We continue our tour

Trip Start May 16, 2006
Trip End Jul 11, 2006

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Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Saurday 3rd June Isalo NP- Ifaty
Early start in the morning as we have to break camp, but not impressed by a light patter on the tent which turns into a real downpour of rain. Fortunately it tapers off by the time we have to get up and pack, and we are able to breakfast alfresco as usual, with bananas and the last of the papaya. Not too long a walk back to the car park, nothing of note to see on the way. Have to wait a fair while for the bus to be loaded. Give Jules the guide A5000, the low end of the tip scale, but can't work out how to tip the general camp staff while they are being paid off. Pile into the bus with all the staff, and drive into town, dropping the staff at the market area, then back out to the Isalo Ranch, past another of the many police checks. At each of them, the police seem to be in different uniforms, this time dressed as Gendarmes.
Pick up the gear and head west, through the heart of the sandstone outcrop country, which gives way to wide grasslands dotted with silver grey madagascar palms with spherical pom-pom foliage, and the hills take on a flat-topped mesa formation. The houses have changed considerably, and are now very small, wattle and daub construction, with all-round verandahs.
We pass through another army checkpoint outside the relatively new gem town, Ilakaka. Venture carefully through the busy main street, not stopping, but taking photos of the shops selling sapphires, and mean side streets with tiny clap-board huts, which add to the temporary, boom-town effect.

Lots of Sri Lankans pointed out in the street.
Take photos of grand, sweeping valleys, with wide, timbered watercourses and mesas beyond. See our first genuine baobabs in the distance. Pass through another smaller and newer sapphire mining town.

Tiny woven bamboo walled houses, women and lots of small kids.

Not certain where the mining is actually taking place. The town seems to be where it is because of the highway, not the mines.
Terrain is getting lower and hotter, and start to see lots of mango and papaya trees, which are very tall, and multi-branched, with plenty of fruit.
Do a photo stop at a major baobab off the road,

and beseiged by small, and not-so-small kids.

As we are leaving someone spots a fair sized chameleon near the bus. Turns out to be on a stick, carried by an enterprising urchin, who was hoping to make photo money, but no takers.
Spot the sea a fair way off, over the top of the coastal escarpment. Pass a very colourful oxcart full of firewood, stacked 3 metres high down the final descent onto the coastal plain. Pass the arboretum and airport and continue 17 kms into Toliara for lunch, a very important event on this tour. We're used to grabbing a bit of bread, and continuing on, whereas lunch and dinner combined take up more time than actual sightseeing. Landscape is very coastal scrubby, thorn bushes, bare red sand, but some short green grass and tropical trees, and coco palms. The city is pretty big, but run down.

Lots of pousse-pousse's, different design, large wide-spaced spoked wheels, long shafts, genuine 2-seat width, pulled from near the seat, long shafts mainly for parking and loading.
Stop at Estrellita, by the sign of Chez Betty, for a good soup lunch, MP having most of both, and a lot of Coke, later regretted at a lot of loo visits. One glaring example, and one posible example of the sex tourism problem, at the restaurant.
Bob checks out the availability of internet while we lunch, then back the seventeen kms, and a couple of kms down a bumpy side road to the arboretum of Antsokay, founded by a now defunct Swiss botanist, and run by his son. The naturalist is absent, so Niry takes us around the nearly 1,000 species of plants endemic to the area, pointing out a large number of mostly spiny trees and bushes. Dianne spots a chameleon just where people are commenting on thorns in a bush. Some good flora photos, then back in the bus, and into town for half hour on a very slow and unwelcome internet. More landlord problems back home, but don't have time to reply.
Once we cleared the town of Toliara, and crossed a large, curved concrete bridge over the big river, we began a slow journey along a rough, sandy main road north along the coast. Can see sails out at sea and outriggers drawn up on the sand. Villages with tiny bamboo woven walls and thatch roofs, markets and stalls along the main road.

Along the coast we can see large mangrove trees, only one layer deep, with roots protruding for about 30 metres out, tide channels amongst them. Pass through Ifaty, so know we are almost there.
See some interesting crowds at the village markets, and some remarkable taxi-brousses, on a large truck chassis, two rows of seats, rice bags and chattels stacked in the aisle, and people packed against the horizontal boards which stop them falling out, and probably stop others getting in, with casual passing thorn bush branches blinding the passengers. The cabin has the usual rack on top, stacked a metre deep with freight and luggage, but in one case, it bulges out to beyond the full width of the vehicle. A real "muffin-top".

