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The making of A Fascinating Journey

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At BIAFF 2010 Suzy Sommer won a 4-Star Award with A Fascinating Journey.

Madagascar, an island nation in the Indian Ocean off the south-eastern coast of Africa, is the fourth-largest island in the world and slightly larger than France. It is home to 5% of the world's plant and animal species, of which more than 80% are endemic to Madagascar.

Before leaving Luxemburg for a trip through Madagascar, I read various guides and books by Malagasy authors who are regarded as political refugees in France. In this way I obtained a relatively wide range of different views of the country, which were often very different from the official tourist information. Apart from the usual requirements for travelling, good walking shoes, a sunhat, long sleeves and sunscreen were essential.

Arrival at the airport in Antananarivo

Photo of a restaurant frontage. It would be better to get a visa before arrival, otherwise … interminable queues. The passport with the visa passes from hand to hand; from one official to another, an official stamp here, a signature there. Once the administrative part is completed, everyone rushes to the luggage room. A horde of official and less official guys move the mountain of luggage to the taxis. If you are not paying special attention ,it can easily happen that the taxi drives off with your luggage while you are still trying to find out where your bags have gone!

The capital of Madagascar is chaotic with its dense slow traffic, hundreds of people crossing the roads and the absence of road signs. My taxi moves so slowly that I have plenty of time to record some good moments on video. I discovered an authentic German bakery. The next day, before leaving for the south, I had my breakfast here: delicious croissants and a cappuccino - an excellent start to the day.

My driver, a very nice man of around 40, speaks French and is extremely polite. We will share the 4-wheel-drive car for the next 14 days.

Driving in Madagascar is dangerous, not so much because zebus are crossing the road at any impossible moment, but mainly because of the huge potholes, scattered along the National 7. This road is the most important connection between the capital and the Ocean in the south.

Thousands of people live and die along this string of asphalt. They are proud of their little houses without running water or electricity. Children love to be photographed and hope to receive a candy. But they don't beg. Malagasies are proud people.

During my flight to Madagascar, I had a long conversation with one of the passengers. In France he is a dentist and every year he volunteers to work for a fortnight on the island. Since tourism has increased, he said, children suffer much more from teeth problems than was the case some 20 years ago.

Picture of a zebu from Wikipedia.
Picture of a zebu courtesy of Wikipedia.

Spider web on Madagascar.Chameleon on Madagascar.My video camera intrigues the children. I can shoot whatever I ask, on one condition: "Vazaha" has to show them the result. "Vazaha" is me, the foreigner. They call their brothers and sisters to watch the little screen on my video recorder. They are fascinated.

My driver is amused by the spectacle and by the spontaneity of the children. He tries also to explain a couple of fundamental things which have no meaning to us but are so important to everyone here. For example pointing with my finger in a certain direction is "fady", which means voodoo. I should point with my fist, never with a finger!

My trip on the National 7 was a great experience. I met fascinating people and passed through extraordinary scenery. Zebus, chameleons, red and green toads crossed my path, I even had a banana taken out of my bag by a lemur!

For sure, that will never happen in Luxemburg.*

- Suzy Sommer

* Those curious to check this fact can try carrying bananas when they visit the UNICA Festival 2011, which will be in Luxembourg!

** Suzy's partner, Guido Haesen, writes about a very different trip in his Diamond Award winning film A Vanishing Wilderness here.

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Page updated on 01 October 2011
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