leaping_lemurs: (I Wantz U)
[personal profile] leaping_lemurs
We made it!I slept a little on the plane, though my knees were screaming in pain most of the night. The woman sitting next to me was from the Netherlands, and since her husband was several rows back, we did a lot of chatting, which helped pass the time. I may have a new Martin convert, too. She thought he sounded like someone she’d like, so I’m going to lug the book back to the States after all and send it to her. Anyway...

We landed right on time, at 4:54 AM, got our luggage, made it through Customs and were met by Vy (pronounced Vee), our Malagasy guide, who’ll be with us the entire trip. He studied philosophy, along with the tourism business, at college in India, and he did a ton of extra studying once he heard he had zoo people coming. He speaks excellent English, too, so imo we’ve got the best deal going: a private tour with an incredibly qualified guide who knows the country from the inside. We’ll also have our own drivers at the various stops on our itinerary. Our current driver is Jocelyn (pronounced JossLEEN), and though he doesn’t speak much, if any, English, he’s a pro at handling the roads here, of which more later.

Our first stop was a small hotel near the airport, where we had rooms at our disposal until 8:00, which meant we got to shower and change, although we had no bottled water, so we didn’t get to brush our teeth, and after about 36 hours, mine were definitely feeling mossy. We also got breakfast there. (Three meals a day are included, except for drinks, and since my Coke – Coke Light, as they call it, doesn’t seem to have penetrated this market – at lunch cost 1400 ariary, which is less than $1, I think I can handle quenching my thirst.)

After breakfast we hit the road for the 3-hour (not counting stops) drive to our hotel near the Perinet Reserve.

Tana is crowded and certainly has some very poor areas, but it’s also got some beautiful architecture (I have no idea what style, so don’t even bother to ask) and a manmade lake with a monument in the middle of it. It’s a huge angel statue erected in honor of the Malagasy soldiers who served in WW 1. We’ll “do” Tana on our last day, our main stops the zoo (probably the only place we’ll be able to see a fosa - pronounced foosa - and an aye-aye, though we’ll be looking for the latter on one of our night walks) and the market, in search of crafts. But I digress. (Get used to it. It’s my way.)

From Tana we took Highway 2, one of the best roads in the country, though in the US it would be your basic 2-lane state highway, though without lane markings, just for purposes of comparison. It’s well paved, but very twisty – at least the parts we were on – because Tana’s in the mountains that run north-south up the center of the island, and we were heading to the east, closer to the coast.

A few shots of the scenery:

A word on transport. Madagascar is very definitely third world, though after the initial sense of dislocation and even guilt I always feel when arriving in a third-world country from my cushy home, it didn’t feel as poor as, say, parts of Peru, even though I think it’s in reality poorer. I don’t know why that is, but at least based on what I’ve seen so far, that’s how it feels. Anyway, because it’s so poor, a lot of people walk – and we passed a number of women who were balancing baskets of...stuff (produce, maybe) on their heads as they walked along the shoulder of the road, both city streets and highway. If it comes to that, a lot of people walk right in the road. There are also lots of bicyclists, some cars and motorcyles, and what seems to be a taxi-bus cross: private vans that look like they seat about 16 that run continuously through the city and from town to town along the highway. There may be set stops, but it looks like mostly people just stand by the road and flag them down. Entry is through the back, where the conductor stands and hangs on to a rope, often leaning out into the road as the van takes off until the doors swing shut. The first time I saw it, I thought I was about to see a death, but then I realized that it’s the normal way of things. There are also – again, in both the outskirts of the city as well as the country – lots of heavy wooden carts, some pulled by people but most by teams of zebu, the local cattle, which have a hump at the base of the neck (brahma bull-like) and sport impressive horns. Zebu is the local red meat, so I’m sure I’ll be trying it before I leave. Zebu are also used for plowing the rice paddies, and I saw one man doing just that as we drove past. It looked like hard and very sweaty work.

