Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler writes about his difficult first trip to Madagascar, which eventually inspired the name “Mongabay” and prompted him to start WildMadagascar.org, which showcases the biological and cultural diversity of the island nation.On his first night in Madagascar, Rhett was robbed of all his possessions, the first of several unfortunate events that would not diminish his love of the country.This post is insider content, which is available to paying subscribers. Madagascar also has great frogs, but what fascinated me about the island was a more unusual type of beast: the chameleon. Since the first time I laid eyes on a chameleon — with its otherworldly eyes, incredible tongue, dinosaur-like body shape, and Crayola colors — I was obsessed with Madagascar. My dream was to someday travel to that bizarre land of upside down trees, monkey-like lemurs, and the world’s biggest variety of chameleons. Peyrieras’ Pygmy Chameleon (Brookesia peyrierasi). Photo by Rhett A. Butler. Parson’s chameleon (Calumma parsonii). Photo by Rhett A. Butler. Male panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis). Photo by Rhett A. Butler. Calumma crypticum chameleon. Photo by Rhett A. Butler. But lying off the southeastern coast of Africa, Madagascar is very far away from my hometown of San Francisco, so my journey would have to wait. Throughout my childhood and adolescent years I devoured everything I could about Madagascar: books, magazines, videos, documentaries. I squirreled away money from summer jobs, birthdays and the Tooth Fairy, so that someday I could fulfill my dream. While many of my friends had never heard of the place, I could name nearly all the known lemurs (the number has more than doubled since then, making it more difficult). By my first year of college, I had amassed enough money and international travel experiences to make a trip to Madagascar. I signed up for an Earthwatch trip to help a researcher study black lemurs on Nosy Komba, a tiny island off another island off Madagascar. Earthwatch, which allows tourists to help a scientist in the field collecting data about his or her research subject, seemed liked the perfect introduction to Madagascar. After two weeks working on Nosy Komba, I would set off to see the rest of Madagascar, or at least as much as I could see in three-and-a-half weeks. Chameleons, lemurs and upside-down trees, here I come. But before I could depart for Madagascar, there was the issue of raising enough money for the entire trip as well as preparing for my eventual entry into the “real world” — finding a job after graduation. So I spent the first half of the summer working for a big management-consulting firm. The work was challenging and intellectually stimulating to a degree, but it wasn’t what I envisioned myself doing in the long term. Like my schoolmates, almost none of my colleagues at the firm could place Madagascar on a map or distinguish a lemur from a monkey. Management consulting obviously wasn’t the place for me.