East to Pangalanes lakes and then Andasibe

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Africa » Madagascar » Nosy Be
October 30th 2022
Published: October 31st 2022
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*** Only one snake in this blog, the last photo after Exora hotel.

**** I promised video clips but travelblog seems to have removed that option from its menu. Sorry about that, will have to think of another option. If anyone knows how I could do it, please let me know.

After the evening at African House it was an early start but this time only as far as the 4x4 vehicles for the journey east along the RN2. It was an all day drive, stopping for lunch en route, so we sat back to enjoy the view. Tana is huge so it takes a long time to get clear of the city.

We had driven for an hour or so when a message came through from one of the other drivers that his vehicle was going slower and slower. Harry pulled the convoy into the next service station to wait for them and also arranged a replacement vehicle and driver. Eventually the driver called to say his vehicle had stopped completely and was refusing to go any further. Harry jumped in his vehicle with the driver and went to collect Mike and Caroline who were in the broken down car. Within a few minutes they rejoined us and half an hour later we were all on the road again. The replacement driver turned out to be Riga who had driven me around with Ntsoa in the first week of the trip so it was a nice surprise to see him again.

Harry was travelling in the vehicle with Jill and I and so we were leading the convoy. Suddenly Harry shouted, ‘Stop’ and jumped out. Of course the other cars stopped behind and we all jumped out to see what Harry had spotted. Crossing the very busy road was a chameleon so Harry scooped it up on a stick and delivered it to the other side. We were sure he had saved its life but from the expression on its face it didn’t look very grateful! Maybe he didn’t like so many people taking his photo but we had to as we had not seen that particular type of chameleon before.

Much of the flat land in the area is used for rice production. It was a common sight to see men using zebu to pull heavy wooden ploughs across the muddy fields to prepare them for planting, while the women plant and transplant the shoots. We were told it had to be women doing that job as men couldn’t plant in straight lines! As they can produce up to three crops a year, there are always fields containing rice at different stages of growth. Apart from rice, especially on drier or higher land you can see all kinds of crops, from those we might grow in the UK such as potatoes, tomatoes, peas, lettuce, onions and cabbage etc to more tropical ones and fruits including bananas, pineapples, lychees, papaya etc.

The hills are mostly deforested and look sad and bare. In Tana and to the east there are many more of the traditional brick built two storey buildings than we had seen elsewhere and of course, as the mural shows, the
Radiated Tortoises used to be commonRadiated Tortoises used to be commonRadiated Tortoises used to be common

Poaching to sell to the pet trade has always been a problem and since Covid there are far fewer around
taxi brousses race along the road, unbelievably overloaded with people and freight, often with some people just hanging on at the back.

We drove through villages and small towns and because of the roads our speed was always slow enough to get good close up views of local life so although it was a long journey it was very interesting. The RN2 had some relatively good stretches as well as horrendous parts. Eventually we had to turn off it onto a track for the 7 kilometres to the lake where we would take the boat to our hotel. That took nearly 90 minutes as the track was so bad! By the time we were settled on the boat for the 40 ride the sun had set.

There are a number of Pangalanes lakes just in from the sea, and they run parallel to the coast. About 1902 the French decided to build a canal linking the lakes so that ships could avoid the rough sea. It worked for some time but with the coming of independence
The Tenrec! The Tenrec! The Tenrec!

I couldn’t come home without this picture could I Sheila?
and internal political changes the canal has silted up.

It is the same with the railway that at one time ran from Tana to Tamatave on the east coast not far from the lakes. At present only part of the line is still operational, near the coast, and it is used only for freight.

The boat ride was slightly eerie as there were no lights, and nothing was visible on the shore. The boatmen did not want anyone to put a light on because I think it ruined their night vision. We reached the hotel jetty, still no lights, and tried to find the path up to the Lodge, La Palmarium Beach. We found it with difficulty because it was too dark to see any signs, but eventually we climbed the steps up the hill to reception. There we were met by the staff ( all young men) buzzing about haphazardly. As soon as they saw Harry, they raced to apologise, their generator had failed earlier which explained the lack of lights and created a greater concern for us, could they provide food?

However, we put that concern to one side for the moment and checked in to our rooms, meeting up again in 10 minutes, with torches at the ready. The main reason we had come here was to visit an island which is a protected area for Aye-Ayes. We were staying two nights but we all wanted to go (apart from Scotty & Barbara) and see if we could spot them immediately, so if they didn’t appear we would have a second chance the following night. The hotel staff said they were expecting someone to fix the generator and as we clambered back into the boat, another boat moored up alongside to deliver him, which gave us hope there might be a meal later.

So we set off for Aye-Aye island, perhaps 15-20 minutes away, still in darkness but the stars were amazing as there was no light pollution at all. On the island we had a short walk up the hill to where a warden had hung up some coconuts, and there were the Aye-Ayes, three of them. It was an amazing sight. They are endangered because in many areas people are superstitious and think either that they bring bad luck or that they are evil sprits. And I have to say I can understand why. They are weird creatures. Their coats are thin and straggly and they have long thin fingers with the middle finger longer than the rest. Perfect for Hallowe’en!

