Written by Slug on 10 Feb, 2010
As my other reviews confirm; camping in Andringitra National Park is a little basic. One area where we did very well was with the catering arrangements, and our lovely cook Zu certainly did us proud. The Cooking FacilitiesI did stick my head through the door…Read More
As my other reviews confirm; camping in Andringitra National Park is a little basic. One area where we did very well was with the catering arrangements, and our lovely cook Zu certainly did us proud. The Cooking FacilitiesI did stick my head through the door of the campsite kitchen, a very dark windowless stone built hut, which would also serve as a sturdy shelter if the weather turned particularly bad. I imagine health officials in the UK would close the place down as it consisted of little more than places for fires, and stone benches and tables for sleeping, cutting, cooking and sitting. That said, Zu cooked everything very well, and I had no doubt everything was clean and well cooked. The cooking process kills the germs, and we certainly didn’t feel unwell during our stay in the mountains (apart from our travelling companion who had picked up a stomach even bug before we arrived). During the first night, Zu had set up camp ahead of us, and we were amazed to find a full three course dinner awaiting us. I don’t normally drink tea, but I drank it here, as bottled water was heavy and was needed for our efforts climbing the mountains. Tea could be made from the water in the stream.I was most impressed with the nibbles; Zu had roasted some nuts and we ate those as he prepared dinner. This consisted of pasta in a cheese sauce, followed by cooked vegetable salad. While I won’t claim it was restaurant standard, I was impressed for camp side food, all cooked from scratch.Zu actually had one of the worst jobs at campsite, as he also had to get up at 4:00am in the freezing cold to prepare the fires, to boil the water, just so we could have our morning cup of tea, and to make us a bit of breakfast. After we had finished our meal and were relaxing gazing into the embers of the camp fire, or looking up at the stars, Zu was busy washing down all the pots and pans. He did his job cheerfully, and managed to fit a bit of skinny dipping in the river while we were on our hikes. For our second night’s meal, Zu killed our two chicken companions and we had a very tasty (if slightly stringy) Chicken and Chips the second night. How Zu managed to produce such tasty fries in those basic conditions will remain forever a mystery. While those really fussy eaters might struggle on the campsite, Zu could certainly cater for vegetarians, and we had a good and wholesome diet, which didn’t leave me feeling hungry (and I am a healthy eater). Other Facilities In terms of the other facilities in the campsite, my experience was a little mixed. Thankfully our tour company, Mad Trekking had brought new tents and good and warm sleeping bags, so we had somewhere pleasant to sleep, although as it fell below freezing after dark, it is advisable that you try to stay in your tent, rather than need to make nocturnal expeditions to the bathroom.The bathroom situation overall left something to be desired, but was as good as can be in this very remote part of the world. The toilets were mainly simply deep pits topped with wooden planks; or to be polite squat toilets with long drops. These were best used early in the morning before the sun had risen too far, and you couldn’t be that shy, as the reed walls all tended to have holes in them! It was a place to make friends, although thankfully we were either the only party camping, or there was just one other couple on camp. The long drops were better than the other facilities, which I just couldn’t face. The campsite on the second ridge was near a large rockpool which was perfect for washing in and cooling down, although of course in such pristine conditions, with lots of rare crayfish and other wildlife relying on the water, strong soaps and detergents were discouraged. We simply splashed in the water, and then cleaned our teeth away from the watercourse. It wasn’t a problem for the three days we were there. This is "rough camping", so go with the flow.What to takeIn terms of taking must haves; in addition to the usual items, I’d recommend a little head torch, lashings of sun cream, perhaps a little supply of breakfast bar snacks in case the fancy takes you, toilet tissue, anti bacterial wipes, a little plastic bag to carry back your rubbish, and a day sack to take your waterproofs and water in the morning. The porters can carry your evening clothes (wrap up warm with a couple of layers and long trousers). Obviously, the porters will especially love you if you don’t take too many clothes and books with you "just in case", and if you have what they have to carry in a handy bag (such as a rucksack). Obviously, it also helps to take tips for everyone. We didn't tip excessively, and I regret not tipping a little more. We worked on the basis of giving enough for a family restaurant meal per night for each of the party, with a little more for Zu and Florene the guide. I know we in the west are anxious not to over-tip, but to be honest, it would just put a smile on the face of the locals rather than mortify them. Close
