THE TRIP OF A LIFETIME
(This letter was sent to Bill Love a couple months after the 2001 - 2002 Madagascar Holidays Tour; please see the collage of additional trip pictures below.)
The Anderson family trip to Madagascar was truly the trip of a lifetime, though all five of us hope it was only our first taste of this amazing island. Our experience was almost continuous animals, adventure and friendly people. The friendliest of all being Bill Love himself. Bill seems to just naturally step everything up to a higher level, converting the interesting to fascinating, the difficult to adventure, the strange to bizarre, the new to amazing - quite simply the special ingredient to "the trip of a lifetime".
For us, the trip started with our eldest son, Chris. He is a true chameleon fanatic, while the rest of us broadly enjoy seeing strange animals and experiencing new places. As you can imagine, Chris really wanted to visit Madagascar and since he was to soon head off to college, the rest of us decided that Madagascar would be our next adventure. Chris already knew of Bill Love and Blue Chameleon Ventures through Bill's many contributions to reptile photography and literature as well as from mutual friends and acquaintances. We are all so glad he did!
In this electronic age, we corresponded through e-mail, ordered recommended literature, secured our visas and generally let the excitement build. After meeting Bill in Paris and getting our first taste of the Madagascar experience, we were off. It never stopped after that, though we did spend a little time on the beach or in the pool. While we were in reality in Madagascar for quite a while, it seemed to be over almost right after it stared. It was that great!
In the wild we saw lemurs, mongooses, tenrecs, butterflies, moths, millipedes and giraffe beetles, Vasa parrots, hawks, vangas and nightjars, hognose snakes, day geckos, mantellas (frogs), radiated tortoises as well as assorted fish. And most importantly for Chris, we found eighteen different species of chameleons from the smallest to the largest to the most colorful. Sometimes these were coming so fast, even along the road, that some of us could barely get out of the vehicles fast enough to keep up with Chris checking out what was in the next tree, bush or just crossing the road.
In addition to the animals, we met an interesting, friendly people from a number of Madagascar's numerous and diverse tribes. A particular treat was seeing the villagers react when we would pick up a large boa, chameleon or other animal which they had helped us find - we are sure they thought we were crazy. We also saw a beautiful, though in some ways a tragic land which must be preserved in cooperation with and to the benefit of its people. Additionally, we experienced their food, which was very good, the zebu steaks particularly so. I think I will leave the roasted tenrecs to Bill from now on, though.
We could have gone to Madagascar without Bill and seen a beautiful country, interesting animals and nice people. And as long as none of us ever met anyone who had traveled with Bill, we would have felt very good about it. However having had the pleasure of a Blue Chameleon Ventures adventure, we are positive that we experienced more in most days than we would have otherwise experienced in most weeks. Bill's combination of incredible enthusiasm and knowledge about Madagascar, its people and wildlife coupled with the generally behind-the-scenes adjustments, confirmations and logistics he accomplished with the help of his Malagasy team made all the difference in the world. Frankly Madagascar, while very special, is not a particularly user friendly place and any potential visitor should read Bill's "AVOID Madagascar If..." and take it seriously. If, however, you and your entire party like the different, have an adventurous attitude, really want to meet a very friendly people and see incredible wildlife, then sign up now! You will be very glad you did.
The Andersons --- Eric, Melissa, Chris, Kat and JJ --- Prague, The Czech Republic
PICTURE CAPTIONS: A - Chris shows a male Ambanja panther chameleon he spotted in a tree to the ladies of the family in one of our vehicles. B - Eric and Chris amidst a group of enthusiastic Malagasy villagers who helped us locate chameleons near their town. C - An adult male Parson's chameleon zaps a bug off Chris' nose. D - Kat watching the reactions of female and male Minor's chameleons at Itremo in the south-central highlands. E - JJ, six-years-old at the time, found a female spiny chameleon to be the perfect temporary barrette in the southwestern city of Toliara.