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Atdahl

Madagascar: A Trip of Extremes

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Atdahl

Madagascar Day 6 - Andasibe

 

It was along the RN2 from Tana to Andasibe that we saw people on the road begging for the first time.  Most were kids and they would scoop dirt from the sides of the roads to fill potholes and then hold out their hands as we passed by.  That is how they spent their days which was really sad.

 

We made it to Vakona Forest Lodge which would be our home for the next 3 nights in time for lunch.  I knew that this lodge was very pretty and it did not disappoint in person.

 

Welcome to the rock...

 

Vakona Forest Lodge

 

Our cabin:

Our Cabin

 

Our Room at Vakona

 

Vakona Bathroom

 

After our sandwich (which was very dry) and pomme frite (which were good) lunch we quickly settled into our rooms before heading out in the van at 2 PM for our afternoon activity.

 

This afternoon we would be visiting V.O.I.M.M.A which is a 28 hectare community run forest.  At the entrance we met our local guide Thierry who was very good.

 

Not 5 minutes into the hike we found a few Common Brown Lemurs (Eulemur fulvus) that were actually too close for pictures.  They weren't tame, they were just foraging and passing through right beside the trail so even with my 70-300mm lens I couldn't get anything worth sharing.  We would see more later on though.

 

Next it's time to play another game of "Where's Gecko":

 

Where's Gecko Round 2

 

I made that one easier since this mossy leaf-tailed gecko was in the middle of the frame:

It was right in the middle

 

A few minutes later, Thierry found another one.  So, how about round 2 of "Where's Gecko":

Where's Gecko Final Round

 

Even close up, this one had some really good camouflage:

This one is hard to see even close up...

 

Here is a side view.  Extremely cool!

A side view helps

 

It was at that point Thierry got word that some Indri had been spotted. So, we headed up a small hillside to get to them quickly.  The Indri are an iconic Madagascar lemur and are only found in a couple parks around Andasibe. But, they aren't hard to find luckily and even their scientific name is easy.

 

Indri (Indri indri)

Indri

 

There were quite a few people around so we had to jockey for position.  Eventually Bill and I headed up hill away from them to get eye level shots.

 

Indri Closeup

 

Balancing Act

 

Some of the guides (not ours) were imitating the Indri loudly to try to get them to respond.  It went on far too long and was quite annoying.  The Indri must have thought so as well because they stayed silent.

 

After leaving the Indri, we continued to wander the trails to see what we could see.

 

Giraffe-necked Weevil (Female, which has a shorter neck than the male apparently):

Giraffe-necked Weevil

 

Big Nose Chameleon (Calumma nasutum):

Big Nose Chameleon

 

Somehow, our guides found this Collared Nightjar sitting in the leaf litter.  I swear that we wouldn't have seen it unless we stepped on it:

Collared Nightjar

 

During the afternoon we found both a Long-eared Owl and Scops Owl (this owl was just outside the park) but the pictures weren't very good since the owls weren't out in the open.  We also, we had a brief look at a Trail Madagascar Garter Snake (Thamnosophis epistibes).  No decent pictures of the snake though since it went about its business quickly.

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Atdahl

@offshorebirder, long travel days are part of the deal when you go to Madagascar.  It's up to you to decide if the it's worth it or not.  I have some thoughts on that topic of course that I will share later.

 

@janzin, I think our overlap day at Andasibe was Monday Oct 14th if I remember correctly.  That day is still to come in this report but we spent the morning at Analamazaotra and part of the afternoon at Lemur Island.  I remember looking around Analamazaotra for a large birding group in case our paths crossed but I didn't see any.  We are getting closer to meeting however.  We were in the same country at the same time last Feb in Kenya and this time we were in the same area at the same time.  So, I think eventually our paths will cross which will be nice. :)

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Alexander33

Amazing camouflage on the mossy leaf-tailed gecko!  I’m loving the indri, Alan — good move on moving up hill to get eye level views. 

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mtanenbaum

Just a comment to let you know how much I am enjoying your trip report! Great writing and terrific photos...but not sure that it's making me want to go to Madagascar (not a promotion for their tourist bureau--Uganda was a bit much for me, and this sounds WAY worse!--although you can't beat those lemur pictures!) Maybe you avoid some of the hassles if you go on an organized tour like Natural Habitat where they use private chartered airlines--however the price is $10,000 for 2 weeks which doesn't include the internal airfare! When I win the lottery (just kidding, I don't play) then I can afford one of those trips....

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janzin

Very jealous of the Leaf-tailed Gecko! We never found any, that was a big miss for us :( Great Indri shots too!

 

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xyz99

Love the eye-level lemur photo! And the super camouflaged gecko. Wow!

