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Old 26th May 2017, 07:52   #1
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Default Madagascar: A wilderness experience in the land of Lemurs & Tsingy

Madagascar: A wilderness experience in the land of Lemurs & Tsingy-antananarivo-lemur-parkking-julien.jpg
King Julien munching on some fruits

Having woken up from my online slumber after almost two years, we realized that there are no travelogues or information in this community about a really less traveled and one of the most mysterious places on Earth. Though we traveled in 2015, there will be little or no changes in this part of the world even in the next decade, hence we thought of sharing our extraordinary experience nevertheless. As it goes ‘Better Late than Never’. On a separate note, I will now have a binding to share the next few ‘Self Drive’ trips that we have been doing. Without further ado, here’s our account of “Magical Madagascar”. Finally, like all other activities, my better half Chandrima was instrumental in planning the trip and writing most of this travelogue

For the last three years, we drove across India and our beautiful neighboring mountain nations in our beloved "Red Rackham", the Red and White Pajero. This year, when we did a meticulous plan for driving to Lhasa and Everest base camp in August, we were very excited. However the unfortunate spate of tremors in Nepal not only left the nation in shambles but also forced us to abandon our well-prepared plan. Determined not be tied down with this let down of our plan forced by Mother Nature, we planned for another adventure and trip of our lifetime.

Of the many Dream vacation spots that both of us have cherished, one is in the "Land of Lemurs and Baobabs". Though we harbored this dream for years, political instability and uncertainty forbade us from making this journey a reality. 2015 was the magic year when we could finally visit this unique country, resplendent with bio diversity in both flora and fauna. Very few places on earth offer such a kaleidoscope of nature. Madagascar as a country is not easy to visit and plan for Indian travelers. The lack of knowledge about the place, and experience from fellow travelers makes it a difficult place on Earth to visit.

After a lot of research on the internet and of course our trusted "Lonely Planet" book, we found out that this island is the fourth largest in terms of area and cannot be covered fully in less than a month. We were more interested in wildlife rather than the fine beaches and pristine water of the Indian Ocean that this country has to offer. Wildlife in Madagascar can be a misnomer for the uninitiated. If anyone expects open savannah and large wild animals roaming the forests then this country might be a big letdown. The largest wild animals that this country has in offer is no big than a dog, but of course most of the animals found here are endemic to this country. Of course we could not risk losing our jobs by taking a month’s holiday but planned to cover about 5 national parks in 17 days. Travelling across this country can be a real challenge in terms of logistics, language and safety. There are no proper roads apart from two or three that connects the capital city Antananarivo (Tana). 4WD adventure is prevalent here mostly because of the lack of roads. Some places in the west are reached by rivers only and the rest can be reached only by flights if you want to save time than breaking your back. Flights are expensive as Air Madagascar has a monopoly on internal flights. Anyway long things short, we connected with a person in Madagascar directly and firmed up our plan. The next sections will cover the day-by-day progress of this trip.

16 September 2015 – Wednesday (Reaching Madagascar)

We wanted to fly Air Madagascar, but there being no flights from India, we took the Air Seychelles flight from Mumbai on 16 September. With a brief stopover in Mahe, Seychelles, we reached Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar around 11 am in the morning. This country offers Visa on Arrival, and the counter is managed by the POLICE. People speak French and Malagasy in this country and English speaking people are really difficult to get. We also noticed that majority of them had Oriental features but could not understand their ancestry. This got cleared the next day in our city tour. We also noticed that Airtel was very visible all across the city. The roads of course needed a major facelift. The weather was excellent with great sunshine, yet a cool temperature. We were booked at the Hotel Colbert in Tana, one of the premier hotels in the City. After a quick coffee break, we booked ourselves for a massage in the Balneoforme Spa in Colbert to invigorate ourselves from the arduous journey. Following a great dinner at the terrace grill-La Fougere, we retired for the day.

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At Seychelles Airport

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City life at Antananarivo

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Antananarivo City

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Very old cabs at Antananarivo (Tana)

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Citroen Cab at Tana streets

17 September 2015 – Thursday (Around Antananarivo City)

The plan for the day was a visit to the Lemurs Park, City Tour and a visit to Ambohimanga. Our car picked us up from the hotel at 8 am and off we went to the Lemur Park 22 km from the city of TANA.

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Black & White Ruffed Lemur at Lemur park

The Lemur Park was started in 2001 by Laurent Amouric and Maxime Allorge as a reserve for endangered species. The Park is around 12 acres and has about 8 or 9 species of lemurs free within the park .Bound by the river on one side and a high bricked wall, the park offers a safe haven to the lemurs. The park also contains several endemic species of plants - Euphorbia , Pachypodium, Traveller's Tree along with some introduced from other countries - Pine trees , Bamboo species from Japan and Vietnam.

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Common Brown Lemur

On entering the park around 9 am, we started hearing territorial calls from lemurs, which our guide identified as the Black and White Ruffed Lemur. The first species that we saw was a male Oustalet's Chameleon perched on a low bush well camouflaged. But we were keen to see what we came for. And soon enough, we saw the first family of Coquerel Sifakas. Stepping a little ahead we were viewing the Baobabs when we saw a male Red Fronted Brown Lemur munching away on some fruit. This was just the beginning; we saw another family of Crowned Sifaka and more families of Coquerel Sifakas, all with baby lemurs at their backs. The sifakas allowed us to click close pictures for all of them and were roaming unabashedly. Also realized that one of the males was showing off by jumping quite close to us and the families followed suit. They are known as the "Dancing Lemurs" and we figured that soon when we saw them jumping across the path to another tree on their hind legs. Next we saw the Black and White ruffed lemur, the ones which were emitting territorial sounds when we entered the park. Walking along the park, we then saw the Mongoose Lemur & the Common Brown Lemur. And we were then keen to see the Famed Ring Tailed Lemur known to all of us as King Julien in the animation movie - Madagascar. We did see a family of them, but our guide warned us not to veer close to the slightly aggressive male. We also saw the Dwarf Lemur and Mouse Lemur both nocturnal species sleeping all curled up inside bamboo stems. The Park also attempts to save the endangered Radiated Tortoise, Hinge back Tortoise and the Spider Tortoise. We did miss seeing the Eastern Lesser Bamboo Lemur.

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Coquerel's Sifaka

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Crowned Sifaka

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The very rare Mongoose Lemur

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Ring tailed Lemur (King Julien from the movie Madagascar)

Moving out from here, we headed to the city back to see the ROVA or the fortified palace. Razed by a fire in the 90's, the place is being restored now. The Rova is at the top of the Haute-Ville and visible from anywhere in Tana. The palace gate has a carved stone eagle, symbol of the military. As we entered the palace grounds, we saw the royal tombs, the plain grey tombs of the kings - Andrianampoinimerina (1787-1810), Radama - 1 (1810-1828) and Radama-2 (1861-1863) and the painted red ones symbolizing nobility for the queens; Ranavalona - 1 (1828 -1861), Rasoherina (1863-1868), Ranavalona-2 (1868-183) and Ranavalona-3 (1883-1897). Our guide, Tahina told us that their ancestors had come from Indonesia and Malaysia and hence all the kings and queens had Oriental features which were evident from the Marble statue of the Queen Ranavalona in the Palace grounds. One of the King's Palaces' built by the Malagasy was untouched by the fire and we entered that, although the word palace is really a misnomer. Tahina told us to enter using the right foot first and explained the design of the palace was like overturned ships. The central pole was made of palissandre or rose wood .Here we heard a queer story which made us really laugh. Whenever guests or foreign dignitaries, came into the house, the King would climb into the rafters. The queen would receive the guests, if they entered on left foot, they were considered unwelcome, and entering using the right foot meant they were friends. The king hidden from the guest's view meanwhile seated on the rafters would be throwing pebbles on the queen. If the queen picked up a pebble and put it back, the king would then climb down and greet the dignitaries. The royal bed was at the North West corner. The palace is known as Manjakamiadana and was designed by Frenchman - Jean Lamborde rumored to be the lover of Queen Ranavalona - 1 and by the Scottish missionary - James Cameron.

