Madagascar Is My Favorite Country (that I barely know)

People ask me all the time what my favorite country is. I really don’t know how to answer that; in particular: do they mean my favorite country that I’ve already been to, or the country that I most want to go to? So I usually split the difference, most attracted to countries I’ve seen a bit of, and like, but didn’t get enough time there, and want to go back! At the top of that list is Madagascar. It’s nothing like the movie. It’s not like most people’s conception of it, either. Most people assume that, because it’s so close to the African continent, that it must be predominantly African. No, not really.

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The Streeets of Madagascar

Guess again. Well, since it’s so close to the Swahili coast of Africa, then it must have been an Arab entrepot. Not exactly. Madagascar was settled first and foremost by Asians, of Indonesian origin, with linguistic connections to this day, but little or nothing else—except rice, and noodles, and a certain slimness of figure. Sure, some of that comes from a Vietnamese admixture via the French, but not most, and certainly not all.

Madagascar is also one of the most expensive countries to get to, so maybe its inaccessibility is part of its desirability. It also helps if you speak a little French, since that is the language that most people will use with you, as a foreigner, as the French were the colonizers. Strangely enough, English is one of the four official languages, even though hardly anyone—except hotel clerks—can speak it.

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What a view!

The capital Antananarivo is equal parts Asian, French, African, and… unique, its own style. The architecture is French, but not really, while the food is Asian, but not really, while the poverty is definitely African, even if it doesn’t really look like it. That was the biggest shock, that the country was as poor or poorer than most of Africa. Watch out for pickpockets.

But the strangest sight was the last one, catching an early morning flight, and catching a ride to the airport in total blackness, around 3 a.m., when I saw literally thousands of early morning runners, clogging the roads and jogging the highways. I guess they were beating the heat. But for my early flight, I’d have never known. I’ll get back one day.v

Hardie Karges has traveled to more than one hundred fifty countries over the course of forty years. He is the author of “Hypertravel” and the seven-part series “Backpackers and Flashpackers: Guides to World Hostels.” He expects to open his first backpackers’ hostel soon.

ANNOUNCING THE PUBLICATION OF “BACKPACKERS & FLASHPACKERS IN WESTERN EUROPE: 500 HOSTELS IN 100 CITIES IN 25 COUNTRIES

Hypertravel Books is happy to announce the publication of “Backpackers and Flashpackers in Western Europe: 500 Hostels in 100 Cities in 25 Countries,” written by Hardie Karges, author of “Hypertravel: 100 Countries in 2 Years,” and the first in a series of guides to the world’s best hostels. For those of you who don’t already know it, hostels are the biggest thing that has occurred in decades for budget travel. Just when it seemed like international travel was an activity increasingly reserved for the wealthy among us, the explosion of hostels in the last few years has once again leveled the playing field and made travel possible for almost anybody and everybody with the desire and the disposition. Accommodations ARE the most expensive part of travel, after all.

Hostels have long been around, of course, at least in Europe, but those were youth hostels. These are hostels for backpackers, and “flashpackers,” too, their more upscale urban cousins. There’s a world of difference. Now Internet is a standard feature, computers available for free or for rent, and many a flashpacker with smartphone or laptop. It’s not just Europe now, either, or just youth. It includes the whole world, and it’s a way of life. If it’s a cool place to visit, then there will probably be a hostel there by now, staffed by local people, all with at least a working knowledge of the English language. You can easily organize a trip and stay in budget hostels the whole way the whole time now. This book will help. It will also tell you the brief history and major attractions of each place, too, in addition to some basic “how-to” for newbies.

And that’s just Western Europe. Eastern Europe is the most exciting destination to open up for independent travel in decades. The food is tasty, the people are friendly, and the variety is breathtaking. At first glance Poland and the Czech Republic may seem like extensions of their Western neighbors, but they are extensions that were frozen in time for fifty years before the Iron Curtain finally fell some twenty years ago. Communism did nothing if not stop the clock; and what you find now are perfect specimens of old Europe, the one with the stunning landscapes and the picturesque city centers. Places like Russia and Romania are something else entirely, of course, and exotic Turkey is one of the most popular destinations in the world. Best of all, prices are cheaper than in the West, AND… very few require expensive time-consuming visas now. And yes; there are hostels, lots of them, the best among them now documented and catalogued for your convenience. “BACKPACKERS & FLASHPACKERS, 500 HOSTELS IN 100 CITIES IN 25 COUNTRIES OF EASTERN EUROPE” is due to be published in January 2013.