Written by Slug on 12 Dec, 2009
With the spread of globalisation, there aren’t too many countries where you might feel that local life is completely different. However, even while we were chatting and sipping a beer in the genteel bar of our hotel, Les Chambres du Voyageur in Antsirabe, we discovered…Read More
With the spread of globalisation, there aren’t too many countries where you might feel that local life is completely different. However, even while we were chatting and sipping a beer in the genteel bar of our hotel, Les Chambres du Voyageur in Antsirabe, we discovered life in Madagascar can seem wildly different to many parts of the world. As I live in the North of England, I’m very used to telling people that I live near Manchester. In Antsirabe as with the rest of Madagascar, I was surprised that mentioning the city didn’t register any recognition. For much of the world (outside the US), Manchester is connected with Manchester United soccer club, and many in the third world follow the fortune of the World’s most popular club via satellite television. I actually usually get incredulous looks in places like Thailand when I say I have never troubled to see the side play; it seems to be the ambition of almost every kid on the street.Unfortunately, Madagascar is too poor for even the media to trouble them. While at the bar our travelling companions (who are keen on following the Grand Prix motor racing) asked where they could watch the next race. They were hit by a wall of blank looks; it seems that satellite Grand Prix and Soccer has passed Madagascar by. As we were to discover, the lack of mass market selling wasn’t all bad news; it seems Madagascar is one of the few countries in the world not populated by a single McDonalds. Imagine!So, what activities fill the media gap? Well, of course without the onslaught of Western culture, the Malagasies manage to hold onto their own traditions. The hotel bar helpfully provided a booklet containing some clues. One Madagascan tribe in particular, the Bara bury their dead in temporary homes for two years before digging up the bones, and holding an extravagant party for the dead before interning the bones into family crypts amongst the rocks in the wilds. Later in our trip, we were able to see some of the tombs. Unfortunately the habit seems to exacerbate the damaging slash and burn agriculture affecting the country; families pay for the celebration by trading Zebu (fed by giving them new shoots from recently burnt earth). Of course, the damage created is nothing compared to our extravagant Western lifestyle, but it seems strange for the dead to put such a burden on the living.If the thought of bringing a pile of bones to the family party wasn’t disturbing enough, the custom that scared me hugely as an elder Uncle is the tradition over the circumcism ceremony. While I knew that many Africans boys had their foreskins removed, I didn’t quite appreciate the honour it was for the oldest maternal Uncle to eat the detached foreskin with a piece of banana! To be honest, I couldn’t quite look a banana in the eye again during our trip. Perhaps the thought of McDonalds colonising Madagascar doesn’t seem quite so unappealing after all! Close
Written by Slug on 30 Nov, 2009
The Madagascan town of Antsirabe is famous for the sheer number of artisan craft shops around. We spent a happy morning touring a number and found locals beevering hard for the tourist $. Their skill made me wonder (and not for the last time) at…Read More
The Madagascan town of Antsirabe is famous for the sheer number of artisan craft shops around. We spent a happy morning touring a number and found locals beevering hard for the tourist $. Their skill made me wonder (and not for the last time) at just how I could wrinkle out a living in Madagascar. They don’t have too much demand for mere pen pushers here. As we were on an organised tour, I think our guide decided to get the artisan tours completed on one fell swoop. Antsirabe is a fairly large (at around quarter of a million population, it is Madagascar’s third largest town) and an attractive place to wander. It seems to have craft workers covering many of the Madagascar standards.First up, we were ushered into the ground floor room of a squat