Places of Madagascar

Many contrasts. It's not called 'The Island Continent' for nothing.

The Capital

For most travellers their first experience of Madagascar will be arrival by plane at the capital Antananarivo (pronounced Ant-an-an-ar-iv-u and variously shortened to Antananariv, Tananariv, and Tana). If you haven't been to an underdeveloped country before, or haven't travelled for a while, you're in for a bit of a culture shock, especially if you arrive at night and wake up in the middle of the city in the morning.

Congested, confusing and at first confronting Tana is a maze of often cobbled streets winding up, down and around the hills and ridges that dominate the city centre. Life is very much out on the street. Masses of pedestrians spill from the footpaths onto the roads, joining the cars, buses and carts all jostling for position in what appears to be a chaotic swarm. There are no traffic lights in Tana and very few traffic police. But under the chaos there is some order. The traffic moves. Accidents appear to be rare.

Looking west from Tana's upper town

On the side of the roads are the shops which, outside the rich financial and business districts, can amount to be little more than shacks. Snack bars, groceries, open-air butcheries all display their wares right at the street front, sometimes with open sewers stagnating nearby. The city can appear grey and layered with dirt. If you are a foreigner you can feel like a target for beggars, touts and grifters intent on insuring that you and your money separate.

But relax. After a while you get used to it. When you get home you might even wonder where all the people have gone. Western capitals can feel positively empty in comparison to Tana.

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