Madagascar: A wilderness experience in the land of Lemurs & Tsingy-antananarivo-rova.jpg
The Rova

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The Rova

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Chandrima with Guide

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The tombs

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The city from Rova

We also visited the Ambohimanga in the afternoon which was the original capital of the Merina Royals. This hill was prohibited to foreigners earlier but in the early 2000's was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We did not get an English speaking guide, so a female Malagasy guide accompanied by our driver speaking broken English took us around the palace. The gateway is quite traditional and on entering we saw the huge heart shaped stone which was used for slave sacrifices. The fortress was made from sand shells and egg whites on the outer walls. Here too, we saw the blackened hut (Palace) of the king and both of us laughed remembering the earlier story. we also saw the queen's palace here well preserved with glass walls , Venetian mirrors , silver candle stands , porcelain vases , walls with leather carvings( which our guide was explaining pulling and tugging at her skin) , etched glass windows , palissandre(rosewood) beds and chest of drawers . We also saw the small King's bath and the large oval queen's baths filled with rain water. The panoramic views from Ambohimanga as well as the Tana Rova are quite good.

Madagascar: A wilderness experience in the land of Lemurs & Tsingy-antananarivo-ambohimanga1.jpg
Ambohimanga with guide

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Ambohimanga tombs - A UNESCO World Heritage site

On our way back to the hotel, we faced huge traffic snarls and were just in time to go to the money changer at 3:40pm, since banks close at 4 pm. The lady at the other end could not understand English so I had to show her 5000 AR currency notes to explain I wanted change in denominations of 5000 and 10000 Ar. We retired for the night in much anticipation for the next day’s journey to Antsiranana.
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Old 26th May 2017, 09:08   #2
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Default re: Madagascar: A wilderness experience in the land of Lemurs & Tsingy

18 September 2015 – Friday (Flight cancel, plan changed to Andasibe-Perinet)
Madagascar: A wilderness experience in the land of Lemurs & Tsingy-andasibe-indri-potrait.jpg
The Indri is the largest of the Lemur species - a must see at Andasibe

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Prized picture of the tiny nocturnal 'Goodman's Mouse Lemur' at Night in Andasibe

Since the rule in Madagascar for all domestic flights is to report at the airport 2 hours before the flight, (our flight to Diego was at 1:15 pm) After a hearty breakfast at the sunny terrace of our hotel, we left well in time amidst the traffic snarls in Tana. It’s worth a mention that there is only one main road and traffic snarls are huge in this city. Well veering through all that and a skip in our steps and a flutter in our hearts, we reached the airport. To our utter dismay, the flight had been cancelled. When we enquired at the Air Madagascar counter, they said that the flight could leave the next day either in the morning or afternoon or evening. Air Mad gave us hotel coupons for the night and told us to go to the hotel where they will inform us about our next flight. Desperate not to stay in Tana for another night, we went to the office of our contact in Tana Mr. Michel Rakotosimbola.
Michel was extremely kind and immediately planned with us to re-arrange our trip. It was an instant decision and by 2:30PM we were on our way to Andasibe. Following a quick bite at a local restaurant (La Gastronomie), we were on our way to Andasibe with our guide, Indi and our driver, Jack. We were told that the trip to Andasibe would take four hours and would be dark by the time we reach. We were originally booked at the “Andasibe Hotel”; following the change of plans, we got rooms for 1st and the 3rd night and for the 2nd night, we were booked at “Eulophilia”.

The drive to Andasibe was not much eventful. The road was reasonably good and ran through winding mountains almost half the way. Andasibe is 148kms from Tana and in the East of the country. The East side of Madagascar is dominated by highlands from the South to North. Andasibe is one of the most visited forests in Madagascar with the two main parks at Mantadia and Analamazaotra. We planned to cover both these forests in the next 2 days along with night-walks in the forests for both the days and a visit to the ‘Lemur Island’ at Vakona Forest Lodge. We reached the ‘Andasibe Hotel’ by 6:30PM. The cottages are huge, with split levels, a huge dressing area and toilets. At the dinner table, we sat with Indi to make our plans for the next two days.

Madagascar: A wilderness experience in the land of Lemurs & Tsingy-andasibe-hotel.jpg
The Andasibe Hotel


19th September 2015 – Saturday (Andasibe National Park)

The next morning, we were up early at 5 and after breakfast at 6, we were on our way to visit the Andasibe National Park (810 hectares) previously known as the Analamazaotra Special Reserve or Perinet today. Our local guide for the next two days was Etienne (Debarshi kept on forgetting and calling him Eminem or Athenaeum). At the entrance of the park gate, the chart of tourists from various countries showed that only 0.02% of the visitors were from India.

Madagascar: A wilderness experience in the land of Lemurs & Tsingy-andasibe-forest.jpg
Inside the rain forest

The weather gods were kind to us this morning and we began our hike in the mid Altitude Rain forests. Debarshi was ready with his new camera, but the primary rain forest canopy made it quite dark; after a few adjustments with the camera parameters, it was still reasonable. This being our first endeavor in the rain forest, little did we realize that sunlight does not penetrate below the canopy. Expecting leeches and insects, we had sprayed our legs with insect repellents, but thankfully due to no rains, there were no leeches. I was armed with the bird calls and songs and the speaker ready, we spotted a Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher as soon as we entered the forest. Our guides and I was standing facing a side of the forest, while Chandrima was playing the Flycatcher Bird call, the Male Flycatcher was just perched on top of our heads looking at us, wondering what were we up to! The park is quite small and this being the high season; we could spot quite a number of bird watchers. Our target was also the wailing “Indri” best seen in this park of which we got a great view. The three membered Indri Family offered us quite a close view, and the baby was continuously moving around the mother who was balancing herself between 2 trees. We also saw a family of Woolly Lemurs perched atop a tree; although they are nocturnal, they were resting at this place and hence could view them easily. We also saw the beautiful Diademed Sifaka, some of them wild and one them wearing a radio collar. The birds we saw were – White Throated wood rail, Malagasy Cuckoo Hawk, Scops Owl, Blue Coua, Nelicourvi Weaver, Madagascar Brush Warbler, Common Stonechat. However, what made this day most special was that this was our first day of walking in the Rain forest and that too not just on level grounds , but hiking up muddy trails , walking on forest floors filled with dried leaves , on hearing the wail of Indris , rushing past trees away from the circuits into the primary forests. We walked for about 5 hours and were very fatigued.

