A Photographic Journey

Posted by on January 23, 2013 in Blog, Uncategorized | 21 comments

Over New Year’s we went to Antananarivo for some cooler temps, some fellowship with other English speakers, some play, some work, and alas, some shopping.. though shopping for stuff like Oatmeal and Sundried Tomatoes is not necessarily what I consider exhilarating shopping.

The beauty of this rugged landscape that is Madagascar never ceases to amaze me.  Every time we make this 10-hour drive, I stand in awe of God’s awesome creation of this Red Island and the reality that we have the privilege to live here!!  I know people who would choose other not-so-pleasant words to describe living here… and on some days, we would agree… but by and large, we are blessed!

So on the looonnnnngggg drive home, I decided to keep the camera in the front seat and capture a photographic journey across Madagascar from the central highland plateau that is Antananarivo to the northwest coast that is our city of Mahajanga.

Sit back and enjoy… and just like in Madagascar- if you’re not the driver… no seat belts required.

the high plateau is full of terraced rice fields

the people of Madagascar are as rugged as the beauty of this place… check out this old man riding up the mountain roads… no gears, just pure strength and endurance

just a reminder, this is the ONLY national highway connecting to the northwest part of the island… it’s shared with bikers, oxcarts with wooden wheels, and the occasional faithful dog

about 30+ kilometers into our trip… only 521 kilometers to go

it’s been reported that the Malagasy people eat the most rice per person per day in the world…

the houses are a reflection of the landscape… built with the materials that are most accessible in each part of the island…. in this case, mud walls and mud bricks with grass roofs. two story houses are more common on the high plateau than on the coast.

how can i not stand in awe of God’s creation??? A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!!

bread and tea stand on the side of the road as we’re entering a small town…

love this…

these tsangan-bato dot the landscape of Madagascar and stand in place to remember some important event that occurred in that spot… my enquiring mind would love to know the story behind these… too bad I’ll probably never know.  how fun would it be to travel around the island, collecting these oral history narratives and composing a book?!!  oh, if only there was more time in the day and years in my life.  *sigh*

talk about a house with a view and quite literally… not a single other house as far as the eye could see.

did i mention this was the ONLY national highway??? check out how narrow these roads are!

just a little “S” curve…

unfortunately we see far too many lone trees in areas that should be forested….

the name of this approaching village, Andalamahitsy…or “straight road”

not such a straight road ahead…

this family though totally startled at first when a crazy vazaha (foreign) woman speaking Malagasy scrambled out of the practically still moving car, ended up being very gracious in allowing me to capture them on their daily trek…. barefoot on hot asphalt in the heat of the day up mountain roads…

wish i could bottle up the sights, sounds and smells of this moment…. middle of nowhere in Madagascar, speaking to these folks in their mother tongue, the smell of earth and smoke on their clothing and a proud papa having his picture taken with his kids…

these folks are strong…

check out that erosion due to deforestation… the forests are essential for keeping the soil intact…

local transportation…

quite the ride I reckon…

the harvested rice laid out on the hot asphalt to dry… it’s also the reason we find small rocks in our rice…. the bags are full of unhusked rice to sell to passersby

amazing the contrast of the new green grass brought out by recent rains and the deep red soil…

severe crazy erosion is a typical backdrop…. as are people selling the local fruits… in this case, it’s mangoes.

rain in the distance… the rain comes so fast and furious that you can often hear it coming before even a drop falls at your feet

fasina” or tombs such as this are also scattered against the landscape

the plateau gives way to the foothills which signals the start of mango country… yummmmm!

houses are often used for advertising purposes, this particular house is enticing folks to buy a “black soap”– something that is reportedly good for prickly heat rash. we use it but the jury is still out on it’s effectiveness.

and of course there’s the view of the inside of the car…. the sleeping kids

the faithful chauffeur

the photographer…

lunch break!!! a small malagasy restaurant is called a “hotely”— this one serves up some pretty descent food but plan on having your mouth coated with grease by the end.                                                                                                                                                  another example of a building with painted advertisements… this one for THB- Three Horse Beer.