Would love to ride in it a while for the experience, but not sure we'd like the 48 hour trip to Morondava that it was doing!
Pass what looks like a massive security fence, and find our hotel, "La Plage", just on dark. The hotel is on top of a sand ridge, and MP finds it a struggle with the big bag.
The circular main building looks very nice, with the restaurant looking out over the now-dark sea, over the tops of a collection of tourist rondavels.

Mme is very French, even though she turns out to be Belgian, and lays down the rules in French, translated by Niry. Get our bags taken down to one of the front row rondavels, quite nice, but ill lit with the infamous low-energy bulbs, and with shutters which we are instructed to lock every time we go out.
Dianne tries the water, which is pretty chilly. Wait an eternity for hot water, then shower and Dianne decides to ignore the no-washing instructions (they were written in French, which he doesn't read very well), and does the foot-washing act in the shower.
It is so dark in the room Murray unpacks using the head torch. Evening meal is fillet of fish, MP getting the better fillet, plus a big beer, DP concentrating on the planter's punch. Set up the charging systems for cameras and palm. Go to bed to find that there is no light at all after about 10, but luckily have the torch unpacked (perhap Madame could have told about this when she was laying down the law about what we couldn't do).
Sunday 4th June - Ifaty
We have taken up the morning birdwatching option,along with Kate, so are out of bed still in the dark to get transport at 6.15. Can't find Kate, so knock them up, only to find that Lisa is having a sleep-in, and Kate has already gone. Find her waiting for the workers, who have slept in, but get under way more-or-less on time. Hotfoot it down the "highway", through our close village, which is waking up, find Mosa, the "bird man", in his hut, which sports a large hi-fi, and very little else. Collect his 3 sons, and a few dogs, and head out through bare fields, one of which has been "slash-and-burned", along paths through spiny forest, with scrubby undergrowth, and a few baobab trees.

Between the dogs, sons and the birdman, manage to scare up a number of bigger and interesting birds, including foudy, coucal, chaberts vanga, green sunbird, sub-desert mesite, m and f, quail, greater vasa parrot, buzzard, drongo, dove, crested coua, running coua, Frances sparrow hawk, white headed vanga, madagascan green pigeon, sparrow hawk,long tailed ground roller,f, lafresnaye's vanga , madagascar hoopoe, and a very sleepy woolly lemur.

Niri stakes his thong on a stick, and Dianne takes a dead-ant tumble, but no real damage. Finish with a long search for the Madagascar plover, which is very small. Sounds like a lot of birds, but most took a lot of finding, and not great numbers of anything.
All are lusting for breakfast, and worried about missing out, a is now 10am. Have a fast trip back, and luckily breakfast is still on. Decide against the optional eggs, then go back to set our washing out again, having concealed it this morning so the cleaners don't see it.
Too late, or too hard to organise a snorkel, so gear up and walk to the south point to go in off the rocks near what looks like a channel. See a tiny black sharklike creature as we go in, then swim out 150m, then along about half a km, back in 200m, and in the whole exercise, see one tiny yellow-and white tropical fish, and one ubiquiotous grey and black small skinny fish, one small lump of live coral, and a strange yellow, flower-like growth on the bottom. Plenty of sickle-leafed seagrass, but just no fauna of any type. Visibility wan't bad, not cold after, just no fish. Later consider that over 100 boats are out netting every day, and this could be why.
Kate find some washed up sealife, including a massive sea star, and a sick moray eel, which adds weight to our theory about the netting killing everything. Get a lot of local sailing craft photos. Sailors on the downwind leg seem to be enjoying the fast ride, not so good upwind, with paddlers assisting the sails, some of which are in tatters.

In the late pm, we walk west to where we expect to see a fishing village, but only encounter a large herd of goats, and a local couple who direct us to an inland path. Further on, encounter another woman who directs us through the classic gap in the big fence, to a parking area with wheel tracks. We follow the tracks out, but lead the wrong way, so back to the beach past a little homestead with locals working the land. On the beach, pass a very strong beach spring. Back to hotel just after dark.
More fish for dinner, more planters punch, and a rather heated discussion with Lisa on English cooking. Back down to pack while we still have light.
Monday 5th June - Ifaty -Fort Dauphin- Berenty Private Reserve
Another early start. Use porters to carry the bag to the van, happy to pay the freight. Lisa finds out some of the reasons why we don't get our washing done at these places. Her expensive travelling pants, which she gave them with express instructions not to iron, have been returned with a hole in them, and her tops are all one size smaller!
Fast trip back to town -lots of locals on day trips,as it is Pentecost Monday. Some good taxi-brousse action.

Held up and forced onto a detour in town to accommodate a mountain bike race, good pousse-pousse action, plus markets and taxi-brousses.