Madagascar: A wilderness experience in the land of Lemurs & Tsingy-andasibe-bird.jpg
Common Stonechat

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The Indri

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The nocturnal Wooly Lemur

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Scops Owl

After our lunch and a brief rest, we were ready for the night walk with two head lamps and two powerful torches. We had just started walking, when I saw the first pair of glowing binocular eyes, even before we could realize that it was our first spotting of the mouse lemur. This evening, we saw the Woolly Lemur, Boophis Frog and the Parson’s Chameleon and a young Brevicornis. The night walk here happens along the main road on the perimeter of the Reserve and inside the Orchid Park.

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Sportive Lemur at night

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Boophis Frog

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Parsons Chameleon

Tonight, we were put up at the Eulophiella Forest Lodge, which is 5.5 km away from the main road, although not a reserve forest, it is in a valley amidst lush green property overlooking mountains on all sides covered in rain forests. The rooms were just about average, but with electricity only for 5 hours in the evening.

Madagascar: A wilderness experience in the land of Lemurs & Tsingy-andasibe-eulophiella.jpg
The Eulophiella


20th September 2015 – Sunday (Mantadia National Park)

After a breakfast at 6 am, we checked out of the Eulophiella along with packed sandwiches for a day of hiking in the Mantadia National Park (16000 hectares). There are about 5 circuits in the park; noteworthy are the Rianosoa , Chute Sacree , but Etienne insisted on taking us to the farthest and the longest , the Tsakoka circuit , which is 24 kms from the main park entrance. This road was ideal for a 4WD adventure complete with slush , water puddles and rivulets, but we were in a Hyundai minivan which got stuck on our way back. We were fortunate enough to be helped by a local villager. I should mention at this point about our driver, Jack . The moment we alighted from our car at any point of time during our journey , he would start cleaning the car inside and out. He was very reluctant thus to drive through this muddy road , but had no other options. When our car was logged in the mud on our way back , our guides – Indi & Etienne along with local villagers and at some point even me were trying to get the car out and were thus mud splattered . Jack on the other hand was standing and supervising and was immaculately clean , without a speck of mud on him , but once the car was out , he was heart broken , since all the wheels were covered with mud and even the floor mats.

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Our guides and driver

Well coming back to the morning, the hike was quite difficult along wet and muddy trails, but was not qute fruitful in terms of spotting wild life. Etienne had however brought us here to show us the Pitta like Ground roller and the Pygmy Kingfisher , both endemic to this forest . Both Indi & Etienne were continuously emitting bird calls but to no avail. The Roller was nowhere to be found. Meanwhile , Etienne moved away from the main trail and took us into the primary forest , where we truly got scared. Snakes were slithering around us from beneath some leaf or from a tree trunk. Indi also removed two leeches from the back of my shirt. In relentless pursuit of the Ground roller , Etienne had forgotten all about the surroundings .He then made us cross a forest stream on a narrow tree trunk which had fallen across. Then we decided to wait while he would go and look for the elusive bird in more dense forests. Meanwhile, we spotted the Madagascar Harrier hawk and clicked some snaps. A dishearteened etienne returned to us and we began to go ahead into the forest. From beneath a enormous boulder , Etieene suddenly pulled out a screeching baby Spiny Tenrec and put it in front of us The tenrec decided to play dead and after a while scrambled below the rock . Quite a fruitless morning , we were returning to our vehicle , when we saw the rare solitary Black Indri perched on a nearby tree. An undeterred Etienne was having his sandwich and roaming around the outskirts of the forest , still emitting bird sounds amidst bites of sandwich. While on our way back , we also spotted the rare Velvet Asity in breeding plumage . On our way back, we stopped at the Lemur Island and took various snaps of lemurs clambering on our backs, munching bananas or carrots.

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Madagascar Harrier Hawk

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Velvel Asity - extremely rare

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Chandrima feeding

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Lemur Island

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Lemur Island

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Sifaka at Lemur Island

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Sifaka at Lemur Island

Tonight, Andasibe Hotel had upgraded us to a suite, so we had some coffee, refreshed ourselves and went out for the night walk in the Orchid Forest near the main Forest gate. Incidentally, there was an adult Brevicornis in a shrub right outside our cottage. Étienne was determined to make our day good and showed us the extremely rare and endemic to Andasibe- Goodman’s Mouse Lemur and Chameleons. Returning back to our hotel, we had a late dinner and tucked ourselves in a fancy four poster Mahogany bed.

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The 'Goodman's Mouse Lemur' at night

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Chameleon at night

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Chameleon pouncing on prey

21st September 2015 – Monday (Back to Tana)

Today we woke up quite late and relaxed, had a leisurely breakfast and left from Andasibe around 9 am. However, the weather in Andasibe had deteriorated and it had started raining. We thanked our luck for having pretty good weather for the last 2 days. We reached Tana around 1 pm, and checked in to our hotels and relaxed for the evening, since we had an early flight the next day.
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Old 26th May 2017, 10:07   #3
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Default re: Madagascar: A wilderness experience in the land of Lemurs & Tsingy

Madagascar has always been on my bucket list. As you say, info on this place is scarce from an Indian travel perspective. Good to see a travelogue here. Nice photos of the lemurs too. That wide angle lens has a serious barrel distortion issue! Which one were you using? I'm guessing something like a 10mm or 12mm?
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Old 26th May 2017, 10:23   #4
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Originally Posted by Stryker View Post
That wide angle lens has a serious barrel distortion issue! Which one were you using? I'm guessing something like a 10mm or 12mm?
Thanks for reading. Will complete uploading the rest of the travelogue by this weekend.

I use a 10-17mm Tokina Fish Eye combined with a crop sensor (Canon 7D Mk-II / Canon 60D) so that I do not get a fish eye but get inward distortion when required. The same lens when used with a full frame will give fish eye view. Actually I like the distortion in the pictures so I use it a lot.
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Old 26th May 2017, 14:33   #5
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Default Re: Madagascar: A wilderness experience in the land of Lemurs & Tsingy

I don't know whether to berate you ( for not writing this beautiful TR earlier) or commend you for the beautiful photographs and crisp narrative.

Seriously, very good of you to share this. Some questions, if i may?

- What about food? Vegetarian options available?
- Are the people friendly? Certainly looks like the guides and driver were. But the general public?
- Safety? Is it safe for tourists to roan around w/o an escort?
- Can one drive on his own or has to be accompanied by a 'guide' (minder)

Pray continue.
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Old 26th May 2017, 18:37   #6
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Default Re: Madagascar: A wilderness experience in the land of Lemurs & Tsingy

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I don't know whether to berate you ( for not writing this beautiful TR earlier) or commend you for the beautiful photographs and crisp narrative.
First of all Thanks for reading. We kind of took a sabbatical from social media as I am not really liking the impact of the same on our life - hence the delay in writing the travelogue. In fact several other self drives happened in between - will try to find some time to write about that.

Quote:
Originally Posted by earthian View Post
Seriously, very good of you to share this. Some questions, if i may?

- What about food? Vegetarian options available?
- Are the people friendly? Certainly looks like the guides and driver were. But the general public?
- Safety? Is it safe for tourists to roan around w/o an escort?
- Can one drive on his own or has to be accompanied by a 'guide' (minder)
- Food: Madagascar was a French colony so you will find a lot of French influence in whatever you eat. In short the food is very good. Having said that meat (Zebu cattle) and seafood are found in plenty. Vegetarian options are available as well but few.

