In pursuit of the wily lemur
Trip Start May 16, 2006
13Trip End Jul 11, 2006
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Madagascar is off the coast of Africa (Mozambique), and has a population of 17 million, and an average annual income per capita of 218 euros, and half the population earn less than one euro PER YEAR!
Madagascar gained independence from France in 1960. Various coups and assassinations followed, until Didier Ratsiraka came to power. He severed all ties with France, and courted favour with former Soviet-bloc nations. He even compiled a "red book" of government policies and theories. He ruled for 27 years and was finally ousted in 2002 by yoghurt baron Marc Ravalomanana. However he refused to concede defeat, and the country continued to experience the bad riots and strikes that it had been having all through 2001. The country has now settled down, but has many problems, and tourism has only just recovered.
The culture of the people depends on rice and zebu, both of which cannot be raised in dense forest, with the consequence that there is now only 10% of the original forest cover remaining.
The country is trying to build up its tourism, and one of its highlights is lemurs, which are unique to it. Lemurs belong to a group of primates called the prosimians, which means "before monkeys". Monkeys are superior in a number of ways- they are faster, can think more quickly, use their vision more effectively and are highly dextrous. Thus they replaced the lemurs everywhere else. There are now 51 recognised varieties of lemur, and these are what we have come to see.
Arrive Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, about 11.30pm after two and half hour flight and one hour time change. After customs, accosted by taxi-driver, who shows us his official taxi-driver's card which is enclosed in a very dilapidated piece of plastic. It shows the late-night rate as being 60,000 ariary, which we agree to pay (and later find out is exactly double the correct rate). He shows us where the official money changer is, and waits while we sort out the difference between the old currency Fmg (Malagasy Francs) and the new currency, which are Ariary, and are worth one fifth of a franc. To make matters worse, the currency was devalued by a third in March 2004, so all the rates in our guidebook are wrong. Eventually get a wad of 650,000 ariary (2600 to 1 euro), and follow our taxi-driver out to the carpark. We're being pretty cautious at this stage as it's after midnight, and not many people or cars around. Shown to our taxi, where we query that it really is a taxi. Driver says yes, and shows us the big official taxi sign on the roof. Reassured, we put our bags in the boot, and start to hop in. He then removes the sign from the roof (we then realise it was just sitting there), and we then see there is someone already in the front of the taxi. Murray can't see them properly, and thinks it is another man, which makes him very nervous. At least Dianne can see it is a woman - whether his wife, wanting to be there for the "kill", or another passenger, we never find out. Then set off, at great speed for such a clapped out vehicle, through dark streets with hardly any traffic, and no street lights, for what we hope is the 12kms in to town. In the dark the housing looks weird, almost like we're on another planet. (Two days later, when we drive through the same streets in the daytime, it seems quite normal for a third-world country, so was obviously just our over-active imaginations at work). Have no way of knowing where we are actually being taken, but hope it is not to some deserted spot to be robbed. After what seems like a long time, when we are starting to query where we are being taken, we turn a corner, and can actually see a number of lights in the street, some of which belong to our hotel, Hotel de France!
While we are being accosted by a small child of about 5 (it is now after 1am - what is such a young child doing out on the streets!) the hotel guard comes out to meet us.
It is with great relief that we crawl into our bed. From our window we can see up and down the street, which is quite dark, and pretty deserted except for a group of about 20 people, who look like they are living in a park across the road. Finally settle down and fall asleep, only to be woken about 5am by what sounds like a fight going on in the street. Fearing the worst, we look out, only to find it is a group of boys playing a noisy game of soccer. We can also see dozens of joggers running around the grassy central area of the street. How incongruous from our fears of the night before. A few hours later the joggers and soccer players have gone, and the street is a hive of activity with people everywhere.
We have a good plain breakfast, then decide to go to the Comoros embassy to see about a visa, having a bit of a look at the town on the way. Photo across to Upper Town taken from near our hotel.