Edited by xyz99

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Atravelynn

I am looking forward to the meat of your report and also why it was disappointing but I have tell you how much I laughed at your "conversation" with the French flight attendant.

On 12/8/2019 at 7:02 PM, mapumbo said:

Madagascar is very high on our list for 2021.  It will be interesting to read yours and  @janzin reports.  My sister did a tour there in October and enjoyed it.

Ditto, but maybe or maybe not 2021.   Your sister's report is overdue!

 

Hoping those strong winds subsided eventually but I noticed you mentioned them again.  Your first photos are wonderful.

 

Plus, I figured the more time I spent with them the greater the chance that one of them would stand up and say "15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance."

I wonder if that is funny internationally.  I got a good North American chuckle out of it.

Edited by Atravelynn

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Atravelynn

Darn that wind, I keep reading about it day after day.

 

I had to play Where's the Gecko a long time before I saw it.  What magnificent camouflage.  How did you see it to begin with?

 

Thanks for the map but it sounds like it is a map of where not to go based on your advise.  Still, you have some magnificent photos of the wildlife you saw.  Glad Cactus Tours gets the thumbs up from you.

 

Edited by Atravelynn

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Kitsafari

Thank you for your honest TR  - I'm finding shades of Gabon - but i have say, based on what you have described - I'm not sure which is better - Gabon's organised chaos or Madagascar's disorganised chaos. 

 

It appears that both countries are not prepared, nor show any interest, in developing tourism, but in Gabon's case it is deliberate indifference as it is a rather rich economy (which doesn't necessarily translate into rich population) while in Madagascar, it sounds like the government and the country itself is barely surviving. 

 

IN any case - fabulous shots of the chameleon, and wow that shot of the indri indri looking into your camera is tremendous. good job moving to higher ground. 

 

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Treepol

Your wonderful photos depict the varied wildlife of Madagascar very well, lemurs, reptiles and birds. Sadly, I am not good at the 'find the gecko' game.

 

Lovely photos of the Indri and well worth the short hike, also a great 'pink and green' of your favourite gecko.

 

Really enjoying this TR.

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Atdahl

Thanks for continuing to follow along @Alexander33, @mtanenbaum, @janzin, @Atravelynn, @Kitsafari, @Treepol.

 

Regarding the leaf-tailed geckos, they were certainly a big highlight.  Just amazing little (and not so little) creatures.  We actually never spotted a resting one ourselves though.  It was always the guides, but we soon knew what to look for after seeing the first few so we really tried.  They always face down for fast escapes if necessary and their head does make an unusual bump on trunks and branches.  

 

@mtanenbaum, chartered flights would certainly bypass the unreliable Tsaradia.  In fact, we do take a charter flight later in the trip.  But, like you said that escalates the price considerably.  I would agree that the country has a long way to go when it comes to promoting tourism.  But, more on that later :).

 

@Atravelynn.  The wind was actually only an issue for the segment in the north. Otherwise, it wasn't a that much of a factor and I think we actually did pretty well weather-wise.  We do have 1 rainy day coming up but otherwise the biggest weather related issue was the heat. 

 

@Kitsafari, ah Gabon...LOL.  I read that report prior to the trip thinking that it would be a great way to level set our expectations.  From what I read, Gabon wins in the "Difficult to travel in" category.  But, Madagascar was such a stark contrast to our Kenya trip this past Feb that it likely seemed a lot worse in comparison.  But, we were never stranded on a boat wondering if we would find shore for instance.  We do get on a boat trip so bad that we can't believe we paid for it...but that is to come as well.

 

Alan

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Atdahl

From 5 to 6 PM we hung out at the car waiting for dark so we could take a night walk.  Apparently, everyone does night walks along the same road because the darker it got the more cars showed up. Bruno confirmed that was the case and I mentioned that we didn't want to join the crowds if at all possible.

 

Once it got dark enough, we set out and Peggy joked that it looked like a crowded street at Halloween with all the flashlights waving around.  We certainly didn't have the place to ourselves.  But, immediately we saw some eye shine that turned out to be a distant Eastern Woolly Lemur (Avahi laniger).  Our guides then took us off the busy street and onto a trail that lead into V.O.I.M.M.A where there were only a few other people.  The trail was muddy in parts since it rained before our arrival but we did find a cool Parson's Chameleon (Calumma parsonii):

 

Side 1:

Parson's Chameleon Side 1

 

Side 2:

Parson's Chameleon Side 2

 

The rest of the walk was uneventful and we looped back to the road where we got word that a mouse lemur had been spotted.  Unfortunately, everyone else had gotten word too and there were already about 25 people off in the forest surrounding the poor thing.  A small group of them (I assume a guide or two were among them) trapped the mouse lemur in a small palm and proceeded to pull down the branch it was on and shine multiple flashlights right at it from point blank range.  Thinking back, I wonder if they were trying to catch it. It was a disgraceful thing to watch and we stopped our approach as soon as we saw it.