And then there are the trucks, mostly huge old Mercedes hauling wood from the rain forest to be made into charcoal. 17 species of lemur have gone extinct in the last couple hundred years due to habitat destruction, and though the government is trying to protect more land, it’s hard in such a poor country to tell people not to cut down trees to keep themselves warm and fed. As we were going uphill out of the city, a bumper-to-bumper stream of trucks was coming toward us, and Vy explained that the government doesn’t want the trucks in the city, so – especially on Saturdays – the drivers all congregate outside the city limits, then convoy in so the police won’t be able to stop them.

The trucks and many of the vans also emit clouds of fumes. They must be burning oil like crazy. Jocelyn drove with his window open most of the time, but sometimes we’d either come up behind a particularly polluting example or he’d see one coming toward us, and he’d roll up the window to keep our car (a Toyota Land Cruiser) from filling up with black smoke. We were never behind anyone like that – or anyone slow – for long, though, because people here pass whenever they feel like it, which mostly means on curves, because the roads we’ve seen so far have been made up mostly of curves. There are a number of roundabout type intersections in Tana, but so far, I can’t recall seeing a single traffic light.

Some random Madagascar facts. It’s the 4th largest island in the world. 43% of the population is under 15, and at the current rate of reproduction, the current 17 million inhabitants will double to 34 million in 14 years. (I think that was the figure.) The government tries to encourage women to use birth control, but in rural areas most people can’t read (school is mandatory, but it’s a pretty well unenforceable statute), so they can’t take birth control pills according to day. The solution was to color-code the cycle, but women were only taking the colors they liked, so the birth rate is still going strong.

Lots of Polo and Ralph Lauren clothes are made in factories here out of fabrics from India, but they’re pretty much exclusively for export. Rice is a staple crop, but in the mountains it can only be grown 6 months a year, because it needs rain, and the rainy season only lasts 6 months, which allows for two growing cycles. The rest of the time people grow tomatoes, casava and other less rain-dependent crops. Roadside markets stocked with produce are everywhere, and lots of houses along the highway or in the villages that closely flank it have small produce stands out front, too.

A lot of the houses are made from red clay bricks – which we saw stacked all over the place - stuccoed over for a smooth exterior and then roofed with thatch. And a lot of the bricks are made of clay dug up from the rice paddies, which then ruins them for growing, because once the clay is removed the water drains away, instead of forming the standing pools the paddies need.

We broke our trip twice. The first time was at the La Mandraka Nature Farm, mainly an exotic reptile sanctuary and breeding facility, and I’m so glad we went. We saw Nile crocodiles, tomato frogs, tiny poison tree frogs and snakes

(word is that there are no venomous snakes on Madagascar, but in fact there’s one; however, its venom sacs are so far down in its throat that a person can pull it loose before it can inject its venom), and non-reptiles like stick insects,

leaf grasshopers,

Do you see it?

millipedes, butterflies and some gorgeous moths,

The normal view:

The "I'll scare you off with my eyes" view:

bats and tenrecs (adorable relatives of the hedgehog).

But the most amazing were the chameleons and geckos. I held a panther chameleon in his mating coloration, the most gorgeous of all the species we saw,

but the whole range was incredible, from tiny nocturnal chameleons with stubby tails

to sometimes quite large diurnal species with gorgeous coloration (it takes a 4-pignent mix to change colors) and prehensile tails.

Rhinoceros Chameleon (check out the nose):

Elephant-earred Chameleon:

Watch the tongue action when it was time for a cricket.

The nocturnal varieties are ground dwellers, while the diurnal ones live up in trees. They all have graspy hands and feet, and their tongues are almost as long as their entire bodies. Also, their eyes rotate 360 degrees and act independently of each other because their brains are split, giving them essentially two brains.

Geckos have flat, five-fingered hands/feet, and though they don’t change color, some of them have remarkable camouflage, looking just like bark or leaves. You can tell geckoes and chameleons apart because chameleons have high, rounded backs, and geckos' backs are flat.

The Geico gecko?

A couple of varieties of Uroplatus geckos. First, an example of camo. Picture him on the bark of a tree.