concrete home, to meet a man building toy cars from tin cans and other waste material. He had a very bad chest inflection, and had we not been so early on in our trip, would have donated our stash of antibiotics to him. In between coughing fits, he explained how he used spare bits of break cable, defunct plastic medical tubing and tin cans to produce his cars. Each car took around 3 hours to produce and a small one cost perhaps $4.50 to buy. I particularly liked the chunky looking trucks and the cute Citroen 2CV’s, although their fairly rough edges would have made them an adult toy, rather than for a child. I was particularly taken with ones made from the local beer cans; Three Horses Beer. These took on a uniquely Madagascar slant.Next door, we met a family of five teenaged sisters all sitting in a line on a long bench while hand embroidering a tablecloth. A man sat at the only table in the room hand sketching the designs onto a piece of calico. Each tablecloth set with matching cloth napkins takes around five days to produce, and cost around $35 to buy. Of course, we couldn’t leave without buying a set. Perhaps most impressive was that the hand embroidery was completed such that the design was visible and perfectly good on both sides of the cloth. Now that’s what I call attention to detail. Further along the town, we went to visit some men working on Zebu horn. The Zebu is the cattle commonly seen in Madagascar; a type of cow that can graze the poor lands. Here. I needed something of a stronger stomach, as I spotted some blood dripping from the end of a freshly hacked off horn. The small of the flesh as it was burnt so as to malleable was equally unpleasant. Our man was making a statue of a bird; very clever but not really my thing. Other items on offer included delicate horn serving spoons and such like.We also visited a gem and stone store. This was a shop selling stone eggs fashioned from some of the many types of beautiful stone to be found in the country, and then some pricy rings and jewellery. If this shop was any indicator, there were few bargains to be had here. The main gem area is to the south of Madagascar, so it would probably be better to save your pennies ‘til you reached here. Of course, gems are coveted the world over, so there are few real bargains anywhere in Madagascar. Finally, a few miles out of town, we visited a stall selling raffia made items, from statues and pendants to bags. The latter in particularly, looked bright and colourful and at just a few dollars each were excellent value for presents for the cat sitters back home. I particularly liked the bright animal shapes woven into the bag design, and alongside the stalls, you could watch the women quickly weaving the items. It’s worth checking out the bag handles just to make sure they are sturdy and long lasting enough.Antsirabe certainly seemed to be the handicraft capital of Madagascar, so take a little time out for shopping while you are in town. Close
Written by Golem on 16 Jan, 2005
A chance encounter.Clearly the most sensible epilogue to my few hectic weeks in Madagascar would have been having an utterly relaxing stay on Nosy Be before returning home. But good sense has rarely come naturally to me and neither has being a beach bum, even…Read More
A chance encounter.Clearly the most sensible epilogue to my few hectic weeks in Madagascar would have been having an utterly relaxing stay on Nosy Be before returning home. But good sense has rarely come naturally to me and neither has being a beach bum, even when in the midst of such undeniably fine surroundings. So inevitably, it was not long before I started yearning for previously cherished pleasures of the country's wilder places. However, having already found Nosy Komba's supposed charms to be actually quite distasteful and knowing that Lokobe, the only reserve in the region, was off limits to tourists, my hopes of rekindling the love affair were admittedly not high.
Fortunately, that all changed when I happened upon Donald Retsila touting for business in his own gentle way on the beach. He was an immediately likable person and very well-informed too, especially about the alluring possibilities of the national park's buffer zone, which is actually accessible to visitors.
The slow boat(s).The very next morning we hit the dusty, bumpy roads. However, as the strictly protected area blocks direct access to our destination from the rest of the island, it was soon necessary to swap the car for a more time-honoured form of transport. So, we pushed on towards the awaiting pirogue, stopping only to admire the superbly vibrant markings of a panther chameleon, which surely proves that the alleged reptilian masters of disguise do not change colour to blend in with their surroundings.