- People are very friendly. The only caution is the city of Antananarivo. You are not advised to walk on the streets apart from the central part of the city (where all the govt buildings and hotels are). There is a serious probability of getting mugged. Outside the capital city you will have problems with communication as the main spoken languages are Malagasy & French. Rest of the places are very safe and people are in general friendly.

- Madagascar being a place with less / no roads, it is a paradise for 4WD enthusiasts (like me). We did not opt for self drive because of two reasons - to save time (it might take days to travel a hundred kms) and language issues. We did see foreigners renting 4WD but of course with a knowledge of French. It is not necessary to be accompanied by a guide or driver. Specifically if you want to travel to the Northern region or Masoala (which we did), it is not possible to drive down from Tana. Driving to the Southern part is possible.
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Old 27th May 2017, 08:31   #7
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22nd September 2015 – Tuesday (Leaving for Maroantsetra / Nosy Manga Be for the ultimate wilderness experience)

Waking up at 3 am, we left for the airport at 4 am. Indi had come with us to the airport this morning. With trepidation, we reached the airport since we had read in various places that the flight to Maroantsetra is quite unreliable. Fortunately, the check in counter was opening, and the flight was ready to go to Sambava from Tana via Maroantsetra.

Well, this is a land of its own completed isolated from today’s world. The runway was quite broken and there were people in fluorescent orange jackets standing across the runway driving the cattle to the grass. The Aerodrome was really tiny, (although I have seen a much smaller one in Jakar, Bhutan). The airport floor is red and white parquet, the business class lounge (yes it has that too) is enclosed by a white fence and a dog searching the floor for crumbs. The display board is a black board with flight details written in chalk and the conveyor belt was the highlight. Well there is none; our luggage got loaded into a large iron trolley and was brought into the area marked as “Baggage”. The names were being called out from the name tags and we could collect our bags.

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The airport at Maroantsetra

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Flight lands at Maroantsetra

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Flight at Maroantsetra

Well, this was just the beginning, meanwhile our guide had come in and introduced himself as “Elysees” taking the reference of Champ Elysees in France. The weather was sunny, which was very unusual since it rains 300 days in a year here. The cab which we got on to go to the boat stand was so ramshackle, we were surprised that it was moving. I could not close the door since there was no handle, the driver closed it from outside, the window was held by a screwdriver, and the car’s trunk had to be kept open using a tree branch while we were loading our suitcase. There are no paved roads in Maroantsetra and all roads are sand compacted. The last roads were built when it was a French colony. Combine that information with the 60 odd year old vehicles and you can experience what I want to communicate.

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The cab that we took from the airport

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Cab reaches riverside

We reached the boat stand in the office of Ecolodge Chez Arol where Olivier was getting the boats loaded with provisions. There were two more boats, and we recognized the passengers from the airport, in fact two of them were carrying huge lens and we identified them as ornithologists. While we were filling up our details, one of these guys were standing beside us and speaking. Debarshi linked to them by a common interest started speaking to them on their lens and we identified them as Australians. The motor boats were now ready and I was looking at the river and thought the ride to be a smooth one. Completely oblivious of the truth about to hit me in the face. Our motor boat was named as Red Lemur, probably after the Red Ruffed Lemur or after the old captain who was wearing a red velvet jacket and had only two teeth. Our boat was absolutely Spartan, more like a fiber canoe with two Yamaha outboard motors. All our luggage and provisions were covered with an orange tarpaulin and we were given tangerine life vests to wear. I was still contemplating not wearing them just looking at the calm river. However, better sense prevailed and I wore them. Our boat was the last to leave the stand and we were peacefully sailing in the calm waters of the River. But, soon we were on the high seas, where we felt like puny mice against the mighty rolling seas. The weather was thankfully sunny although we could see dark rain clouds in the distance. This was an experience which was the first of its kind to me. Not mincing words, I was completely terrified and held on to my wooden plank (seat). The boat felt like a match stick in the waters of the Helodrano Antognila Bay. We were travelling against the direction of the waves and were rising between the rolling waters and falling with a great thud. The icing on the cake was that our captain wanted to race and reaches the island first. Ely also showed us the ruins of the Dutch Pirate ships which were on the northern side of the island. Although we left Maroantsetra at least several minutes later than the others, we were the first to arrive on the shores of Nosy Manga Be or Big Blue Island. Our captain was ecstatic on reaching the shores in less than half an hour, while my hair was standing on its end and my knuckles were white from clasping the wooden plank.



And then we hopped out from the boat onto the pristine white sands and cerulean waters of Nosy Manga Be. A small part of the island has been converted into camp grounds with a few raised platforms on which our tents were being put up by our guides. We were still familiarizing ourselves with the concept of a handful of humans on an island. If not the others, I was reminiscent of the long forgotten childhood story of Robinson Crusoe.

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Our Camp

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Our boat parked at Nosy Manga Be island

Completely marooned and isolated from the mainland, we were at the mercy of nature. Meanwhile, a brown lemur came to check us out and look from any food crumbs lying around. Quite friendly, it was jumping from one bag to the other, but not finding any crumbs it left quite disheartened. Having put up our tent and all, Ely said that we could leave for our morning Forest walk. Spraying our legs with insect and leech repellent and armed with our rain ponchos, we left for the morning walk. We saw the Madagascar Buzzard, Black and White ruffed Lemur, White fronted Brown Lemur, the world’s smallest Chameleon – Brookesia, various species of frogs like the Mantella, other species of chameleons like Plethodonto, Mantidactolis, the leaf tailed gecko- Uroplatus and Mantis. We also saw the ancient tombs of the Malagasy folks which is interred every 5 years. Meanwhile it started raining heavily during our forest walk and we donned our rain ponchos. Debarshi did not get time to put his camera back in the bag, but was walking with the two cameras around his neck and under his rain poncho. I was very carefully walking on the slippery mud and the moss lined rocks wondering that I would tumble the next moment. Fortunately, no such mishap happened and after about 30 – 40 minutes of torrential rain, the sun was out. We were hopeful that we could see some more birds now that the sun was out, but had no new sightings.

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Inside the rain forest

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Brookesia - World's smallest Chameleon

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Well camouflaged Leaf-tailed Gecko. Easy to see in picture but not in real life

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Frog in the rain forest (Plethodontohyla notosticta)

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mantella laevigata

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mantidactylus charlotte

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White fronted brown lemur at Nosy Manga Be

Back at our tent, we were ravenous after such a long walk (also since our breakfast in the flight had been a dry Danish) and our hostess, Monica had already set up table. Now, she came and put a small plate of salad with some bread slices in front of Debarshi and me. Putting a bottle of beer and saying the usual Bon Appetit, she left. Not familiar with the French eating styles of Salad, Main Course and Dessert, we thought this was all that we would get for lunch and were quite disheartened. I wiped my plate clean in minutes and was sipping on beer, when cheerful Monica came and laid a large plate of Pasta with meat and veggies on our table. Never have I been exultant to see food in front of me, which was followed by fruit for Dessert. With our bellies full of food and beer, we decided to go and explore the pristine beach. The white sands were captivating along with black rocks which were covered with ashy gray barnacles. We lay on the beach for a while and had a surreal out worldly experience.

