I just have a few more things to say about my Madagascar trip. So I will say them.
I usually travel by myself. I kinda like it that way. Everyone asks why I don't try and find other people to go with. My answer is that dealing with other people's problem and having to make compromises generally sucks. Traveling alone I can see more things that I want to see and go much quicker. Any in any case, I usually meet people on the trip. So in effect I'm not actually alone most of the time. On my trip I dove and hung out with 3 Spaniards for 3 days, I went out to the bar twice with a guy from Switzerland, I hired a 4x4 jeep for 3 days with 2 other people from Munich and I stayed with a guy from France (couch surfing) when I was in Antananarivo. Not to mention a handful of other people I met and talked with for just a few hours here and there. When I was in Nosy Be I was so busy doing things and talking to people that I hardly had time to read the book or work on the massive amount of puzzles that I brought to keep me from getting bored. So, don't always think that the lone traveler is lone.
All the local people of Madagascar speak Malagasy. It is a language unique to Madagascar. A lot of people speak French as well. However, very few people know English outside of the tourist places and hotels. I learned French for years from middle school to college, but that was long ago. I forgot it all since then, but I started to learn again 2 months before my trip, although not very aggressively. At the beginning of my trip my vocabulary was only about 100 words. A few days into my trip I found that I was one of the few people to come to Madagascar that didn't know French. This fact made me want to study a bit more. So for the first few days used the French/English dictionary I brought along and wrote down lots of words that I thought would be useful. However, by the end of the trip I only knew about 200 words. That's because these were all the words I really needed. And I didn't even really need that many. I found out the same thing that I found in Honduras. Knowing the language helps you learn more about the place you're visiting and it helps move around more efficiently, but that's all you really need it for. As long as you know the name of the place you want to go and how to say the numbers you can go anywhere and see anything you want. Language won't stop you from doing anything.
The people there were generally very nice. I guess a life of taking things slowly slowly makes you not worry about the little things. However, they all want your money. I hated having to get out of the plane/bus/boat and switch to another because it was always a feeding frenzy and I was the food. There are lots of people that just wait at these stopping points, waiting for the next load of passengers to come through. Then they all crowd the new arrivals and force you to tell them where you're going and try to carry your bag. They do this with locals and tourists alike, and it's actually somewhat rare that a foreigner is overcharged for something. This is true in general, for anything that you buy, except souvenirs. However, they will try and get you to pay for the more expensive things, like a private car instead of a public one.
Anyways, you're at the bus stop and you need to get somewhere. The best thing to do is usually to take advantage of the abundance of people that want your business and barter with them. Get them to compete against each other to give you the best price for a vehicle that's leaving relatively quickly. The guide books all say you should pick one that looks good, but don't even bother trying to find a car that's in good condition because they're all in disrepair and it's always the luck of the draw. You'll never know by looking at the car if it will break down 10 minutes later. Anyways, once you decide on a car (or someone decides for you by ripping your bag out of your hands and bringing it to a car) there is always a little money exchanging hands between the person you dealt with and the driver or someone else. This is the commission for bringing you and your bag the 20 feet to the driver's vehicle. It's all very normal to get a commission for getting someone to go somewhere or in some cases for doing absolutely nothing. But this thinking is integrated into the culture. They do the same thing with tourists and locals alike. However, the worst is at the Antananarivo airport. There are official people that work the for the airport with uniforms that force you to tell them where you're going next and rip your bag out of your hands to carry it for you so you'll have more of a reason to "tip" them for their "service". These guys will even insist on a tip that you "owe" them and won't leave you alone until they get a satisfying amount. Again, they work for the airport doing this. I even asked someone just to make sure. It's crazy to me that the airport allows this. They really make the whole environment a bit hostile.
Well, that's all I got. I had a great time, saw and learned a ton of things, met some interesting people, ate lots of bland food and did a lot of waiting around at times. Madagascar is a really cool place. It's perfect for the ecotourist and the tourist that wants to get away from the tourists. Which is me.
Next up is Southern England as my Christmas present for Stefanie.