I found myself in Madagascar some time in September 2011, from South Africa en route to India. I had been backpacking for six months by then, grubby and weather-beaten from continuous traveling. Roughing-it-out had become a norm, and I figured nothing much was going to faze me in Madagascar.

Until I spent four days out in the Tsiribihina River.

No running water. No electricity. No WIFI. No phone reception. No toilets. No beds. No nothing. It was just us, our guides and boatmen, and all our stuff packed tight on a hallowed-out tree trunk of a boat.

Oh, and two live chickens.

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I did not brush my teeth or bathe for four days. Except maybe once, when we chanced upon a glorious waterfall and jumped in with all our clothes on (we didn’t pack swimwear!). Thankfully, we dried off naturally on the boat because the Madagascar sun was so scorching hot and there was no shelter over our heads.

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Sitting in a narrow boat for five-hour stretches was definitely a stretch for this city girl. There was nothing I could do but read, journal and sleep. Stripped bare of technology, I learnt to be fully present in the moment, and to enjoy it.

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Whenever we climbed up a riverbank for a meal break or to pitch a tent for the night, the first thing I did was look out for a bush. Yes, nature’s call was never wilder. It’s hard for a city girl to pull down her pants in public, but after a while, I got so used to it that if you ask me now to pee or poop by the roadside, I could.

We had no refrigeration on the boat so food had to bartered and bought along the river: fresh fish, vegetables, fruit… The ultimate for me was when our two live chickens were slaughtered before my eyes for my dinner. Let’s just say it almost made me a vegan.

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But along the Tsiribihina River, I saw a variety of indigenous wild lemurs leaping from tree to tree. I experienced the kindness of the Malagasy people when a boat piled high with produce capsized and strangers along the river-highway rushed to help salvage the goods. And my heart melted when a little Malagasy boy – when asked by my guide for a fruit he had picked – gave Lova the biggest one.

I went to Madagascar hoping to see Baobab trees. While I did experience the most breathtaking sunset at the Avenue of the Baobabs, it was really the raw wildness of the country, the humble village life along the river, and the resourcefulness of the Malagasy people in their extreme poverty that most captured my heart.

Sunset in Wild Madagascar

Sunset in Wild Madagascar

*This write-up was submitted to Key Destination, a travel blog where I’m part of a global team of in-house bloggers. 

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