Perhaps I see it everywhere because it is everywhere – speaking to a longing that so many of us feel. At these times, I always find myself surrendering to the pages of Walden, as Thoreau serenades us into his deep, dark woods.
“We need the tonic of wildness...,” he writes. “At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
I followed the call of the wild recently to an island in the Indian Ocean – the island of Madagascar, known for its ruggedness, its rawness, its remoteness, above all else. What I found was the embodiment of the spirit behind the words, “You keep me wild, I’ll keep you safe.” A natural haven at the North-West edge of the island. A corner of earth kept safe by the guardianship of Anjajavy l'Hôtel.
Accessible only by plane, the lodge is a two hour flight from the capital of Antananarivo. It feels as though you couldn’t get closer to the end of the world if you tried - as you descend onto the airstrip and embark on a 4x4 drive through a jungle of deciduous dry forest to your villa.
As lemurs swing from branch to branch beside you and zebu cattle interrupt the path ahead in a battle of horns. As the Madagascan fish eagle calls out from one of the island’s seven species of baobab. As giant chameleons eyeball you from the forest floor.
Including sea, forest, mangrove and savannah, the 7,200 hectare Anjajavy reserve is a protected area and it’s a wilderness that presents no threat. The animals aren’t dangerous to humans, meaning that you can get closer to the wild. Sifaka dance across the lawn in front of the lodge verandah in the early morning and late afternoon.
Common brown lemurs scuttle between the towering bamboos, papyrus, tree ferns, creepers and rare palm trees in the Oasis at tea time. The animals draw near, but they never touch and nor do we. We simply stand by and marvel, admire, giggle. We ogle the Souimanga Sunbirds, Malagasy Kingfishers and Malagasy Paradise Flycatchers for hours. Live and let live, is the law of the land.
In the expanse of blue that stretches from a private beach, we head down, snorkelling gear allowing us to feel at one with the fish. The silence below and the rich life that flourishes in this protected marine reserve provides the mystery, the sense of the unknown, that we are in pursuit of, in need of.
“Working long term in such a remote, semi-closed environment gives you the opportunity of seeing the direct results of your efforts in the community and nature. I love the feeling of achievement it brings, especially in biodiversity conservation, sustainable development and cultural integration. Sharing it with guests in a beautiful nature reserve along deserted beaches is a blessing.” – Cédric de Foucault, GM
Anjajavy l'Hôtel's custody over the terrain extends to the people. The team has collaborated in setting up a secondary school, a hospital, a market, a security post, a women’s craft centre, environmental education classes, and alternative job opportunities in the neighbouring village.
“The lodge will also be funding the construction of public bathrooms, a secondary school library and a well in the local village,” says Cédric de Foucault, GM at the lodge. “Our clinic provides support to midwives and emergency medical services for the four neighbouring villages. These projects are discussed at length with the representatives of the villages and carried out hand in hand with the villages.”
Anjajavy l'Hôtel employs only local Malagasy people, so to uplift the area and create a relationship of harmony and trust with the villagers who have lived there for longer. It is a relationship much like the pair of baobabs wrapped around each other in Moramba Bay, a short boat ride from the lodge – two ancient trees entwined as though in an embrace, standing stronger in this isolated wilderness because they are together.
“You keep me wild, I’ll keep you safe,” they seem to whisper to each other.