After nearly sinking whilst in a modern contraption earlier on the trip, the traditional simplicity of our dugout canoe reassured me. I relaxed straight away, took up an oar, and felt thankful that the firm breeze would make the potentially hot work of rowing a much cooler prospect, as would the water sloshing around the deck. The realisation of what my increasingly wet feet might mean was less immediate, but fortunately before the thought, "oh no, not again," could fully come to mind, we were already heading back towards dry land.
As luck would have it, waiting for the skipper to track down a more robust, less leaky replacement did not really prove to be particularly bad news. In fact, the false start meant that we were privileged enough to be able to watch a mother teaching her young daughter how to fish for crabs in the nearby shallows, passing age-old knowledge down to a new generation.
Finally getting underway in a dryer craft, it was third time lucky for me as far as Malagasy boat trips go. Admittedly, our progress was much less swift without an outboard engine, but that simply increased the opportunities to appreciate the lovely scenery that was on offer. On the horizon, the blue skies merged with the turquoise sea and verdant hills rose from palm-fringed strands, whilst shoals of fish slipped by underneath the wooden hull easily seen through the crystal-clear waters.
Once more into the jungle.Having swapped heavenly, sweeping vistas for the much more confined spaces surrounding the steep jungle trails, we also exchanged the easygoing tempo of the crossing for a much quicker pace that was urged on by Donald's assertion that "the early bird that catches the worm." Nevertheless, there were frequent breaks so that he could demonstrate in hushed tones both his impeccable English and encyclopaedic knowledge of any interesting flora or fauna found among the luxuriant foliage, from wild growing coffee plants to tiny colourful frogs barely the size of my thumbnail. But no one would have needed any assistance spotting the large and attractively striped snake that grudgingly slithered for cover in the thick undergrowth as we approached, and it would have been impossible not to notice the heady smell of unpicked vanilla pods that permeated through the humid air.
Of course, the main goal was sighting some of the country's famous primates, in this case a rather elusive group of black lemurs that took a little while to track down. The species takes its name from the appearance of the males, which are as dark as coal from head to toe and can be somewhat difficult to see in the half-light under the dense canopy. However, no such problem exists with the more striking females, which have rich chestnut-coloured coats and beautifully distinctive white tufts of fur protruding from their ears and cheeks. It proved to be immensely satisfying to do no more than just stand there, quietly observing the magnificent creatures going about their everyday business high above our heads. At any given moment some were leaping from one branch to another whilst others were more static, occupied with feeding or grooming, and at least one was always peering down at us with piercing orange eyes, presumably to ensure that our intrusion definitely represented absolutely no threat at all.
All good things must come to an end.After what had seemed like a hugely enjoyable eternity with our newfound friends, the silence, until then only interrupted by the occasional birdcall, was well and truly broken when a large tour party approached with all of the stealth of a herd of elephants, making the reason for our earlier hurry quite obvious. The hitherto calm troop immediately scattered, and was only coaxed back when the guide brandished a bunch of bananas.
In a way, I can understand that approach from those that accompany such groups of people, who will often have had no better opportunity to encounter the creatures in a natural setting, and who will find it almost impossible to be quiet due to sheer numbers. But for me, feeding wild animals is rarely acceptable, and acting as though they are little more than furry tourist attractions to be bribed into performing on demand is never going to have the same thrill as the more hit-and-miss process of experiencing them on their own terms. As the old Malagasy proverb says, "Nothing is so full of victory as patience."
The art of conversation.Leaving the excitable newcomers to their own devices, we headed for a quiet spot on the beach, pausing only to procure some Three Horses Beer in the local village. With both of us soon lulled into a wonderfully relaxed mood by the warm sun and the gentle lapping of the surf, not to mention the refreshing alcohol, a good old-fashioned chat flourished. We talked of my life in London and Donald's dream of saving enough money to settle in the country with a few zebus, thereby fulfilling his heritage as a member of the Bara tribe, Madagascar's cowboys.