Drive though Toliara (Tulear)

and on to airport, to catch our flight to Fort Dauphin. Fairly painless airport procedure, with our guide doing everything (we're un-used to having our hand held). Big group of US birders who have come thru on transit. Free seating, so do a bit of urging, and get window seats on each side. Good propellor views, and noisy, but still get to see and photo a lot.
The reef is much closer south of the town, with a big river running out, and bays and headlands.
Clearing the coastal range, on MP's side, can see extensive woodlands, giving way to watercourse-veined red lands, with geology strata visible through the thin vegetation. Some big, braided watercourses, with fairly straight general direction.
Toward Fort Dauphin, start to get close to the coast, and can see there is no reef. Massive river terminating in a big lake, indented shoreline, big surf. Along the river,can see broad areas of squared green farmland, and find out later it is sisal.
Close in, the sea has turbulent streaks of mud, looks like dredging, but can't identify. On DP's inland side, there is an extensive range of mountains to the horizon, green fertile hills close, muddy lagoons, and what look like settling ponds. Confirm onward tickets in the airport, and all decide to have lunch before setting off, as it is now after 11. Pack into a Mazda van, and into town on a rough road. Regional variations include lush vegetation, firewood porter with coolie planks across the shoulders, and vertically tied wood.
Can see a plume of smoke rising in the distance, which turns out to be a house fire which has spread into the roofs of adjoining houses, fanned by a brisk wind(later find out twenty home were destroyed). Locals are sitting on fences and vantage point to look "quelle catastrophe!" MP tales a couple of discreet photos of the flames and smoke.
The town is colourful, but very 3rd world, with primitive market areas, and not many new buildings.

Good views out to the green mountains. At the main beach, there is wreckage protruding from the water, another clapped out ship at anchor, and wreckage of a big ship right on the beach.
It is blowing strongly, and doesn't look very pleasant.

Pass a restaurant with excellent views, but carry on to "Le Dauphin" hotel, the one we will be staying in, for a "quick lunch", which turns into the whole catastrophe, so it takes forever. Some of the crew risk the "huitres naturelles", with possible consequences. Food is OK, prices reasonable in spite of no menu.
Back on the road, we try to find a shop which sell chocolate, for those in the tour who can't do without it. First try yielded chocolate which had been mouse nibbled, second OK, Dianne shouts two bars for the car, as our turn, but leaves it with the others, so as not to be tempted. On the way out the fire has died down.
The terrain is quite lush,

green mountains to the N and W, mango trees, banana, paddy rice,

and eucalyptus trees. There are a lot of people on the road because it is the Pentecost holiday. Pass a large crowd of people at a clearing with a sports field and a picnic ground. Later stop at a small village with a big fruit and veg market.DP buys mandarin, passionfruit, small, good looking bananas, and MP buys an eating grade coconut.
The road is pretty bad, with sections of good tar between big potholes, chicken, or ostrich sized. Our driver, Jean-Luc is taking it pretty slowly, so it is shaping up as a long 80 km drive.
We cross a dividing saddle

over a very noisy, but otherwise substantial bridge, and country become drier, and road consequently better. Came upon an area of endemic palm trees which have a triangular formation of the leaves, but no helical disposition, so they look like traveller's palm from full-on. Take photos when we get to the spiny forest, and stop at a market area for primitive carved wooden statues, boabab, etc. There is nothing really worth purchasing, but there are good background photo opportunities. They have instituted a local guiding service for their little patch of spiny forest, with a donation payment, as a way of getting away from slash-and-burn, but we don't have time to use it.
Miss a fabulous photo op of the chicken man - a peugeot 404 ute with canopy, the standard small transport, but covered in lashed-on chickens, flapping in the breeze.
Pass through the big river valley, where we start to see the rows of sisal plants, with a fair size town south of it. There is a long, high-set bridge, and we have to wait for traffic to cross before we get a go. Good photo marred by lattice bridge work.
Shortly after, we turn off the main road, through sisal plantation

and past a periwinkle processing plant, onto narrow, but smooth sandy roads, where we make pretty good time. Arrive at the reception area of Berenty, where we manage to retain control of our bags for the drag to our cabin. It is quite spacious, but pretty dark without the shutters open, and exposed to lemur assault with them open.
Having put up our gear, we rushed down to have a second look at the sifakas, but they had already retired for the evening.
At 6 pm, we had our first night walk. Drove a couple of kms to a spiny forest area (Kez stayed behind) We saw reddish-brown mouse lemurs, sleeping sifakas, mouse lemur, white footed sportive lemur, sleeping warty and spiky backed chameleons, and magpie robin asleep. Only fair photography, as hard to focus inside the spiny vegetation. Blurry photos in spite of clear pictures on electronic viewfinder (Murray later finds out how to avoid this).
Back at the camp, straight to evening meal, with surprisingly good chicken, and usual bland soup. No major "discussions". To bed early, but the singles kick on till later. Do a short impromptu night walk to track down an owl calling.
Tuesday 6th June - Berenty
Up early for 7.30 walk in the gallery forest. See a lot of ringtails during breakfast, and need staff to keep the lemurs away from the sugar on the tables. Take photos of them huddling together to keep warm before the sun comes out.

