Madagascar is a big island (the world's fourth largest) and is situated 400 km of the east coast of Africa, south of the equator. It is roughly two and a half times the size of Great Britain, slightly smaller than Texas.
I was very blessed to be able to book a trip there with African Geographic in March/April 2016. They provided me with a superb guide to inspect the rainforest in the East, as well as a friendly and laid back driver to chauffeur me there. Madagascar is home to 71 species and subspecies of the Lemur, which make Madagascar the world's top priority for primate conservation. According to the evolutionary scale, the Lemur developed before the monkeys.
The Malagassy people speak Malagassy (a very difficult language for a Western ear) and French. They are friendly and non-invasive plus they do not have a culture of stealing. The population is approximately 16 million and half of this population earn less that 1 US dollar a year - a frightful statistic. The normal Malagassy person is extremely poor, according to Western standards.
In today's Hi -Tech world, most of us find it hard to really chill and just enjoy the beauty of the present moment. In Madagascar I could do just that; I had no laptop with me and my cell phone was on silent (and not on roaming) plus I did not have to drive. Here I should pay the Malagassy people a compliment; they are extremely polite drivers - they will wait for oncoming traffic and will always yield. Never did I see any aggressive driving; which is so common in my own home country South Africa. Another factor which added to total relaxation was the fact that I did not have to prepare food or make grocery lists of what I have to buy. My food was prepared for me in wonderful style. Since we are physical as well as spiritual beings, this good food and friendly non- invasive atmosphere everywhere one goes, does add up to a high vibration of total relaxation. Nobody hurries on Madagascar.
Fear of not coping with life as it is, often drives away total relaxation. Of course surrendering to a Higher Power can be an answer but it is not so easy when one is in the grip of fear. Then the Buddhist learning of Right View that encompasses also right action and right thought, could help a lot. We really need to look for those moments where we can appreciate the cherry blossoms and the grandeur of Mother Nature around us; that is, we should dwell in the present moment and not in our minds.
Another thing that added to the total relaxation on the island of Madagascar was that there are no poisonous snakes or spiders on this piece of land! I saw about four snakes on hiking trips; the Malagassy people never behave like a true South African would - they just calmly take the snake by its tail and throw it out of the way!
SEEING LEMURS FOR THE FIRST TIME:
Lemurs belong to a group of primates that are called the "prosi mians"; a word that means, "before monkeys". They are said to have evolved 40 - 50 million years ago. I was taken to an adequate hotel near Perinet Park on the East Coast. The largest Lemur is the Indri; a black and white kind of teddy bear, the only Lemur without a tail. They are known for their loud cries before they go hunting; something I heard every morning in my hotel room on the edge of the rain forest.
One of my best moments in the rain forest area was seeing these Indris jump from tree to tree, normally in groups of six, with the agility of great athletes. They have hands and feet that can grasp branches very well. An Indri would sit for a few minutes and contemplate his/her route. Then one would see them fly through the air and jump about 10 metres towards the branch which they aimed for. The apt English proverb, "Look before you leap" comes to mind!
My personal favourite amongst the Lemur species were the so called "dancing lemurs" or the Sifakas. They were very fluffy and cuddly (brown and reddish white in colour) and were so friendly! They were not afraid to come close to myself and my guide.
THE GREEN TURTLES:
On the small island of Sakatia (15 kilometres in circumference) and a few kilometres from the well known Nose Be tourist destination, I was privileged to see the huge green turtles. These sea turtles are really enormous and look ancient; if one snorkels, they are visible when they graze on the sea grass in the mornings. Since they are so laid back and feed unhurriedly, they have an enormously, peaceful influence.
A DIFFERENT OUTLOOK
It was refreshing to be amongst people who focussed on the essentials in life and who did not strive to amass more wealth. Madagascar is known for its great fishing and on the island of Komba the villagers live mostly from the sea. The Malagassy people I spotted on Sakatia Island and the island of Komba were happy and care free. They lived off the land and/or sea and were greatly family orientated.
STAYING HAPPY AND CONTENT
Surely contentment with what is can help us human beings to be more relaxed and easy going in this day and age. Disney Pictures has made a new version of the famous Jungle Book story, written in the nineteen century by Rudyard Kipling, after he grew up in the jungle of India. The story is a basic one - the conquering of evil as presented by the tiger Shere Khan. The bands of friendship that sustain our human beings are illustrated so well by the pack of wolves. Their creed that the pack is stronger than the individual is a universal truth. The animals lived in peace and had respect for one another; something our human race can take as an example of how life can be.
THE INFLUENCE OF MOTHER NATURE
Madagascar is verdant and butterflies abound. Walking in nature there restored my soul. I could feel the ancient connection of man with nature and also its beneficial effects. I hiked up to the top of Nosy Komba with a group of six people and the view from the top looking over the whole of Nosy Be was exquisite. Even the huge and calm seas surrounding Nosy Be instilled a feeling of peace and vastness.
BUDDHIST MOMENT AT THE LAKE IN MANTADIA
Andasibe has two big national parks called Analamazotra and Mantadia. Since the 1990's these two together are known as Perinet Park. Analamazotra is the easier destination - it is reachable by ordinary car or bus and is popular with groups of school children. Mantadia is about twenty kilometres to the north and only reachable by a good 4x4. The road there is atrocious - unfortunately the current government does not see the need to fix any of the roads. Since it is so difficult to reach, the rainforest there carries a definite spark of solitude and is rather devoid of visitors. Here I had a real Buddhist moment, shared with my able guide Maurice. We went to the natural lake there; through verdant fields with an abundance of different butterflies. Then we enjoyed a silent lunch on the shore of this big pond. Huge dragonflies were flying around us and on the far side of the lake we could see a Madagascar Crebe and a Meilleurs Duck as well as some moorhens. What an unforgettable moment of peace! There were only the sounds of Mother Nature around us and no artificial noises of any kind.
We, as human beings, also have an emotional and a mental part to our essential makeup. Both these were met in my visit to Madagascar. I could socialize with the many South Africans visitors and mentally I was challenged by this feeling of utter relaxation. We are always so keen to be actively busy with something!
Both my guide and driver were paying enormous monetary fees to have their children in private schools. This supported my theory that education for all is the future: Not liberation before education but rather education before liberation. And may I say something about the "liberation" part: In Buddhist terms our minds, actions and words should contribute to the liberation of others. The Buddhist term is "Bodhichitta," which means to have a "mind of love". If we dwell in the present moment we can really touch the seeds of joy and peace and liberation and we can help heal the world by being truly present for others. One of The Indian Commandments comes to mind: "Work together for the benefit of all mankind".
TAKE A HOLIDAY AND RELAX
I want to conclude that Madagascar is a fantastic destination for a nature lover. I would urge you to go there to enjoy the peacefulness of nature in its original state. We cannot take our money with us when we lose the gift of life!
This article has been published in Odyssey Magazine 2016, Issue 4, pg 98 - 101, under the title "Total relaxation A Malagassy Tale".