recently folks have been panning for (and finding) gold in the rivers of this region… have i told you how incredibly rich this totally impoverished country is in natural resources???? once again, we stopped driving to get a picture of this lady and man walking on the road returning from panning. they were incredibly fearful as we approached them and later told us they thought we were “tongue snatchers”…. um, OK.

after talking a bit more they showed us the gold they had panned that day…. because apparently there’s less of a likelihood that we would be gold thieves than tongue snatchers 🙂

in these region there’s tons of bridges, some huge, some small, most a bit scary due to their condition… you’ll soon see what I’m talking about…

crossing the massive Betsiboka River… this ginormous water system can be seen from space and is a prime example of how Madagascar is literally bleeding it’s red soil into the ocean as a result of deforestation and subsequent erosion. this bleeding into the ocean around our city of Mahajanga can also be seen from space

did i mention it rains really hard????

more ladies coming back from a day of gold mining… no tongue snatching occurred

a typical small roadside village with 1-room mud houses and palm-leaf roofs

remember those nasty scary bridges i was talking about… here’s just part of the reason why

off the plateau and out of the foothills, the landscape becomes quite barren and not nearly as spectacular to photograph…

roadside stands in this region sell tamarinds, dried fish and lasary- types of fruits (green mango or lime) bathed in vinegar and sometimes chili that’s served with rice and the daily sauce or laoka

while on the road there’s several check-points… by the police, the gendarme, and the army- it’s a bit of a nuisance but usually harmless– wanting to check our papers, our insurance, the occasional bribe-seeking and of course making sure there’s no tongue snatchers in the car…

this guy was so stoked that we asked to take his picture not only did he not ask for our papers, but he happily and proudly posed for the picture and let us be on our way… we may need to employ this strategy at all future checkpoints!

unfortunately this is an all-too-common sight… charcoal by the gunny sack. I can’t even begin to estimate how many trees were cut down to make this much charcoal… I can say with certainty that it was alot!!

this is just at the edge of the Ankarafantsika National Forest…. you can see the land clear cut to plant maize

this is inside the National Park of Ankarafantsika… the folks who live here really reap the benefits with cooler temps, more rain, better soil quality, more animals, and beauty… all because there are trees!

Anakarafantsika National Park… and remember, this is the national highway!

this house made of raffia stock with a windmill palm roof could definitely use a little bit of help…


Ankarafantsika National Park

Ankarafantsika National Park

still in Ankarafantsika. crazy to think that a large portion of this region should look like this…. lush hills with lemurs, large crocodile infested lakes teeming with bird life… the sounds and sights in this forest are amazing

no joke– this barren land is less than 1-minute outside of the splendor of Ankarafantsika National Park. so.so.so.sad

just a little luggage atop this bush taxi…

the beauty of the flame tree amidst rice fields and oxcarts….

across the island the national highway is an extremely popular place to sit and have a conversation… i’m speechless on this one

the land where dinosaurs once roamed…. dinosaur bones can be found all over this region… we’re planning a dinosaur-bone-hunting trip with the kids on a Saturday in the weeks to come

no trip is complete anywhere without Jamie stopping and collecting either seeds or digging up plants…

no complaining here with this wild beautiful purple ground orchid

and of course, there’s always multiple cars, buses, trucks, bike riders and oxcarts that we pass along the way….

alas… our city is close!!

Mahajanga, Madagascar

after adding an extra 90 minutes to our normal 10-hour trip… our butts were flat, our bladders full, our kids were total troopers, and we were so happy to see our beloved dirt road leading up to our house!!

Next time, you gotta come make the journey yourself!!!  Seatbelt required.


  1. what a beautiful country! Thanks for taking us with you on the journey.

