After spending a night at Belo Tsiribihina, we now get back on the 4WD and head to Bekopaka where we will base ourselves for couple days to explore one of the most unique UNESCO world heritage sites in the world, the Tsingy de Bemaraha, from the UNESCO website, I copied below a brief but informative description of this place.
Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve comprises karstic landscapes and limestone uplands cut into impressive 'tsingy' peaks and a 'forest' of limestone needles, the spectacular canyon of the Manambolo river, rolling hills and high peaks. The undisturbed forests, lakes and mangrove swamps are the habitat for rare and endangered lemurs and birds.
The Tsingy de Bemaraha Integral Nature Reserve is located in the District of Antsalova and in the region of the central west part of Madagascar. It is part of the Melaky region, in the autonomous province of Mahajanga, and localized between 44°34’ to 44°57’ longitude east and 18°12’ to 19°09’ latitude south. Its total area is 152,000 ha.
The Reserve offers a wide variety of geomorphological structures. It is a veritable cathedral of limestone and offers one of the most spectacular natural landscapes of
the Grand Island and even of the world. The western part of the plateau presents a very dissected or ‘lapiezée’ relief, most of which is covered by a dense, dry and deciduous forest. In its eastern part, the forest is interspersed by savannas.
The Tsingy de Bemaraha Integral Nature Reserve represents rare or eminently remarkable geological phenomena and of exceptional beauty. It presents impressive geological elements including karstic scenery with a highly dissected limestone massif, crossed by a deep river gorge which is the spectacular expression of a stage of evolution of the earth in the form of a « forest of sharp stones » with high limestone pinnacles rising up to 100 metres, forming veritable cathedrals, offering a grandiose, spectacular natural landscape. Further, « the Tsingy » of the limestone plateau forms an unusual feature of outstanding beauty, unique in the world, universally recognized by the effect created by the shades of forest green on metallic reflections of the grey karst “bristles”.
To get there we have to cross the Manambolo river, we stopped a few meters from the dock and had a great lunch of vegetables and fried tilapia. This was the
best meal I've had so far here. We checked in at the National park office to pay entry fee and was assigned a guide, Tuki, a very tall soft spoken man.He met us at the restaurant , we put our hiking boots on and sunscreen and off we go to explore the little Tsingy, whose entrance is just right by the river. So there are two Tsingys to explore the small and big and I think it's based on the height of the karst and pinnacles found in each of these sites. We chose a 3 hour trek, Misa and Filemon our 2 guides came with us, the park guide took us through the forests first it's midday and it's very hot so we get the shades of the canopies while looking for some wildlife, it took us awhile to find one lemur up a tree, a brown one, then another, and another, these guys live in groups of no more than a dozen, once you spot one, most likely the rest are around as well. It's always fascinating to see them in their natural habitat, although not great for photos as they are high up and keeps moving about.
Later we saw some cifakas, a type of lemur, though I don't really know what differentiates them, some birds on the forest floor, we did not find chameleons.All around you cansee a limestone tsingy here or there, they are rough and sharp at the ends, we clamber some of them, as we explore them in detail, we get to walk in corridors,small cracks between two massifs, here and there you find some plants, how they manage to take root in the dark crevices amazes me.There is some caves we were shown that has some artefacts from when the first inhabitants, their ancestors lived here, the story goes the blacks from Africa were the 1t settlers, then when the next wave of immigrants came from Indonesia, they fought a war for dominance and the Africans lost and they settled here in the Tsingy to hide away from the Indonesians, they became adept to this environment and can maneuver the tricky limestone karsts tip toeing around, which in their native tongue, they call this Tsingy, to tip toe. God I hope I got all my infos right!
Anyway there are 2 viewpoints, up the sets of
ladders and atop the limestones, where you can get a perspective on how tall they are and how far they spread in this area. At times we have to wait for other groups to climb down the viewpoints, not a big area, the look out points, so you have to take turns.
Having finished before the sun sets, we made our way back to the entrance, and drove to the small village of Bekopaka, our accomodation is there. Unfortunately I can't remember the name of the place, but it's a big compound, owned by a French/Malagasy couple, the staff are really nice, and rooms are clean and tidy. We have generator power from 6 to 10pm and then again from 7 to 8am I think, there are no powerlines here, and so locals are used to candlelights here at night. The village in itself is small and life evolves around the Tsingy, this village is inaccesible during rainy season when Manambolo and Tsiribihina rivers swell up from rain, So I was told in dry season they fish the rivers and rainy season they farm or grow things. We had dinner at our accomodation, food is not bad but expensive.
The water coming from the sink is actually pumped in from the river so it is brown, ok to shower in and flush toilets but not for brushing teeth and certainly not for drinking, unless you are a local, since they are already used to the bacteria present in the water. Surprisingly they have hot showers, a welcome blessing as it gets cold at night, remember that it's winter here at the moment. So the next day we got ready to explore the big Tsingy, the "piece de resistance" of this park. We ordered boxed lunch from our lodge and we pick it up before leaving, but first we have to do a short river cruise on a pirogue down the Manambolo river, honestly it was boring, the scenery is nice but we have seen similar things in Tsiribihina. We stopped at one cave and we took a peek at some stalagmites and stalactites formed inside small caves, and a few potteries from when their ancestors lived here, and also some coffins perched above a ledge, we did not bother to hike up, we saw it from the pirogue.