And that’s not all. Already in the works are hostel guides to Asia and Oceania, i.e. Australia, New Zealand, and the islands of the South Pacific, both with the same “500 Hostels” concept, with some important differences peculiar to the regions. And if there were surprises and revelations in the two European editions, then there are even more in the two Far East editions. The hostel concept was originally a European one, after all, and with the exception of Australia and New Zealand, there is none of that really to be had in the Asia/Pacific region. But there are hostels, I can assure you, and ‘real’ ones, too. And yes, the ‘flashpacker’ upgrade is also in effect over there, no matter how difficult the task for an easterner to fathom the minds of the young hip American or European. It’s mind-boggling. Those two books are due to be published in Spring 2013.

Did you ever wish there were a travel guide that included only the hip cool artsy fun places in a given region or country and didn’t bother so much with those cold gray cities best known for their output of coal, steel and industrial pollution? These books facilitate that. One of the happy offshoots of this series, indeed, is that now there is a quantitative standard to decide how “cool” a place is—and therefore maybe worth visiting, at least maybe more than some others, and maybe even hanging around for a while. Just count the number of hostels. As it has been up until now, you could read a 500-page guidebook, and still not necessarily have a good feel as to which places were “hip,” genial, sympa, anything but a boring, hurly-burly generic city, cold but not cool. Now you do, because hostels are nothing if not cool. C U there.

Follow Hardie Karges Backpackers and Flashpackers blog.

 

Hyper-Travel: 100 Countries in 2 years by Hardie Karges

I just finished reading Hyper-Travel: 100 Countries in 2 years – A backpackers Guide to the World and Soul by Hardie Karges. Reading this book is like a fast forwarding through a movie. Karges’ travel schedule is busier than airline employees. He travels through countries faster than some people change their clothes.

One of my favorite quotes: “Hyper-travel is the counting of your trip in countries, not days, weeks or months.”

This is a long book. My ecopy is over 200 pages, 8.5 x 11 size pages. The tale covers travel through 100 countries around the world. Karges groups his travel by area of the world then sets a plan to enter each country.

What I most liked about the book is Karge description of the flavor of the cities and types of food available. I am interested in the dining choices and types of dishes served in different parts of the world. I maintain a nearly vegan diet and ordering food when I cannot speak the local language concerns me. Karges eats a semi vegetarian diet including chicken and other foods not on my menu. He does make an effort to try local dishes everywhere he stays.

This is a budget travel adventure and dining is on the cheap. For me, these are the best places to get a real flavor for a region. Other challenges included finding low cost accommodations preferably with internet access. For those traveling abroad, be aware that internet service in most of the world is not as ubiquitous as it is in the United States.

Karges often talks about his wife Tang, an American of Thai descent. As a single traveler, he talks about being on his his own, away from his wife and his stressed marriage. Most of his lodging came with TVs and the book often includes comments on local television shows.

I admire Karges vast knowledge of each countries Visa or other entry requirements. Understanding the rules for 100 country, particularly with political changes was quite a feat. Also understanding with cash greases the political wheels is crucial.

Here is an example of the amount of ground covered in one of Karges’ trips. “East Mediterranean early 2009: February 16, 2009–April 16, 2009. This trip covers travel in the countries of Italy, Tunisia, Malta, Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Switzerland, and France in the eastern Mediterranean.”

Each visit to a city includes an overview of the area and Karges perspective on the local culture. Scenic vistas, interesting foods and citizens are described. Here is a sample from “Tale Of Two Beaches: Cannes & Rimini”.

“Coming to France from Italy is definitely another dimension. The language becomes soft and swirly instead of hard and crispy. So does the food. The pizze and panini (that’s plural, Homeboy; trust me) become crepes and quiche. It’s raining when I first arrive, but the sun comes out almost immediately in some sort of sympathetic magic. The Africans here are selling sunglasses, not umbrellas. I think they’re all from the same hometown (the Africans not the umbrellas).”

Hyper-Travel: 100 Countries in 2 years by Hardie Karges is an adventure book for both who travel frequently and those who prefer to stay at home. Soak up the flavor of over 100 counties and fill you thirst for adventure.

Hardie Karges author Hypertravel: 100 Countries in Two Years

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