Madagascar ~ An upside down world, 2015

Madagascar ~ I’ve posted my journal, which again is quite wordy.  Added in are extra photos for those who prefer a quicker overview without details.  Enjoy and thank you again for joining me vicariously in my travels.

21 May

 

Arriving in Antananarivo, or “Tana” for short, is both jostling and familiar at the same time.  A collage of cultures that part of me recognizes aspects from various travels, another part is over-stimulated by all the business of this struggling city and yet another other part of me finds it all new and fresh.  It’s a complete turn-around from the other parts of Africa I’ve been visiting and I’m so glad to be taking this adventure with a friend and as part of a lead group.  It’s a little overwhelming to the sense to start, but so far I love being here and my curiosity is piqued to experience this fascinating island nation of  Madagascar.

 

Arriving at Hotel Au Boise Vert, the property is blanketed in tall pines  anda lush garden of tropical plants.  A haven in the middle of the nature-free, shack-lined streets, selling a plethora of items from fruit, to old shirts, a woman churning butter, an old woman selling a few oranges, a man selling cell phones, and so forth. we drove through such a colorful scene getting here.  Traffic consisted of buses, cars,  bikes, pedestrians, carts pushed and pulled by the  young and old, donkey carts, some stay dogs and such.  The people are friendly and life seems to be of a nature where everyone looks kindly after one another, a bit like Nepal in that way, but it’s definitely not Nepal.  There seems to be a big Indonesian influence, and details that remind me of Mexico, also a bit of mainland Africa thrown  in, but mostly a mixture that has evolved to be truly unique to  itself.

 

Claude will be our guide and Henry the assistant driver.  The driver has a local name I can’t remember.  The language here is Malagasy and the currency, the Ariary at an exchange of about 3,063 : $1 USD.  I’m going to have to use my converter rather frequently I think and so glad to have Claude to help out with the exchanges, tips and such.

 

 

Malagasy facts:

Mix of Indonesian, Arab and African a the core

Humans have been here for just about 3,000 years

3% over 65

60% under 22 years

Average life Exp 57 years

20% live in Cities

Average # kids: 6 (far higher in the country… often 15 or more!)

Shaped like a left foot

Football/Soccer is most popular… and rugby

 

Met up with group last night and so great to see Pam again.  I look forward to hearing more of her time in Bhutan and Myanmar.

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Long drive the bustling Tana sucking fumes puffing in big black clouds out of the line up of cars and trucks.  Pam and I looked at each other after witnessing the surrounding poverty and noted how “bloody lucky” we were to have been born in such a privileged environment.  The sights were overstimulating after all my time enjoying the African bush.  The smells intoxicating, literally!  The pollution pouring out of hundreds of trucks, cars and motor bikes made the air thick and my lungs cough and choke with every breath when in the heart of things, especially near the chaotic bus station.  I can’t imagine trying to find one’s bus in that madhouse, but I’m sure the locals had a rhyme to their reason and knew how it all sorted out in the end… even if there isn’t such a thing as a schedule.  The buses just depart when they can’t possibly fit another twig on board.  My feelings were exciting as I reminded myself where I was in the world.  Half way around the world on the 4th largest island in the world, a truly “Lost Continent” known as Madagascar.

 

After our 4 hour drive that left the city and eased and wound it’s way into more agricultural countryside, with lush scenery between fields of green rice paddies blocked off into 50 shades of green.  A lovely waterfall gushes through a garden-like environment and the occasional fancy new home sprung up amongst the old shabby ones that had served it’s occupants for so many generations.  The old homes have a “black window,” which sounds ominous, but is more practical really.  The traditional houses are 2 story tall mud-brick structures with thatched or metal roofs.  Usually the drying food, meats, and other such items are stored in the bottom level, while living is on the second.  The homes are without chimneys, so a window does the job and so with all the years of venting smoke sports a blackened patina.