The revealing and hugely enjoyable conversation continued long after we departed, returning across the open bay and weaving through the semi-submerged mangrove once more, and proved to be an unanticipated highlight. In fact, although the opportunity to exorcise past disappointments and revisit the mottled green world of the forest had more than lived up to expectations, on reflection, what made the day so memorable was the chance to spend time in the company of an articulate and charming local uninhibited by the usual language barrier.
Written by Golem on 21 Sep, 2004
Just outside the national park lies Andranofasika, which may be the largest settlement in the area, but is usually a dusty, one-zebu town that cannot compete with the charms of the forest. However, every Wednesday the usually sleepy little spot is transformed into a throng…Read More
Just outside the national park lies Andranofasika, which may be the largest settlement in the area, but is usually a dusty, one-zebu town that cannot compete with the charms of the forest. However, every Wednesday the usually sleepy little spot is transformed into a throng of activity as people descend upon it from miles around for the weekly market, and whilst nearby I could not resist going along myself.
Being used to how the place normally looks, seeing the crowds and sheer number of ramshackle stalls that lined the entire length of the main road was a shock. The first that caught my eye was that belonging to a witch doctor, still an important figure in many small communities throughout the country, despite the best efforts of missionaries. Noticing the interest that I had shown and perhaps sensing a good sales opportunity, the old medicine man moved with a speed belying his years, quickly offering me strings of beads that would apparently provide luck, protection, or even success with the opposite sex! It was clearly going to be an interesting introduction to the island’s rural life.
Much of what else that was on offer proved to be less exotic and more down-to-earth. Everything that a household might want was available, from pots and pans to zebus, the distinctive humpbacked cattle that play a crucial role in both Malagasy agriculture and ritual. Surprisingly, there were also fresh loaves of bread on offer at regular intervals, indicating that the French had more success introducing the baguette than the bible. Meanwhile, much less unexpected, but more eye-catching were the numerous brightly-coloured piles of locally grown citrus fruits, bananas and papaya.
But when it came to vibrant displays, nothing could compete with the stalls selling lambas, the garment of choice in Madagascar, which has a number of uses including sarong, headdress, or even improvised baby carrier. They are also perhaps the best souvenirs available at such non-tourist orientated markets. However, certain that I would look comical rather than fetching in one, the decision not to buy proved easy enough to make.
Having finished browsing, but not yet ready to leave, heading for a hotely felt like a good idea. Despite what the name might suggest, these common establishments are often little more than shacks that offer refreshment rather than accommodation to the passing wayfarer. Basic it may have been, but the drink was cool and the shady veranda was the perfect place to watch the scenes of local life. Stallholders and shoppers from all over the region mingled and talked, having a good time whilst catching up on the gossip and doing business at an easygoing pace. What had initially seemed hectic began to look rather civilised. Making my way back to camp, it was obvious to me that this kind of shopping expedition was infinitely more pleasant than forays to the supermarket back home.
Written by rodeime on 17 Sep, 2004
To most of us, Madagascar is a huge, mysterious island somewhere over Africa’s way. Even hardened trivia masters stumble when posed questions about this enigmatic mini-continent. But chances are we could at least name one or two of Madagascar's famous animals. If you said Lemur…Read More
To most of us, Madagascar is a huge, mysterious island somewhere over Africa’s way. Even hardened trivia masters stumble when posed questions about this enigmatic mini-continent. But chances are we could at least name one or two of Madagascar's famous animals. If you said Lemur or Chameleon, you can count yourself amongst the cognoscenti!
Lemurs, without too much contradiction, are the key wildlife attraction in Madagascar. In fact, without the lemurs, the world's fourth largest island would have little else but bizarre botanic specimens to attract a trickle of garden lovers.