Then on to the big Tsingy, we drove maybe
45 minutes to the beginning of the trails, already a few cars were ahead of us, but this park is huge, I bet we won't even see other tourists here, It is hot and dry, Tuki took us to the forest but first we have to walk through savannahs, the grass is dry and brown, we stopped before we entered the canopies to put on our harness which we need to navigate the tall cliffs. Walk inside the tsingy area is pleasant, occasionally Tuki will explain about the trees and plants around, hiking here is a bit tiring, you need good shoes as the rocks are sharp, we made our way to the 1st viewpoint, we have to wait, there were Japanese documentary crew filming the Tsingy,the view was nice, limestone pinnacles as far as the eyes can see.Sadly my photos don't do justice how cool this place is, lighting was bad at that time of day. Moving on to the 2nd viewpoint we have to cross a metal bridge which was not for vertigo sufferers, I don't like heights so I looked far as I cross it, same view just different perspective, we did not stay long, we moved
down and found some nice place below the massifs to have lunch.
A rather pesky mongoose came and wanting our left overs as we eat lunch, I made a mistake of throwing a chicken bone away to keep it from approaching me, I was reprimanded by Misa, you are not to feed wildlife here, so we just have to shoo it away. After lunch, Tuki our guide tried to find some wildlife for us, but in the heat of the day the only one we saw was a bird foraging in the forest floor, no lemurs, but after more than 4 hours in the searing heat we just want to finish the walk, we made our way back to the parking lot where our 4WD awaits us, via the brown grassy savannah. Back at the lodge we chilled in the lounge seats behind our cottage, under the mango trees and watched ants harvest the peanuts we dropped on the ground, as we sip our THB beers. For dinner we decided to go to the restaurant next to the little Tsingy entrance by the river to have more fried tilapia. Then on our way back to the lodge
Pierrot our driver suddenly stopped the truck and Filemon told us to get out and come with us, him clasping a flashlight, shining it in the bush we saw 2 different types of chameleons and a small lemur above the trees, we were both wondering how the hell did he see that from the car, we were driving fast too, unlike lemurs, chameleons' eyes don't shine when shone by a torch, so we think they must have put them there for us to stop and see later but I doubt it, they just have keen ability to spot wildlife even on the run, Filemon claims he can smell them from afar...
The next day, we leave for Morondava but first we have to cross the Manambolo river again but there were some delay as the barge is broken on the other side of the river, took half hour to fix it and then off we go, stopping briefly at Belo Tsiribihina again for lunch. Driving through dusty roads, about 3 hours later we arrived at some village where lots of Baobab trees line the dirt road, we stopped to visit the oldest one in the area, few villagers selling
souvenir trinkets but not aggressive, they left us take their fotos and off we go to the lover's baobab, 2 trees entwined tobether as if hugging each other, no one was there just us, so then after that we headed to the famous Avenue of baobabs, supposedly we were to visit Kirindy Forest but we feel like we have seen enough wildlife anyway and most you will find there are nocturnals, besides we look forward to some rest days in the beaches of Morondava.
Drove about 45 minutes until we reached the Avenue of baobabs. In a small village, a dusty road is lined with giant baobab trees, hundreds of years old, there were more concentration of these behemoths here than in any other places, you can also buy a seedling and plant your own tree, but don't expect them to reach this giant size in your lifetime, they grow slow and take their time. Most tourists come here ate sunset for good photos, we walked through the street and positioned ourselves on one a grassy lawn. When the sun was about to set, Filemon whispered to me and told him to follow him, he told me the best
Tsingy de Bemaraha
a narrow gap between the pinnacles
spots to be for best photos, but he does not want me to make it too obvious so the other tourists won't follow! After the sun ha set we now headed towards the coast, Morondava is a bustling town, we arrived at Chez Maggie resort/hotel owned by Gary and Baholy, American/Malagasy couple, they helped us organized this trip through their partner company Remote river expedition. From the get go they have been very helpful and they are hands on on all things, checking the guests if all is good, chatting and giving some infos and tips, we had a great time because of them.
The Chez Maggie is a cool place, the bar cottage area is full of trinkets, they have nice interesting drinks too and one of the reception guys have given me tips on how to make fruit flavored rhum on from scratch, we loved the lychee rhum here, the other flavors are ok too but some are too strong for me, they have banana, pineapple, citrus, and ginger. We settled on our nice cottage, very clean and neat. But what we are excited about is the mud crabs! And from the moment we got
here till we departed, I ordered nothing but mud crabs sauteed in garlic for every meal except breakfast! For $5 you get 2 big crabs with huge claws, for crustacean lovers, this is paradise! We spent 2 days here but stayed in the Chez Maggie for most of the time, only time we left is to walk to town to use the ATM. We explored the beach, it's nice, very big sandy area and a small lagoon near our resort, in the afternoon, crowds gather to wait for the fishermen coming ashore with their catch, I saw one, they caught all sorts but mostly some long fish, espada I think is what they are called, lots of bartering going on, it's fun to observe even if I dont understand a thing. Some guys playing soccer on the beach, and kids running around, great to just stroll the beach and observe daily routines of the locals. And when I am not walking around I sit by the pool at Chez Maggie with a cold one, only the water is a bit cold so beware!
Sadly this has to end, Tahina our driver from the beginning came back to
fetch us and drive us to Tana, a mere 12 hours away. He did not come last night, he spend the night in some small village apparently the police stopped him and told him it is not safe to continue on the road after dark as there are bad guys who can ambush him, but he is here now and we are off. Tahina gave us an option to spend the night in Antsirabe if we are tired but we told him to keep going and arriving past 9pm in Tana we went for a quick meal downtown and then to our hostel Tana Jacaranda, our flight leaves the next afternoon headed to Reunion so we can do some serious hiking, Madagascar is a poor country, but is cheap, people are quite friendly and trusthworthy,we would like to come back in the future so as to explore the other parts of the island.
In case you want to inquire about Madagascar here are some contact info that may be useful: http://remoterivers.com/en http://www.chezmaggie.com/
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