As we're still a bit unsure of the city, decide not to take any of our valuables with us. Head up our street, Avenue de L'Independence, the main street of Basse-Ville (lower town), then climb the steps to Haute-Ville (Upper Town).
Find the embassy, and ascertain that we do need a visa, and will have to get it this morning as they are closed tomorrow, so walk back to our hotel to get passport etc. Have a look at Sakamanga Hotel on the way, which looks really nice. Get a 3,000 ariary taxi back up the hill to the embassy. Couldn't find one of the 2CV ones unfortunately.
Pay 56,000 ariary each for the visa, and wait while it is processed. In the meantime, talk to three young Comoros students who are studying in Antananarivo, one of whom speaks quite good English, and is keen to practice.
Walk back down to hotel, then out later to walk around the market, which is very crowded, and quite interesting.
Excellent soup cooking smell, but unable to find the source. Then up the opposite set of steps to buy a couple of baguettes and wander along one of the horizontal streets on the other side of the Haute-Ville. Get a photo of a classic 1930's Citroen "Traction Avant" parked in the street. Check out the views beyond the junction of the two ridges, over the top of the tunnel and down one of the steep streets past some interesting construction. We get back down just as it is getting dark.
Stay in the room to wait for the others to turn up (David & Leigh, our niece and her husband who have been working with the United Nations in Burundi, and Bobbie, Murray's sister). Find that the rooms they are booked into are next to the hotel's internet, so Dianne decides she'll wait there, but when she goes up, they are have just arrived.
We all go downstairs, and settle in at the bar, but it is a bit cold, and everyone is interested in eating, and as the reservation for a special dinner has not eventuated, we decide on the hotel restaurant which looks OK.
Order fairly ambitiously, but find the soup bland, and the Zebu steak is very ordinary for DP, quite good for MP. Have a couple of big mugs of cloudy local beer with David. Too intimidating for a walk outside, so hit the sack. Singing and other noises wake us in the early hours of the morning.
Saturday 27th May Antananarivo (Madagascar)
Meet for a good breakfast, and organise to all take a taxi to the Rova, the Queen's palace which is 4km away on the highest hill, overlooking Lac Anosy. While we are waiting in the foyer, we are accosted by a young Englishwoman who had figured we must be on the Guerba trip. She is Lisa, an actress from London, very excited about her first third-world trip. She tells us their are six people on the tour, and as our group is four people, there is still one we haven't met. We find this a bit disappointing, as although it will be good to have a small group as far as organisation goes, one of the few advantages of a tour versus independent travel is getting to know a group of kindred spirits - as four of us are related, and know each other well, there will only be two other people.
Invite Lisa along on our expedition. Need two taxis, so organise them out the front of the hotel, price from 10,000 ,down to 8, 5, then back up to 6,000 for the uphill journey. We get a typically clapped out Renault 4, they a slightly newer peugeot, which arrived 10 minutes late, as they stopped for petrol. Talked to would-be guide, but the palace, which burnt down in 1995, is under reconstruction, and closed to the public. Walk around beyond it through poor streets with little shops and stalls,including a basic butcher's shop.
See a lot of small kids, shitters' ditches, and some pretty good vistas over the city and the lake.
The palace and surviving attached church were pretty fine buildings in their day, with intricately carved massive stonework. Walk down the walking route outlined in the Lonely Planet, past a Greek temple-style building with seriously sagging ceiling, then the massive, almost Dutch style, domed museum,
and out to the cathedral where they used to throw the Christians over the edge. Get some good overview shots of the city. Broke from the full route down to the lake for drinks and a pizza at the interesting Caf d'Art bar and garden restaurant, before checking out the pasteries, cappucinos, and flash shops at the 4 Star Hotel Colbert, which is up there with the Hilton. Then down the main steps, having a quick flirt with the outer areas of the markets before repairing to the hotel.
