Sustainable tourism, solidarity tourism, ecotourism or volontourism:so many different names and labels tend to frighten off the average traveller who can forget that their primary purpose is to encourage responsible tourism.
There are an ever growing number of professionals, associations and NGOs going to help local populations put educational and environmental projects in place using tourism revenues, giving them direct involvement in the projects.
If you don't mind the unexpected and unplanned for, here are some examples of things people have done which prove you can visit the Big Red Island ethically without spoiling your pleasure in any way.
In a bush village on the east of the island, the eco-tourism's pilot project "light structure" hadn't yet been finished when we arrived. After a bit of negotiation the association's members found us a charming, authentic alternative.
We were going to sleep in 3 houses made of falafa lent to us by the villagers. Inside my "royal suite" the decoration was 100% Madagascan, complete with a small flock of hens pecking on the floor. An old dog was asleep on the doormat, like a cat sitting on its favourite radiator to watch us while we slept...
On Madagascar you usually sleep in bush villages when you are trekking, especially if you can only get to the village down a coastal path that you found after 2 or 3 days' walk from the nearest town.
Another form of makeshift shelters in Madagascar are those tents erected under raffia shelters, opposite the translucent turquoise lake, where the village children are flying their kites. When night falls the fireflies look like fairies flying around a voluptuously perfumed Garden of Eden, soothed by the rhythmic rumbling of the ocean. A light breeze blows through the palm branches and the sky above our heads is brilliant with stars... mora mora, live for the moment!
If you want to immerse yourself 100% in nature then you can camp anywhere in Madagascar, provided you ask permission from the village chief and respect the fady, the areas that are considered sacred. If you want to travel like this, then take some useful presents with you (pens, exercise books, etc.) that you can give to the village chief as a thank you. If your trip is over then they will also appreciate any medicines that you have brought for mild, tourist type illnesses (paracetamol, aspirin, etc.). You guide will know who to give them to in the village, and they will be made good use of.
Who hasn't dreamed about exploring a coral reef? Obviously, when our captain pointed at what looked like a pirogue abandoned on the beach we were a bit worried.
However, we could feel the sea calling to our souls so it was unthinkable to refuse to attempt the advcenture. Unfortunately, what we expected to happen, happened. The pirogue quickly started to take water. The group immediately started to panic, which seemed ridiculous when we were less than 30 m from the coast and in water that was barely 50 cm deep. The shipwreck seemed inevitable and we had no choice but to swim back to the banks, under the ironic smirks of the fishermen lying comfortably in the shade of the palm trees...
If you decide to use a guide for your holiday he will be responsible for a much better organised trip on the lake! Or you can ask your hotel for a contact, or go and see the fishermen when they are going to bring in their nets...they will be happy to take you for a trip on the lake. A jaunt that is often accompanied by a snack of freshly caught and grilled fish...yum!
When you are on a trip like this, don't forget some basic rules for respecting nature: