Two years ago Lawrence Winkler set off to Madagascar to cross an item off his bucket list.
For the past few years the Nanaimo writer has endeavoured to visit all the simians in the world. He’s seen the mountain gorillas of Rwanda and Borneo’s orangutans and in 2016 he traveled with his wife to Madagascar in search of lemurs. Winkler didn’t know what to expect.
“I had trouble in my own head figuring out what this place was going to be all about,” he said. “Because it didn’t seem to be on any world map in any vivid sort of way. It seemed to be off the airlines’ routes and off the sea routes and off the historical routes.”
That mystery, as well as the island’s unique flora, fauna and culture also lured Winkler to the island. He said due to unreliable airplane services and roads on the island, he contacted a tour agent to arrange for a guide to chauffeur him and his wife across the country.
“He sent me an itinerary different from the one I sent him and it had stuff on it that I didn’t even know about and there’s stuff that’s not on the Internet, stuff that’s not in the guidebooks,” Winkler said.
He said, “every day was fascinating. There were three adventures before breakfast.” Hiring a savvy driver was important not only to navigate the crumbling roads but to navigate the culture of graft.
“While I was there I started formulating an opinion of how much corruption was going on, how broad it was and ultimately got to the point where I realized there wasn’t anything that wasn’t corrupt,” Winkler said. “Everything had a price. Everything was tainted.”
Those observations, as well as stories from his tour guide and reflections on Madagascar’s history of exploitation and theft – from its colonial era to its time as a 19th century pirate haven to the neocolonialism of today – are distilled in Winkler’s new travel book, Bandits of Madagascar. He will read from the book and show photographs from his journeys at Nanaimo North Library on Oct. 27.
“It was a tremendously tragic place but it was a tremendously beautiful place,” Winkler said. “I’ve never seen such amazing scenery and when the lemurs came out of where they were safe to see us it was like old friends. They were looking at us eye to eye.”
He said he hopes his readers get the same feeling of being face-to-face with a foreign land.
“I never really came across a book on Madagascar that gave you the flavour and zinc taste of what it feels like to wake up in that country and look around you every day and I hope I’ve done that in this book,” Winkler said.
WHAT’S ON … Lawrence Winkler reads from Bandits of Madagascar at Nanaimo North Library on Saturday, Oct. 27 at 2 p.m.