We have an hour's sleep before heading up the secondary steps to the Internet site we had previously checked. The connection was quite fast, and we got a bit too ambitious downloading photos and had to sit out an unsuccessful download while we got progressively later for our 6pm meet and greet for our tour. Ran down the steps and through the streets to arrive 10 minutes late for our briefing. Met Niry, the guide, Bob the driver, and Kate, the sixth member of the group, from, would you believe, Rozelle, about halfway between our home and Kerry's place, about 2 kms. Small world! She's 48, and has left her husband at home while she visits a friend here, and does the tour. Our group for the next 2 weeks therefore consists of five women and one man (Murray), and ranges in age from 35 to 69.
After the briefing, and disposal of the local payment of 800 Euros cash, which is burning a hole in our moneybelts, Kate, who has a recommendation from her friend in Tana, suggested going to a good restaurant she knew. Turned out to be Saka Manga, which we had already checked out and approved. Passed through a rendezvous area for street prostitutes, a fair few of whom looked transvestite or transexual. Saka Manga was excellent as a restaurant, an expat's mecca, and as a future hotel. Had an excellent meal, second go at the Zebu, plus chips and pommes sauteed, plus the local 3H (Three Horses) bottled beer. After, Dianne looked at the accommodation and beautiful courtyards, and decided we should all book in for our return to Tana.
On the way back, almost at the hotel, we were walking in typically "Brown's Cows", fashion, Kate in front, then Murray, and the others bringing up the rear, when 2 small boys approached Kate, and were joined by an older youth. They walked close to her, then split, having unzipped her bum bag, and made off with her purse, with a small amount of money and her credit card. Murray watched it all happen, but couldn't react fast enough to prevent it. Kate had a traumatic evening with Kerry, cancelling the card. The rest of us to bed, having done a preliminary pack for the next day.
Sunday 28th May Antananarivo-Anbtsirabe
After an early and careful expedition to the bank around the corner, past the scene of the crime the night before, for 400,000 Ariary, came down to breakfast packed by 8, for another good breakfast, and in the Mercedes bus by 9. As we had all seen the town, head out via the Western tunnel past the lake, sports arena, and commercial area to streets packed with people on the outskirts. Pass a major river, with lots of women washing clothes in some rapids, while louts surfed the current. Stopped for photos, and to get a feel for the interest of the locals in tourists.
There are rice paddies starting in the city itself, and continuing on for virtually the whole day. Our first stop was by a small river beside the inactive railway bridge, to look at raffia work.
Because it was Sunday, no-one was making any, but there was a good range of big giraffes, lemur, and particularly, very colourful Chameleons, which suit this medium well. Saw a brilliant sunbird, but no photo.
Next stop was by a substantial river with good rapids and a group of stalls, selling handbags and baskets woven from raffia and sisal. DP buys a hat for A4000 -don't expect to see it for long. Continue through typical highland scenery,
with rivers, paddy fields in all the valleys, and treeless higher mountains - not as much erosion as we would have expected from descriptions. Stop beside a small stream among paddies to look at a brake problem. David is with us in the bus, as his promised 4WD broke down in the night, and we have a car following us, which will take him back after lunch.
Have lunch in the small town of Ambatolampy, at the Rendezvous des Pecheurs - quite a good meal of Lapin, athletic chicken for DP, duck for Bobbie, followed by some vicious liqueurs. This is the first town which has genuine rickshaws, (pousse-pousse), with one or 2 seats, motorbike tyred, bar spoke wheels, and wooden frame and shafts. The runners were mainly young. DP spent a long, unsuccessful wait to get a photo of one coming down the steep main road. The running action is strange, with almost no height change of the shafts, and quite smooth. Photos of women working
and also grinding grain
After bidding Davo farewell (he's heading back to Burundi to work) we carry on to stop by a pretty river down in a gorge, with pine trees along it, and a good sloping rapid .
Rivers with good flows were a feature, and one had a major concrete bridge which was no longer usable after being irreparably damaged during the riots. Beside it was a new French-financed bridge. Beyond, we climbed along the river to a large highland valley with extensive paddies, and market stalls with excellent vegetables, particularly carrots.
Bob, the driver, was pretty good with stopping or slowing every time Murray aimed the camera.