The good news is that there are a slowly growing number of preserved forests in which these ancient primates can now survive. You see, Madagascar is one of the most heavily deforested countries on earth, with over 85% of its cover removed for timber and slashed-and-burnt for agriculture. Fifteen lemur species are already extinct thanks to man and the remaining thirty-two are endangered, some critically.
The world has come to know of these highly unusual animals thanks to the exploits of an eclectic bunch of nature-loving Englishmen, primarily Sir David Attenborough, closely followed by John Cleese and the late Douglas Adams. The academic community has long been aware of the biological significance of Madagascar, and it is now vigorously studied and researched. Significantly, women appear to be leading in this arena with such notable authors as Dr Alison Jolly, Kathryn Lasky, Joyce A. Powzyk, Kathy Darling, Deborah Dennard, and Dr Patricia Wright. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) also has several programs underway.
Alison Jolly can take most of the credit for kicking off modern study into lemurs some forty years ago when she began visiting the Berenty Private Reserve, 85km from Fort Dauphin in the island's south. As a result of her landmark studies, Jolly opened the gates for countless other researchers and, since the early 1980s, tourists.
The father of the current owner, Henri de Heaulme, established the Berenty (Big Eel) reserve in 1936 in tandem with his vast sisal plantations in the semi-arid Amboasary region. Tens of thousands of hectares of the unique, dry, spiny forest were cleared by de Heaulme and others to make way for the imported fibre-producing plant. But when synthetic alternatives were developed, the sisal industry all but collapsed and now only the de Heaulme plantations remains.
Did de Heaulme take pity on the homeless families of lemurs his burgeoning crops had created when he left a few hundred hectares for the new refugees? In a Schindleresque sort of irony, de Heaulme's sisal empire may have saved many species by protecting them from the much less discriminating slash-and-burn techniques of the local Tandroy people. Whatever the motivation, the result has been an intensely studied and vigorously preserved parcel of forest that is now a microcosm of what was once the entire region.
Today, Jean de Heaulme presides over this important bio-reserve, welcoming both academic researchers and inquisitive tourists to his 260-hectare zoological and botanic enclave. The result of all this attention is that Berenty has become the premier location in Madagascar for viewing lemurs and sifakas with the added attraction of its protected deciduous spiny and tamarind forests providing habitat for almost one hundred species, mostly endemic birds.
Visitors will see the ring tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) almost immediately, as a few of the troupes have become resident within the compound. But lately, these semi-tame animals have begun to show signs of malnourishment, as their diet of tourist-supplied bananas is withdrawn. The earlier, unregulated distribution of handfuls of bananas by uninformed visitors created behavioural and dietary problems amongst some of the ring tailed lemurs. This scenario has created some debate between ardent naturalists, who demand that hand feeding be stopped immediately, and tourism operators, whose clients expect some interaction for their money. Somewhere a happy medium needs to be struck and Dr. Jolly believes this is feasible.
She suggests that with supervision and rationing the few dependent animals can be slowly rehabilitated and a balance between self-reliance and "treats" established. In contrast, those who live exclusively in the forest, and away from temptation, are flourishing. The White Sifakas (Propithecus verreauxi verreauxi), on the other hand, have never shown much interest in the human interlopers. Instead, they loll about in the trees choosing the tastiest leaves and buds and occasionally hop down for a merry skip across the open ground, providing another distinctive visual experience for guests.
As a further enhancement, Berenty has a small museum, a very satisfactory restaurant and bar as well as a small zoo containing tortoises and crocodiles. The wide paths within the forests are easily navigated with or without a guide and are best explored at either dawn or dusk when animal activity is at a height.
The nearby spiny thickets offer a startling variation to the riverine gallery forests down by the River Mandrare. The Sifakas are equally at home in either, finding nourishment and moisture in the prickly Didierea while cleverly avoiding the nasty-looking thorns. Night walks in this forest will reveal the two nocturnal lemurs, the Lepilemur and Pygmy Mouse Lemur.
