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zaktim Ilakaka - A travel report by Tim
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Ilakaka,  Madagascar - flag Madagascar -  Fianarantsoa
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zaktim's travel reports

Ilakaka; Madagascar's Wild West

  10 votes

Ilakaka is a boomtown that just 3 years ago boasted less than 40 inhabitants...that number's now more like 3000, after the discovery of world class alluvial sapphire deposits in the valley. It's a string of hastily erected shoddy buildings along the main highway (if that's a fair description of the track) from Tananarive to Toliara, where Sri Lankan and Thai gem traders make a not so modest fortune legally relieving Madagascar of its beautiful twinkling stones. The mines are both open pits and shafts up to 30m deep that stretch continuously E along the valley for several kilometres...they say a good gravel layer can return about US$2000 per cubic metre in raw gemstone value.

Favourite spots:
Ilakaka is the spot. If you ever wanted to feel unsafe, exhilarated by the lawlessness of a place, and so close to what mad mining rush towns of 100 years ago, say in Ballarat (Australia) or Klondike (Alaska, US)must have felt like. This is it. Welcome. Bring your 12-guage.

What's really great:
that no-one could believe we actually wanted to stay there. I'm an amateur gemstone/jewellery designer and couldn't think of a better place to be...but they were astonished. I met some fascinating miners and dealers, politely asked one guy if he's prefer to conduct our discussion in Malagasy or in French to which he replied in fluent English, I don't speak either...he was Thai. But if advise is called for, don't buy stones here unless you absolutely know what you're doing. I have a gemology qualification, and even I was had, caught off guard by the place, the rurmoil of the place, the ease with which you lend trust to the first person who isn't immediately suspect in appearance or manner.

the nearby Parque National d'Isalo is definitely worth a look - one more characteristically otherworldish Madagascan landscape. And is all the more intriguing if you understand the geology.

oh, you can't simply name a place here...they have no names. Ask your taxi-brousse driver to point you in the right direction. Expect rough-hewn timber walls with gaps, countless entry points for would-be thieves, and extremely rudimentary sanitary facilities - there used to be no reticulated water at all in Ilakaka..and I'll hasard a guess that there won't be for another 10 years or so.

again, none stand out. You'll find a feed in any of a number of street cafes, but that's an extravagantly generous description. We're talking about a room with no wall on the street-frontage, a couple of benches to sit on and a couple of large tables. There won't be a menu, so you ask what they've got, choose the option less likely to offend your vegetarian travelling companion (diet here consists of rice and casserole-style meat complemented by a terrifyingly spicy chilli paste) and get on with whatever you were doing. When you're digging great holes in the ground and frantically trying to keep track of your savings in this unpredictable society food slips down the list of priorities.

Other recommendations:
A bit of a plug: for anglophiles, the Bradt Guide to Madgascar (ISBN 1 84162 051 3) is clearly the superior guidebook, et pour les francophones, le Guide Gallimard de Madagascar c'est sans doute le meilleur.

Published on Sunday January 26th, 2003

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Tue, Feb 12 2008 - 11:18 AM rating by krisek

Tim, this is a great report. Plenty of practical info. It would be great if could add some pictures... Thanks for sharing.

Sun, Dec 14 2003 - 02:51 PM rating by marianne

I envy you because you visited Madagaskar. Do you remember the trouble with the two presidents, two years ago? That was the time I wanted to visit. I had my ticket, but in June Air France had suspended their flights and I could not go. I got my money back and bought a ticket to Jakarta instead, but not what Ireally wanted. Have you got pictures of the country, it would be great to see them

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