Curious lemurs, tsingy and scorpions

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December 30th 2010
Published: January 15th 2011
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Cute and fluffyCute and fluffyCute and fluffy

With my Crowned lemur friend
Christmas is a bit of a turn around one for us, unpacking from our last trip and organising for the next. It's very quiet on the streets of Diego with all the shops closed, the locals in their Sunday best and lots off to church. We celebrate with a restaurant lunch of chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans and even splash out on some dessert. It's great to chat on the phone with family back home and hear about their Christmas day thousands of miles away. Luckily by the time evening rolls around the market is bustling again and we stock up on supplies and pack for a few days camping in Ankarana National Park.

Next morning our trusty guide, Laudea, arrives, we fill a couple of large water containers and locate a taxi-brousse heading in the right direction. It's a popular destination. Twenty nine humans and one small frog are crammed into the fifteen-seater and we are off on our hot, sticky journey. Everyone gets to do a bit of a shuffle when we stop at a village on the way where women hover at the windows offering trays of hot corn on the cob. We eagerly purchase some and it really hits the spot.

After a few hours we are dropped at the park entrance with three kilometres to walk to our campsite base. A keen young porter with a wheel barrow turns up at just the right time and we gladly hand over our heavy water containers to lighten our loads.

Even before we reach the camp we are liking this park. Huge wild mango trees dripping with fruit line the track (so our bags become heavier again) and we see some small terrestrial chameleons and a group of crowned lemurs. More lemurs greet us at the camp itself and this lot are not at all flighty. Leaping between small trees close to the ground they stop and check us out at close quarters.

Suddenly they are all over our backpacks that we placed on the large table, licking the straps and fabric. Who knows what they are tasting after seven months of travel, but they are welcome to it. They are very cute and fluffy and there are even a couple of young ones taking a ride curling themselves around their mum's bodies. We have to keep very careful guard over our food
Large scary scorpionLarge scary scorpionLarge scary scorpion

Extra leg clamped in it's jaws
especially the fruit, keeping it in our tent when we are not eating. One very keen lemur decides the mangoes that Tessa is protecting in her hand look pretty tasty and jumps onto her to access them. His feet are padded and surprisingly soft, with no claws but wee toe nails. She is smitten.

Not so attractive is the idea of scorpions around the camp. We've been warned not to leave anything on the ground, especially at night and Laudea carefully sweeps the tent site clear of leaves. The first one we spot is huge and lurking outside the toilet in the darkness. It looks pretty sinister and gives us all the heebee-geebees. Another large one attacks a weta-like insect on the seat just beneath Laudea. We all leap up in fright while the insect jumps around missing one leg and the scorpion storms the ground, weta leg in it's jaws, searching for the rest of it's prey.

We walk twenty kilometres return to Lac Vert (green lake) through the hot, dry deciduous forest. The trees are green at present, there are pockets of baobabs with their big, round, hard fruits and giant beans have dropped their woody seed pods on the track.

Shiny large lizards scamper through the leaves, heads up watching us, pastel pink flatid leaf bugs gather on branches and a variety of birds call across the forest. We manage to spot some of the large, brown raucous parrots and a black Drongo amongst others.

The Green Lake itself is slightly yellow from lack of rain, but beautiful surrounded by towering dark cliffs and the tall forest. Beside it is the Tsingy Grand, a large area of sharp limestone rock eroded to jagged points by the weather. A nice spot for lunch, although we have to search to locate a shaded seat that won't result in holes in us and our clothes.

Back at base after our campfire vege soup and rice we head off on a night walk. Chameleons are easier to see at night, quite white in the torch light against the green vegetation, so we are hoping to spot some more, and we do. Wee terrestrial ones are sleeping on leaves near the ground and larger ones snooze on twigs higher up, tails curled.

Red eyes in the light give away some small nocturnal lemurs and we identify the creature producing the eerie loud screeches in the night - the sportive lemur. Butterflies sleep grasping leaves and lizards creep up tree trunks. Tessa nearly steps on a snake curled up on the road and we all tread carefully, skirting around a few scorpions lurking on the ground.

The next day we tackle some short walks. The Perte des Rivieres is a huge hole in the ground that all the rivers in the park disappear into in the wet season. Today it's dry and we walk the river bed imagining the roar of water. Further on is the Tsingy Rary, an extensive mat of sharp limestone tsingy stretching into the distance, and we descend into the bat cave, housing thousands of squeaking bats of two different species. It's a hot walk back up the one hundred and sixty odd steps to the level of the camp site where our Crowned Lemur friends greet us before heading off into the tree tops for the night.

Before we pack up camp we fit in another short walk to the Tsingy Meva with extensive views across the landscape to other parks and hills. Some Sandford's Brown Lemurs come down to join their crowned cousins to farewell us as we begin the walk out.

After a short wait a taxi-brousse turns up and we are off. The fare is cheaper apparently because it only looks like a taxi-brousse. Despite the heavy rain we pass through that pours onto the seat from above the window and our seat not being bolted down, it's quite a comfortable ride back to Diego Suarez.

We toast the north with a THB (Three Horses Beer) and some local live music with drum, rattle, guitar and accordian. A fitting farewell to this part of Madagascar.

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