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Lunch area in the island

In the afternoon, Ely took us out for another Forest walk in the Circuit for Leaf tailed gecko. Our eyes trained by now, we managed to spot some on our own as well. We met the park ranger gathering clove flowers which he planned to dry and sell in the Maroantsetra markets.

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Another leaf tailed gecko. The island is full of surprises if you can find one. Without the trained eyes of a guide it is very difficult

Soon it was dark and the camp was lit by candles and lanterns. We sat at our tables by the beach and it was extremely windy. Monica had placed a main course of Prawns after the Salad and suddenly we see a hairy little caterpillar flies into Debarshi’s plate of potatoes. Meanwhile, at the other table, a harmless yellow snake was slithering by. Peter, one of the Australian Ornithologists just picked it up shook it, displayed it for all and threw it into the forest. Overall, quite an exciting dinner and we retired to our tents at 7 pm! The weather was quite balmy and we did not take any sleeping bags. As luck would have it, very heavy rains at night made it quite cool and we just wrapped our jackets around us. A really momentous day came to a close!
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Last edited by debarshim : 27th May 2017 at 08:34.
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Old 27th May 2017, 10:52   #8
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Default Re: Madagascar: A wilderness experience in the land of Lemurs & Tsingy

It (Nosy Manga Be island) must have been one of the darkest sites on the planet. If you had a tripod, you could have had fun doing some night photography, though the clouds may have played spoilsport.

Madagascar: A wilderness experience in the land of Lemurs & Tsingy-untitled.png

Yes, it is a dark site. In fact most of Madagascar is a dark site.

The forest trees seem to be covered with lyceum. This shows how pristine the atmosphere is and that there is no pollution at all.

Could i make a suggestion? Attaching a google map to show where you traveled (daily) would make understanding simpler. At least for people like me. Thank you again.
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Old 27th May 2017, 11:10   #9
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Video of rain forest. Coming out from Nosy Manga Be rain forest


23rd September 2015 – Wednesday (More Wilderness awaits at Masoala National Park)


Our boat ride to Masoala

Ely had told us the previous evening that we would need to leave at day break considering we had a long sea ride and the seas turn roaring as the day progresses. It was still dark at 5 am when we boarded our respective boats. As we bid adieu to Nosy Manga Be with great memories to be cherished for a lifetime, light was slowly breaking out. Our destination today was Masoala, where we were to stay at the unique Ecolodge Chez Arol. This has been built by a Malagasy – Armand and a French, Olivier, whom we met earlier, thus the name AROL drawing from their first names. Armand we later learnt from Ely had been imprisoned for 6 months due to a defamation suit by one of the realtors who were building a resort on the beach flouting environmental norms. The boat ride was for about an hour and ten minutes today and our Red Lemur again reached first followed by Hans & Elizabeth. Our captain meanwhile was flashing toothy grins and pointing to the sea since the third boat with Geoff & Peter was far behind.

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Leaving Nosy Manga Be


Our boat bouncing on the high seas of Antongila bay

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After landing at Masoala National Park shores


Reaching Masoala National Park. Inaccessible by roads, the place can only be reached by foot over four days or by a boat ride on high seas

The Individual cottages all built of wood was situated amidst lush green grounds with trees and were quite comfortable. Our room had a porch with a sofa as well and two twin beds. The lodge runs on hydroelectric power harnessed from the mountain spring and an additional generator has been put up by Olivier for the neighboring fishing village as well.

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The Chez Arol lodge

After a hearty breakfast and a nice warm shower (yes the lodge has 24X7 hot water facility), we were ready for our morning Forest walk. Today we would be walking on the sea beach and reach the Masoala National Park and the circuit was for about 4 hours. The day was quite sunny and breezy. We saw the Masoala endemic species - Red Ruffed Lemur, Helmet Vanga and Short legged Ground Roller. We also saw the Greater Vasa Parrot, Ring Tailed Mongoose and the elusive Red Fronted Coua. Though we were not bitten by snakes or leeches, we did see the colorful giant millipede. On our trail today, we met a Research team from Japan who were studying the habitat of the Helmet Vanga. They were on the 3rd day of their 20 day field trip but were yet unable to view the blue billed bird. Ely also showed us various trees as well - the hard wood trees of rose wood and ebony , the canoe tree – one from whose trunk canoes are made , another tree whose resin is used in making incense. Also people in this country are believers of Homeopharma and medicinal herbs. Throughout our trip, we saw only one hospital in each of the places – Antananarivo, Maroantsetra & Diego. Also medical facilities being very expensive and difficult to reach, people rely on medicinal herbs to cure themselves of ailments Ely showed us a plant which is boiled and the potion is drunk for curing stomach aches or poisoning , another one whose leaves are soft and hairy and used as natural toilet paper.

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Red Ruffed Lemur at Masoala

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The Helmet Vanga is a very rare bird found only at Masoala. This picture is only this good as the rain forest is very dark and the bird is elusive

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A giant millipede inside the forest

We returned for a delicious lunch at Chez Arol. The chef in Chez Arol is fantastic and bakes croissants, quiches, cakes, pies with amazing alacrity. Our lunch of Chicken and onion quiche, Prawn skewers with onions and bell peppers cooked in coconut milk and chocolate mousse in this secluded peninsula was dreamlike. Post lunch we went for a walk on the beach and saw the Caspian Terns and Madagascar Pratincoles perched on the rocks at some distance.

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Just both of us for miles at the Masoala National Park shores

Tonight we went for the night walk in the adjoining grounds of Chez Arol which was also Rain forest terrain but less dense. We were in luck since we saw a Eastern Sportive lemur within the grounds but then hid amidst the foliage. The mouse lemur also gave us a glimpse and hid. In The forest we spotted a family of Masoala Wooly lemurs perched on a tree, tree crabs, common field rat. We got great views and returned to Chez Arol in search of the Sportive lemur and shots of them. A sumptuous dinner followed by splendid dinner conversation with Geoff and Peter lit up our evening. Both of them had Canon 500 mm prime lens, Geoff had and and Peter had the same Mark II as Debarshi, thus giving him some great tips on exposure and back light compensation. They were leaving the next day for a 20 day trip to Kenya while Hans and Elizabeth were staying back for another couple of days. We settled back into our cottages hoping that it would not rain tonight.

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Sportive Lemur at night near the lodge

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Sportive Lemur at night near the lodge

24th September 2015 – Thursday (Masoala National Park)

The rain gods did not hear our pleas and not only did it rain almost the entire night, it was still raining at day break. I had really achy knees and decided that I would rest today in the morning and not go for the Forest walk. I had spotted a really pretty hammock on the beach along with some wooden benches and wanted to relax with my book this morning. However, because of the rains, everyone was still in Chez Arol and delaying the walk. Finally when they decided to leave around 9 am, there was a brief respite from the rains. But as we entered the forest, it started raining heavily again and we donned our rain coats and rain ponchos. We just caught a glimpse of the Red tailed Vanga and the Madagascar Cuckoo shrike, but not any snaps. A very inquisitive male Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher was following us when we were looking for the Helmet Vanga and so we did manage to shoot good pictures of both the male and female. Hans and Elizabeth meanwhile spotted the Parson’s Chameleon. By now we were all drenched completely; the torrential rain not being the culprit but the intense humidity. It was truly the Tropical rain forest .we did get a good spotting of the Hook Billed Vanga and some more chameleon species – Gold dust day gecko (Phelsuma laticauda) and the Panther chameleon(Furcifer pardalis). We returned quite dejected at not being able to spot the Helmet Vanga again. After a sumptuous lunch again, thanks to the wonderful chef, we rested for a brief while. Ely had promised us to take on a long walk till the end of the Peninsula to the end of the Tampolo Bay where the Marine Forests begin. We walked through the fishing village, shot a great GOPRO video. No wonder Soccer is the most popular sport globally, even in this remote locations, we saw the young men playing soccer. Walking along the coastline, we saw some eco lodges being built, some lying empty, a few ravaged by cyclone. In between, we did cross some rivers and mountain streams which were meeting the sea.

