had no real food in our kitchen. We thought our Christmas dinner was going to be rice and a can of tuna. We peeked into our favorite restaurant, and the owner told us to wait.

She dragged a table out of the kitchen, then went around the restaurant to find two empty chairs. She said she wanted to take care of the locals, as the tourists would be gone in a few days.

I found it amazing that after only a month she considered us locals, and all of the Nicaraguans just tourists. I felt lost in the beginning, but I think the Nicas knew we were where we belonged.

Since then, we have helped raise funds for children’s scholarships, started an animal outreach program, and physically helped neighbors build their homes. But it’s just as important to wave, smile, and stop to talk to everyone we know. We’ve felt accepted and welcomed since the beginning, but now I feel like we have earned our spot in the community.

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What advice do you have for people who are thinking of moving abroad?

Anyone moving here should read everything they can find in books, Facebook groups, Google, and blogs.

They should then go on an exploration trip to test drive the country. Don’t stay in some swanky vacation home or hotel; stay somewhere closer to the area you might live in. Shop for food and cook some meals.

Most importantly, meet up with as many expats as you can. Gain their perspective, but more importantly, see if you are willing to fit into the community. Moving somewhere isn’t so much about living in a different country, but living in a different community. Get out there and meet your future neighbours to see if these are the people you want to spend your days with.

 

About Gordon & Elisha

d77646_a171190269d1472f8e24aca4bdf9ce39Gordon and Elisha are a Canadian couple who left their corporate jobs behind for a new life in Nicaragua. They decided possessions were far less important than experiences and quality time spent together. Now the couple helps new expats with home finder and relocation services to Nicaragua, and run the blog In Nica Now.

March 10, 2016
The Best Of Being A Nomad In Beautiful Italy

What are the benefits of traveling together?

Ivana: One of the biggest benefits is to be able to share the good, the bad, and the ugly on the road.

I also like that we can always compare our impressions from a country, situation, or cultural tradition. It’s enriching and refreshing, as you often realize you might have missed some important aspects or details that could bring a very different perspective.

Needless to say, travelling with a passionate photographer guarantees countless ventures to off-the-beaten path places, interacting with locals, and finding the best light of the day for the photographs when exploring a place.

Gianni: It’s easier in many aspects. From simple things like having someone watch your backpack while you’re in the restroom at the airport, to helping each other when you’re sick.

There’s not a big difference between living at home alone or with someone, and traveling solo or as a couple. You cope with the same challenges on the road as you do in everyday life.

Ivana and I see many beautiful landscapes and meet amazing people, and a bonus is that we can share those things with the person we love.

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What does traveling with a purpose mean to you?

Ivana: For me, it’s about observing, being curious, and learning. It’s about letting go of what we don’t need from our previous lifestyles, so that we can grow. It’s also about giving back to those in need and to those who cannot defend themselves.

Gianni: The main thing is to try to become a better person. When you travel, you’re exposed to new cultures and new environments. Your mind will naturally open to the “other” and the “different.”

To travel with a purpose means to expose oneself to another culture, to become more tolerant, and to understand that although people have different skin, we all have the same blood with the same beating heart.

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What are the most important things each of you has discovered about yourselves through travel?

Ivana: To find an answer for this, I need to travel more. I feel those deep changes and internal discoveries need to “mature” to be visible to me.

Gianni: I feel that I have become more compassionate, as we have seen many people in poverty, like people who didn’t have enough food to feed their families or to leave the country to start a better life.

I’ve become more grateful for what I have, and I try to help those in need more often.

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How is Italy transformative?

Ivana: Italy embraces you, feeds you, entertains you, and impresses you. It feels as if there’s no place like it anywhere else in the world.

It’s hard to define the mesmerizing energy in Italy, and in Puglia in particular (the region where Gianni comes from). The people spread immense energy and joy, while also staying connected to nature and the earth.

Once you see the fields of terracotta-colored soil with thousands of ancient olive trees, the abundance of fruits, and their architecture, you’ll know what I mean.

Gianni: Italy is a country that is well known for a lot of things: amazing food, friendly people, richness of culture, history, beautiful beaches, landscapes. When you go there for the first time, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all this.

Many people fall in love with it so much that they change their lives completely by buying a house and deciding to live there.

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What advice do you have for people who struggle to stay balanced and present while traveling?

Ivana: I feel that staying in touch with locals and immersing yourself in what a new culture offers is one of the best ways to stay present. Indulge in all new smells, tastes, noises, and voices around you, either while walking alone or with a friend.

Don’t be afraid to try new things. When you face a fear of the unknown, you have to overcome it in the present moment you’re in, as quickly as you can. When you love your new local experience, you then make that particular moment your present.

Doing things you would never expect to do back home will definitely help you to stay present while on the road.

I also love finding a tea house everywhere I go so I can have a cup of good pu-erh, which grounds me and helps me stay in the here and now.
  
About Ivana & Gianni

d77646_2dc5e45ff094484592496fad43776fddIvana and Gianni are a digital nomad couple. They set off for their long-term journey in 2013. On their blog, Nomad is Beautiful, they talk about ecotourism, responsible travel, and adventure.

January 30, 2016