After arriving in Antsirabe, we pass our hotel "Avana", maybe as in Cuba, and carry on into town
where we stop at a Gem workshop and shop. We are given a pretty good rundown of the local semi-precious gems, petrified wood, and ammonites, which polish up nicely. Given souvenirs, and some of the women make purchases. Later, get an interesting demo of Zebu horn carving and polishing, with a latrine digging demo thrown in for free.
In the town, we pass the very flash, decadent era Thermes hotel, and finish off the evening with a homeward ride in pousse-pousses for those interested. Dianne capitulated, and went on one as well.
They got back to the hotel well after dark, as the drive was a very circuitous route around the backstreets. Some interesting scenes of daily life, including seeing the charcoal-sellers, with the very dirty children playing in the dirt.
No hot water in our room at the hotel, which is large, multi-storied, and ageing. Later, into town to the bar and internet for a big, and not bad local soup and meat, and a very good pork stirfry. Bobbie and Kerry stay at the hotel, we do very slow and unsatisfactory internet before going back and getting the hot water turned on for the morning. Leave bread from the restaurant on Bobbie' door handle, for their dinner, but it disappears during the night, but not sure who takes it. Good beds, and early morning horns from buses on the highway 100 metres away, but otherwise quiet.
Monday 27th May Antsirabe - Ranomafana
Hot water in the morning, pretty ordinary breakfast, with curdling milk. Under way through town and out along main road with lot of people coming to the daily market.
Have a photo stop to watch plowing with Zebu
on a wide plain of paddies.
Didn't take long for children to turn up for a sticky. Later got the guide to stop for a look at an excellent market off the main road in a small town.
Much less hassling than normal as this was not the "normal" stop.Like all over the world, all the tours have the same itinerary, right down to the restaurants they stop in. The advantage of just using public transport is you stop (usually more often than you need, I might add, in places that the tourists don't frequent.
Drove the bus to the market then walked around the crowded alley, getting some good shots of local improvised watering can with spout etc from recycled can, repairing of holes in metal bowls etc with soldering iron,
and selling of children's fancy white christening and confirmation dresses, and women selling produce. Also lot of overloaded taxi-brousses going home from market.
Later, stopped in Ambositra, the woodcarving and marquetry town to look at a factory. Look at a very purple "Rosewood", and watch a worker cutting out intricate and accurate patterns from thin wood on a hand operated jigsaw, with a return spring from an innerspring mattress, and blades cut from the steel tape from tire rims. The work was intricate and well put together, but not all that artistic, and certainly not minimalist chic. The same with the sculpture, not a patch on that which we saw in the shops of Tana.
Dianne internets on a very slow machine for half an hour to get one message from Lisa, while Murray walks the streets, and waits in vain for the sun to come out to get photos across the town, and the valley below. Drive out of town to an outskirts village to buy bread, tomatoes, cheese, and butter for an excellent picnic lunch which we had in a pine grove in the hills, undisturbed by locals. Could have been a pine grove anywhere.
Drove through increasingly hilly scenery,
still with paddy rice in the valley, to the turnoff to the Ranomafana National Park, where the road condition deteriorated sharply.
It was in the process of being upgraded, with a cast of thousands digging new water table, putting new granite block and mortar kerbs along the edge, and putting in a lot of new culverts, doing half at a time so traffic could still pass. The culverts had flat concrete slabs on a cut clay base, granite masonry side, and precast concrete cap, quite good and appropriate contruction. The basic cut was being made with a Cat excavator, and trimmed by hand, using the typical rice paddy shovels. Toward the top of the range, the bush became more like Aussie scrub, and after a rickety bridge crossing over a major river, we had our first (spurious) lemur sighting (it turned out to be an ant's nest in a tree!) then entered a spectacular gorge, with real rainforest and real rain. We headed down to the National Park headquarters for our night walk, but by this stage it was pissing down, and the crew accepted the guide's advice that we wouldn't see or hear anything, so we continued down the hill to our hotel, the Ihary Hotel, for the night. It had typical small, two-bed bungalows with attached bathroom, and mosquito nets. Quite cosy, if a little dark. The river flowed past 10 metres away. Hot water, power points for batteries, and we had a good meal of soup and pork stir-fry. Pretty good night's sleep for another early morning start.
