Exploring Madagascar, with its rainforests, gem-blue clear seas and chalk-white beaches, I start to understand why David Attenborough referred to it as ‘an evolutionary cauldron, producing increasingly extreme forms of life’. Being here is a bit like being transported to Jurassic Park – with aliens. Look up a tree and you might see a lime-green-and-pink-splodged chameleon, catching flies with a red tongue as long as your forearm, or a praying mantis disguised as a dead brown leaf, or a lurid orange millipede with golden legs that ripple in a wave. And, of course, you might see a walking fish.
Of all the unique and beautiful creatures on Madagascar, perhaps its people are the most fascinating. Descendants of Indonesian sailors and adventurers and the Banta people of Africa, as well as immigrants from China, India and the Middle East, their facial features vary as widely as their languages (of which 18 are spoken). The capital, Antananarivo (known as Tana), is equally exotic.
Exploring the waters over three days – catching jack fish for lunch, diving on rainbow reefs, motoring by catamaran to the inhabited fishermen’s island of Grande Mitsio. The waters glimmer with fish. And the corals, says the resort’s French dive-master Nicolas Richer, are considered by many to be the most beautiful in the world after those of the Barrier Reef.
Most guests spend their days sunning themselves on the daily swept sand, on loungers or hammocks strung between feathery-leafed cassia trees, converging at the bar for cold coconut cocktails, followed by plates of giant prawns and lobsters. Mine are spent fossil-hunting on the island’s fringe of weather-beaten, mineral-rich rocks, luminous with swirls of ochres and rusts, and cut through with black tongues of hardened lava – and out at sea.
Worth mentioning that today, the country has 12,000 species of plants, more than three-quarters of which are found nowhere else.