A search on Remote River Expeditions on TripAdvisor reveals lots of positive comments. I will not repeat them all, since you can search them. RRE really did us proud throughout a 20 day trip and I would have no hesitation in recommending them to anybody who wants a tour arranged in Madagascar, or a beach stay at their Hotel, Chez Maggie, in Morondava on the west coast.
Seemingly simple things can be complicated in Madagascar. Ludo, our English speaking Madagascan guide, always seemed to have anticipated what might happen and sorted things out before trouble occurred, or so it seemed to us. If there was any trouble it was never our problem. We had the feeling that Ludo had rolled out the red carpet in front of us and was ensuring that it was rolled up tidily behind us too! This really made the holiday, allowing us to relax and enjoy Ludo’s deep knowledge of the local wildlife and flora. Of course, it was not so easy for him; he deserved a week off to recover when he got home.
Choosing an Outfitter for a personal itinerary is difficult but we wanted our 2 person trip to be our own and to avoid arriving as part of a crowd at our destinations. We looked at information on a number of organisations, eventually corresponding with 4 that we found via TripAdvisor and from web searches. We found that only two were really responsive:
1. Madagascar Destination Tours www.madagascar-destination-tours.netii.net/
2. and our final choice Remote Rivers Expeditions http://www.remoterivers.com/en/docs/home.php
Rijatours and Benjamin Raveloarimanana both responded to emails but their suggestions did not seem very personalized and discussions slowed to a halt quite fast.
What made RRE stand out when corresponding was that all their responses were tailored to our specific needs. Importantly, they were also confident enough to advise about the best choices to make. This really helps if you do not know the country well. Not even the amazingly comprehensive Bradt Guide www.bradtguides.com/Book/154/Madagascar.html tells you everything. There are plenty of interesting, mostly outdoor, things to do in Madagascar but some of them can be impractical because of the season, road conditions, the way that local services have deteriorated recently etc. When we suggested some activity that might have led to difficulties on the ground, RRE politely explained why it might not be a good idea and had suggestions on how to adapt the trip.
Discussion with all the outfitters started with us supplying details of our party’s interests by email. Later we sent an initial tentative itinerary. By exchanging emails it was possible to get some idea of the competence of the outfitter. Eventually we worked through to a price. Gary at RRE was willing to supply a rough cost per day per person early in the discussions so we had something to work with as we planned the details of the trip with him.
One worry we had while planning was advance fee fraud. All the organizations arranging trips to Madagascar ask for money up front. We had no evidence that fraud was a big problem in Madagascar but there is always the possibility that you pay, fly out, but find nobody and get nothing upon arrival. We had to balance our desire to use a local organization, which would do the most for this very poor country, with this concern. Obviously, using a fully insured foreign outfitter would be safest. Gary Lemmer and his wife Baholy are locals and run RRE from their base at their hotel Chez Maggie in Morondava. They delivered all that we could reasonably ask for, and more, for a fair price. We could not ask for better service.
On tour RRE supplied its own 4WD vehicles in the west. Around Tana itself, where we did not plan to leave the few hardtop roads, they arranged for us to be looked after by trusted and effective associates. We were happy with the quality of the choices they made and the cars they supplied. Madagascan sites require you to use a local guide. RRE chose and advance booked appropriate and effective local guides on the basis of their skills and their appropriateness to our particular interests. Most spoke adequate English, or Ludo translated. On the Tsiribihina River we went in two Pirogues with a cheerful crew of paddlers as well as our trusty guide Ludo. At Andringitra National Park, where we trekked, the porters were local villagers who pounded off ahead while we took photographs or admired the view with Ludo. At night the porters sang local folk songs around the cook fire that Ludo had used to whip up quite amazingly delicious food.
A final example. Air France lost our luggage on the inbound flight. Our first internal flight on Air Madagascar, ‘Mad Air’, took off 4 hours early. Yes you read that right - EARLY! It was a first for me, and my CO2 footprint is very embarrassing. Early flights are said to be quite normal in Madagascar. Mad Air, relying on widespread local mobile phone coverage, does call and tell locals. Unfortunately, the local people they called and our hotel (who knew) did not tell US. So, we missed the flight. The whole itinerary needed to be revised: transport, visits, local guides, hotels. Remote Rivers Expeditions did it all without fuss or extra cost to us and helped with the baggage issue while we enjoyed a few extra sights around Tana in the car that they supplied. Well done!