5 mins

In praise of lemur lamps

Wander Woman's quest to find the legendary lemur lamps of Antananarivo reaches a conclusion. Of sorts...

Lemur Lamp (Peter Moore)

"What do you mean there's someone in my room?" I'd been aghast. I'd only been gone... oh, a week? Ten days? When had I last been in Madagascar’s capital city? I wasn't sure.

"We have other rooms," said the hotel receptionist, looking at me hopefully.

I hadn't booked ahead. Tana-Jacaranda Guesthouse had been almost empty the other times I'd been in Antananarivo. It hadn't occurred to me that the rooms might fill up.

The receptionist showed me other options, but the best rooms were full, and the others were nowhere near as nice as the one I'd had previously.

"Wait, I will call the boss."

A lovely woman runs the hotel, and she was clearly distressed when I didn't like any of the remaining rooms. She offered me a room with a small balcony at the same price as my old room, but it was in a different section of the building, not near the communal table, and both the toilet and shower were actually outside on the balcony. I didn't fancy putting on all my clothes just to visit the toilet, though I suppose no one is actually looking up from the street to see if a tourist is wandering around in her pajamas.

"I'll see if I can find a room somewhere else. I'm sorry. I realise this is my own fault for not booking ahead." I felt kind of stupid. This was completely the result of my own lack of planning.

I walked around town but returned with my tail between my legs after looking at a few other places, which weren't all that great except for more expensive hotels. Sakamanga
– the top budget hotel –
was completely full, which was a shame as they have a little coffee shop that was a great place to sit and work, as well as having one of the best restaurants in town. One problem with Tana is that darkness falls early and it's reputedly unsafe to walk alone at night. A restaurant adjoining a hotel is a plus.

I'd wandered into Tana-Jacaranda in late afternoon after winding along mountain roads in a taxi brousse from the crafts village of Ambositra, post-lemur-spotting down to Ranomafana National Park. Aside from eating more local Roberts Chocolate and doing some freelance work on my Kuwaiti comic books, I had only one mission remaining in Antananarivo. To find a lemur lamp. Wanderlust associate web editor Peter Moore had emailed to ask me if they still had lemur lamps in Madagascar, and he'd posted a photo he'd taken of lemur lamps in Tana many years ago.

The lamps were everyday table lamps, except they had life-sized stuffed lemurs attached.

And now I wanted one. A lemur lamp.

Just one problem. I hadn't seen lemur lamps anywhere in Madagascar.

I looked in every Tana souvenir shop I could find, then took a taxi to the artisan's workshops across town. I loaded up Peter’s lemur-lamp photo on my phone and walked around showing it to the artisans at each stall.

"Do you know where I can get one of these?"

I got a lot of astonished looks and more than a few laughs. Apparently lemur lamps aren't all that common and are considered absurd by some. Did these things even exist?

Downtown Antananarivo has no lemurs, I thought.

I gave up and headed back to the main part of town. I stopped in the railway terminal to find out more about the little tourist train that runs along the main sightseeing routes, and then I walked back up the main drag to the bottom of the hill that leads back to my part of town.

I glanced at the road, where some men were selling newspapers to drivers.

And there it was. The elusive lemur lamp.

A stuffed lemur a massive fake tree that doubled as a lamp.

I didn't have my camera so I took a shot with my phone camera. The seller offered to sell me the lemur lamp for fifty bucks – a great bargain – but shipping would have been a nightmare and the thing was surely a fire hazard. It didn't even have a plug, just two live wires hanging off the end, and it was certainly the wrong voltage for home.

I went back in the morning with my camera, hurrying down the hill to get a short of the lemur lamp before I boarded the plane to Johannesburg, where I'd stay one night in Terrylin's airport backpackers before connecting through to Bangkok, and a whole new leg of my trip around the world.

But the lemur lamp was nowhere to be found.

Want to travel the world solo? Check out our solo travel guide. Fancy taking a career break? Here are 7 reasons why you CAN take one.

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