 

Our lovely abode is full of charm and sits on a river along the rainforest around Andasibe National Park. The gardens are lovely and our chalets, charming.  It was so nice to be in nature and breathing clean air again.  The afternoon’s activity was a nice walk in the Andasibe National Park along with what seems like all the local school children.  So cute were they and got a kick out of saying hello or bonjour, some even liked to shake hands.  They were rather loud and we worried they might have frightened any wildlife away, but alas, we found some quiet as they worked their way out toward their gathering place for their post-nature-walk-party.  We got lucky and spotted a family of colorful ____ lemurs, who were kind of quiet to start, but later began doing what they’re so good at which is to leaping and launching from tree to tree with grace and speed almost defying gravity.  We also saw a couple intri intri lemurs, the largest of the living lemurs.  The ancient ones who lived here prior to the slash and burn method of agriculture which decimated all but 11% of the country’s rainforest, were as large as chimpanzees and some as large as gorillas.  Likely those guys didn’t glide through the forest like the colorful ____ lemurs.

 

dragon flies (different name)

3 different chameleons, including the 2 smallest

beautiful moths,

darling tree frogs, including the largest

 

Afternoon, brown lemurs visited the fig trees outside our chalets, with their darling little snorts as they stretched and hopped through the trees to gobble up as many ripe figs as the could, gently leaving the skins to fall to the ground at our feet.  Jeff spotted them and told Pam and I about them.  We’d been engrossed in sharing photos and reminiscing about the hike through the Alps we’d shared and other travels, when Jeff got our attention.  My mind suddenly jumped from hiking in Europe back to this exotic Madagascar and the unique nature that lives here.

 

Night walk through the local reserve to spot much of the above and also including 2 mouse lemurs, the smallest of the species, and 3 types of chameleons, including the 2 smallest of that species.  Moths came in a variety of lovely colors and textures with designs to make any artist a bit envious.  The praying mantis here are different than on mainland Africa having a turned up tail and skinny body rather than the long strait back to support the larger wings.  Of course, what is a rainforest without a variety of tree frogs.  Many here are among the tiniest I’ve seen, the largest of the species being about 2” long from tip to horny tail.

 

At one point a few of us stayed in the back and turned off all our lights to experience the blackness of the forest and take in the sounds that seem to grow so much louder when we turn off our visual senses and quiet our mouths.  Such is the way with nature, when one takes the time to listen, Mother Nature with share so much more.  The air in the rainforest is so clean and lovely to breath, especially after all the heavy fumes we’d driven through during our 3 hour drive to get here.  The air is cool, a jacket of fleece is a good choice for traveling here, in spite of what one might recon being an island off the coast of Africa.  We were at a bit of altitude along the east adding a coolness.

 

Outside the tiny pockets of primary rainforest that is left, is mostly eucalyptus imported from Australia.  Due to the Asians brining in the “slash and burn” method of agriculture, destroying the majority of Madagascar land, it seems to be a crop that allows life to go on in this poor country without further damaging what is left in a fairly sustainable fashion.  The trees are fast growing, so can be used for building, furniture, and a great deal to supply the charcoal industry.  It also helps to restrict erosion on this island that once was called the “green Island” and is now “the red island” due to the exposed red dirt.  I do love the trees, and am glad at least there is greenery rather than a dead barren landscape.  Here and there also are fast growing pines that have been imported by Mexico… not sure how that trade came to be as it’s far from convenient and there isn’t any Mexican influence here.

 

23 May

This morning we left a bit early, by Madagascar definition, which is to say about 1/2 hour later than planned.  A bit like the term in South Africa that is “just now” meaning not now, but will get around to it in the future… kind of like “Mañana” in Latin countries.  It was a 2 hour drive over mostly potholed red dirt/mud roads.  Considering the bus we are in, the vehicle did well, getting stuck only once requiring the assistance of others driving past.  It was market day, so many families were walking along the roadside with loads of goods balanced on their heads making their long foot journey into the nearest village.  They all were curious about us and happy to return our waves and smiles.

 

This particular National Park, is about 20x the size of the one we visited yesterday, but has been cut off as have the others.  Many thanks to loads of folks who are determined to keep as much of Madagascar preserved, there is a project in place that has preserved land between the two National Parks and the neighboring reserves to restore those sections of rainforest allowing the various animals to have a corridor between the areas and expanded habitat in which to better ensure the future of the unique wildlife of this island nation.  I love the word “reforestation,” am so thrilled to hear about such projects going on here.