As usual, the best place to view wildlife is around human habitation. Berenty is famous for the ring-tails and sifakas which hang around the huts, allowing for close-up observance. See the sifakas come "dancing" into the camp.

The walk is from the camp along wide cleared paths through the "gallery forest" along the river bank. Can see the remains of old irrigation works, 10 m deep concrete wells, alo drinking trough for the lemurs which drink. Lots of birds seen, plus heaps of both brown

and ringtail lemurs.

Some ringtails suffering from eating an imported Mexican leguminous tree, which affects their digestion, and leaves them very scruffy looking and eventually kills them. Most of this plant has been eliminated, but some left for study. Only affects those lemurs which have it in their territory.Photo of ringtails in the spiny vegetation.

Good photo of ringtails exposing their thinly-furred bellies to the sun,

look like flashers in raincoats(it's winter, and they're feeling the cold).See big headed, camouflaged geckos, hissing cockroach. Photo of an old (60 ish) couple outside their tiny hut. Mme is chipping rock hard sweet potato to soak in water and cook. Unsure if they keep the hut after he retires. Possibly manioc hanging under the roof of the hut to get the full effect of the smoke seeping out under the eaves.
Told we will see the nearby river tomorrow, but MP sneaks down while photographic discussion is in progress. River has a very wide sandbank, fair flow in the middle, overflows the 8 metre banks by up to 3 metres when in flood.

Two of the 4 Nile crocodiles escaped in the last flood. Location unknown. Photo of tree full of sifikas.

Getting hot. At 11, go via a botantical garden type spiny forest

to the museum, quite interesting, all natural and ethnic displays of Antandroy culture, in the original home. Virtually nothing about the development history, colonialism, etc. A fair bit of history in the cactus enclosed junkyard - old jeeps, blitz wagons, fuselage frame of what looks like a home made helicopter with a steel space frame, strange looking aircraft in the hanger by the airstrip.

After a good roast zebu lunch, without Lisa, who was seriously crook, out inspect the sisal factory, which employs 650 employees. Took colourful photos of the sisal fibre drying on stretched wire racks, which looked very clean, but smelt a bit like sugarcane.

Workers unloading bundles of cut sisal leaves,

and feeding them on to a belt, from which they are picked up by tightly stretched ropes which lead them around the beater wheels which remove the outside layer helped by hire-pressure water sprays. Work cover would be somewhat alarmed by the safety standards. They had three machines, but obvious that only one being used, so obviously not producing as much as at the height of the sisal industry.
After did a drive to a primary spiny forest reserve,

took more spiny forest photos

to see radiated tortoise, Madagascar spider tortoises, and sleeping mouse lemurs in the dense thickets of spiny and succulent plants.

Good views over the valley to the mountains.

Not a lot seen considering we had our guide, the park guide, and the forest guard on the job, but saw some good examples of the vegetation.
Too late for sifaka viewing back at camp (they'd headed for the forest for the night), after we're delayed by long stops for photos of elusive love birds, and trip back via the employees village.

Another good evening meal, and Kate pays for local guide to join us, and get a few stories out of him about the history of the reserve, Lisa still quite sick. Early night, no "discussions" .
Wednesday 7th June - Berenty - Ft Dauphin
DP stays back to watch the lemurs, and in particular the sifakas,

and sees them dancing, which is quite amazing. When they are on the ground, they move a bit like a chorus line, doing a side-ways shuffle, while fully upright.

Also gets photo of one leaping from tree to tree

and another in a tree

Gets photo, but no movies. MP and Kate do the morning gallery forest walk at 8, and see a lot of birds, plenty of all 3 sorts of lemurs, and women washing at the river, and a long view of the easily disturbed fruit bat, with photos in silhouette.
Back at the camp, observe ringtails, lunch, take last photo of the grounds

and wait for the mandatory 2 pm departure. This stops the guides urging the tourists, so they can spend more time in town.
On the way out, have an encounter with a big herd of Zebu and goats.
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Where I stayed
La Plage
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