A four-year ox-cart ride across Madagascar: Q&A with Alexandre Poussin

When discovering a new country, most travelers are inclined to take the path well-trodden: a train ride, a road trip, perhaps a bike tour. French explorer and writer Alexandre Poussin, 49, and his wife, Sonia Poussin, 47, are not those people. The couple and their two children recently completed a four-year journey around Madagascar on foot and by oxcart.

The couple is no stranger to long walking expeditions. Between 2001 and 2004 they traversed the African continent from Cape Town in South Africa to the Sea of Galilee in Israel, covering almost 14,000 kilometers (8,700 miles). Their Madagascar trip, dubbed Madatrek, was different: this time they brought along their daughter, Philae, now 15, and son, Ulysse, now 12.

As a young man Poussin cycled across 35 countries and trekked the entire length of the Himalayan range, from Bhutan to Tajikistan, a trip of 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles). Yet navigating a similar distance around the island of Madagascar seemed to him an “almost impossible” challenge, one that the family started in 2014. The physical toll of traveling on unpaved, muddy trails and camping outdoors was compounded by personal tragedy. Along the way, Alexandre and Sonia each lost a parent, amplifying their awareness of the “fragility of life,” he said.

During their quest to experience Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in Africa, they also raised about 400,000 euros ($448,000) for 31 humanitarian missions through fund-raising campaigns, according to Poussin. The self-funded adventures of the Poussin family were captured in a video series, and a book is due out soon. Poussin spoke to Mongabay about the family’s travels and travails, what makes Madagascar special, and what he sees as the threats to the island nation’s irreplaceable natural bounty.

Read the Q&A with Alexandre Poussin here: Mongabay