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Our walk took us to see a peaceful little lake with some grebes and ducks unique to Madagascar, deeper into the jungle we were quite fortunate to have a very good viewing of some black and white tuffed lemurs playing way up high in the tree tops.  These fellows are just darling with very thick fur, long fluff tails and coloring that seemed to instantly endure them to the cuddly inclinations of us all, much like a panda, but more active and these are completely free and wild.  I loved watching them play in groups, launching from one tree to another, occasionally spying on us from way up above.  They’d wrestle and squeal in play and likely bicker once in a while to test dominance.  Unlike the indri indri, who pair for life and normally just keep to their own company, aside from their lovely calls each morning, these darling ones are quite social.  The brown, demetris, stripped tailed and other lemurs also enjoy groups.  The mouse lemurs remain more solitary.

 

It was just so lovely to spend a few hours walking through the thick forest, spying various frogs, watching a paradise fly catcher at work fluttering down from a branch into the water to catch a snack, then back up again to repeat the process until he’d had enough.  Butterflies were plenty and so varied.  Birds chipped in the trees and a breeze encouraged the tall trees to dance gently offering a lovely “husshh” sound to the chorus we walked to.  On a smaller scale, the leaches were quite active really disturbing a few of the folks on our small group, who’d jump and yell “leach” when one got on them.  They particularly liked Gwyneth it seemed, who liked them the least.  At the end of our walk, I had a little something inside by bra… how it got there I haven’t a clue, but the little leach was busy having a snack and by the time I’d accidentally flicked him off, it left a tiny hole that would not stop bleeding for some time.  These tiny worms inject an anticoagulant into their prey so they can feed freely.  If a “victim” can let them feed and fall off on their own, the little critters will suck the chemical back out and hardly leave a mark, but if he’s knocked off early, the bleeding persists.

 

So we had a box lunch of sandwiches before heading to the lemur center which is a WWF supported sanctuary for confiscated lemurs who’d been illegal pets.  Of course the ideal scenario would be to rehab these animals and return them to the wild, but like in other places in the world, there is not enough wild to return them to safely, so a sanctuary is the next best option.  A tiny canoe took us about 20’ across a shallow moat to the island where the lemurs live with guides to talk about the animals and give us bits of banana to feed.  I’m normally against this sort of use of animals for human entertainment, but these guys did have a choice to either interact or not and they were just so darned cute!  Right away, the friendly ones jump right up on people’s shoulders and heads, seemed to prefer some folks over others… I was fortunate to be a preferred perch for a pair of brown lemurs and a super darling black and white tuffed lemur complete with super soft coats and gentle hands, eating so delicately from our hands.  I loved being around the guys, but still have feelings that we really should not be interacting with them, but perhaps be standing on an overlook to admire them from afar so they are not so habituated and better prepared to be released into the wild when more wild opens up.

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We had the evening to enjoy and shower off any potential crawling things that may have settled on our persons.  The distant calls of the indri lemurs signaling an end to the day.  A group of us enjoyed the sunset with a glass of local Three Horse Beer and a great conversation about geology and the universe.

 

24 May

Driving day to get to our next destination.  We take our time stopping to walk through various towns and villages enjoying interactions with kids and learning about various fruits of the area and chatting with local guys who were resting their cows on their way to taking their town’s harvest to be sold.  The scenery changed quite dramatically as the drive progressed taking us from the Eastern tropical area on the east side of the “backbone” to the drier highlands, home to lands covered in rice, potato, and other crops and lovely plateaus that are quite exposed having been stripped of any forest that once blanketed this area.

 

The drive was nice with plenty of stops along the way and a delightful lunch in the “potato blowing” village.  We also picked up some local chocolate… yummy.  Pam and I bought two different brands for a chocolate taste test.   We both agreed the more well known “Roberts” brand was best.

 

Madagascar has been through quite a lot politically with a coo happening in 2009, a phase of Marxism where corruption was at its worst.  Currently they are under a republic rule and supposedly getting a bit better step by step.

 

More money and effort is spent on the death of a person than on life in many cases as a result of their prevalent worship of ancestors with tombs being more elaborate and better build than many of the homes.  Often parts of family estates must be sold to pay for the ceremonies and burials.  Often the preparations of the bodies are done by all family members and may include rubbing honey over the bones of the dead before they are placed in a box and the ceremony proceedings.

