I must admit that I hadn't given much thought to Madagascar, which is referred to as the "Red Island", until Toyota invited us to the Hilux Legend35 bash.
Madagascar is one of those destinations which is probably not on most people's list of places to visit before they die.
For some stupid reason I also didn't think of the Red Island as an exotic destination... And how wrong I was.
The fact that Madagascar isn't that popular among tourists actually makes it more exotic - most people looking for some tropical fun head to Mauritius, the Comores or Seychelles.
Well, if you are gatvol of these commercially boring destinations and hungry for adventure on a tropical island, then Madagascar is the place for you.
Toyota had guts to organise such a big media event on this island, and according to the Toyota PR department they had numerous sleepless nights about getting things done on Madagascar.
Here are 35 experiences of Madagascar
1. Our charter flight took us from Johannesburg to Nosy Be, a smaller island of the north coast of Madagascar.
2. It seems as if Madgascar has very little infrastructure and a big bureaucratic system which made things very difficult for Toyota. But in the end everything just kept going right...
3. On our arrival Toyota struggled for quite some time with airport officials to get our luggage off-loaded from the plane as they required an unexpected payment of 2000 euros to do it! There was no middle way - they either do it or they don't! Why it isn't included in airport tax remains a mystery.
4. Nosy Be is an idyllic tropical island with almost perfect weather and even more perfect-looking tourists.
5. On the Red Island you will be welcomed by the smell of ylang ylang, vanilla cocoa, coffee, cinnamon and sugar cane.
6. The vibrant capital of Nosy Be is Hell-Ville where rundown colonial-era buildings are overwhelmed by informal structures.
7. We were puzzled by the number of unfinished structures, as there are empty half-built brick houses everywhere, while most of the people live in informal huts.
8. Everywhere in Hell-Ville is street traders with baguettes and fruit.
9. There are very few modern amenities but I was surprised to have cell phone reception.
10. I ate more crayfish, prawns and fish than I could ever dream of.
11. But I didn't eat a lemur, which is a kind of monkey, and apparently a local dish as well.
12. Madagascar is home to chameleons and I have been told some of them are as big as a man's arm.
13. The holiday resort on Nosy Be where we stayed is Italian owned and of course it is packed with Italian beauties.
14. I kissed 30 Italian women - don't ask!
15. Nosy Be (and Madagascar) is a diver's paradise with extraordinary sealife and coral reefs.
16. Listening to Toyota's stories there is a good chance of something going wrong in Madagascar - but for some mysterious reason it always work out although patience is needed.
17. English is Greek to locals. Although the local tongue is Malgache, which is based on Polynesian languages, most people do speak French.
18. Life is very laid back in Madgascar and except for the hundreds of taxis no one seems to be in a rush.
19. Most things in Madagascar only happen "tomorrow". If you want to get something done there is a good chance that you will be told that it can only happen the next day.
20. South African taxi drivers will have a field day in Madagascar as there are no obvious traffic laws. If someone is in your way you just scare them off with the hooter and they have to get out of the way as soon as possible.
21. In Madagascar it feels like taking a trip down motoring memory lane, as there are hardly any modern cars on the road.
22. It seems as if 99% of vehicles are French, with Renault and Peugeot being the market leaders. The most popular car appeared to be old Renault 4s and we had the pleasure of experiencing a taxi ride in one of them.
23. The road infrastructure isn't of the best standard and there are lots of potholes and very few road signs.
24. Be very careful of chickens when you drive in Madagascar. Toyota warned us that we better look out for them as we could land in hot water if we kill one. This is easier said than done because there are almost as many chickens as people on the road. Fortunately no one hit a chicken so I can't tell you what the consequences are of being responsible for the death of one - but it can't be pleasant.
25. Toyota took us on amazing 4x4 trails on the mainland and Nosy Be, especially through breathtaking scenery such as forests and volcanic craters.
26. Madagascar has long stretches of idyllic white beaches fringed by palm trees.
27. You have to carry cash in Madagascar as credit cards are hardly ever accepted. The unit of currency is Franc MalGache (FMG) and about FMG 25 000 is equal to R25. Euros are also mostly accepted.
28. The people on Madagascar have a tradition of a second burial for the dead or a "turning of the bones". Three years after someone has died they take the body out its grave, take it for a tour around the village to show it how things have changed, and then bury it again. The reason for the "turning of the bones" is to honour the ancestors to get good graces from them.
29. Although the people are very friendly it comes at a price, because as soon as you start talking to them or want to take a photo they expect you to pay.
30. It seems as if when you want to buy something from the locals there is no such thing as bargaining. You either pay the amount asked or you don't.
31. I bought some fresh vanilla pods, which Madagascar is well known for. It costs about R25 for a bunch of 20 pods and I have been told this is very cheap.
32. Madagascar supplies France with ylang ylang oil which is a very important ingredient for perfume.
33. On a boat trip from the main land to Nosy Be our boat ran out of fuel. Fortunately we were not far from a small island where we stopped until fuel could be sent.
34. Apparently the locals only drive (and boat!) with a litre of fuel in the tank.
35. And last, but not least, I again spent some time in a Hilux, and there is no doubt it is still a class-leading bakkie. Its sales successes prove this and since its South African introduction in 1969 it has been the best selling vehicle each year, except for 1969, 1978, 1997 and 1998, in the local LCV sector.
Oh, and again many thanks to SAA once more being unable to depart on time.