Because it was dark, and they are dark, focusing the camera was problematic but I managed a few photos. I took some video too. which I had hoped to share with you!

We stayed only 20 minutes or so as it was getting late but we were all really thrilled that we managed to see them. They raced about, two had a minor scuffle when one tried to muscle in on the other’s coconut, then one came up close in front of me. I wondered where he was going next when he suddenly jumped over my head with very little clearance. The guide had said in advance, ‘Don’t panic’. I was proud that I hadn’t but it had been a close thing.

When we returned to the hotel it was a relief to see lights on and the restaurant setting tables, phew!

Something I forgot to mention in earlier blogs is the meal routine. Whether we were travelling or in a Lodge for a couple of nights we had the same ritual. Before setting out in the morning and again in the afternoon Harry would present the menu for the next meal and we would all place our order. This was very efficient as it saved so much time and gave the kitchens chance to prepare in advance. We were very disciplined about it even to the point where, when we were precariously balancing our way across the top of the Tsingy, Harry ( who was with the slow walkers) phoned to ask Daniel to read out the menu to us and give him our choices. Our local guide thought it was hilarious as we struggled to balance on sharp pinnacles, keep our footing and make decisions at the same time.

The next day we walked around La Palmarium Beach, where we saw totally different vegetation from previously because of the swampy ground and which included pitcher plants. Then we spotted a beautiful chameleon who was patiently watching a preying mantis on his branch biding his time. I managed to video as he shot his long tongue out to catch it, and then he crunched it happily.

Near La Palmarium Beach is Palmarium Reserve, run by the same people. It also has a lodge but it is more ‘touristy’ as it has a number of Lemurs that are habituated and semi habituated, which means there has been interbreeding producing hybrid species. But it also has non habituated Indri which we wanted to see. The Indri is the largest lemur, it doesn’t have a tail which is unusual and it has yellow eyes. Most startling of all is it has a loud call (audible on my video). That was only 2 or 3 calling. When there are two or three groups calling to each other, ( or frightening the others off their territory?), it becomes very loud and can be heard miles away. We heard it regularly in Andasibe.

The second night at La Palmarium only two Aye-Ayes came to eat the coconut but I managed to get a couple of better pictures. They are so weird looking that it made me feel they were straight out of a horror film, but that it not their fault. Their extended middle digit allows them to dig into very hard substances like coconuts and trees in order to scrape out insects or other food.

After two nights we started the drive back to Tana but stopping halfway or so at Vakona Lodge, Andasibe. As this is the nearest National Park to Tana, and the main airport, it receives most visitors and can sometimes become quite crowded as we found on one walk. So we had the sense of winding down into a Disney version of Madagascar. Certainly the number of visitors increased dramatically but surprisingly on most of our walks, especially the six or seven hour walk in Maromizaha Reserve we saw only a couple of other people. It was the reserves on the main road, and night walking along the road itself where people congregated.

The worst was on a morning walk when we encountered the rare Diademed Sifaka and suddenly found ourselves surrounded by three or four groups racing around, all trying to get a good view on a steep sided wooded slope. I felt quite claustrophobic as it wasn’t something we were used to. We had almost always been alone. Harry and our guides worked hard to get us to good vantage points but it felt like a scrum!

Apart from that one time, the forests were not busy only the road by the entrances to the National Park and a couple of Community Reserves.

Despite the numbers and ‘Disney’ affect ( which is probably an over exaggeration - I am talking about 30-40 people at most, seems more with guides and spotters), in fact we saw some of the most interesting creatures here, including the Giraffe necked weevil. So the only things missing of my ‘would really like to see’ list was the jumping rat which has disappeared since Covid, and a tenrec. The tenrec looks like a cross between a hedgehog and a porcupine ( but is the size of a hedgehog) , however it is not related to either, it is unique as most of Madagascar’s creatures are.

Vakona Lodge ranked with Iharana Bush Camp as my two favourites. Vakona is a beautiful, well established lodge and reserve, well off the beaten track, with beautiful gardens, lake and surrounded by its own reserve. It also has Lemur Island, which is a complex of islands separated by shallow waterways. A few years ago the Madagascan government changed the law to prevent people keeping lemurs as pets. They also confiscated those that they could find and gave them to organisations like Vakona’s Lemur Island and La Palmarium to protect them. On the Lemur Islands complex the different lemurs are mostly kept on separate islands to prevent cross breeding. We were rowed around in pirogues to view them from the water. It enabled us to see a couple, like the Bamboo Lemur, that we had seen high up in trees but were unable to photograph. It was a lovely experience being rowed around the waterways.

When we arrived at Vakona, Jill and I had said to Harry that all we needed to make the trip perfect was a tenrec. He said he would keep looking but because they are nocturnal and elusive, he couldn’t promise anything. That evening Jill and I walked over a little bridge in the lodge gardens and saw a dark blob disappear over the edge of a bridge into a ditch. It was only a couple of seconds but long enough to be certain it was a tenrec. When Mike and Caroline returned they had had the same brief sighting of one on the track but disappointingly neither of us managed a photo.

