An island isolated off the east coast of Africa for millions of years. 80% of species are found nowhere else. To a biologist it is Willy Wonka’s factory, to me, it’s a hallucinogenic drug that spins the eyes with a kaleidoscope of colour changing chameleons, languorous lemurs and spiders that sew snail shells into their webs to keep out of the desert heat. 4 months will see me travel across more than 16 national parks. Departing from Antanarivo, I will head to one of the most well known parks Ranomafana, located in the centre of the island. From there, it will be a loop south and then west, arriving at the tsingies of bermahara, limestone pinnacle formations, not unlike the karst formations found in Mulu national park, Borneo, which remain sacred to the locals. Then west to the vanilla coast and northwards. Of course the best laid plans are often washed away with the monsoon rains…

I’m ready, my flight but a couple days away and all I’m waiting for is my passport with Visa…no biggy…I only sent it in two weeks ago and they told me it would take 2 days to process. I’m sure it will be fine though…

The visa arrives at last but as I look down to admire it, I am hit with the fact that they have given me the wrong visa, 3 months non-extendable. A brief moment passes in which I see the highlight reel of the illicit checkpoint crossings with my expired Guyanan visa, am I really going to have to do this all over again! I call up the embassy and ask what the fuck’s going on, which fortunately, sounds much classier in French. Among the many requirements for the visa, including proof of return airfare, criminal records check, health certificate, and 2 references in your home country, you must also have references in Madagascar. Hmm…a little difficult for someone traveling there for the first time, no?

I had of course phoned the embassy before inquiring about this slight ‘hiccup’. The first woman I spoke with I mentioned that I was a photographer. “Hmm”, she replied “maybe you can contact Mr. Pierrot, he is our national photographer, known all over Madagascar and internationally too. Maybe he can give you a reference”. I can deal with gun toting thugs and venomous snakes, but when confronted with the insanity that is humanity I’m at a loss. I remained on the phone stunned to silence long enough  that the woman eventually hung up. I emailed Mr. Pierrot and have yet to hear back…not surprising that he hesitates in inviting some no-name photographer that he has never met before, supplicating for a reference and that somehow got his phone number and email address, into his country. Naturally I phone the embassy again, get someone else, and they tell me that all I need to do is make a reservation at a hotel or with a tour company and that will be sufficient. I had finally found reason! I thanked the man and booked a reservation.

Now back to the present and I guess I had the shitty luck of drawing the incomprehensibly dull woman to look over my visa application. Well, she stamped it for 3 months… probably tsking to herself that if only I had contacted the national photographer like she’d said I would never be in this problem. A brief phone call and they tell me there’s nothing they can do, I need to have a contact in Madagascar that can vouch for me, etc, etc… I hang up, the trouble free trip I had envisioned already gone. The only question now that the horse is dead, is how many times do we beat it now?

With pack full of painkillers for my necrotic hip, a few bottles of prozac for a mind rattled by one too many trips, and a handful of Paromomycin for an Amoeba I picked up in god knows where, I am ready to head off…

(Sidenote: Apparently I am a public health hazard due to my infection with Entamoeba hystolytica which encysts in the body causing ulcerative colitis and sheds for as long as the person remains a carrier. I’m just surprised I’m only now getting the credit that I deserve).


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