Monday 2 October 2017

Madagascar 2 - Antsirabe - Ranomafana National Park

The next day we started back towards Antananarivo, the start of a journey which effectively lasted 2 days until we reached Ranomafana.  On the first day, the journey was punctuated by a stop at a centre housing a good collection of chameleons, geckos, frogs and butterflies. We were able to get really close to them.  They were in large enclosures, and chameleons are quite slow moving in any event. I'm afraid I haven't identified them yet.

Chameleon - unidentified as yet

Chameleon - unidentified as yet

Chameleon - unidentified as yet

Chameleon - unidentified as yet

Chameleon - unidentified as yet
We also saw some amazing geckos, which also managed to camouflage themselves against their background so as to be almost invisible.

Leaf-tailed Gecko - about 25cm long

Leaf-tailed Gecko - about 25cm long

Leaf-tailed Gecko - the eyes have it!

Where's Wally?? - the gecko is there somewhere.
Millepede making for a hand - not mine!
One of the nice things about having a guide with us, was that on the long journeys Rija would, periodically, entertain and instruct us about the local tribes, customs, history and activities. There are 18 tribes in Madagascar, each with their own language.  The language of the tribe around the capital was officially adopted as the Malagasy language, but there are still some places where communication between Rija and the locals was not straightforward.  The majority of the population still lives and works in the countryside.  More people in the city go to schools, but overall literacy is probably about 60%.  Most people understand some French.  This was handy, as I could get by with my basic French.

We also got off the bus occasionally and walked around the villages. In this way we could see, close up, some aspects of their daily lives.

Typical village street market

Market in a larger village/town
Getting around in Madagascar

With no railway and the hilly terrain, the only way to get around is by road. Walking is most common. Zebu carts are everywhere.

The ubiquitous zebu cart

For long distances, there is the car, taxi or sometimes Italian-made tuk-tuks (motorised rickshaws).  Then there is the taxi-bus. These overloaded buses ply the country, some long journeys taking several days.  They didn't look too comfortable; hot and overcrowded. Here is a typical one:

Typical taxi-bus
We ended the first day's journey in Antsirabe, staying overnight at a nice, red-brick hotel called Les Chambres du Voyager. We only really had time for dinner before going to bed, but I asked one of the staff whether there were any birds around in the garden, which had a large pond with a small accessible island.  He said the best time was from 05:30 to 06:30.  Three of us agreed to get up to see what was about at that time.

I rose early, dressed, and by 05:30 I was in the garden, where I met Sian and Nic. What fools! It was still dark for goodness sake!  There were indeed many birds that started to appear at first light, including common jery, Madagascar Fody, a Madagascar Malachite kingfisher and Madagascar white-eye. A hamerkop flew overhead, and there were a few other birds which it was too dark to identify.
Common Jery

Madagascar Fody

Madagascar White-eye
After breakfast we set off towards Ranomafana.  Thoughtfully, Exodus had again arranged to break the journey with a stop in Ambositra, the centre of Madagascar’s woodcarving industry. Most of the wood carving is done in an area in the mountains a little way from our route, so we went to an artisan paper making factory instead. There we also did some shopping!

Artisan paper making.
The wet sections are set to dry in the sun
After lunch, we pressed on. The countryside is full of family tombs of different sizes. Typically, the body is buried or entombed temporarily to allow the body to decay. After about ten years, the body is exhumed and the bones are reburied permanently in a ceremony known as "the turning of the bones". Some of the family tombs look like small cottages and are in lovely positions. Here is a typical one:

A family tomb by the roadside
This is the beautiful valley that it overlooks:
Rice paddies on the terraces above the river

Finally we made our way to Ranomafana, arriving at our hotel, Le Grenat, in the late afternoon.  As we would be staying at this hotel for two nights, we decided to have all our dirty clothes washed.  They all came back nicely laundered at a very reasonable price.

The next day we visited the Ranomafana National Park.  Again, we had local guides, called Diamondra and Tsilavo. This visit was a great adventure into the rainforest, home to the Golden bamboo lemurs, a species critically endangered outside the North. The park was formed by the government after these lemurs were discovered there in 1986 by an American anthropologist, Dr Patricia Wright.  We had to make our way through quite dense undergrowth to where the lemurs were feeding. 

Golden Bamboo Lemur at Ranomafana National Park

Golden Bamboo Lemur at Ranomafana National Park

The guides could see that I was interested in birds. I asked whether there might be a chance of seeing a Madagascar pygmy kingfisher.  Later on in the visit, they took us to a place where there was indeed a pygmy kingfisher. Fantastic!  We had now seen both the kingfisher species of Madagascar.

Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher - a forest species that doesn't eat fish!

As we were leaving the National Park, I saw a Madagascar bulbul very close and in a nice position.  It's a very common bird, but I decided to take a careful photo of one.  I often neglect the most common birds in favour of the rarer ones. When I get home, I then realise that I don't have a decent photo of some of the common birds.

Madagascar Bulbul

For lunch, Rija had booked us into a local restaurant.  We were on the terrace, in the shade and overlooking a valley. Perfect!  In fact, we saw very few birds during lunch.  Bird activity is low in the middle of the day.  However, walking back to the hotel we saw a couple of kestrels.  The Madagascar kestrel comes in two morphs; dark and pale.  The dark morph is similar to our common kestrel. The pale morph is a very handsome bird indeed.

Madagascar Kestrel - dark morph

Madagascar Kestrel - pale morph
After lunch, some of us decided to wander around the village and then look for the spa fed swimming pool which was somewhere over the other side. We went to the local post office and bought some stamps for postcards, had a wander up the main street, and then ambled towards the swimming pool, asking directions in French.

On the way, I took some photos of some mascarene martins.

Mascarene Martin
To get to the swimming pool we had to cross the river. The original bridge, a substantial steel structure, had been swept away at some point by higher-than-normal monsoon floods. This bridge had been replaced by a new one, partially suspended from the superstructure of the old one by some simple twisted steel wire. 
New from old. New bridge suspended from old structure.
We found the swimming pool, but didn't go in. Lynne wanted to paddle in the warm water of the hot springs nearby.

Happiness! - Lynne paddling in hot spa water

We wandered slowly back to the hotel, passing a magnificent traveller's palm tree.

Ravenala or Traveller's tree at Ranomafana

At Le Grenat, we had a gin and tonic before dinner.  Chris reported that there was a large moth on the wall outside his room. We went to investigate. We found the largest and most impressive moth I have ever seen. I learned online that the comet moth only lives for a few days.

Comet moth - huge! and lives for only a few days!
Rija gave us another briefing about our next long drive the following day, to Ranohira. We would stay for 2 nights there, our base for our visit to Isalo National Park.

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