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Cuckoo Shrike

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Colorful Lizard

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Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher (female)

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Short legged ground roller

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Sunset at Masoala coast


A village at Masoala

25th September 2015 – Friday (Return from Masoala to Maroantsetra)

Waking up at 4 am while it was still dark, we did see the cloudy skies and were just hoping against hope that it does not rain. Our flight to Tana was the next day morning from Maroantsetra at 7:50 am , hence Michel had been very prudent in deciding that we should reach a day earlier rather than taking a boat ride on the day of the flight. Bidding Adieu to Chez Arol for Maroantsetra, we saw a fisherman family of four and an infant boarding a wooden canoe, their destination also being Maroantsetra, but they would take about 8 – 9 hours to reach while our Red Lemur was to take about 2 hours. The father, mother and the elder son would take turns in rowing. Sooner had we boarded our Red Lemur that it started raining torrentially and the seas started turning rough. The boat started tossing and turning with the swelling waves. The shores seemed still very far away, at one point this seemed to be our last day on earth. The ordeal was like never ending and our toothless captain thought best to steer the boat faster in these rough seas. The velocity of the boat seemed directly proportional to the speed of the downpour. Seemingly at the end of the horizon, Nosy Manga Be loomed ahead of us and we thought we could see a ray of hope. Although we were wearing raincoats, by now we were completely soaked (this time in the rain). We sailed all around Nosy Manga Be and saw a few fishing boats around the place and a lot of floating hyacinths. The rain seemed to have abated slightly now though not stopped yet. On reaching the boat stand at Maroantsetra, we could finally catch our breaths. Olivier was waiting there and greeted us, while Ely got another ramshackle cab to take us to our hotel – Masoala Resort.

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Masoala Resort. One of the few options to stay at this remote town

Our cottage was right on the sea beach and we had a wonderful relaxing day with massages and fresh coconut water. The food here was although not too great especially after the superb meals dished out by the chef in Chez Arol. In the afternoon, Ely took us for a stroll in the town of Maroantsetra, where we saw a vanilla packing factory, handicrafts market, met Burhani traders who had settled in Maroantsetra and were the richest traders around that area. No flight had landed that day in Maroantsetra so several tourists had got stranded and were hoping to catch the next day’s flight. Returning back to our hotel, we met another single female tourist who was also taking the next day’s flight to Tana. The skies were clear and the weather was quite balmy.

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Workers processing Vanilla. Madagascar is the largest producer and exporter of vanilla

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At the riverside in Maroantsetra

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Typical life in the town at Maroantsetra

26th September 2015 – Saturday (Back to Tana)

The day was clear today when we woke up. After an early breakfast, we reached the airport with our fingers crossed. We met Elizabeth and Hans, who had taken the early morning boat at 4 am and reached the airport just before us. The airport was buzzing with activity and the airport personnel on seeing the flight in the sky showed the Thumbs up sign. It had drizzled a little but the sun was out and a huge rainbow as well. Our flight to Tana was great and we reached the city in time. Elizabeth & Hans were to catch an afternoon flight to Ile Saint Marie and stayed back at the Tana airport. We did not get caught in any traffic snarls this being the weekend and reached our Hotel in time. We had carried two suitcases from India, but for all internal travel we were using only one of them and the other with extra clothing was safely ensconced in the cloak room in our hotel in Tana. This was being used to dump all our remaining clothes and pack the fresh clothes for the next travel.
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Old 27th May 2017, 11:21   #10
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Default Re: Madagascar: A wilderness experience in the land of Lemurs & Tsingy

Quote:
Originally Posted by earthian View Post
It (Nosy Manga Be island) must have been one of the darkest sites on the planet. If you had a tripod, you could have had fun doing some night photography, though the clouds may have played spoilsport.

Yes, it is a dark site. In fact most of Madagascar is a dark site.

The forest trees seem to be covered with lyceum. This shows how pristine the atmosphere is and that there is no pollution at all.

Could i make a suggestion? Attaching a google map to show where you traveled (daily) would make understanding simpler. At least for people like me. Thank you again.
Thanks once again. Yes Nosy Manga Be is one of the remotest places that I have boon to. Night is dark without any peripheral illumination. But star trail is not possible as it rains 300/365 days and is mostly overcast.

There are no cars, no factories nothing... so no pollution - absolutely pristine.

Your suggestion is well taken. I will attach the map for the places traveled. These places are less known and off the track. I will update the last part of this travelogue by tomorrow. The remaining part covers Ankarana and Amber Mountain National Parks.
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Old 28th May 2017, 09:01   #11
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Taking the helpful suggestion from 'Earthian' I am first uploading the maps locations that we will be visiting in the next few days. This is the northern part of the country covering 2 national parks - Ankarana and Amber Mountain.

27th September 2015 – Sunday (On to Diego Suarez to visit the North)

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Another day with a 6 am flight to Diego Suarez! We reached the airport by 4: 30 am only to find that our 6 am had been postponed to 7:30 am! And the early winter morning was quite breezy! And the airport gates had not yet opened! But we were happy that at least our flight was not cancelled like the last experience to Diego! Once the gates opened, a kind Malagasy soul shoved us to the front of the queue and we were the first to check in. The flight to Diego took about two hours, the weather was sunny and the pilot informed us that the temperature was thirty degrees outside. The airport here was advanced considering our last experience in Maroantsetra. There was a miniature conveyor belt as well for the luggage.

Our English speaking guide, Joel and French speaking chauffeur, Nono were waiting for us outside with a Nissan Patrol, so Debarshi was quite ecstatic, since he had been admiring this car all along in Tana. However, on riding the SUV, we were quite disappointed since the leg room is quite tiny, even we had to sit with our legs slanted. Owning a Pajero, this car is definitely a head turner for me, looks and feels macho, but I was not impressed with the interiors, space and handling. It does reasonably well in 4WD modes and we got a taste of the same while visiting Tsingy Rouge later.

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The Nissan Patrol

The Antsiranana province is very dry and almost no rains and extremely hot. The forest cover is dry deciduous .Nono started spotting chameleons from the time we rode the vehicle. One green chameleon was in fact in the middle of the road crossing to the other side and we started following it! We crossed some small villages on the way and then the land became quite barren. There were large tracts of land where we saw the forest had been burnt down for farming .Meanwhile, Joel was regaling us with various folk tales about drongos and bats and crocodiles and zebu. He also warned us that this place being rocky and very warm , it has tons of scorpions. It was around 12 pm and he asked us if we wanted to taste crocodile meat to which he narrated a folk tale about the nearest village had a lake which was filled with crocodiles. The story goes that a holy man was crossing the village and asked for water; all the villagers turned him away except a kind lady who offered food and shelter. The next morning, the holy man asked her to leave the village with her family and he cursed the village so that it was flooded and all the villagers turned into crocodiles. Understanding that they were quite hungry, we asked them to stop for lunch, while we would go to the hotel and eat. They stopped at a place called Chez Tonton and had their heart’s fill and came back smacking their lips.

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The Oustelat Chameleon

We took about four hours to reach the Ankarana Lodge where we were staying for the next two nights. It was like an oasis with green trees, a slightly cooler breeze and like manna from heaven, an inviting blue Piscine (swimming pool). The restaurant was set up around the swimming pool. But alas! All could only understand French. Thankfully, by now I had learnt some elementary French about food items and that helped to some extent .The chef here was also fantastic and he served us Devilled Crab ( similar to the ones in Mocambo) but larger, spicier and yummier and shrimp cooked in Malagasy style with coconut milk . Debarshi and I counted, each of us were served 20 jumbo sized prawns. This place was infested with mosquitoes, although it was very breezy. After a dip in the pool to cool us from the blistering heat, we rested for a while.

Debarshi went looking for birds around 4 pm and came back with an interesting anecdote. There were a couple of male crested drongos beside out cottage and they keep following each new guest coming to the lodge. Now we all know that drongos can imitate all bird sounds , but these ones were unique . There was a large tree behind our cottage filled with Madagascar Lovebirds and they were all returning to their nests since dusk was soon setting in. This impish drongo was sitting on the paved pathway and was meowing like a cat to alarm them. I could not believe this, but the next evening, I heard the drongo meowing again. At dinner we met a South African couple who were travelling from Johannesburg with their two children. They gave us a rundown of what all we would be doing the next day. All of that sounded very inviting and we retired to our large airy rooms with porches on both sides for a good night’s rest.

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The drongo giving cat calls to the love birds

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The love birds
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Old 28th May 2017, 09:36   #12
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28th September 2015 – Monday (Ankarana National Park - Long trek, the amazing Tsingy landscape and the underground cave and river systems)

The parks in Ankarana open only at 8 am, hence we could comfortable sleep till 6 / 6: 30 am. Another advantage was that our lodge was very near to the Park Gate.

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The beautiful Malagasy Bee Eater at the entrance of the park

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Another shot of the Bee Eater

Ankarana National Park was very different from the other parks we visited earlier. Sweltering heat in a dry deciduous forest and swarms of insects, we were quite upbeat at the beginning of our walk. Our guide, Joel then told us that we would walk till the Grands Tsingy and suspension bridge visiting several other picturesque places in between which would be about 10 km of walk. He also mentioned that we should increase our pace since we were stopping to look for the Coua or the Vanga. We were walking through a dried river bed for some minutes when we came across the Pertes des Rivieres, a massive sink hole in the park in which three rivers flood the river bed and plunge into this chasm exiting 20 km later into the Mozambique Channel.

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The Pertes des Rivieres - underground river

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The nocturnal Sportive Lemur resting during the day on a tree

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The Sportive Lemur

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A Charbert's Vanga on the way

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The Tsingy Landscape

Moderately difficult trek to the Tsingy
We stopped at a small viewpoint from where you can look over the Petits Tsingy, where we had our first view of this massive karst topography of limestone pinnacles. The first strains of exhaustion had started showing up but we ignored that to charge ahead into a unfathomable view of the Grands Tsingy and the Suspension Point. What we could not ignore of course was the blistering heat and humidity and the incessant mosquito bites. Debarshi somehow did not attract the attention of these riling insects and I had to apply insect repellent couple of times. We reached the Grands Tsingy and what lay before us was exquisite. Joel then said that we had to cross this huge terrain and then we could reach the suspension point. The heat by now had drained sapped our energy completely but the adrenalin took us forward. The sun was now fiercely blazing on our heads, but what lay in front of us seemed to be the surface of the moon. Joel took my camera to provide me with some comfort while walking, but Debarshi marched ahead quite effortlessly with his heavy camera, lens & flash. At some point, I saw the two elderly French couples whom I had seen in the lodge ahead of us after the Suspension Bridge resting in a place and I Finally thought – God! We have reached, but then when we approached them they said no you have to still go a little more till that shed. Finally being able to sit down, I was completely drained out and could not imagine having to travel this distance back again.

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At the Tsingy

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The rope bridge on the Tsingy

The Tsingy or limestone Pinnacles formed due to erosion by natural elements offered a natural barrier to the local Antakanara tribes from the ruling highland tribes of Merina. The word Tsingy means tiptoe since that’s how the tribes had to cross the rocks. We of course blessed with Timberland Shoes could do with much more ease. At some point we had to balance ourselves on rocks just the size of our feet with deep gorges below us and just fitting between two rock walls. On our way back, Debarshi mounted the GO PRO on his cap and shot a wonderful video of the path till we crossed the two suspension bridges.


A peek into the amazing landscape. Moderate trek for half a day but definitely worth all the pain.

Joel said that Nono had already set up the lunch at the picnic campsite and we thought that we would reach that just by crossing the Tsingy. Lo and Behold! Once we crossed the Tsingy, we see that the campsite is another 1.7 km away. At that point, I felt that I could drop dead with exhaustion. Mustering enough courage to trudge ahead, we finally reached the campsite and sat down. Nono had brought our lunch from Chez Aurelien, one of the restaurants at the park gates. On seeing us, he poured glasses of Coca cola and offered us. The picnic lunch was sumptuous – chicken salad, sautéed vegetables, chicken cooked in coconut milk and huge crabs along with fresh mangoes for dessert. The mosquitoes had not left me here as well and Debarshi had to go fetch the insect repellent to spray on me again.

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At the picnic lunch

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A few Chameleons inside the forest

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Chameleon

Post lunch, we were ready with the head lamps and torches to go to the Grotte des Chauves-Souris (Cave of Bats). Not just going down the slopes of the mountains but we had to climb down an additional 165 steps. We saw another elderly French lady with two walking sticks several steps below but we did not see her later. Then we reach this huge cave which has subterranean river streams flowing through it. We walked through two trails in it, had to stoop at times or crawl at times. We saw several kinds of bats in the caves – the first one had smaller species, while the second one had much larger species. Both the kinds were quite displeased at the fact that we were flashing strong lights at them. It was truly an unforgettable experience.

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Entrance to the cave

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Bats inside the cave

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More bats - Forgot the names of the species

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These cave systems support nearly 13 species of bat colony

We came back to our vehicle and stopped to return the picnic basket and pay for lunch. The Malagasy guy at Chez Aurelien on hearing that we were Indian greets us by saying Kemcho. A common misnomer across Madagascar is that all Indians speak the same language – Gujarati. Back at our hotel, we dropped our bags in the room and got into the inviting blue piscine to cool ourselves. After a cool swim and a great afternoon nap, we relaxed in the evening with a delicious sea food dinner by the pool and retired for the night.
Madagascar: A wilderness experience in the land of Lemurs & Tsingy-ankarana-lodge-green-pigeon.jpg
The Green Pigeon at the Ankarana Lodge
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Old 28th May 2017, 10:06   #13
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Default Re: Madagascar: A wilderness experience in the land of Lemurs & Tsingy

That was some trek! Seemed hot!

