Madagascar: ending the journey

Before leaving Ranomafana we had a walk in the rainforest but it was very busy with several tour groups, so it was difficult to see much of the wildlife. We did see a few lemurs and brief glimpses of some birds. Deforestation has led to a reduction in some lemur populations in addition to hunting. The Brown Lemur population has reduced by a quarter since 1995. The Aye-Aye is fady to some of the locals and is therefore killed on sight.

After lunch we re-traced our route back to RN7 and Ambositra. Many of the towns we passed through had lots of people returning from the local market. Village people sell their crops there, buy essentials and socialise with friends and relatives. Young people meet up with their friends. The valleys were full if rice paddies and crops with many roadside stalls selling bananas, pineapples, honey, charcoal and even rum in re-used plastic bottles.

Ambositra had a lot of art and craft shops selling wood carvings, paintings, raffia work, jewellery and marquetry. We spent the night in Ambalavo and the follow morning began the drive back to Tana. The road crosses the Peace Bridge which was constructed in 2003.

It replaced the older Fatihita Bridge which was blown up in 2002 during political conflicts. I read somewhere that there have been many people have taken their own lives by jumping from the bridge.

All too soon were back in the middle of Tana which was very busy. Due to the heat we had the car windows open, so our guide warned us not to hold phones near the window or make bags easy to grab. At Tana airport there are only two departure gates but they were very efficient and we left the red island on time.

Madagascar: back in the highlands

RN 7 headed east through grassland, dry savannah with red earth before rising into the highlands. At Andiolava we crossed a river where laundry was underway. Before we reached Ihosy, mountains began to appear on our left.

Ihosy is the capital of the Bara tribe and most of the people are zebu shepherds. There was chaos at the petrol station where supplies were running low. It was thought that the government might have been late in paying for it. A large truck driven by Sri Lankans who were in Madagascar to buy sapphires took a lot. Our drivers managed to fill up as there was no guarantee there would be any more fuel further ahead on our journey. Hills were all around us on the savannah and we passed through a number of small communities. In some, children were back at school. Two mountains pointed out to us were Ifandana (1405m) which means ‘no surrender’ and acquired its name during tribal conflicts when unification was attempted. Some refused to surrender and jumped off the mountain. Many did not survive. The other was Pic Handa porta del Sud is higher (9549m) and our driver said it resembled a bishop’s mitre. In Ambalavo we visited a paper factory. We were shown the tree whose bark is used; the process involved and the small shop which sells paper good and other items made by local artisans.

There was also a silk making workshop.

Our hotel was in the Betsilio highlands. They are the third largest tribe and specialise in rice cultivation. Unlike the single storey Bara houses, most of the homes are brick built. The surrounding hills are called the Three Sisters and we watched the sun go down behind them.

The following day we visited the Parc Écotouristique d’Anja. Previously the villagers trapped lemurs to sell as pets but since 1999 the reserve which has a small portion of original forest has been run by the villages who hope to expand it.

Ring-tailed lemurs live in groups of 10-30 headed by a dominant female. They can live to 20 years and have one baby each year. Occasionally twins are born. When they are about to die, they leave their range and into the ground.

We also saw a magpie, pygmy kingfisher and several chameleons. Back in town we visited the zebu market which was very busy. Each animal is worth about £200 here, more in Tana and further north.

Afterwards we were back on RN7 to Fianarantosa, a university town where we stopped for lunch. On the way out we passed a disused railway line and many taxi-brousses heading into town. After passing through a number of towns, we left RN7 for N25 which runs up the side of a valley up into the forest and then back down to rice fields in the valleys. We passed several forest fires. Some are natural, ignited by lightning but many are started by farmers burning trees to find land to grow crops on. Our destination was Ranomafana National Park. It was created in 1991 to protect two species of lemur: the golden bamboo lemur and the greater bamboo lemur only discovered in 1986. It has Andriamamovoka Cascade

orchids

and other lemurs such as ruffous and pygmy mouse. We did a short night walk along the edge of the park to try and catch glimpses of the nocturnal animals but this was very busy. Back at the hotel there were some interesting spiders to see before  it was time to sleep.

Madagascar: Isalo National Park

 

Departure time was 7.15am on the day we spent exploring Isalo National Park. First, we had to stop at the next village along the N7 to pick up our guide as it is not possible to enter the park without one. The park was created in 1962 and consists of an eroded Jurassic sandstone massif with gorges and river tributaries sited among grassland. We parked and began our short hike up one of the gorges. There were several groups setting out as it is a very popular park and reminded me of how busy Snowdonia and the Lake District get. There were quite a few ring-tailed lemurs among the rocks.

Cairns are dotted around the park, built by the Bara people who add a stone to make a wish/request of their Creator via their ancestors who act as intermediaries. They are the dominant tribe in the area, are descended from the Bantu people in southern Africa and are mostly crop and zebu farmers.

We were also shown a silkworm on a plant.

There is a botanic garden within the park. There are 400 plant species and some of the  endemic plants are Aloe, Euphorbia, Pachypodes, Kalanchoe. The Tapia is the most common tree and lemurs eat its fruit. There are also some plants which we were told were miniature baobab but I later learnt they are in fact a different species.

Earlier this year on the fringes of the park reforestation projects were underway. From the summit there are 360-degree views of the park.

Then we walked downhill to the river. En route we passed the coffin of a rich person which was highly decorated. The tribe place the dead in natural caves and later collect the bones and carry them in a parade, family members dance with them in matching clothing and hold a reburial after wrapping he body in fresh silks along with sacrifices and feasting.

The Piscine Naturelle was popular and a few members of our group had a swim but it was a little too busy for me.

There was a walk over to a campsite where we were to have lunch with a 300-step descent which I was a little concerned my inflamed would knee survive. Before we began, we were sitting in the shade, we were joined by an 87-year old Italian woman who had walked up with two sticks and her friend and who put my concerns into perspective. During the walk I was chatting to the park guide. He said that polygamy was still common in the south. If a first wife did not produce a son, others would be sought. He told me that his brother had seven wives. He also told me that some taxi-brousses which would carry coffins back to the tribal area, would also act as drug transport. One coffin had been found to be full of cocaine. I told him that ice-cream vans also sell illicit drugs in housing estates in many of the cities in the UK. After the descent we reached the campsite where we had lunch. This is also a place that ring-tailed lemurs visit regularly.

We also saw some insects and a chameleon, a bee-eater and Madagascan hoopoe. In the evening a few of us went down the road to la Fenêtre d’Isalo:, a window in the rocks which faces west.

En route we stopped at a rock entitled ‘La Reine d’Isalo. Dinosaur remains have been found nearby and are located in the local museum.

It was sharp elbows and selfie territory at the sunset but worth putting up with.