A LOOK BACK AT MADAGASCAR – PART 5: FINALE


Traditional Malagasy fisherman prepare for their daily excursion © Emily Koopman

The better part of the day was spent on the road, some of which was not in ideal condition. We ended our journey in the driest part of Madagascar, crossing sandy soil and mangrove trees, somewhat similar to what you might expect in Florida. When we reached the small fishing village of Ifaty, we only continued a tad further to the outskirts, where our beach bungalow awaited us. We bid Andry farewell, as he had the long journey back to Tana ahead of him. This time alone. The coast was the hottest location we had visited during the whole of our trip. Albeit beautiful, there wasn’t an awful lot to do except wander the beach. Since we were right on the ocean, I found it appropriate to have some seafood for lunch. We sat out on the restaurant deck, with picturesque views of the Mozambique Channel, and waited for our food to arrive. I had ordered “shrimp” (pretty sure they were actually prawns), and to my surprise, when placed on the table in front of me, their lifeless beady eyes stared straight into my soul. I had been warned they were fresh, but I didn’t realize just how fresh. It was almost as if the seafood saw me. I felt increasingly guilty with every bite.

When we returned to the restaurant for dinner, I didn’t have seafood. Just before the meals arrived, I all of a sudden began to feel nauseous. We were treated to traditional Malagasy entertainment, and even offered the opportunity to participate in a dance; I had to politely decline, in fear of accidentally covering the person in front of me with vomit. Eventually, I excused myself from the table and scurried off to the bathroom — where I proceeded to be sick for nearly 5 minutes straight. Let me tell you, I felt incredible after (even with occasional diarrhea run from my flu).

We spent the following day relaxing and exploring the beach. I found a praying mantis crossing the stone walkway which connected the bungalows, and decided an impromptu photoshoot was the way to go. It seemed like he was posing for the camera, and may have been on Project Runway in a past life. I should also mention that the sand surrounding the path was always covered (and I mean covered) in tracks left by the many hermit crabs that inhabit the area.

On the beach, we were followed by a woman (who had made her presence known from below as we ate earlier), continuingly insisting we check out the items she had for sale. Since I’m terrible at saying no, we wandered over to some spread out blankets in the sand where two of her friends were also set up. They were adamant that something be purchased from each of them, and although it was somewhat irritating, I could empathize with their situation and really did need more souvenirs for people anyway.

On the morning of the 29th, we were picked up by a driver and taken to the small airport in Tuléar where we caught a short flight back to Tana. Upon arrival in the capital city, we were greeted by a friendly and familiar face – Andry! He took us back to our original hotel where I tracked and followed geckos late into the evening. Since we hadn’t been able to do the hike a couple days prior, the tour company offered to buy us dinner at the restaurant hotel which was awfully thoughtful of them. One of the waiters and I had a grand ole time discussing geckos as we watched them clamber the terrace walls, hiding behind a light in preparation for moths and other insects going kamikaze in said direction.

The two of us spent nearly the entire consecutive day preparing ourselves for the flight home. Fortunately, I was feeling much better, but Grandma was beginning to show signs of sickness. She decided we best walk down the hill to the nearest pharmacy to get some flu medication, so that we did. It was a nice walk — not too hot, not too cold — and it only took about 10 minutes each way. The hotel staff had advised us not to take our wallets or cameras, as there was a local market nearby where pickpocketing was rampant. So we just grabbed a few ariary (the local currency) and went on our way.

That night was melancholic, as I watched my last Malagasy sunset from our balcony. I wound up taking a power nap, knowing that we were being picked up at 10:30 pm to catch our flight back to Paris.

Andry brought his wife along for the ride, and the 4 of us drove through the humming city of Antananarivo for the last time. Outside, we said our goodbyes and promised to keep in touch. When we finally made it through security and into the waiting area, it was almost like being back in the rainforest in terms of humidity. It felt like time had stopped in the airport, and it was bizarre seeing such a large number of white people again. The amount of security checkpoints (after the original) was also surprising. I watched a lot of movies on that plane ride.

The rest of the story isn’t quite as interesting; we arrived back in Paris and took a shuttle to our nearby hotel. I conked out upon arrival, only to be awakened by my grandma for a food break. We ate at the neat music-themed restaurant in the lobby, and then we both went back to bed, as we had an early flight back home the next morning.

When I originally decided I wanted to visit Madagascar, I figured it would be a once in a lifetime thing, but looking back on it now, I refuse to let that be the case. Nearly every part of me longs to visit again. Whenever I reminisce about the experience, I can’t help but feel excited and ready for adventure; my single lament being catching the flu (which actually returned full force in back in Canada, leading to having bloodwork done to test for malaria; even though I had been taking anti-malarials the entire trip). I’ll be honest when I say it wasn’t altogether what I was expecting, layout-wise anyway, but there was something magical about it. Like many countries, it’s a place you have to experience for yourself to fully understand what I mean.

