National Geographic : 2009 Nov
EDITOR'S NOTE Photographer Stephen Alvarez shoots from a stone spire in Tsingy de Bemaraha national park and reserve. PHOTO: LUKE PADGET It happened to Stephen Alvarez, as it does to many photographers. He looked at a few pictures from an exotic landscape, in this case Madagascar, and thought, How hard can it be to photograph that place? As you'll see from the photographs he made for this month's story "Living on a Razor's Edge," it is hard. Really hard. To begin, it took him five days to trek to Tsingy de Bemaraha national park and reserve from Madagascar's capital, Antananarivo. When he, writer Neil Shea, and a team of scientists reached the area's rugged limestone towers, they had to pick their way along knife-edge ridges that dropped off into 400-foot-deep canyons. "It was like walking on a pile of steak knives," Stephen says. "I had little fear of falling 400 feet. The real fear was falling six inches and slicing my femoral artery." Because the going was so arduous, the team felt lucky to cover half a mile in a single day. One afternoon Neil tripped over a vine and landed on a sharp spike of limestone that punctured his knee nearly to the bone. It took two painful days for him to reach a nurse who treated the wound. She asked why he would ever want to go to a place like the tsingy. The answer is easy. Really easy. It's because the tsingy is the kind of exotic, unexplored place National Geographic magazine has taken readers to for more than a century.