Yesterday we took the Eurostar “Chunnel” train from London to Paris and immediately took a cab to Charles de Gaulle Airport to catch our flight to Antananarivo, Madagascar. The train is a model of smooth, on-time efficiency. When it gets dark, you are under the channel. When the light returns, you are in France. In between, there is lunch and a reasonable French wine. Not bad at all, especially compared to the old days which took two separate trains and a boat in between to go the same distance, but in a lot longer time.
Getting to Madagascar involves flying of course. There is only one flight and not every day. We flew Air Madagascar on a reliable Boeing 767 and took off right on time at 10PM for the 11 hour flight. Believe it or not, we slept on the plane, which was great (the sleep not the plane), and arrived in Tana a few minutes early at 0955 in the morning.
Getting through the formalities of entering Madagascar is like arriving at some of the Caribbean islands – lots of officials stamping lots of forms many times over. Lines. General confusion. But then it all works and suddenly you find yourself on the inside of the guard stations, which is where you wanted to be all along.
Finding the luggage was no problem. Tana is not Chicago. There is only one luggage belt. Our bags arrived in fine shape. Overall, the Air Madagascar experience wins high marks. Good staff. Good service. We took off in the right place and landed in the right place, on time. That’s what you want in this business. Then there is the struggle with all the guys who want to sell you something. That’s normal.
We were met by our local guide, Vy, who is a great fellow. He will be with us for the entire visit to make sure everything works. Our van took us into the middle of town to the Hotel Colbert, which is located in the main square next to the presidential house and other government buildings. It’s thoroughly first class. We had a lovely lunch – French cuisine, since Madagascar was a French colony for many years. The lunch was excellent in fact.
Then we were off to check out the Biodiversity Center that was built and is operated here in Tana by Academy scientists, Brian Fisher being in the lead. It is right by the city zoo. We had a great visit. It’s a slice of California in the middle of this city, not that it’s luxurious, which it is not, but that it’s very functional and maintained in excellent condition by the full time staff.
The Biodiversity Center is the hub of various explorations of the flora and fauna of Madagascar by people from the Academy and some from other institutions as well. Most importantly, it also is a center for graduate education of local Malagasy students from the University of Antananarivo, which is the largest of six national universities in the country.
It is very impressive to me that our scientists are not merely flying in now and then to collect specimens but are investing in developing the future intellectual leadership of this country. It’s the right way to promote responsible stewardship of local nature – not by visiting and preaching but by helping develop local leaders who are committed to the cause.
Now we have all collapsed for a few hours. We are repacking to leave tomorrow morning on a flight at 0745 (argh) for three days in the north of the country. Then we will come back to the Colbert for a night or two. I have a feeling we will look upon this hotel as paradise – a welcome respite in between forays into the countryside. We have to get up very early so are having a very early dinner tonight.
More in a day or two…