By Emily, on October 9th, 2017, under Travel // Comments Off on A LOOK BACK AT MADAGASCAR – PART 5: FINALE


A LOOK BACK AT MADAGASCAR – PART 1: PARIS


Mass at Notre Dame de Paris © Emily Koopman

Madagascar is one of those places you only read about. In fact, when I told people I was going there, the most common response was, “Oh, like the Disney movie?” It’s not a Disney movie, but yeah. In North America, nobody really knows much about it, which I think is one of the reasons I was so drawn to it. With everyone I knew going to Europe or Asia, I almost felt as if I had been to many of those places already, and honestly knew I could likely never afford to go to a place like Madagascar on my own dime.

When I graduated from film school, my grandma told me she wanted to take me on a vacation. She said I could pick anywhere in the world. Now as you’re probably aware, my bucket list is not a short one. There’s Jordan, Romania, Latvia, Botswana, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Nicaragua… I could go on for hours about all of the different places I hope to experience in my lifetime. Madagascar is somewhere that took me by surprise. I grew up obsessed with the PBS show, “Zoboomafoo”, and I was determined to visit Animal Junction one day in hopes of hanging out with the rambunctious namesake. Of course, back then, even with big dreams, I never thought I’d actually travel to the exact opposite side of the globe and see hundreds of Zoboomafoos jumping from tree to tree in the humid rainforests of Madagascar.

After finally deciding where I wanted to go and discussing it further with my grandmother, we booked the trip around January 2017, and were scheduled to depart in mid-May of that year. I hiked and worked hard to ensure maximum endurance on excursions because I didn’t plan on missing a second.

On May 16th, after a sleepless 9-hour plane ride from Vancouver, we arrived in Paris to a somewhat rude awakening. I contacted our shuttle at the (rude) information centre at Charles de Gaulle, where we proceeded to wait… and wait… and wait. What was supposed to be a 40 minute hang fire due to traffic (hey, it’s Paris), turned into nearly 2 hours. I went back to the (now a different worker, quite polite) info centre and called the shuttle company again. They apologized profusely and said they were having computer troubles. We were assured our ride would be there to pick us up within 10 minutes. We had run into a couple from Nebraska who had also been waiting a long time, so I asked for them too.

When we finally arrived at our hotel, we were greeted by an incredibly friendly and helpful young man (who after the response to my TripAdvisor review, I now know was actually the manager).

We got settled in our room, though neither of us had slept in over 24 hours, we eventually made our way to the Eiffel Tower (which we could see from our room) and hopped on the Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus to take us to the boarding area for our Seine River cruise. That day was also the day I faced the strange and bewildering truth that the Eiffel Tower is NOT silver, but rather a rusty bronze. Witchcraft.

Anyway, on our bus ride to the cruise, I sat up top and enjoyed many of the iconic Paris sights, including the Louvre, the Palais-Royal, the Opera, and Hôtel des Invalides, among others. We disembarked at Notre Dame and boarded the cruise (which departed just across the river). By the end of it all, we were exhausted and somehow easily convinced to jump in the back of a bicycle cart being peddled by a Romanian fellow (unfortunately not the Sweet Romanian Prince I’m looking for, though friendly, he was no Sebastian Stan) who took us to the intersection nearest our hotel. We walked down the street a little ways and found a small hole-in-the-wall bar/restaurant called Les Prolongations, where I had a very messy and very rare burger with an egg on it. That’s a thing apparently. It was better than expected (albeit I had asked for the patty well done). After that, we headed back to our tragically AC-less hotel room, where we both slept sans couvertures and the window wide open. Thankfully, though exhausted, neither of us were jetlagged thanks to a magic pill from the naturopath.

Luckily, we had some time before our flight the next day. We decided to get back on the bus and do some more exploring (not before the world’s most expensive breakfast at the hotel).

First, we explored Notre Dame, which has free entry, but I thought (at the small museum inside, which cost 5 euros) I would be able to go upstairs and see the gargoyles close up. It turned out just to be a bunch of religious artifacts, which didn’t mean much to me. Pays to ask, I guess.

After that, we got on the Orange Line which took us to les Catacombes. I went into a flower shop and asked the girl working there which direction the entrance was in; she pointed to a massive lion statue and said, “derrière le chaton”, which translates to “behind the kitten”. Nice.

We did les Catacombes in such a rush that it didn’t 100% sink in that I was surrounded by millions of decomposed bodies underneath a bustling city. The lady working there wanted exact change which was very annoying and she was pretty rude about it.