So we completed the day walks on our last day returning to the Lodge for a half hour break before the night walk. When our vehicles pulled into the parking area there was great excitement. Four gardeners raced down to us shouting, ‘tenrec, tenrec!‘. They had found one that afternoon as they gardened and knowing we had all been looking for one, had put it in a bucket with a cover on. Once we were all around with cameras primed, they let it out. It was a beautiful streaked tenrec, just what we had hoped for! He or she seemed confused for a couple of minutes, then off it trotted into a hole in the path. We could not believe our luck. We celebrated with wine that night!

Harry had arranged that before our evening walk we would visit the Mitsinjo Frog Research and Breeding Centre. So much of the frogs habitat is being lost that many species are becoming endangered. The Centre is carrying out different tasks, it is trying to understand more about the frogs‘ lifestyle
The amazing Indri with babyThe amazing Indri with babyThe amazing Indri with baby

I am so sorry I can’t upload their call! Travelblog give a couple of options with other Apps but the chance of my managing that alone is 0% I am afraid
and needs, to see what action would help them and they are also carrying out a breeding and re-introduction programme, releasing thousands back into the wild. The University is carrying out a monitoring project to see how released frogs fare and whether the programme is achieving its targets.

It was late so I think they opened up just for us, persuaded by Harry. It is a poorly funded Centre, evident from the limited facilities but despite that the passion for their work shown by the two young men who explained everything was wonderful to see. Thank goodness there are people with that passion, but they were also very professional and committed. Frogs don’t get the same support as for instance the lemurs, but they should. What is interesting is that the disease which has wiped out millions of frogs in Central and South America can be found here but does not seem to affect the frogs. Finding out why that is might save species in other places. I took a photograph of a beautiful Mantella frog.

The next day we returned to Tana, stopping for lunch on the edge of the Capital. Harry had made the arrangements as usual, including our choices from the menu, and Daniel had invited a visitor, one of his friends, to join us for the meal. Landi, ( not sure of the spelling) is a Chevening Scholar. I had never heard about the scheme before. The UK government offers a number of funded scholarships each year for high achievers from overseas to undertake a taught Masters course. After the course they receive support, mainly from other Chevening Scholars, to return to their home country and put the learning to use helping development in different ways.

Landi was happy to talk about her experience in London for a year, and her present role in a bank. Her Masters was about gender issues, particularly in developing countries and that is what she now advises on. She is so poised and confident that I am sure she will bring about change but it is a big challenge. Trying to break down some of the stereotyping about women’s roles to enable them to improve their own lives by having careers, and at the same time helping the Madagascan economy will not be easy. When you see the poverty anything that helps that has to be a positive thing. I was lucky that by chance I was sitting close to her so could chat. She also talked about her own, very poor, traditional parents and how her experience impacts on their relationship. I could have talked to her for days but soon we had to be on our way back to Tana as some people were flying out that night. The rest of us were staying overnight and going to various destinations the next day.

We said goodbye at dinner and the next morning four of us flew to Nosy Be, parting there at the airport to our own destinations.

I have spent the time since resting, getting up later than 5 or 6am ( one day I went into breakfast at 8.15 and the
A Diademed SifakaA Diademed SifakaA Diademed Sifaka

Looks a little wild
waiter said ( disapprovingly?) , ‘you are the last one today’! Breakfast doesn’t finish until 10 so I didn’t think I was too lazy! I have also had chance to catch up with blogs, this is my last about Madagascar. I apologise for the way so much content came so quickly once I had Wifi.

Between times I have been snorkelling across the bay in Sakatia, which is good with turtles and reef fish and the squid ‘ballet dancing’ troupe that I love to see. I also managed to swim with a whale shark for two minutes!

So I have come to the end of my time in Madagascar, leaving on Tuesday and reaching London early Wednesday morning. Then I take the bus to Cambridge for Swaffham Bulbeck. On the 5th Anna is driving me to Gilli’s newly rented house in Worcester. I am excited to see them settling in as they probably have double the space she had in London. Once settled they can start to think about where they want to buy, preferably a house with an annexe ( or double garage) for me!

My time here has been amazing, so much to see that can’t be seen elsewhere. It does take energy and perseverance and the willingness to put up with some discomfort, but it is certainly worth the effort. Unlike Africa, wildlife is not found in huge numbers and has to be pursued on foot (albeit very slowly, we amble more than hike), rather than in safari vehicles so is not for everybody. I will leave you in peace for the next few weeks - no blogs! But I hope you enjoyed these.

Additional photos below
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3rd November 2022

Great to meet you
Great to meet you at NOS, ADD and LHR airports on our way home. Your blog is outstanding - and the adventures you write about sound amazing. I look forward to reading your other blog posts and hope one day we meet up again somewhere. You never know. If you come to Cornwall ever, do get in contact (you should have my email address now)
2nd February 2023

Great to meet you Martin
Thanks for your comments. I still haven’t invested in an AirTag but so far still have bag! But who knows about the next flight? Sue

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