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25 May ~ Lake Tritriva

This morning we took the long dusty potholed road on this Pentecostal Monday, a big picnic holiday for the locals, for one hour to the crater lake of Tritriva.  It’s essentially a deep hole dropping strait down the center from a pine forested hill.  The villages we past were full of friendly faces and and abundance of smiling waving youngsters.  At the ridge and start of our 1 hour walk around the deep lake, we were surrounded by children of all ages eager to cling onto a tourist to sell them a piece of lovely polished stone or malachite fossil.  According to Pam, the quality of the malachite was exceptional and worth getting to know one of the kids to take a better look.  The gal that took to me was accompanied by a younger friend of hers.  She was quite friendly and keen to practice her english with a conversation about her life being one of 7 children and enjoying her mathematic studies hoping to go into the banking field one day.  She speaks 3 languages as well… Malagasy, French and English, the three languages of Madagascar.

 

The lake is lovely, with dark teal green water and varies in depth from around 80 – 150 meters according to the season.  It raises opposite to the season and opposite to the lower lake a few miles away, likely they are connected by a tunnel with a lower chamber allowing that to happen.  The depth was measured than none other than the great Jaques Cousteau, a man and his brother I was honored to have met and been inspired by as a child.

 

We stopped at the large ShopRite super market back in Antsriabe to stock up on water and a bottle of imported wine before heading to the community house in Ambositra for a simple dormitory accommodation to benefit the local people and empower women for a better future.  They served a lovely dinner and a group of men and women sang and danced traditional songs for us, depicting messages of welcome, of Malagasy pride, of being true to one’s Malagasy roots and our favorite, to pray to the government with the locust come to fly over their crops of rice with their helicopters to spray the fields… obviously a more modern song.  I loved the singing and interesting steps and nuances to each persons dance.  We all laughed and enjoyed the evening.

 

26 May

Pam and I continued our usual morning routine with a walk through part of the local communities saying “salam” to the locals, waving to kids and getting a nice feel for the towns we stay in.  The people are so friendly and happy to return a greeting.  This town was much more peaceful feeling than the last (Antsirabe), where attempted thefts/pick-pockets were experienced by two of our group members during their walks about town to check out the weekend’s festivities.  Pam and I diligently hid the minimal belongings we had with us deep under layers of clothing and walked with purpose to get a little exercise, so we weren’t as much the target as those strolling with a bag tossed over a shoulder and such.  It was a reminder to keep valuables as safely on one’s person as possible.

 

Yesterday’s drive was so interesting on this holiday as rides were set up for kids, venders sold goods, blow-up slides were erected, gambling boards were out for some fun along with ring tosses and such.  Entertainment was arranged in some towns, which accommodated by physically carving out large amphitheaters into the red dirt hillsides to make seating and a stage would be temporarily built at the bottom, something that would require major permitting and insurance to even think about in the US and other countries.

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The various villages housing one of the many tribes of Madagascar all have their own traditions, building styles, talents and such.  Market day in this area is productive for the women, but an excuse to consume massive amounts of alcohol for the men who are commonly found stumbling back along the roads, often even being accompanied by others for stability, back to their homes.   The drivers all know to keep an eye out for these guys and drive carefully around them.

 

Another village is known for its wood carvings, so we stopped to check out some shops.  Pam and I were more intrigued with the cute little girl bringing in her ducks from the rice fields and herding them across the busy street for the night.  The street was bustling with folks returning from the day’s outings with cars pack to about 3x their capacity, limbs bulging from windows, car doors barely closed to hold in it’s happy human cargo.

 

26 May ~

We head south down the winding #7 road to check out more of the changing countryside, through interesting villages and past the rice paddies that provide Malagasy’s with their average 2 pounds of ride they consume daily.  I love eating the local rice, as it has the nutrients that rice is meant to have, as opposed to the store-bought processed stuff so ubiquitous in our western stores.

 

I loved our luncheon stop and so did the others.  It’s a recent change to the Explore itinerary apparently and quite worthwhile.  It’s an eco place within a forest reserve that grows and or raised most of the food they serve.  A small farm area raises goats for some of the best goat cheese I’ve eaten.  They grow chilies for their delightfully spicy chile powder and so forth.  The lovely place is completely off the grid and so peaceful.  They also have about 4 dogs and as many cats hanging around happy to get a bit of attention or go for walks with the guests… most of whom are spending more time walking the area.

