Madagascar Motorcycle Tour
story and photography by Jeremy Bullard
I never set out to ride around the world. I changed my mind in Peru because I was having too much fun and didn’t want to stop. Travel is addictive and a lot more fun than working.
I decided to go to Madagascar after I read Hilary Bradt’s guidebook. She has been there more than 25 times and once wrote about the country, “A motorbike is perhaps the very best way of getting around.” I had to see for myself. The cost to crate and fly my 2003 KTM 640 Adventure over from Johannesburg, South Africa, was too high, so once I got to Madagascar I rented a fairly knackered 1986 Honda XL650 that I christened “Le Heap.” The brakes were crap, the gear lever was welded on, the kickstarter was zip-tied to the frame and it wouldn’t start. Apart from that it was perfect.
Madagascar is about the size of Texas, a very poor country where the average wage is $1 a day. Only four tarred roads leave Antananarivo (Tana), the capital, and none of them links up. You either ride back the same way, fly the bike back to Tana or hit the dirt roads. The quality of the dirt varies from superbly graded surfaces to tracks with trees growing out of them that are only passable on foot. It’s a good idea to get local advice before setting off.
Most tourists come to see the animals. Madagascar has more indigenous species than any other island in the world. Lemurs, fosas and tenrecs are found nowhere else.
Everything is relative in Madagascar. “Quite a few vehicles” on the road to Toliara means at least one every five minutes, and sometimes even more often. The scenery changes frequently. One minute it is very tight, slow curves on a narrow road through the hills. But over the crest it widens into a lush, green valley blanketed in rice paddies. Everyone I met was incredibly warm, helpful and friendly. They waved and smiled back more than in any other country I have visited.
The roads are amazing. The 50 miles from Mampikony to Port Berge took me more than three hours to ride, but I loved it. There were hundreds of diversions to avoid collapsed bridges, cavernous potholes and gorges slicing across the road. On one detour I was immediately enveloped in clouds of a weird red dust. It was light yet flowed and splashed like water, creating a bow wave as I rode through.
Nosy Be Island is the most “developed” part of Madagascar. There are no malls, only a few smart shops and a decent pharmacy. On a beach in the north of the island I had a superb three-course buffet lunch for $10.
I returned from Nosy Be to the mainland by speedboat. We were soon surfing the seas at 30 mph with the bike roped down in the middle of the boat. Exhilarating.
I love Madagascar and the Malagasy. It is completely different from anywhere else I have ever been. The warmth of the people, the amazing variety of landscapes, the fun roads, the extraordinary flora and fauna and fantastic food make it totally unique.
Hilary Bradt is right—a bike is best. I’ll be back.
Jeremy Bullard graduated from Exeter University in the United Kingdom in 1982. He started riding a 3-horsepower Puch moped to add excitement to his life as a CPA. After many bikes he settled on big singles and created his own IT consulting business. However, the constant call of freedom faraway could not be ignored….
[From the June 2006 issue of Rider]