  2. Wow, Can’t wait to come visit! What an amazing country. Love you guys, T

  3. Thanks for the tour! This was tremendous. I am ready to put on my seat belt and go for the adventure. Love you all and pray for you often!

  4. Alissa, great pics. Jamie’s old Biology teacher at RVA felt his african juices going after shoveling snow this morning. Mat God bless you guys. John

  5. Beautiful photos! The grass covered hills remind me of Kansas. We will be praying for your new inland forestation project and the clinic. God is using you both in tree…mendous ways! (Sorry, couldn’t help myself)

  6. This is a beautiful documentary with photos of Madagascar, people, landscape, highlights of the devastation of the country, etc. What a great idea to do this on your drive and share with others. I especially loved the photos of the flame trees and red huts. Reminded me of my childhood in Zaire near the Congo River – also red, green, floral, and greatly devastated by slash and burn. Thank you!

  7. I loved every moment of your photographic journey. Thank you so much for sharing it. My last journey to Madagascar was in 2001. Definitely time to go back. Seeing your photographs and reading your comments made me miss the great red island SO much. I’m so happy that I remain on your mailing list. Having news of you and your family always makes me smile. Veloma.

  8. Can’t wait to return and visit. This makes me want to be there now.

  9. consider it done!!! Would love to visit Madagascar again 🙂 I loved all your photos……such a great way to transport us to the largest island nation in the world 🙂

  10. Splendid photos! Hope to come as see for ourselves sometime. We will pray for your protection from the tongue-snatchers.

  11. Wonderful road trip! My what a diverse place! Thanks for the armchair travel!…love you guys! Lord bless your entire family and providemightly for you,…Cary

  12. Thank you so much for this beautiful tour. It was so good to see where you live and get a glimpse of what you experience. I laughed out loud about the tongue snatchers and was moved by the walking families and desolate landscape. I can’t wait to see the yield from the dinosaur expedition. You live in an amazing place. Love you guys!

  13. Wow, What a contrast in landscape between the protected forest and the barren land adjacent. What was once a paradise is now lacking. How God has called you to care for this part of the world is so vital to the health of this country. Please be encouraged that you are making a difference in Madagascar as you educate the Malagasy people on how they may restore their landscape with the planting of trees on the coast and inland! Love you all!

  14. These photos were stunning. I’ve made this trip many many times and you SO captured the real essence! I can’t wait to sit down and make my husband look thru this photo journey so he can grasp a tiny bit of the beauty I experienced there every day! Thanks for sharing with all of us!

  15. What a beautiful journey and quite stunning photos I must say. I felt like I was riding along with you. The comments and descriptions made the journey just that much better. Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful corner of the world with us. I can now get a better understanding about some of the stories that Jamie told me about the deforestation, what a tragedy. You guys keep up the work that you are doing, and maybe in our lifetimes you will once again see the beautiful trees again dominating the land. Stay healthy…with Love…Brent

  16. Very cool pics. Reminds me of some of what I have seen. Don’t think I need the 10 Hr. tour. Miss you all so much .Love Pops

  17. So that just made me really homesick for Madagascar… Even the long drive home. I recognized every land formation, blue house, and rock.

  18. Stunning photos! What a great idea to photograph your journey.
    I do have to make one correction though: while in Mahajanga you might not need seatbelts while you’re the passenger, in Tana we get stopped and ticketed for such things (passenger side AND kids in the back!) usually right at the hill where we turn off for church. 🙁 Perhaps it’s because we can drive so fast on the roads here in comparison to where you’re at. 🙂
    Do you mind if i link to this from mine? Would love to share some photos from outside our usual haunts.


    • Wow, jocelyn, i had no idea about Tana and their seat belts… we’ve never had a problem there. Last we heard the law was only for the driver and that’s what we’ve seen implemented, especially in Mahajanga. Go for it with the link. Thanks!

  19. what a great post, Alissa!

  20. Love this soo much! Can’t wait to see it in person!! Thanks for sharing!!!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *