October 21, 2016
Today was the first day of our tour, and after a pretty good breakfast we all climbed into the bus to drive to Andasibe National Park. To start with the bus weaved its way through the chaotic Tana traffic, with cars and taxis and bicycles and men on foot pushing carts full of bricks and more. The poverty wasn’t that bad here, there weren’t many compounds with razor wire on the walls, but clearly people didn’t have much money.
After a while we were a bit outside the city and then there were vast areas devoted to rice-growing and brick-making. Rice is the staple food in Madagascar and most of the houses are made of brick, so no surprise to see those things. Our first stop was at a petrol station so we could all buy bottled water—the second thing Dési had told us yesterday was that we shouldn’t even clean our teeth in tap water, anywhere. We also bought some candy and chips for travelling snacks.
The drive out of Antananarivo took almost an hour, with our driver skilfully negotiating the traffic. Thankfully we had decided to take a tour here, as this part of the trip was very stressful. As we travelled along, our tour leader Hery gave us the history of the city and the surrounding areas, and once we stopped beside some rice fields so we could take pictures of the fields and the workers. Our road was in better shape than we had been led to believe, so other than going through rolling terrain with a lot of curves the trip went by quite quickly.
We arrived at Hotel Feon’ny Ala about 1 pm, so we were assigned our rooms and ordered our lunch from their menu. While waiting for the food to be cooked we all went to our bungalows to check them out; they were nice huts with thatched roofs and natural wood interiors, and the bed had a mosquito net. We wondered whether it would really be necessary, but we planned to use it anyway. We were running out of clean clothes so we quickly washed out a few things in the sink. We were here for two nights so hopefully they would dry by then.
Lunch was tasty and filling, and once we were all done we grouped at the bus to go on our first Andasibe excursion. The drive there took only about ten minutes and we met up with two guides, Lucy and Pierre, who would take us on a walk through the forest in search of the indri, the largest of the lemurs.
It didn’t take very long to find them, as they were making their calls. We stood right below the tall trees that they were in and watched for quite a long while. They were resting up in the branches, so they were a bit hard to see, but nevertheless they were our first lemurs. And when another distant indri family started whooping, our family responded with whooping too. Watching the indris was fun but very hard on our necks. There weren’t many birds to be seen, and not many other animals either, but that was to be expected in the afternoon. However just before we left we watched some Common Brown Lemurs, complete with a baby on its mother’s back, who came to check us out.
By the time we got back it was close to dinner time so we ordered our meals and then went to our rooms to tidy up. And then right after dinner we got back on the bus, which took us a short distance along the road to the orchid park where our night walk would take place. Lucy and Pierre guided us again. On our walk we saw an Eastern Woolly Lemur hanging in a tree like a koala, along with some frogs, a stick insect, a variety of chameleons, and even a couple of sleeping birds. One of the birds was a Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher, a bird which we would be unlikely to find in the daytime. So it was an interesting walk.
October 22, 2016
We had another busy day today. First we got up at 5 am to go on an early-morning bird walk with Pierre. Rachel and Wendy also went on the trip, making it a nice small group. It was rather foggy, so finding birds high in the trees was a bit tricky until the clouds dissipated. We walked along the road from the hotel for quite a distance, past all the places we’d been to yesterday. Pierre did a good job of finding birds, probably about 20 species, but the highlight of the morning was the giraffe-necked weevil. Definitely an interesting-looking insect!
We were supposed to be back for breakfast at 7:15 am, but we had walked so far that Pierre had to call and have the Explore bus come and pick us up. Even so we didn’t get back until nearly 7:30. Breakfast wasn’t that great, basically French bread with butter and jam along with tea and coffee. And then at 8 am we were off again. This time we went to the national park to look for more lemurs (yesterday we were in a private reserve next to the park).
Our guides today were Lucy, from yesterday, and Dismas, the new guy. Today we actually split into two separate groups; we went in Dismas’s group and off we went, following for the most part the “Indri 2” trail which was marked as 4.5 kilometers long. We also did a lot of crashing around off the trails while watching the indris and the Diademed Sifakas. And since the guides and their assistants all talked to each other, when they found a lemur family several groups would converge on the place at the same time.
The sifakas were beautiful animals and not hard to see, being big white and gold lemurs. It was really fun watching them leaping through the trees, especially the mother and her baby. The baby was only doing a fair job of leaping so the mother would have to pick it up after a while. Also in the reserve we saw chameleons, two scops owls on their roost, a green snake swallowing a frog, and a coiled-up tree boa.
After lunch we had the option of going to “Lemur Island” to see tame lemurs and to see crocodiles being fed. Well, caged animals didn’t sound very nice but we decided to go on the outing anyway and we were glad we did. It is now illegal to keep wild animals in captivity in Madagascar, but the animals at Vakona Forest Lodge were already in captivity before the law was passed so they can still be kept while they live out their remaining years.
First we went to see their crocodiles. Our guide took a huge sack of raw meat hunks and laboriously hauled it up to where the crocodiles were kept. He started throwing the hunks of meat to the crocodiles, who scuffled over them and swallowed them with very little crunching. But then Hery drew our attention to a tenrec which was in the vegetation nearby. (A tenrec is an animal which looks a lot like a hedgehog.) This was a baby Lowland Streaked Tenrec and it became the highlight of the afternoon. We didn’t care about crocodiles any more; we just wanted to watch the cute little guy scurrying along in the leaf litter.
After seeing the fosa (Madagascar’s largest carnivore) and the Parson’s chameleon (second largest chameleon in the world) we headed over to Lemur Island. To get to the island we had to take a 15-second canoe trip—there’s no bridge because the lemurs would use it to leave. The island is home to the black-and-white ruffed lemur, the brown lemur, and the Eastern Bamboo Lemur, all of which used to be pets. The ruffed lemurs came to greet us, the bamboo lemurs sat in a bush looking as cute as possible, and the brown lemurs liked to sit on people and be fed snacks. It was great fun to be with the lemurs and we spent quite a bit of time there.
And just before leaving the island we saw a female Souimanga Sunbird and then noticed that she was attending her nest in a bush, at eye level right next to us. As the sun was setting the bus took us back to the hotel for our last dinner there; tomorrow we’re off to the next place.