We were too sweaty and tired to walk to the bus stop, ride for an hour, and then walk back to the hotel, so we took a cab.

I showered for the second time and we headed to the Orly Airport to catch our flight to la Réunion.

By Emily, on October 5th, 2017, under Travel // Comments Off on A LOOK BACK AT MADAGASCAR – PART 1: PARIS


MY TRAVEL BUCKET LIST: The Top 5

When I started writing down my bucket list, I realized that it primarily consisted of places I wanted to experience. That’s right, experience. There are so many things I want to do, and almost no country that I don’t want to visit. Here is a list of things I’m insistent that I must do before my day comes.

Jordan, The Middle East: Over the past, maybe 4 or 5 years, I’ve become increasingly interested in everything about The Middle East; but the country that has excited me most is Jordan. I’m the first person to admit that Indiana Jones is one of my favourite franchises, so it shouldn’t be at all surprising that I dream of following in Dr. Jones’ footsteps. The ancient city of Petra is considered one of the “New7Wonders of the World” (def: a campaign started in 2000 to choose Wonders of the World from a selection of 200 existing monuments), and, in my opinion, it’s one of the most fascinating. To visit would be an absolute dream, but there’s something else that might top even that: a hot air balloon ride to watch the sun rise over Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum is another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Jordan that made my bucket list. That said, as far as this list goes, a hot air balloon ride and a stay at a Bedouin Camp are just the tip of the iceberg.

Romania, Europe: Traveling to what is sometimes called, “The Land Beyond the Forest”, isn’t something on everyone’s bucket list, in fact, the question I get most when I tell people that it’s high on mine is generally, “Why?” I guess the simplest answer is that I love the horror genre, and Romania is home to the historic region of Transylvania, whose villages with fortified churches are 1 out of 7 of the country’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Spending Hallowe’en traveling through the small medieval towns and exploring Bran Castle (rumored to be the inspiration for Dracula’s place of residence) is definitely something I must to do. In fact, my friend Kenzie and I are hoping to make the trip in October 2018.

Botswana, Africa: I’ve thought long and hard about the place I most want to travel in Africa (quite honestly, I’d love to visit them all), and though throughout this series you’ll find plenty more of them, Botswana has taken its place in my Top 5. You’ll mostly find that it’s due to the abundance of wildlife, and the 3 different types of safaris you can enjoy in the area. I recently read an article on Lonely Planet which I believe says it best as, “the enchanting Okavango Delta, the rich habitats of the Chobe River valley and the blistering sands of the Kalahari Desert”, each one unique with its game. I’d love to stay at an eco/wildlife lodge at some point.

The Amazon, South America: As previously mentioned, one of my favourite things to do is see the diversity of wildlife the world has to offer, and an Amazon cruise is an incredible way to make the most of it. I don’t have a preference which section of the river I visit, but I have read that in Peru I could check off seeing both sloths AND manatees in close proximity. Thankfully, I think you can find those funny looking pink dolphins everywhere. Ideally, I’d love to travel the entire length, but I doubt I’ll ever make enough bank for that. I also thought it would be fun to volunteer in the jungle; helping with reforestation and animal inventories, but then I remembered that spiders the size of small puppies live there, and decided I would feel much safer sleeping on the boat and only making daily excursions into the rainforest. Spider-sized puppies? Adorable. Where can I get one? Puppy-sized spiders? Fine as long as I don’t have to look at them or be within eyeshot to see it eat a gecko. The idea of camping out in the jungle is exciting to me, but I’m not sure I would get any sleep. Percy Fawcett I will never be. Last but not least, I think it would be enlightening to visit local indigenous families, as well as experience shamanism firsthand.

Latvia, Europe: Again, not a place on everyone’s gap year travel agenda. The interest stems from an essay I wrote in 6th grade. We had to choose a place and write about what the holidays were like in said country. I’ve always liked to do things differently, so while my classmates chose places like France, Italy, or Spain, I decided on Latvia. Essentially, I think it was because I looked a map of Europe and it was the only country I’d never heard of that I could actually pronounce properly. Who knows! Either way, ever since researching and writing that essay (in French), I’ve always wanted to spend Christmas there. They have a massive evergreen decorated in Riga’s town square, which is (allegedly) where the world’s first Christmas tree originated. The food doesn’t appeal to me too much (neither does that in Romania), but I know they make gingerbread and I could live off of that for a couple of weeks!

So there ya have it. It took me a while to decide how to categorize this series, but I think I’ve finally got a handle on it. Expect a post like this every week for the next month or so. (If I have time! I’ve been working on a ton of different projects, plus I currently have my summer day job.)

By Emily, on September 1st, 2017, under Personal, Travel // Comments Off on MY TRAVEL BUCKET LIST: The Top 5