Fruit stands along the road to Andasibe © Emily Koopman

The following day, after breakfast at the hotel, we met up with our driver/guide Andry. He was an absolute wealth of information. It was only day one of the tour, and I already felt like I could teach a class with all of the facts he had supplied us with. We traveled from Tana through the highlands, “artificial” forests made up of Eucalyptus trees, and into the lush rainforest. On the way, we pulled over at a fruit stand where Andry bought us some bananas. A little while later, we stopped by an animal education centre, where we learned about, and saw, a number of different reptiles. I got to hold a Madagascar tree boa, but there’s no photographic evidence because my Grandma nearly blacked out when she saw the snake.

Afterwards, we continued our drive and at last made it to our destination: Vakona Forest Lodge. I doubt that words could ever do its beauty justice. You know in “The Notebook” when Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling are dancing and can’t keep their eyes off of each other? Yeah, that was me with this entire place. Bungalows were scattered on a hillside, only separated by colourful gardens. The main building overlooked a small (presumably manmade) lake. The deck presented a few tables, one of which where we found ourselves eating lunch. Ya girl had some Malagasy chicken strips. They’re essentially just chicken strips… that were made in Madagascar. But like I said before, I’m pretty sure they make all the food 10x better there.

They’re in the running for the best strips I’ve ever had.

That evening, we went on a night walk in search of mouse lemurs (some of which are barely 4.75 inches long, tail included), and other nocturnal creatures. Our park guide, Zak, was fantastic, and always making sure that I got the best possible pictures.

Bright and early the next morning, Andry took me back to the park in Andasibe for a hike with Zak. This 3-hour adventure was a milestone for me, because it’s where I saw my first “typical” wild lemur. There are very few experiences that can compare to seeing an astounding animal go about its life in the wild. That said, we saw tons of them, including the Indri, which is the largest lemur in the country. We also saw the Common Brown, and Diademed Sifaka, which ended up being my favourite out of all the primates.

The forest itself was amazing, and I couldn’t have been happier to finally visit a tropical rainforest. It was like Disney’s Adventureland… but in real life. Even though I was hot, sweaty, and a little bit tired (are you sensing a pattern?), I kept thinking to myself how grateful I was to be there.

When we returned, I was promptly greeted by Andry, and we were off back to the lodge. He said we could meet back up at 3 pm and head to Lemur Island, which would prove to be the standout experience of the whole trip. In short, Lemur Island is a small, well, island, where several species of lemur live freely, but are used to people and will leap onto your head and shoulders. I had a soft, furry lemur bum pressed against my cheek. Is there anything better? I could have spent all day there, but settled for 45 minutes. If I asked you to guess how long it took to get to the island, what would you say? I bet it wouldn’t be 30 seconds, yet that’s the approximate time it takes one to drift across the ankle-deep water from the mainland to the island. All you do is hop in a 3 person canoe and blink a couple times. It’s all quite the thrill.

Afterwards, we visited the Vakona Reserve, which is a catch and release nature area similar to the Discovery Passage Aquarium in my hometown (but outside and much, much bigger). We saw Nile crocodiles, which are the only species found in Madagascar, a Fossa (pronounced Foo-Sa), lots of reptiles, birds, and plenty of interesting flora.

I was tired that night.

I should also mention that it was here where we discovered corossol juice, which we later found out is the French/Malagasy word for soursop. Neither of us had ever heard of it before, but it soon took the place of guava juice as our usual drink.

On Monday, we made the drive back to Tana, stopping to purchase a bag of fresh guavas from a young girl. Once back in the city, Andry searched far and wide (3 stores) to find me a replacement camera battery charger since mine had stopped working the night before. The Canon T6S hadn’t arrived in Madagascar yet, so we were SOL (and by “we” I mean “me”). The 3 of us had lunch at a pizza place with a knock-off Pizza Hut sign in a surprisingly modern mall. The pizza was alright, but my piece had goat cheese on it.

From there, we drove 309 km to Antsirabe, which is the beer industry hot spot. However, neither my grandma or I were all that interested in having a drink. Instead, we visited a small, rustic manufacturing plant where they create functional objects out of zebu horns. Zebu are a breed of cow with a large lump of fat on their backs; they are populous in both Africa and India — unlike in India, however, they are a popular meal choice in Madagascar. Luckily, the Malagasy people are not ones who let things go to waste. They use the horns from the zebu cow to make a variety of different items, such as utensils, bowls, and jewelry. During the demo, a worker made a small spoon. In due course, we proceeded across the street to a small shop owned exclusively by one man. By hand, he creates unique cars, bikes, and other things from pop and beer bottles (among an assortment of household products). In the back of the same building were several women cross-stitching colourful (and traditional) Malagasy scenes and animals. It was astonishing to watch them work at such an elaborate pace, as a man penciled out their next project at a table beside them.

It was late when we arrived at our hotel on the other side of town. Once again, our room was nice and spacious. I had the best spaghetti ever at the restaurant there. Italy who?

At 8:30 am the next day, we left the hotel and made way to check out a little museum which specialized in gems and precious woods, including Rosewood, which is often illegally logged and sold. The people there were very kind, but unfortunately, a lot of the information went in one ear and out the other as I was rather distracted by their “guard tortoises”. That was much more interesting to me. They let me hold one, and he was very heavy but a lot less bitey than my turtle back home. I liked him a lot.

Andry then gave us the nickel tour of Antsirabe before we hit the road again, this time destined for Ranomafana National Park. A pitstop was made in a town called Ambositra, which is the centre of Madagascar’s wood carving industry. We were able to observe the woodworkers practicing their craft; one gentleman even let me keep a small heart pendant he had made as the demonstration. They had an awe-inspiring gift store, where I bought several souvenirs. Beforehand, we had popped into a restaurant for lunch, which boasted both musical and dance performances.

By Emily, on October 7th, 2017, under Travel // Comments Off on A LOOK BACK AT MADAGASCAR – PART 3: COROSSOL, LEMURS, AND THE BEST SPAGHETTI EVER


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