Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Madagascar Reflections

I arrived in Madagascar a week ago to stay with a friend of mine who works at the Embassy in Antananarivo. Despite the ongoing threat of political protests, I explored the city a bit and enjoyed a few good meals. "Tana" is a confusing city to get around - narrow streets with no signs (not even to tell you that it's a one-way street) and a lot of pollution. I can't say I was sorry to get out of Tana and go into the countryside.

Our weekend road trip got off to a late start Saturday afternoon because my friend was obliged to hang around to see if the planned demonstration would turn violent. It didn't, so we hit the road and arrived in Ampefy in time to take a bottle of wine onto the hotel terrace and enjoy the sunset and a lightning show before having a nice dinner.
The next day we drove off-road to see if we could find the Chute de la lily waterfall. A group of kids accompanied us on the 10 minute walk, carrying baskets of volcanic rock souvenirs on their heads. I tried balancing a basket on my head as we walked along, which amused the local kids immensely. The rural villages are often just small mud and brink dwellings and the people live off the land. Pineapples, bananas, and other fruit I don't recognize are sold along the road just about everywhere.

The highlight of my trip to Madagascar was my visit to Andasibe and Vakona Forest Lodge. I arrived on Monday, just before lunch. The lodge is beautiful and there is amazing wildlife all around. The lodge has its own lemur island reserve. I have to say this was one of the most fun things I've done. The lemurs are well-accustomed to humans and eagerly approach when they see people coming (and smell the bananas). To be able to touch and feed them was incredible; and to see them close up and watch them leap from tree to tree was almost unreal. A canoe ride to the other islands allowed me to see other species of lemurs, the ring-tailed lemurs being the most entertaining.

After such an amazing experience, I wasn't ready to go back to my cottage, so I walked up the road for a while. Some kids saw me and yelled out, "Bon jour" and squealed with laughter when I responded, "Bon jour." English is only just now starting to be taught in school, so I wasn't able to communicate much with the locals. But their excitement at seeing me was enough. I got back to my cottage just as it started to rain, so I sat on the porch and enjoyed watching the birds and listening to the mysterious sounds of the forest. Sitting there doing absolutely nothing except enjoying where I was made me wonder how I was so lucky to be there.
The next day, I hired a guide to lead me through a nearby national park. Being the intrepid explorer that I am, I was well-prepared for an arduous 4 hour hike, but instead I was distracted every 30 seconds by a giant colorful butterfly or a camouflage gecko or a kingfisher or an unusual plant. We also saw 2 kinds of lemur, including the Indri. They are much harder to track in the wild than on Lemur Island and it's certainly harder to keep up with them stumbling along the forest floor while they are flying through the trees above. And they don't cooperate with people trying to take their photo. For this reason, I'm particularly proud of the photo I finally got; even though it's really not that extraordinary.


aprizant said...

Wow, Heather. That was beautiful. What an incredible experience--you are truly lucky and I'm so glad you're documenting it all for us (and for your own memories, of course). I look forward to seeing the photos.

Safe and happy travels!

Mom said...

Thank you! I came onto your blog to look at one of your previous posts and this completely surprised me. It sounds unbelievably beautiful. Makes me want to hop a plane....

Penfold said...

Wow, I won't go to Mada and I'm South Africa. You must be brave.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Heather, thank you for taking us there through your words...We love living it vicariously through you! Our Africa trip was so many years ago, but you are conjuring up memories. Looking forward to more about your adventure and the pictures. xxoo