 

The wildlife also seems to abound as upon arrival, the gardeners alerted us to some red bellied lemurs nearby.  We stopped our morning tea and took to the jungle to see these darling guys.  Obviously the gardeners feed them fairly regularly and will hesitantly take banana pieces from their hands, along with a bit of a bite… the gardener has taken to putting the pieces on a stick for the tiny hands to take away.  Also, they spotted for us two lovely large chameleons, and O’Shanahey (?) and a blue legged female (with reddish legs).

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27 May ~ Explore Ranomafana National Park

Morning hike through premiere rainforest spotting a leaf tailed gecko blending nicely with the blotchy tree bark she was residing upon.  Some climbing and descending in the lush scenery with many mushroom species abounding including the very intriguing Falic species with it’s white stem, golden tip and lacy skirt, its bloom giving off a nasty oder to attract insects during its very brief few hours of bloom.

 

The goals were to spot the two rarest of lemurs in these parts, the Golden bamboo lemur and the Greater Bamboo Lemur.  We spotted a nice family of the former enjoying their antics in the trees above and agility as they flew in true lemur-like fashion though the dense forest.  The second took some doing to get down to, catching up with their local researchers who watch them for 3 hours a day.  These Greater Bamboo Lemurs are the only two survivors in this forest, and one being the father of the younger female, interbreeding isn’t an option.  There has been effort to reintroduce others from captivity here, but so far it’s not been successful as the food options are so different here vs other areas where they have been found.  They will try again, taking more time to acclimatize the cuties to local foods.  The students and guides of this National Park are so passionate about preserving what it left, I have little doubt things will improve in the future as best as possible.

 

That afternoon a few of us ventured further up to a newer reserve that has been added onto the National Park with all human remnants removed letting the rainforst reestablish itself.  This area is about 50 years old now and filling in nicely, but is far from the cathedral-like primary rainforst it once was.  I love the stories of land being restored and corridors opening up to allow for wildlife to thrive as it can.  Of course tourism has a lot to do with it as well with visitors paying to seeing such pristine locations, that is what allows nature to pay into the hands of the greedy and somehow remain.

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Jeffery, Pam and I decided to skip the hotel lunch offering tourist cuisine with a Chinese twist in many cases, and head down to the village to find a quaint local shake to check out some local color.  We had a delightful time, with friendly service and a darling dog named Blue to whom Jeff emptied his worries last night and asked the pretty girl with the big brown eyes for some help.  She seemed to relate so much to him, she sat with him all through lunch hardly taking her kind eyes off him.  Dogs are just the best in my book!  …ok, and horses, dolphin, elephants, well… all animals!

 

Our conversations are such fun and our group is really bonding well, especially the single folks.  We’re all from a mixed bag but have a passion for travel and nature.  We had a bit of internet connection, so Pam had the idea of checking out where we all lived via Google Maps.  Everyone else is from Britain on this trip and live in lovely locations surrounded by green fields and lush landscapes with animals all around.  Then came my turn and all that came up was mile after mile of concrete suburbia with hardly a spot of green to be seen anywhere.  The ocean nearby saves it a bit, but it really hit home to me how much I dislike living where I have property.  I’m grateful for the property, but really don’t like being there as it makes me feel so claustrophobic and disconnected form the very planet I live on.  It’s really not right to live in such density in my thinking. I’ve not been homesick once on this trip, in fact I’m not so on any trip since I don’t feel a bit “at home” in OC, but if I were to any extent, last night’s bit of fun would set me right again and bring me back to enjoying my moments abroad.

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28 May

Drive to Isalo National Park via Anja Community Reserve with its huge boulder rocks jutting from the dry hills, lovely waterfalls and a small nature reserve where some very healthy ring-tailed lemurs call home.  Pam spotted a darling, but shy chameleon, and we got a kick out of watching the playful ring-tailed critters playing in the trees, eating fruits and enjoying a drink from the stunning lolly-covered lake. The scenery is certainly changing as we come south and down off the mountainous “backbone” onto the eastern planes of Madagascar.

