October 25, 2016
After our overnight stay in Ambositra and our visit to the wood craft workshop, we continued on a long drive to Ranomafana. As on previous days the scenery included rice paddies, hilly landscapes, and rural villages. But today there was more smoke from burning forests than before; these fires were set by peasants to produce more grassland for zebus to graze, unfortunately.
We broke up the morning by stopping for a walk through the weekly market at Camp Robin. This was a very large market with hundreds of stalls, selling everything under the sun, and lots of people wearing their best clothing. This was clearly where everybody in the neighbourhood came for supplies, but Hery told us that traditionally the weekly market was where young people from different parts of the district could meet and get to know each other. We spent about half an hour there wandering around and looking at the stalls and the people.
For lunch we stopped at a small forest reserve in the middle of this landscape, named Ialatsara Forest Camp. Their lunch was pretty good and afterwards we went on a walk behind the farm to find the Red-bellied Brown Lemur. They were easy to see as the trees weren’t very tall, and also our guides gave them pieces of banana to bring them closer. On the way back to the bus we found a bush with three types of chameleon: Blue-legged, Short-horned, and Parson’s. This seemed a bit coincidental and the guides admitted they had planted them there for us to see. After we were gone they would take them back to where they had brought them from.
Then it was onwards to Ranomafana again and most of us fell asleep for a while. But then we turned off Route 7 onto Route 25 and drove along the twisty, sometimes pot-holey road for an hour before we reached the Centrest Sejour Hotel, where we would be staying for two nights. But we weren’t finished yet—we had a night walk scheduled almost right away. We got our room assignments, chose our evening meal, and managed to do a quick bit of laundry before we were back in the bus.
It took about 20 minutes to drive back up the road to the park. We met our guide, Theo (who is recommended by Lonely Planet and who worked for David Attenborough when he made his latest film), and then arrived at a busy parking area. We all got out and almost immediately they found a Brown Mouse Lemur. It was very tiny and bounced around very quickly but we did manage to get good looks at it several times.
This night walk was easier than the last, because we stayed on the road. We did have to watch out for traffic and make sure we didn’t step in the zebu dung which was on the road, but otherwise it was easy going. We saw a green grass frog and some chameleons, including the O’Shaughnessy’s which is one of the largest, and someone spotted a Greater Dwarf Lemur in a tree right over the road. That was an unusual sighting for the area, they said.
We didn’t get back for dinner until nearly 8 pm and we were very tired and hungry. The meals were quite good here; vegetable soup, followed by chicken skewers with beans and carrots, and banana flambé for dessert. As we ate we could see lightning and the power went off briefly a couple of times, and as we returned to the room there were a few raindrops on the path. And within minutes it was pouring with rain. We were told later that this was the first rain after the dry period, and that people had been looking forward to it for a long time.
October 26, 2016
After an early breakfast (6:45 am) we got in the bus for the drive up the hill to the park, picking up Theo and his assistant Rodin on the way. Ranomafana National Park is very hilly, so our trail first took us down to the bridge over the river and then back up again. In order to find wildlife we followed the main trails for a while and then branched off on side trails, and it wasn’t long before we came across a group of Golden Bamboo Lemurs. Like most of the other lemurs, these ones were feeding high up in the canopy.
One by one we checked off the different species: Hill’s Ruffed Lemur, Red-fronted Brown Lemur, Greater Bamboo Lemur. The latter is very rare—in Ranomafana there are only two left, a father and daughter, but outside the park there are a few more. In between seeing the lemurs we saw a leaf-tailed gecko, several species of chameleon, a small yellow frog, a snake, and even a little scorpion and a leech. We finished up at a viewpoint overlooking the river valley, and from there it was just a short walk back to the park entrance.
After lunch there was the option of going on an additional walk, and initially we thought we’d go on that, but when the time drew nearer we decided to go and explore the village of Ranomafana instead. Our hotel was just up the hill from the village so it didn’t take long to get there.
In the centre of the village was a group of men playing pétanque on a dirt court, so we stayed and watched for quite a while before continuing on. (Madagascar won the pétanque world championship last year.) We could see that there was something happening on the big open field nearby, so we went over that way. But near the field we found a women’s weaving cooperative, so we stopped there to have a look. In a large room there were eight looms, and on each loom a woman was weaving a scarf of various colours. Outside on a rack there were scarves for sale: cotton, cotton/silk, and silk. Rosemary bought a striped silk scarf which had been dyed with all natural dyes.
On the field there were about 200 school children performing a dance there, except a few of the boys were slacking off, and meanwhile there were also some dirt bike riders who were practicing going around pylons. The music carried on for quite a while so we did some more exploring, looking for the hot springs. (“Ranomafana” means “hot water” in Malagasy.) We wandered around a bit until we remembered Hery saying we needed to cross the river on a rickety wooden bridge. Sure enough, we found the bridge and there was a swimming pool.
A bit farther down the road there were some small hotels and a police patrol station signed “Controle Economique” which was staffed by three gendarmes. But nothing much was going on so we headed back to the hotel, pausing to watch the pétanque game again.
Dinner tonight was tomato soup, followed by zebu, potatoes, and carrots. The best part was the dessert, which had a banana mixture on the bottom topped with some sort of ice cream. Tomorrow would be yet another long drive, so we headed up to our room quite early.