Tuesday 30th May Ranomafana - Sahambavy
Early breakfat, featuring home-made sweet yoghurt in glasses. Pick up our National Park guide, Mamy, and a beater, and head up the hill to the park. Not raining, but nippy. Set off down the hill and across the river about 200 metres down the side of the gorge. The river is quite substantial, and has a steel bridge across. Get some good gorge and waterfall shots from here, then walk along the riverside path up the south side of the river. We are about to look at an animal, when we get the word that lemurs have been sighted,so hurry along the main path, then up the hill through the scrub on little more than a game trail. Tight squeeze through the trees, but find Milne-Edwards diademed sifakas in the trees. We can get a pretty good look at them 5 to 10 metres up, but can only take silhouette photos against the sky. Eventually they move off, and we go back to the path to look at a leaf tailed gecko, glued almost invisibly to the trunk of a small tree of similar colouring. We get a photo, but will probably wonder what we were looking at. We wind upward on good paths and steps through secondary rain forest, looking at palms, orchids, epiphytes and bamboo groves. Everything is wet and green, lots of ferns, ginger, moss, and a lot of invasive cherry guarva, which provide a lot of the food for the lemurs. We get off the track quite often, responding to the calls of our animal beater, who has gone ahead to find game. Some of the lemurs make grunting noises, and can be lured closer by imitation, and by rustling leaves. We see in turn the red-bellied lemur, red fronted brown lemur, grey bamboo lemur, and the red fronted brown lemur again. We got quite close at times, and spent time observing a group of them, even having to move from below to avoid crap-bombs.
Not a lot of birds, but got a photo of a blue robin.
Good views of the gorge from a belvedere under construction, and can see our starting point a long way below us. After some good local chocolate, and putting on raincoat, we do a quick descent the short way back to the bridge, where we wait for about 100 schoolkids to pass.
At the restaurant at the National Park entrance we have an excellent grilled tilapia lunch, followed by a good fruit cocktail, then back up to the top of the hill to take photos of the gorge,and stonemasons from the road crew turning the very scenic rocks at the very attractive waterfall
into cobble stone for the road. Retrace our journey over the rough road to the turnoff, and head for the high plateau
and tea plantations at Sahambavy, where we are shown over an active processing plant. The tea is dried on a ventilated table, in a bed 20 cm deep, a tonne per bed. Women pick out the stem, and the dried leaf is transported to a screw compressor, then successive cutting stations before spending 80 minutes in the fermentation chamber, before being air dried at 250F in a steam heated hot air dryer. The dried tea is sized, dedusted, electrostatically defibred, and graded on a 5 deck shaking screen. The process is surprisingly mechanised, the plant having been imported second hand 30 years ago from India.
We try a sample brew, and Kate buys a couple of packets of Vanilla tea, and we head along a very bumpy road to Le Lac Hotel, situated surprisingly beside a small, artificial lake. We book into our extremely tizzy all-pink Mimosa bungalow, two single beds on the ground floor, a double in the attic, reached by a precarious ladder. Decide to stick with the twin beds, sort ourselves out, then head for the lake to look at the lemurs which are kept on a small island just offshore.
There was an overwater bar area quite near the lemurs, but we were looking directly into the sun, so shifted to a smaller jetty, where we took heaps of photos of our first ring-tailed lemurs, which are exceedingly cute, and other brown types. One of the brown lemurs with yellow eye patches was showing extreme stress behaviour, apparently because he is nocturnal.
The meal in the restaurant was another very tough Zebu,(we don't learn) and a very strange local slightly rose wine with a Chinese flavour. Good night sleep once we have sorted the multiple pillows and pink bed spread.