 

29 May ~ Explore Isalo National Park

Referred to as the Grand Canyon of Madagascar, but taking on characteristics of places like Colorado, The Blue Mountains in Australia, somewhere in Yemen (apparently) and a bit of desert landscape all mixed into a uniqueness that is Madagascar.  Elephant plants are often called “mini baobabs” as Dr Suisse-like plants about 2’ high and bulbous bases they are slow growing to the point of being 4-500 years of age these gentle beings.  Micro-climates abound here with areas of year-round wetness and areas receiving minimal rainfall.  Large stick insects were spotted by our National Park guide, so camouflaged, we all had to stare at a dead branch for quite a while before pointing to something that was just slightly straiter than the other twigs, which turned out the be the soft body of an 8’ stick insect.  Chameleons were of the grey-brown sort with lovely markings to blend with the drier atmosphere and compare drastically with the bright green one’s we met in the rainforests of the highlands.

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Pam was in here geological element happy to explain nuances of this beautifully bazaar landscape in the middle of flat, dry grassy plains.  Once this entire region would have been covered in a dry forest populated with a huge variety of species, but like the rest of this island, it was subject to slash and burning to make way for the “Zebu” cattle that are so important to the overpopulation of people.  Cutting through this old forest would have been a large body of water that carved and sculpted this dramatic area into a place worth preserving.  The locals still use the high cliffs for burials as it’s such an important part of their culture to preserve their ancestors in a particular way, so many of the sandstone caves are filled with rocks to preserved the bones of deceased family members.  Ancestor worship is the main “religion” in Madagascar with the influx of a customized sort of Christianity having been woven into things.  The odd concrete church buildings oddly contrasting with the extreme poverty of shacks with palm walls, and stick roofs with any found plastic patching holes to help keep a few elements out.  Zebu is the currency rather than money and oddly when a man dies, his cattle are slaughtered along with him as part of the “wake” of his passing.  No one inherits from their parents.

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As another note with life in Madagascar, we asked about healthcare.  It’s something that only really exists for those with money.  Many villages have a sort of doctor or person to treat others in some way, either medically or spiritually.  Village mid-wives help with any birthing needs.  The government doesn’t provide a dime (or Ariary) to the poor in any way, so they fend for themselves and I have to say, they seem to be doing better than the assisted poor in most western countries, as we considered the state of things in both the US and Britain.  Poverty is rampant here, overwhelming even, but the people seem to be able to feed themselves and their extreme number of kids.  In the south it’s ok to have many wives, which just adds to the population of the poor and uneducated communities.

 

Back to the day’s walk… the morning’s destination was a natural pool fed by a year-round stream.  The pool is an oasis surrounded by tropical palms, alive with colorful dragon flies enjoying the coolness the contrasting blue of the pool gives off.  We all took our shoes off and refreshed our overheated feet… ahhh!

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Lunch has been lugged into a campsite not far from there and cooked up and served on a lovely table cloth as a treat for us all.

 

A few of us decided on a longer walk in the afternoon taking us up the valley in the other direction and finally down, down into a lush forested gully reminding me of the Blue Mountains in Australia… aside from a few strange plants and the presence of unique wildlife like ring-tailed lemurs and red fronted browns.  We saw the browns early on, Pam and I taking a seat not far from them to watch.  The group seemed curious and a couple wandered right up to us for a sniff before walking right past me and on up to the trail and deeper into the forest.  They are so sweet and so soft… yes, one touched me as she walked past.

 

The ring-tailed lemurs and often called the clowns of the forest because of their distinct tails and black eye-liner around their reddish-brown eyes.  They in fact are quite kind in their demeanor and very social in their behavior.  Like all lemurs, they seem to defy gravity in the trees they call home, able to sleep soundly on little branches and leap horizontally, vertically or diagonally seamlessly as if they were on invisible zip-lines shooting around and through the branches.  Their striped tails are quite long, and when they sit still and rest, they tend to wrap their tail under their grey bodies then up and around their shoulder.  The make darling little burping noise to chat amongst themselves, but are quite capable of screeching with a shrill that could make a corpse shutter.  They do this each evening as the groups become active and begin to move along.

 

Departing the National Park, we stumbled upon a lovely ground python who had been sunning himself in the final warmth of the setting sun along the sandy trail.

 

28 May

Long days drive to Toliara via the rather dodgy Safire mining town and dry savannah grassland.  I couldn’t help but try to picture what this area once looked like before all the forest was destroyed.  Just as my imagination began to tire, we rolled over a hill and a patch of lush green dry forest gave life to the landscape.  Large baobab trees were scattered throughout and a variety of trees and shrubs thickly covered the land.  Thankfully, this patch has been preserved as Zombies National Park and is open to folks to learn from and take a nature walk through sections of.  We stopped to have our picnic lunch the hotel had packed for us in their education area, among beautiful white swallow-tailed butterflies.