Written by rodeime on 04 Jan, 2004
When the vast island continent of Madagascar wrenched itself free from the mighty Gondwanaland tens of millions of years ago, it took with it a veritable Noah’s Ark of plant and animal species, and established itself as a unique ecosystem that remains so to this…Read More
When the vast island continent of Madagascar wrenched itself free from the mighty Gondwanaland tens of millions of years ago, it took with it a veritable Noah’s Ark of plant and animal species, and established itself as a unique ecosystem that remains so to this day. But only just.
The planet’s eighth continent has remained largely undisturbed for the majority of its existence and has only felt the influence of man in the last 2000 years. In this short time, hungry humans have deforested 85% of the landmass, felled huge baobab, tamarind and ebony stands, remodelled vast tracts for agriculture and placed most of the endemic flora and fauna on the endangered and threatened lists.
Consequently, the idea that Madagascar would ever become a tourist destination has almost always been a remote notion. That was until the world discovered a delightful and intelligent lesser primate called a lemur.
Madagascar’s botanical and zoological notoriety comes as a result of its irresistible attraction to naturalists, biologists and documentary filmmakers. Today, the almost 600,000-square-kilometer island is known around the planet as home for some of the most exotic animal and plant species anywhere.
In his pioneering BBC documentary series, Zoo Quest, Sir David Attenborough transported a myopic mid-20th-century population, via the wonder of television, to adventurous and romantic lands in search of the world’s most wonderful creatures. This groundbreaking series also spawned a batch of best-selling books, of which “Zoo Quest to Madagascar” (1961) was one. In another high-profile media escapade, eclectic English comic John Cleese pursued a troupe of black and white ruffed lemurs into the depths of the forest for three weeks.
"They're gentle, well mannered and pretty, and yet great fun . . . I should have married one," says Cleese in typically sardonic style.
Despite their cute, cuddly teddy-bear looks, lemurs are primates, albeit an early incarnation that predates the apes of neighbouring Africa. Madagascar has fifty surviving varieties (five families and fourteen genera) ranging from the 25g mouse-sized Pygmy Mouse Lemur to the very vocal Indri Indri which would, if it could, stand over a metre tall.
But as an evolving nation still struggling to distance itself from a hectic colonial past, the population’s priorities are not necessarily focused on environmental conservation and preservation. A bout of internal strife in 2002 saw factional violence that effectively derailed the delicately recovering economy. Only now has the legitimately installed government had time to concentrate on preserving the remaining, immensely valuable, biodiversity.
Today, visitors to Madagascar come mainly to see lemurs in the wild, with the vivid and charmingly grotesque chameleons as a supporting act. The botanical headliner is almost certainly the giant baobab (Adansonia grandidieri) still dominating the western landscapes around Morondava.
There are several locations dotted around the island where visitors can get a true up-close-and-personal experience with lemurs. Berenty in the south is famous for its Ring-Tailed Lemurs, Périnet in the east has both the Black and White Ruffed as well as the Brown Lemurs, while Lokobe and Nosy Komba on the northwest island of Nosy Be have semi-tame groups of Black Lemurs.
Perhaps the best known is Berenty Reserve near the historic southern port of Fort Dauphin. Visited as much by bona-fide researchers as tourists, the lodge-style accommodation is roomy, clean and comfortable even if some find it pricey by Madagascan standards. Established in 1936, Berenty’s scant 260 hectares is something of a concession to the burgeoning local sisal industry occupying over thirty thousand hectares of neighbouring cleared land. The lodge’s owner and local sisal baron, Jean de Heaulme, maintains the reserve as much out of pragmatism as philanthropy and has even received a World Wildlife Fund award for his efforts.