Wednesday 31st May Sahambavy - Ranohira
Another early start. Check out the lemurs from the closer jetty area, more photos. Take photos of the extensive, but a bit weird gardens and grounds, obviously someone's life's work (a Chinese lady apparently). Good breakfast. Once again staff insist on taking our bags, although we are quite capable of wheeling them, and have to tip, but not heavily. Also tip the waiter, who was a real trier.
Murray back in the front seat, and get some good photos of school children,
and the local wooden trolleys
that are used to transport all sorts of things. Almost all have a wooden frame, wooden wheels with some type of metal bearing, and rubber treads cut from car tyres nailed on.The back axle is fixed, and the front is pinned on one side, and slides on the frame on the other. Basic steering is by a push rod to the rear where the pushing occurs. There are no signs of brakes, so it must be interesting downhill with half a tonne of bricks. More sophisticated town versions have steering wheels at hip level, and chain or rope to the front axle.
Other oberved variations include 3 wheel, front steering, with ball-race wheels. We also observed wooden framed, wooden wheeled barrows, mainly in the country.
Fill up with diesel, remember our malaria tablets, and pull into a classically Chinese hotel, all white tiles and dragons, in Fianarantsoa, the close big town. Take photo of the 6 clocks behind reception (a reminder of our time in China), and look at the studio of a famous local photographer, then go to a supermarket for supplies. Outside, take photos of street life,
and transport trolleys.
Are trying to hot foot it to the Zebu market at Ambalavao, which we are told is from nine to eleven am. Get there about 10.30, but not sign of action. Think we have missed it, but turns out it is running late, and hasn't started (must be the first market EVER to start late!). Go to the large local market for a quick circuit, a lot of photos,
and a papaya purchase, then back in the bus to the artisanal paper factory, where they boil the bark of a tree, grate the pulp, pound it to make a cricket ball size stock, then disperse these over cotton covered frames to make the pulp base. They reapply some of the binder glue obtained during boiling down, and divide the large sheet up into working size sheets. While we were there, they were making bookmarks, with designs laminated into them using flower petals. Quite attractive, but very folk-arty.
Take some photos of the paper factory, then back to the Zebu market, which is in full swing, and very colourful with hundreds of cattle held in a large dusty compound, in group of 10 to 20, controlled purely by men with sticks.
Managed to survive to take lots of photos of the cattle with mountain backdrops, customers, and general hangers-on.
Some good photos of the photographers. Some of our group developed quite a following of kids, after encouraging them.
Leaving the Zebu Market, we travelled through increasingly dramatic rocky mountain scenery,
stopping for a picnic lunch at the entrance to Anjahar Reserve, which apparently has some aggressive, semi-tame lemurs, so don't go down into the river and up through a dramatic pass betweeen giant boulder hills, but stay by the office, with two covered picnic table, and a host of remarkably reticent kids, who have obviously been told to leave the tourists alone. Kerry takes photos of amorous turkey gobblers. Good lunch of baguettes, hard boiled egg, tomato, sliced meat, pickled vegetable, cheese, and samosas. It is blowing hard, but not too bad in the lee of the bus.
After we finish and get back into the bus, the kids converge on the table, and Murray sees one of them picking up the larger bread crumbs, so times must be tough.
Just drive hard from here, through dramatic upland rolling hills, with massive granite outcrops. We can see the 600m vertical cliff in the Andringitra National Park,
then over a major divide, where we stop for photos. We're now in the area of the Bara tribe, who practise polygamy. Cattle have a higher profile than wives in the hearts of Bara men, who believe a man's worth is judged by the number of zebu he owns.
Housing also changes, with small, single storey thatched houses in bare compounds. Stop at Ihosy, the major town of the area, for photos of ox carts on the main bridge.
From here we do a major climb up onto an 800 metre plateau, looking very much like the NSW high country, with a very lazy wind blowing across it, and rows of gum trees along the road as wind breaks. After about half an hour of this, we pass a massive double layer mountain, apparently used for political suicides, then see the line of blue cliffs of the Isalo escarpment.