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The temperatures here are much hotter than they had been in the highlands, but thankfully it is nicely shaded.  A local guide took us through pointing out indigenous trees.  We spotted 2 different chameleons, the cuckoo roller, and were fortunate to have a nice viewing of both types lemurs… the Vouxiu (?) and the ?? nocturnal.  The first is a favorite all white and fluffy with black patches and lovely yellow eyes.  We saw another in another area that had a color variation giving him a bit of a brown saddle on his back.  The nocturnal lemur was nestled cozily in the crook of a split branch of a tree to shade his eyes but let the sun warm his little furry grey body.

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Driving onward we all had our eyes opened a bit more as the desert area dried, plants became more spiny, water more scarce and poverty to boggle one’s mind and make us incredibly grateful for our place in life and make the rest of Madagascar look like they’re enjoying a comfortable middle class lifestyle, even though they’re far from that.  The terms 1st, 2nd, 3rd world are not used so much these days.  Instead the terms “developed” and “developing” countries are used, but we all agree in cases like Madagascar, the term “un-developed” must be added, as there is no sign of any development or progress happening here.  People in these parts live in tilt-up shacks made of found sticks and dried palm fronds. If they have a front door to their tiny little huts, it is usually a piece of fabric or perhaps an ill-fitting plank.  The people sit around covered in the dirt they reside on and somehow eek out a living, while popping out kids as fast as they can.  Food sources are often unsustainable, yet populations continue to grow.  It’s all a bit shocking and I must admit, buy the time we arrived at the hotel after driving past a couple very large concrete houses hiding behind tall walls of barbed wire, I felt drained.  Gwyneth said she hasn’t any desire to visit a “3rd world” country again.  I won’t go that far, as I do enjoy the ironic happiness that the people harbor amongst their existence, but I feel a breather would be welcomed.  I sat by the pool to cool my feet, saved a drowning bee and began to feel more refreshed.  A laugh at our bathroom with the multi levels, locking glass shower door and handicapped bars set us strait as well.

 

Tomorrow we take a boat to Anakao for some R&R.

 

 

31 May ( think some of the prior dates are off)

To Anakao via oxcart across the mud to our speed boat.  A few of us found ourselves yelling sternly at the young cart drivers as they insisted upon abusing their animals to get them to move faster.  They listened to us a bit and hope our refusal to tip made a little impression.

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1 June

Day of Relaxation.  A morning walk up the clean section of beach, a nice visit with a couple friendly dogs played with us as we walked.  They seemed to spend extra time with me, which I greatly appreciated, longing to be amongst the animals again.  I could so happily continue this journey heading back to Botswana and then into Namibia… that would be ideal!

 

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2 June

Flight back to Tana.  The large prop plane was culture shock and likely the most “developed” thing we’d come across during our entire stay in Madagascar.  Driving through Tana to our lodge, the city that seemed to poverty stricken upon arrival seemed almost wealthy by comparison to the southern regions we’d just come from.  I felt tired, mostly in my mind and soul after this busy trip.  It’s been so fascinating and I’m thrilled to have seen so much of this quite unusual country, but as I mentioned yesterday, I long to be among nature again, to just sit and “be” in the open wilds of Africa or hiking peacefully in the mountains sounds so refreshing.  As with most avid travelers, we tend to gravitate to various environments.  Some love big cities, others can’t get enough of that breathtaking “aaaah” as one steps into grand cathedrals, others like to spend time in small villages.  Personally, I love to witness nature around the world, to be surrounded by the glory of Mother Nature, to walk unpaved paths, to have wild animals around who’ve never known a moment of captivity, to see for miles without electrical wires or man-made structures.  I do love the places without internet connection, minimal electricity and perhaps a challenge or to with running water.  A place so void of fake lighting, one can see by the light of the milky way.  The morning’s wake-up alarm are the various birds, who’s variations seem to awake in a similar sequence each morning and smiling when hearing or feeling communication calls of the abundance of animals in the area.  I love the sounds of the dancing trees, the occasional falling of pods and seeds, the chirps and chorus of various insects who keep the air alive with energy.  These places are simple and allow a gal to really connect with the life all around and be a part of the whole of the world and the universe.

