Monrondava in the Menabe region on the western side of Madagascar is a two-day drive by car from the capital Antananarivo. It’s famous for its avenue of baobab trees.
I am up at before dawn to make sure I see the magnificent spectacle of a sun rise above these primal trees. The color of the sun is deepened by the red African soil of the dirt road they stand along. This Baobab Avenue has been protected since 2007 and some of the trees measure nine meters around and 30 meters in height. They belong to the species adansonia grandidieri, known locally as renala or “mother of the forest” in Malagasy. It’s a name that bears sad witness to the fact that baobabs once densely covered the island, unlike these last sentinels standing alone in the midst of farmland. The lack of young trees around them shows the threat to their future existence.
There are six species of baobab endemic to Madagascar and only eight across the planet. To see more, my driver Lalah Rakoto Alson takes me to Reniala Private Reserve near the village of Mangily-Ifaty in the south of the island. The reserve is a local eco-tourism project that protects some 2,000 plant species and is also a paradise for birdwatchers, with 65 bird species. Forest guide Dadah Reditsaky shows me a baobab that is 1,000 years old, with a diameter of more than ten meters. The trees here have developed a lot of character through the centuries. One is 850 years old and is known for the distinct outline of a face in its bark. “The Climbing Baobab” is 900 years old, while others have been given names such as “Tired”, “Mother”, “Father” or “Elephant” from their shapes.