There is a river, bigger than you would expect, just before the town of Ranohira where we stay for a short time. Carry on for 20 minutes, to a ranch type safari camp Isalo Ranch. More bungalows, this time a bit larger, but very low on light, with a trick bathroom light switch. There are no power points, and Murray is considering some alfresco electrics, when we read on the back of the door that they charge batteries in the restaurant. The sign also alerts us to the foibles of solar hot water systems, and warns against "gaspillar"ing, which we assume means hogging the hot water.
Have bacardi cokes by the swimming pool, then repair to the bar to do diary and socialise until tea. Dianne has another bland, indeterminate soup,while Murray has the Zebu brochette, which started off rare, but after a return trip to the kitchen, returned "bien cuit", but savagely tough. Good rice "creme renversee", and excellent passionfruit drink.
We're heading off for two nights' camping in Isalo National Park, so Dianne sorts the the gear for camping, and that to be left at the ranch, and to bed reasonably early, with both extra blankets. Fortunately, the hot water has not been gaspillared, so we get a good shower and a pretty good sleep.
Thursday 1st June Ranohira - Isalo NP
Sort out our gear, have good home-made bread for breakfast, load the van with the goer gear. Back through the town, pick up a guide, then head further back to the turnoff at the big hotel, then head out on a rough dirt road parallel to the escarpment, on a naturally terraced rise with a watercourse between the rise and the escarpment. We could see the two cuts into the escarpment, one of which was Canyon des Makis, where we are going.
Park our van at a river crossing with another van, and walk in about a km, across rice paddies, with grain being harvested, and dried by stacking in low walls. Cross the creek coming out of the Canyon des Makis, and head up through scrub 10 metres high. See some ringtail lemurs in the trees, but pretty obscured, and disturbed by group coming the other way barging in for a good look. Further into the valley, we take a side track up a ridge to look at a solitary fluffy white Verreaux' Sifaka in a low tree.
Later on we stop to look at a young, but not small Boa that one of the guide has caught. Quite pretty pattern, very slow and unperturbed by handling. Close by, see a number of ring tailed lemurs in the trees. Try to get good shots, but focusing through the small branches is difficult.
Walk about a km up the canyon,
leaving Bobbie on a big rock about halfway, and continue to a waterfall on the left, and a continuing canyon on the right. Cool, but not cold in the canyon, good clear water in the creek, and cut steps on the rocks to make it easy for the decrepit.
Walk back to the van at the river crossing, declining a helping hand from the village urchins at the stepping stones. Back into town, stop for some supplies, then onward through town to turn off to a different part of Isalo, Namaza, quite cloe to town. Take photos of women washing at the river crossing, then stop at a car park on the slope leading to the escarpment. Meet our porters here, distribute the loads, and walk in about a km through low scrub below the escarpment.
We allocate the tents, which have been pitched earlier by an advance party (hey, this is the life!), then spend a couple of hours before and after a good lunch taking photos of brown
and ringtailed lemurs right in the centre of the camp. Up to a dozen ringtails, 4 or 5 brown ones, just wandering through.
Bobbie forgets the rules and feeds a mandarin section to one of the ringtails, and we get some good group photos. Kate, ever the enthusiast, is the first person we know to wax lyrical after finding a cute maggot in her mandarin.
After an excellent couscous lunch, Murray, Dianne and Lisa, plus the two guides, make the half-hour walk and steep climb to the Cascade des Nymphs, which is lovely, with a stream falling 10 metres into a pothole, then decanting into a pool about 20 metres long and 6 wide,with 10 to 20 metre high sides, and a sloping bottom at the outlet. Very pretty, but fairly dark in the late afternoon, so photos are not great.
Dianne and Lisa have an icy swim, then back to camp for a chicken and pasta tea, with an excellent home-made rum punch, and dessert of Dianne's market papaya, which was rescued from the lemurs in the afternoon.
The locals have their guitar out, and have been doing a bit of singing, but Lisa brings out her MP3 player, and Western music prevails.
