Madagascar - Part 3, Tsingy National Park

Published: January 5th 2020
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After the river cruise, we were on our way to the place that brought me here: Tsingy National Park. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and (most importantly) made up of uniquely eroded limestone formations, much of which is so sharp, you cannot walk on it except for on guided paths! Before we could get there however, we picked up a military escort in our two SUV's. Me and two other guys were teamed up with Dada, our driver, who was awesome for the next few days. The other three, our guide, their driver and the military escort were placed in the larger SUV. I did not know initially, but while we carried all the luggage in ours, we also had A/C while the other car did not. We had to get a military escort from Belo to Belopaka because they tried to curb locals 'taxing' the sole existing route to the park. And only about 40 minutes in, I thought we got our first taste as we saw a large tree knocked over and blocking the entire road. I was a bit nervous, but after the military guy told us it was ok, it turned out to be a natural event - a very old tree fell over in a storm. So, we spent the next 30 minutes hacking away and pulling the tree enough out of the way to drive past.

After that excitement, we continued on towards our destination. At one point, there was a good heavy thunderstorm - with the dark sky, red soil and green vegetation, it was lovely. We soon got to Bekopaka, we had to take a short ferry ride across the river to continue. It was quick and easy and we were soon on our way. On the other side of town, we arrived at our hotel for the night - Le Grand Hotel which looked like a nice little resort. They had to switch my room as my bathroom was flooded, and I waited with a beer, but I liked my little cabin where I was able to get my first refreshing shower in days. That was pretty much the first thing I did. I went back to get another beer and joined the guys for dinner, where I was happy with spaghetti Bolognese.

Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park

We had to get up early and leave so that we could be at the desolate park before it got too hot. Thankfully, we did not leave too late and we made it in pretty good time. I was so excited to visit the Tsingy, which roughly translate to "place where one cannot walk barefoot" as it is made up of limestone that has been eroded overtime into hard, jagged edges. I used the camp style restroom before we set off with our guide. They fitted us with climbing gear as some of the paths through the park require ropes and carabiners. There was about 15 minutes down a path with little to see, though we did come upon some burial sites for the native people, Sakalava. After that, we started to encounter the limestone, including areas of fossilized rocks. We had also noted the tons of shells, which looked like conch shells, in seemingly perfect condition, lying about many areas, particularly forests during our drive; apparently these were snails! I was thinking maybe it had previously been sub sea (though the intact shells were weird) or maybe the hurricanes had a pretty good range... but snails? These things must have been huge!

Soon, we started to carefully climb and occasionally enter some caves before we were able to get to the first viewing point. Wow! It was gorgeous. We came at a kind of off time of year, and I loved it - it seemed we had the whole place to ourselves, plus an Italian woman and her guides who were behind us. We took some pics from the view point of the limestone and bright green trees with blue sky - so incredible. And all of us loved it - I think the kid the most as it was a fun rock climbing adventure for him. Next we walked along the limestone until we got to the suspension bridge for some photo ops. Then I sat in the "Queen's Chair". Then we had another view point before we descended back down into the caves. It was a hot day, but the caves and crevices kept us cool - some of the areas were a bit difficult with very low ceilings, sharp rocks, tight spaces.... it was awesome.

On the way back we were able to encounter our first lemurs! The first we saw, the guide said was a bamboo lemur, but I think it was actually the red fronted brown lemur; we only got a glimpse of it through the trees and it quickly ran away. However, we got up close and personal with the Decken's sifaka lemurs! They were incredible. So beautiful and curious. We were able to get pretty close, but you should not get too close. We were able to observe them as they hung out in the trees for about 20 minutes or so before we moved on. All in all - this excursion to the Tsingy made my entire Madagascar trip worth it.

Next Adventure

After leaving the Tsingy, we briefly returned to our hotel to pick up our stuff and order a late lunch for ourselves at our next stop: Belo Tsiribihina. It was about a 4 hour drive south again, after crossing the small ferry route. The route was much the same and we were old hats at this. However, we noticed a group with the Italian woman, who had been behind us at the park and had stayed at our hotel, had a serious car breakdown. We saw her sitting at the side of the road while a couple of guys tried to fix the wheel. It turns out the wheel started to wobble off and there was something seriously wrong with the axle - she said they were lucky to have noticed because it could have been a potentially very serious accident. We noticed a lot of cars on the side of the road like this, including one huge truck on the road heading towards the Tsingy that blocked a lot of the road and was there both days.

We made it to town, Belo, which is sizable and found our restaurant. I ordered a shrimp creole, which was pretty good, but there were just too too many flies and we were all pretty miserable fighting with the little buggers. The Italian woman joined us for lunch and a beer before we dropped her at her hotel. We continued on, getting on a similar, though larger, ferry, which was a good half hour journey until the next road. We then continued south, including a couple of stops where the front car driver seemed worried about a similar wheel mishap. However, these brief maintenance stops also gave us a chance to enjoy our first glimpses of the baobabs all around. There were noticeably more in this region.

We had about two hours journey before reaching Kirindy Mitea National Park for a night hike before finally retiring at a nearby resort.... discussed in the next blog...

Additional photos below
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7th January 2020
Tsingy - Deken's sifaka lemur

Amazing lemur's
The joys of Madagascar.

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