Quote:
This impish drongo was sitting on the paved pathway and was meowing like a cat to alarm them.
That is a first for me. Drongoes are known to imitate calls of as many as 30 birds, but cats? That would have been something! Wish you had taken a recording.

Seems a great adventure. How do you remember the (minute) details after 2 years? Not that we are complaining.
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Old 28th May 2017, 10:11   #14
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Default Re: Madagascar: A wilderness experience in the land of Lemurs & Tsingy

29th September 2015 – Tuesday (Tsingy Rouge and off to Amber Mountain National Park)

Our plans today were to drive to the Amber Mountain, Joffreville via the Tsingy Rouge. The drive is quite bumpy and about 60 kms from Ankarana. As we took a detour from the left, the metalled road disappeared and we made our way through caved out mud roads. It was heartening to see that there were quite a few attempts at re – afforestation with Eucalyptus trees. Debarshi took out his Go Pro Camera and fixed it to the front Bumper of the Nissan Patrol we were riding.


The Nissan Patrol climbing on way to Tsingy Rouge

Our first view of the Tsingy was when we stopped at a grassy meadow Tsingy Rary Lookout deck and the Blue Ocean. After another back breaking ride, we reached the hill top from where the Tsingy Rouge was a short hike downhill.

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Panorama on way to Tsingy Rouge

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On way to Tsingy Rouge

This is another one of its kind natural formation something which we did not see before. A stone formation of red laterite formed by erosion of the Irodo River, this was uncovered by the local villagers when there was wide spread de forestation and the river started washing away the upper layers of soil. The locals are now determined to stop further damage to the lands by erosion and also preserve this wonder of nature. A fence has been erected around the Tsingy Rouge to prevent visitors from touching them and a man atop the hill on constant watch. This marvel of nature has all possible shades of Crimson, Violet, Yellow Ochre, Amber and even some tinges of Ash Gray as you walk past them.

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Tsingy Rouge

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Tsingy Rouge

On our way back we stopped at the view point to have lunch and then drove to the Amber Mountain Nature Lodge in Joffreville. Our guide belonged to the village of Joffreville and was delighted to be back. This used to be an Army Barrack. Our Stay in the Forest Lodge was very comfortable in the wooden large cottages on stilts.

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Amber Mountain Nature Lodge Cottage

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Sunset from the Nature Lodge at Amber Mountain

As we gazed at the sunset from our portico, we saw a very large Kite who came and sat on the trees right in front of us. Soon we saw a number of other small birds. We relaxed in the wooden lounge in the evening and after dinner, we returned to our rooms. We met the South African couple with the two children here again whom we had seen in Ankarana as well. Debarshi was a little down under the weather tonight and had a very fitful sleep.

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Birds at Nature Lodge

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Birds at Nature Lodge

30th September 2015 – Wednesday (Back to Diego Suarez)

Amber Mountain is a completely different paradigm in this barren land. Receiving a lot of rainfall, it is covered with Rainforests and again offers good viewing of Lemurs. We checked out after breakfast, Debarshi having improved a little. Our aim was to see the Amber Mountain Rock Thrush, an endemic species here. Of course the Coua and the Pitta like Ground roller were also there in our wish list. We had very good views of the Sanford lemur right in front of us and that too families. We were also in luck since we saw the Amber Mountain Rock Thrush chirping and flitting from one branch to another in front of us. Our day was made!

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The endemic Amber Mountain Rock Thrush

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Portrait of an Amber Mountain Rock Thrush

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A glimpse of the White Vanga on top of a tree

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Nelicourvi Weaver at Amber Mountain

After a picnic lunch at the entrance of the National Park, we were on our way to Diego Suarez. We quietly reminisced since this was our last Park hike in Madagascar and then we were back to the banalities of city life. The town of Diego was extremely sunny and hot and when we reached the town was in the throes of an afternoon siesta. After a good rest and massage at the Spa of our hotel, we went out for a walk on the main street on Diego. Our Guide had warned us to keep our wallets close and keep our cameras back in the hotel rooms. We strolled on in the sunny streets, bought some T shirts and memorabilia and walked back to our hotel. We had an early morning flight and hence we retired for the night.

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Sanford's Brown Lemur at Amber Mountain

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Crowned Lemur at Amber Mountain

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The inquisitive Crowned Lemur pair

1st October 2015 – Thursday (Back to Tana)

Since we had an early morning flight, we grabbed a good breakfast at the hotel lobby. The breakfast spread is so enormous, the breads section alone covering about multiple aisles leave aside the meats and fruits and juices section. The beverage section had multiple selections of tea and coffee. We had a new dilemma today when we reached the main lobby of the hotel. We did see a yellow cab but were unable to identify the driver. Then, randomly a local guy walks up to us and says” Ortour – Michel” and we realize he is our ride to the airport. Thankfully, this flight too departed on time and we reached Tana. Once we reached Tana, we decided to step out to walk around a city the last time in daylight, relaxed ourselves in the spa and shopped for some T shirts for us. Our last night here, we had made reservations in the famous restaurant – La Varangue. An old French Villa, it is decorated with hundreds of colonial artefacts ranging from lamps to clocks to hookahs to Antique Cars! We toasted to our last evening and a great holiday in this country which has only 0.001 % Indian Tourists, never thinking that we would be able to tick it off from our Bucket list. What a Journey this was!

2nd October 2015 – Friday (Back to ‘Real’ life)

We woke up today with no trepidation at all, had a leisurely breakfast and moved to the Airport. An event worth remembering was that the immigration officer asked for tips from us in a rather jocular manner saying “Paisa Paisa”. Little did we realize that he was asking for tips? Bidding Adieu to this beautiful country, we embarked on our return journey with memories for life and promising to ourselves that perhaps someday we will return to this country to cover Southern & Western Madagascar and hoping that this land would have progressed on its own.
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Old 28th May 2017, 10:34   #15
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Default Re: Madagascar: A wilderness experience in the land of Lemurs & Tsingy

Quote:
Originally Posted by earthian View Post
That was some trek! Seemed hot!
Thanks for reading through meticulously and having the patience to go through this fairly long travelogue and pictures.

Yes. The trek was a bit difficult, more so for Chandrima because it was a bit hot and humid. The rocky landscape was not helping either.

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Originally Posted by earthian View Post
That is a first for me. Drongos are known to imitate calls of as many as 30 birds, but cats? That would have been something! Wish you had taken a recording.
I was very surprised to watch the episode of this drongo and the love birds. I tried to figure out for a long time and finally came to the conclusion that there are no cats nearby and it is the drongo making those calls. The drongo seemed to be a resident of that lodge. It also followed us wherever we went - to our room, open dining area, pool... perched on a nearby branch and watching us. It does the same with other visitors as well. In fact I tried to have a conversation with this bird and it did listen to me intently. Wonder what would it tell if it could speak our language.

Quote:
Originally Posted by earthian View Post
Seems a great adventure. How do you remember the (minute) details after 2 years? Not that we are complaining.
We keep a log of the key points of the trip. The names of the species and important events are noted down by dates. Then Chandrima takes the effort to pen it down after we return. The photo, video is my department and I take months (if not years) to finally select and process the images.
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