Dianne has too much rum punch, and with her boots unlaced, does a classic fall, losing her boot, and has trouble closing her eyes in bed. Sleeping bags were a little too hot, but not bad. Stars fairly blazing in the sky at the 1 am loo visit.
Friday 2nd June Isalo NP
Up early, 7am breakfast of toasted bread, Vache-qui-rit, jam, and the fruit requested by the ladies to counter solids retention. No lemurs in camp in the morning, as they sleep in the caves in the cliffs, and don't come down until it is sunny, which is quite late in our sheltered spot.
All set off, except Bobbie, who was having a lazy day. Walk back 100m along the track to take a set of steps which take us all the way to the top of the escarpment.
Good scenery from the top, and interesting green lichen on the cliffs. See very cute ringtailed lemurs sunning themselves on a cliff face. Great to see and photograph them without worrying about branches being in the way. From the cirque above the camp, coo-ee to Bobbie down below, take telephoto, then walk up a long slope to a grove of bushy local trees, and the edge of the escarpment, from which we can see out over the plains, and down to the river and the town below. See lots of a small species of pachypodia (elephant's foot) plants.
The Malagasy plant community is one of the most diverse on earth with around 6000 species. Of its 4220 tree species, 96% are endemic.
See a painted grasshopper, pied crows riding the thermals, and kestrels high above. The edge of the escarpment becomes the rim of a basin through which the stream to the Piscine Naturelle runs. The rock formations look quite similar to the Bungle Bungles in Western Australia, with horizontal strata of harder conglomerate in sandstone, and domed peaks.
See a grey chameleon, a small lizard, and pass another camp area near the pool. From above, the pool looks exquisite.
The honeymoon(?) couple from our camp, and their guides are there, and not all that happy to see us. Manage fairly discreet changes into swimmers and steel ourselves to get in. Murray tries the flying dive technique, others more tentative. The pool was fabulously clear and green, with a double cascade into the end of it, shaded by palms and pandani,
and furnished with a paved edge, and waist deep launching area. So good, it looked like an artificial pool at a flash hotel.
The water wasn't too cold, and you could stay in for a reasonable time, and was definitely refreshing, which we all needed after our hot walk. Murray and the guide withdrew to allow the ladies private dressing time. Murray walked to the camping area, but the ladies took so long, he walked back to find out why. Just gossipping, not skinny dipping as suspected.
Another good lunch, cold vegetables, chicken pate, bread, finished off with sliced pineapple.
The 6km walk back is along the direct route, as distinct from the longer circular route we took to get here. Long walk back up the slope of the watershed, see aloe plant, another chameleon, lizards. After we complete the circuit and start down, see a chameleon crossing a large rock slab, with the charactersitic jerky motion, hanging on with strange bifurcated feet. Can see him change colour as he crosses different coloured rock.
Back in camp, rest, photograph paradise flycatcher, small blue robin-like bird, and have a dozen shots at freezing the manic motion of a hoopoe. Gets pretty cold as the sun goes down, 300's back on. Workers play guitar and dominos while we have pre-dinner coffee and relax.
After an evening meal of brochette of Zebu and tinned apricot dessert, more of the home made rum and fruit juice punch comes out, and we drink a bit more cautiously,as it is stronger than last night, and once again the MP3 player comes out.
The workers build a fire on the sand, and the camp staff set out the woven grass mats and sit down against a tree on the far side. Nirey and Bob produce guitars and join them, and we are invited to join them on the mats, so the MP3 player is turned off, and we get to hear a bit of the local culture. We listen to about an hour of excellent Malagasy music, some local, some political and some army music. Typically a lead singer, who was sitting out of sight called the words, and the others followed. A big plastic container was used as a drum, together with hand clapping and beating on the guitar soundbox, all to good effect. Some of the music was distinctly African, some very Polynesian. They also did an excellent "Saints go marching in", in Malagasy, and when we headed off to bed, gave us an Auld lang syne, in Malagasy. Got some of it on the sound system of the palm pilot. The music carried on for a while after we went to bed, but not late.