October 27, 2016
We were up very early to have breakfast before heading back up the twisty road to the main Route 7, on the way to Isalo National Park. Our trip was supposed to take 11 hours but fortunately we didn’t just sit in the bus all day. First stop was mid-morning, at the paper-making workshop in Ambalavao.
Here we found out about making hand-made paper from the avoha tree. The first step is to boil the bark for several hours to soften it up before sorting the fibres. The soft ones are used to make paper while the harder and stiffer ones are used to make baskets. Water is then added to make a slurry which is spread evenly over a mesh, after which the paper is dried in the sun. Some of it is decorated with the petals of local flowers and sold as decorative cards, which were very beautiful. We bought a book with about 30 pages to use as an album for some of Rosemary’s photos.
About noon we stopped at the Anja Community Reserve to watch troops of ring-tailed lemurs. The reserve is operated by people from the community who have protected the forest where the lemurs live; we spent quite a while watching them and they weren’t at all shy. (Of course we saw chameleons and stick insects and so on as well.) Before we left we had a picnic lunch at the entrance to the reserve.
After lunch we travelled across a dry plateau and the road became straight and free of potholes, so we really zoomed along. However most of us fell asleep. There weren’t many villages in this area and sometimes there were no buildings in sight. But this was zebu-grazing country so from time to time we passed herds of them along with their herdsman.
Before arriving at Ranohira we made another stop, beside the road so we could watch the sunset. The view from here was similar to the views from our prairies towards the Rocky Mountains. Paul wandered over to a dry pond where clicking sounds could be heard, and found a small group of Harlequin Quail. We wouldn’t have seen those as the bus zoomed by!
Once the sun had set it took another half an hour to reach Ranohira and then another 20 minutes to reach our destination, the Hotel Relais de la Reine. This hotel is rated Top Choice by Lonely Planet in this area and it was indeed very lovely. The staff even came into our room to deploy the mosquito nets around our beds in the evening.
Dinner was very fancy, with a choice of starters, mains, and desserts. Rosemary had tomato and cumin soup, which was tasty, but neither of us were very fond of the swordfish. The hotel’s special dessert was Queen’s Cake; the base was a sweet potato cake topped with a gelatinous tropical fruit concoction. But Rosemary wasn’t very impressed by it. By the time we finished dinner it was 10 pm, so bedtime was later than usual.
October 28, 2016
Today we were going to go walking in Isalo National Park; we were up before the alarm went off and got our walking stuff organized before breakfast. Breakfast was really good, with a large plate of fresh fruit, toasted buns, and tea or coffee. We then headed out to the bus and back to Ranohira, where Hery had to do paperwork for the park. While he was doing that we went and bought water, as we had been warned that today would be hot. We also picked up our guide, Fleury, and our cook and helpers.
Our day was organized into two parts: first a walk through interesting scenery to a swimming hole and a picnic site for lunch, and second a walk across open country to a scenic gorge and a forest. So after a half-hour trip to the trailhead over an extremely rugged road, we started out on the first part.
We climbed 70 meters of steps up a narrow gully until we reached the plateau. Our guide was very good, telling us about the local traditions. The people of the area claim to be descended from the Maasai of Kenya, but on the way to Madagascar they became Muslims. And once in Madagascar they adopted the two-funeral tradition. But instead of tombs, they put the body in a crack in the rocks and cover it with stones. We could see several of those piles of stones nearby. While observing them our guide mentioned that hoopoes were nesting nearby, and as he was talking both of them appeared. So that took care of seeing hoopoes!
We carried on through the scenic rocks with views over more pretty scenery, with our guide pointing out chameleons, lizards, and birds. The day was hot, about 34°C, but luckily for us the wind was cool so walking was pleasant. We reached the natural pool about noon, but not many of us bothered to swim in it. And then a large group of Brazilians arrived and took over the pool, so we departed soon thereafter. Today’s picnic lunch was rice with vegetables and zebu meatballs, a very tasty meal.
We spent the rest of the afternoon on the optional walk, which initially went across a rather barren area. There were so few trees that we couldn’t even hear cuckoos calling any more. But it was now very hot, so it was nice to reach the path which went down into the gorge. At the bottom of the gorge was a forest which had a campground and plenty of wildlife. We stayed here for quite a while watching the Red-fronted Brown Lemurs along with a number of interesting birds. There was Benson’s Rock Thrush and Madagascar Buttonquail and Madagascar Turtle Dove. And besides that there was a spectacular black swallowtail butterfly with white spots which we kept mistaking for a bird.
It wasn’t that far back to the bus and back at the hotel we both had showers before heading over for dinner, which was good tonight.
Next: To the West Coast