Being a Madagascan Guide
The Madagascan guides I met on my travels all had experience the likes of which I have encountered in few other places. Whether explaining the origin of tombs high up on a cliff face, or advising me on the best part of the road to flag down a lift, each Madagascan guide was a well-informed professional.
However, I met a few wannabe Madagascan guides who had no qualifications, and in a few cases I knew more about the area than they did. This being Madagascar, the people were never pushy or aggressive, and when I made my excuses (for example that I had already had a Madagascan guide) they were happy to leave it at that.
My personal favourite of these situations took place on the rough track between the town of Brickaville and the tiny village of Ambila Lemaitso, the gateway to the southern Pangalanes lakes of Rasoabe and Ampitabe. There was no recognisable road between the two, they were instead divided by a twenty kilometre slalom track of sand and rock.
Tsiory drove the 4×4, which was packed with people. He was an easy going man of about 35, who was full of conversation.
We chatted about his very recent move down here for the wet season, which he explained was due to the roads in the north-east being impassable, as well as his love of driving. As the conversation went on we broached the subject of my plans.
“So, what will you do when you get to Ambila?” he asked.
“I’m not too sure, I imagine I’ll stay there tonight and look for a boat north tomorrow. I am hoping there are passenger and cargo boats that bring locals around, I would like to catch one,” I said.
“Do you need a guide?” he asked.
“No, I will just see what happens when I get to Ambila,” I replied.
“I can be your guide for the lakes,” he said, which took me completely by surprise.
I did not see where the conversation had been going. He had just told me he only arrived yesterday, and now here he was offering himself up as a guide. He knew so little of the region that he had a more experienced local driver accompanying him on this trip lest he get lost.
I knew more about the place than he did, because I had done some research on the lakes before deciding to visit. I didn’t say this to him, though, I just thanked him and politely declined.
As we drove out of Brickaville we passed a sign for Ambil. “We just passed the turn off for Ambila!” I exclaimed. Before he had a chance to answer the other driver started to bang on the roof. Tsiory stopped and reversed up the road to rejoin the battered track to Ambila. “Maybe I should be the guide,” I chuckled to myself.
Another memorable approach from a would-be Madagascan guide came as I made my way on foot from the taxi brousse station in Fianarantsao. I was walking the kilometre or so to the Hotel Matsiatra. As I walked, a taxi pulled up beside me, and the driver caught my attention.
“What are you plans for the next few days?” he asked, “I am a guide for both Andringitra and Ranomafana national parks.” (These are the two national parks in the area, the latter in particular famed for its wildlife.)
“I am only passing through here, on my way to Ranohira,” I explained to my new friend.
“Okay, take my number at least, in case you change your mind,” he continued, giving me his phone number, which he’d written on a scrap of paper.
He may well have been a legitimate Madagascan guide, but I’m wary of his level of expertise if he is so stretched as to be a guide for not one, but two expansive parks, and a taxi driver on top of that! It is better to find a guide at the park office. All the same, I can’t blame him for trying.