 

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We toured Tana to fill our last full day in Madagascar.  It seems the others are in agreement that we are feeling quite tired.  Reentering Tana (Antananarivo), is a cultural shock after focusing so much on what is left of Madagascar’s uber diverse natural landscape.  The villages we’ve experienced have been equally diverse, but none as congested as the capital city.  The day overflowed a bit with driving as the traffic was exceedingly thick, the roads potted, obstacles plentiful, colorful laundry spread out to dry on every rock and patch of grass available, while the poorest with their plethora of children in tow tapped on our bus asking for handouts. It’s hard to see so much poverty, especially when interspersed with that are large, new, clean Catholic churches, which obviously prioritize their moneys to impress rather than to aid their neighbors.  It all can add up to a bit of information overload.

 

We did visit the King’s summer palace, complete with slow-moving tour, then a delightful lunch with music and dance entertainment from local school children.  We then took to the bustle to inch our way a couple hours more to a rather well meaning lemur reserve.  Most of the animals there were rescued and all are as wild as they can let them be.  A natural river flowing reddish brown from the exceeding amounts of runoff from the once forested land upstream, marks the boundary on one side, fences mark other boundaries, but the animals are capable of venturing beyond, normally returning to the safety and reliable food sources offered in the small forest reserve of Maki.  12 lemur species call this home along with various other wildlife.  It is also an arboretum where native plants and trees are grown to enhance the experience for the animals and may be ones used to replenish future reforestation.  It was a fun visit and happy reprieve from the day of driving through chaos.  Amanda and I got into hysterics trying to mimic lemur calls, a much needed belly laugh to get through the long day.

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My mind kept returning to the next day’s departure and the pending “good byes” that will accompany that.  The hardest of course will be parting with my new dear friend Pam from Suffolk, England.  We first met hiking around Mt Blanc and have kept our kindred spirits in touch every since following one another’s grand adventures throughout the world.  She was so good to jump on board when I mentioned Madagascar and I’m so glad she did.  We were like two peas in a pod, a truly special travel companion and friend.  I miss her already, but we promised to travel again sooner rather than later, perhaps Turkey, Patagonia or even a visit to England to see her lovely homeland surrounded in green open spaces, so contrary to where I must return to.

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We all enjoyed our final evening with a yummy dinner at the lodge.  Pumpkin soup, their amazing cheese salad and decadent “Pischocolat” (layered Chocolate mousse and pistachio ice cream… wow!).  Of course that was accompanied by plenty of vino and a later-than-usual bedtime.

 

4 May

Claude arranged for some souvenir shopping at the marketplace, which we all kinda joked about, as it’s one of those super pushy sales jobs where vendors follow you in droves selling their wares and willing to bargain until the cows come home.  I ended up buying a few trinket items for about 70% off the original price, as did Pam and Jeffrey.  Jeff was eager to buy some stones and was immediately inundated by a queue of sales guys putting on every act they could think of to sell some rocks. One persistent bloke was flashing a couple of worn down glass pieces in his face proclaiming them to be of best quality.  I’ve never seen a crystal of those colors, so we all giggled a bit and waved him on to find someone more gullible.

 

Lunch followed by the dreaded farewell to friends summed up the day before heading to the airport feeling a bit empty inside without my friend along.  Claude was there, so I had a little company before setting off once again on my own making my way back to Johannesburg for a night’s rest before my big flight back to the US tomorrow.

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Many folks are so eager to get home, to see loved ones, to return to work, to sleep in their own beds, to just be “home” again.  I’m far from one of those people, with only one family member to look forward to seeing, a house that I don’t want to live in any longer as it feels to claustrophobic to me, a neighborhood that has been digressing, family situations that anger and frustrate me, and well, the place I live just does’t feel like “home” to me.  I am looking forward to getting healthier again, with regular yoga and hiking back in my life and better quality foods to choose from.  Perhaps a few days of dietary detox will do my pudgy body some good as well.  I appreciate those who have stepped in to help me make this 3+ month trip into a reality, what a treat to have been in Africa for so long, yet I long to stay.  Another 2-3 weeks returning to Botswana and through Namibia would be incredible!  Alas, I return home to make future plans to return sometime in the next couple years.

 

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