A leaf-tailed gecko, showing off the reason for his name:

Since it’s unlikely we’ll see many of these species (not just the chameleons and geckos) in the wild, it was great to have the chance today. And the facility, though small and, by US standards, ramshackle, has knowledgeable guides and takes its work seriously, breeding a number of species on premises. Chameleons, for instance, are solitary other than when they’re breeding, and the female buries her eggs, then takes off. 6 months later the eggs hatch, but chameleons are cannibalistic, so the main cause of death in the young is being eaten by the old. At La Mandraka the chameleons live in a large walk-in habitat, so the staff is always alert for new hatchings so they can rush the young to safety.

Later we stopped for lunch and I had chicken in Coca Cola sauce. It was sweet and quite delicious, though I never would have known Coke was an ingredient except that it was in the name.

Then it was on to our hotel for the next two nights, the Eulophellia Lodge. It’s relatively new, with a big central building for reception, the restaurant, etc., and then guests stay in pretty one-room (well, ours is one-room, but maybe there are bigger ones) bungalows built in the traditional style, though modernized inside.

We’d thought we were staying at Vakona Lodge, and I’m a bit disappointed we’re not, because they have lemurs right on the premises, though they’re abandoned pets, not wild, but other than that, Eulophellia seems wonderful. Our cottage has a thatched roof, and I kept thinking it was raining when the wind blew. I also spotted a little lizard climbing along the underside of the thatch over our front porch. (Did I mention we have a front porch?)

Our lizard (who, by his shape and feet, appears to be some species of gecko):

The bathroom set-up is...interesting: one side is the shower, and there actually is a sort of stall floor to stand on, just no stall lip or curtain. (Kimm, remind you of Ross River?) And the “door” to the bedroom is a curtain of heavy fabric strips, but hey, I’m in Madagascar and I can cope. Tonight we’re going on a walk in search of mouse lemurs, the smallest primate in the world. (Pygmy marmosets, which we have at the zoo, are the smallest monkey. Just in case you were wondering.)

Date: 2007-11-02 05:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] the-reverand.livejournal.com
Wooo! What a beginning. ^__^ And what absolutely gorgeous moths! And great gecko tongue action! Will you share with us what the inside of your lodge looks like? Or is it too modernized to share?

Date: 2007-11-02 08:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] deaver.livejournal.com
So glad you pointed me to this journal - the start of the journey just makes me want to read (and see the pics) from the rest!

The chameleon and gecko pictures are facinating. I never knew there was such variety!!

Date: 2007-11-03 12:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wildrider.livejournal.com
Geckos are cool (as are chameleons). They're much brighter in color than our local native geckos.

Oh, the moths are so pretty!!!

Beautiful country.

Date: 2007-11-03 02:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lage-nom-ai.livejournal.com
Your new camera was SUCH a great investment! I can't believe the clarity and detail on these pictures!

Date: 2007-11-03 02:50 am (UTC)
ancarett: (Genius Edna Mode Incredibles)
From: [personal profile] ancarett
Amazing pictures! Wow, I just can't get over how rich and varied it all appears!

Date: 2007-11-03 11:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] victorian-tweed.livejournal.com
Absolutely stunning photos, and thank you for the information about Madagascar - I shamefully admit I know very, very little about it, so this is going to be a fabulous education!

The countryside is amazing, I've never seen anything quite like that before.

My goodness! Such gorgeousity!

Date: 2007-11-06 02:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] damonologist.livejournal.com
You take professional photos! I'm way impressed! I had no idea you were such an accomplished clicker! And besides that, your ramblings are most exciting. I honestly felt like I was right there with you (although a thatched-roof hut that makes me think it's raining every time the wind blows isn't my idea of paradise). This is going to be a very exciting journal. Thanks for adding me to your alert list!


Date: 2007-11-18 12:22 am (UTC)
nverland: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nverland
Just finally getting started, what a fascinating start, and the photos are amazing

Date: 2007-12-30 12:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] itsmepeace.livejournal.com
coca cola as sauce??
stick insects??
i'm intrigued yet frightened


Date: 2008-01-19 02:37 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I came back to look again, and I'm so wowed by the photos and your photographic skill. The first time through, I was just amazed and knew I'd come back to see and read all over again. This journal is a definite keeper.

Sue CB


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