Tourists were not introduced to Berenty until the 1980s and their impact was immediate. The ravenous bands of tame Ring-Tailed Lemurs that now patrol the grounds around the bungalows are the result of unmonitored hand-feeding. These animals have become reliant on tourist-supplied bananas, and now that this practice has been greatly reduced, they are suffering from as yet undiagnosed, but probably diet-related maladies that include weight loss and patchy fur. In contrast, their siblings who live exclusively in the forest are in excellent condition.
Acknowledged lemur expert, Alison Jolly, who has studied these animals closely for decades believes a strict rationing of bananas could bridge the gap between visitor satisfaction and interference in this case. Experts are, however, unanimous in their verdict that no supplementary feeding should take place in the forest.
This debate aside, any guest at Berenty is sure to be delighted with simple observation of these exquisite animals. In late afternoon, small bands of White Sifakas skip merrily across the open ground between trees in a curious upright fashion that is a distinct visual highlight. These attractive, if sometimes ungainly, creatures are completely disinterested in tourist offered food, preferring instead their usual diet of leaves, buds and flowers.
Written by soleil17 on 29 Jan, 2005
Many Malagasy roads are in a poor state of repair due to a lack of funding and the constant problems caused by cyclones and the rainy season. The best road is the route from Antananarivo to Tamatave. The next best is from Antananarivo to Mahajunga,…Read More
Many Malagasy roads are in a poor state of repair due to a lack of funding and the constant problems caused by cyclones and the rainy season. The best road is the route from Antananarivo to Tamatave. The next best is from Antananarivo to Mahajunga, but parts are now in a state of disrepair due to recent cyclones. It is simply not possible to drive from Antananarivo to Diego, and Antananarivo to Ft. Dauphin requires at least 2 or 3 days of constant driving. Antananarivo to Tulear is one of the most popular routes in the country for tourists--allow at least a week and bring plenty of spare tires, medical supplies, water, and food. On the east coast, many bridges have washed out and thus floating bridges are now used--they also frequently wash away, stranding travelers on either side. Close
This is a must-try beverage while you are in Madagascar. (There should be an accent over the 'e' in arrange). These are rums that have essentially been infused with local fruits or spices... or both. Fruits, vanilla, or cinnamon are added to a jar full…Read More
This is a must-try beverage while you are in Madagascar. (There should be an accent over the 'e' in arrange). These are rums that have essentially been infused with local fruits or spices... or both. Fruits, vanilla, or cinnamon are added to a jar full of rum for extended maturation--no less than 6 months, some for several years. You can find these all over the country. I recommend the ones at La Varangue and Chez Suzette restaurants (try the orange version at La Varangue). In general, cinnamon, vanilla, and pineapple tend to be the most popular flavors. Good ones are very smooth, and others are very, well, harsh. Close
Written by rodeime on 05 Jan, 2004
Air Madagascar is the national and only carrier within Madagascar.
They operate a small fleet comprising mainly older aircraft that includes a 747-200, a 767-300, several 737s of 200 series and at least one of 300 series. Smaller DHC-6 Twin Otters and ATR-42s make up the…Read More
Air Madagascar is the national and only carrier within Madagascar.
They operate a small fleet comprising mainly older aircraft that includes a 747-200, a 767-300, several 737s of 200 series and at least one of 300 series. Smaller DHC-6 Twin Otters and ATR-42s make up the rest.
Despite the reservations one might have about the age of the aircraft, Air Madagascar enjoys an excellent safety record.
In flight service is basic, but the staff are friendly and cheerful and perform their tasks competently.
Seat numbers are not allocated, so the free-seating frenzy can be a bit of fun. Fortunately, the Malagasy are polite and patient people and despite several internal flights, I did not experience any unseemly behaviour. Foreign travellers are the only ones likely to cause concern in the unfamiliar conditions.
Schedules are really only suggestions. Expect delays and spot changes to flight times. I don't think we ever left on time and waited several hours on one occasion. Bring a good book!