Today I would like to take you to one of the most spectacular places on this planet – the Isalo National Park in Madagascar. I went to the Red Island in September 2015 for two weeks with my friends, which was nowhere near enough to see everything we wanted to see as Madagascar is huge (so the famous Avenue of Baobabs still remains on my list of places to visit). While lemurs were obviously one of the highlights, Isalo simply blew my mind with its incredible landscape. We explored it on an 8-hour hike with a fantastic guide, and I certainly would love to go back!
Isalo is located in the south-western part of Madagascar. It was created in 1962 but traditionally this area was inhabited by the Bara people, nomadic zebu (cattle) farmers of Bantu origin. The Bara have very distinctive funeral traditions – they bury their dead in mountain caves. Isalo has been their sacred place for burials for hundreds of years, and while they don’t live in the park anymore, their ancestors’ graves are still there and the Bara are allowed to access the park for funeral ceremonies. Our guide told us that we must not point at the graves with our fingers but with a fist (if we need to point at them at all), otherwise, according to the common belief, we will offend the ancestors and they will cause our fingers to fall off. This is one of the famous “fady” of Madagascar, the ancestral taboos which rule the lives of everyone in the country. Every ethnic group, every town, village, and even family, has their own set of “fady” which they follow rigorously.
Isalo’s landscape is like another planet. Mostly rocks and canyons, but there are surprises, like a little oasis with palm trees and absolutely fabulous rock pools where you can swim in crystal clear water. There are also some plants which manage to survive in this harsh environment, as well as animals, including chameleons, stick insects, huge locusts, and of course – lemurs! 🙂
Hiking in Isalo is a great adventure, and since the park wasn’t at all crowded during our visit, we had it to ourselves most of the time. This was one of the best travel experiences I ever had, and I really hope to repeat it sometime soon!