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Published: December 22nd 2009
A four hour drive down a dusty and uneven road takes us to a river crossing that's five minutes from our camp. We squeeze nine into the car via the simple expedient of the guide sitting astride the gearstrick.
The camp is the focal point of every white person I've seen since leaving Antsirabe, plus a few more. We have an entire afternoon to ourselves, during which I foolishly allow myself to be drawn into a game of poker with the two girls who live on Mayotte. It seems like they've spent many evenings on the island doing precisely this, and I'm cleaned out twice. They cruelly teach me the French phrase "King of Petrol", meaning someone with lots of money. We have a further game after dinner, with exactly the same result.
The following morning I'm hit with one of the most devastating pieces of news I've heard in my life. The consensus opinion is that I'm a renfleur
, i.e. a snorer. I deny it, as I myself had heard snoring the previous night but, with the others' tents located around mine, some triangulation establishes that I was one of the guilty parties.
I grasp at the
straw that maybe it's just the circumstances of being on a mattress in a tent in a humid atmosphere, or some such. After all, I've never been told I snore, by either girlfriends, family, or people I've shared dorms with. Or is this another affliction to be added to a growing bald patch and hairier nostrils as I approach 40? I devote a considerable amount of time to worrying about this development. The girls try to mitigate my shock by saying that it's not real snoring, more like heavy breathing - like that's somehow preferable.
We've come to the Tsingy de Bemahara National Park in order to see tsingy - the sharp pinnacles of a highly-fissured limestone landscape. Our first visit is to the Grands Tsingy, just over an hour away down a road that the French LP describes as "execrable". The internal temperature in the car apparently reaches 39C. I'm soaked in sweat before we've even done anything.
At the park we're issued with climbing harnesses, which alarms me at first but they turn out to be more of a hindrance than a help, even for someone like me with the surefootedness of a mountain fridge. At
various points in the walk, where potentially you could fall down a ladder or into a chasm, steel cables have been installed that you can clip your harness to. Probably a bigger danger is that, with the tsingy being so sharp, you can cut yourself even if you merely stumble against them.
However before we even get to the tsingy we get some good lemur sightings - sifaka, to be precise, though we don't get to see the peculiar dancing motion with which they apparently move on the ground. We'll later spot a couple of other less attractive species. I can't understand the park guide, and the others later say his French was appalling. He also shakes the trees in order to get the lemurs to perform. A few bats and fossils round out the sightings of creatures dead and alive.
It's a breach of fady
in the tsingy to point with an outstretched finger - you should use the knuckle instead - but it's so easy to forget what is such a natural gesture in the West. We all commit this cultural boo-boo multiple times.
The route inside the tsingy is rarely straightforward. We're either climbing
steep ladders, or descending on stones bolted to the rock, or squeezing through narrow cracks, or crawling under low ceilings. With a scorching sun above, I'm soon so wet with sweat that my T-shirt is glistening. And I look so bad that the others keep asking, with some concern, if I'm OK.
The tsingy are interesting but not exactly riveting, and I'm not complaining when we return to the car. The ride back to the camp sees the internal car temperature touch 53C, and I'm a miserable, sodden wreck when we arrive. I drink litres of Fanta and Coke, and still don't need the loo for hours.
Fortunately the afternoon's agenda is in the Petits Tsingy, just minutes from the camp. They're essentially more of the same.
That evening, a few of us do a night walk in the nearby forest. It's immediately productive, with two mouse lemurs to be found darting around in the bushes. We then find a selection of chameleons, as well as a small boa.
The final animal sighting comes for free as I'm brushing my teeth, and I see a selection of flying foxes wheeling above the forest in the light
of the nearly-full moon.
The extent of my French becomes apparent when, while eavesdropping on a group discussion, I'm convinced that one of them says they found a turd in the shower. When I bring this up later, no-one knows what the hell I'm talking about (though there are mouse turds in the showers, generally next to nibbled bars of soap). A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Dull but possibly useful info
i. Took 3.5 hours down a bad road to get from Belo to the ferry crossing a couple of hundred metres from our camp close to the Petits Tsingy.
ii. The camp has bucket showers and long-drop toilets.
iii. The Grands Tsingy are just over an hour's drive away from the camp down a bad road.
iv. Make sure you take plenty of water for the park as it's hot anyway, let alone with the exertions of scrambling around. Our walk took about 3 hours.
v. The Petits Tsingy are 5 minutes' walk from the camp.
vi. Night walks are conducted from the park authority office, a 20 minute drive from the camp. Walks start at ~6:30PM, last about an hour, and cost Ar10K.
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