 

After someone yelled "There it is" and there was more branch moving and jockeying, the poor mouse lemur somehow managed to escape and bound away up a nearby tree.  I cheered its escape loudly.

 

Goodman's Mouse Lemur (Microebus lehilahytsara) escaping stupid humans:

Escaping Goodman's Mouse Lemur

 

Another 10 to 20 people had arrived by now and I was so disgusted that we left.  I was pretty angry at what I saw and our guides agreed that it was wrong but their body language told me it's not uncommon and there was nothing they could do about it.

 

That experience really left an extremely bad taste in my mouth because I can't stand when people exploit and harass wildlife.  They just don't seem to give a shit about anything but themselves and their clients and it pisses me off.  Meanwhile, it's the wildlife that suffers because of their ignorance.

 

In fact, I am getting pissed off again just writing about this so I am going to move on.

 

When we got back to the lodge, I was still in a bad mood so I forgot to grab my camera when we headed from our cabin to dinner.  And of course, I immediately see movement outside our cabin. When I got the movement in the light I knew immediately what it was..."Streaked Tenrec!"

 

Holy crap, this is one animal we really wanted to see but I did not expect to see it here.  Karen kept an eye on it while I went back inside (banging the door open and then closed) to grab a camera but by the time I got back out I was only able to get one shot of the little thing before it disappeared into a nearby bush and that shot was really bad.  And, since we don't harass wildlife I wasn't about to try to flush it out of the bush just for a picture.

 

Lowland Streaked Tenrec (Hemicentetes semispinous):

Missed Photo Opportunity

 

Now I was even more mad but this time at myself for not being prepared with a camera in hand.   That was likely my one chance to get a photo and I blew it.

 

We had really hoped to see a tenrec this trip so it was great that we did.  We later learned that most tenrec species are still in torpor in October and don't come out until November or December.  So, there was little chance we would see the other species.  Doh...!

 

I was relatively somber at dinner for multiple reasons and the not very cold beer didn't cheer me up at all.  But, the "Wok de Beouf" I ordered was really good so at least the day ended on a bit of a high note.

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Zubbie15

Hmm, despite the awesome pictures (I'm especially fond of the Indri shots), I can't say I've reached a point where the positives outweigh the apparent negatives! 

 

Out of curiosity, were there any people using any thermal imaging for the night walks? They seem to be the new hot thing for mammal watchers. 

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Atdahl

@Zubbie15, no I didn't see anyone with thermal imaging devices.  With so many nocturnal mammals I think it would be a great thing to take on a trip to Madagascar if you had one though.  They are a bit expensive for me at the moment but I am thinking about getting an IR flashlight.

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TonyQ
11 hours ago, Kitsafari said:

 

11 hours ago, Kitsafari said:

It appears that both countries are not prepared, nor show any interest, in developing tourism, but in Gabon's case it is deliberate indifference as it is a rather rich economy (which doesn't necessarily translate into rich population) while in Madagascar, it sounds like the government and the country itself is barely surviving. 

 

 

 

You are right about the struggles. Madagascar is one of the ten poorest countries in the world, with most people struggling to feed their families.Per capita annual income is $416. Kenya is $1341.  Therefore I feel it is not surprising that there are infrastructure problems in the country, food choices may be limited (and require ordering in advance to avoid waste), fridges might not always work well. As I have said before, we thoroughly enjoyed our trip - food was fine, accommodation was fine, wildlife was wonderful 

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kittykat23uk
37 minutes ago, Zubbie15 said:

Hmm, despite the awesome pictures (I'm especially fond of the Indri shots), I can't say I've reached a point where the positives outweigh the apparent negatives! 

 

Out of curiosity, were there any people using any thermal imaging for the night walks? They seem to be the new hot thing for mammal watchers. 

 

 

One of the participants on our Borneo trip had a thermal scope. It did come in handy. 

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janzin

I can only say at this point that we saw nothing like what was just described on the night walks. We went out three nights around Andisabe and we were the only ones on the road. (One time we went into the Perinet reserve, and there were a few people there, but not many.) And we saw no harassment of wildlife--at least not on the night walks. Really strange as we were there around the same time, although our hotel was not anywhere near @Atdahl's.

 

Very jealous that you got the tenrec, that was also a miss for us!

 

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Atdahl

Thanks good to hear Janet.  I certainly hope what we saw was an anomaly.  It's weird that we were told there was only one place to do night walk's in Andasibe.  We did them along the road outside the VOIMMA area.  But, it sounds like you had a very different experience.  Maybe we weren't told accurate information which would be disappointing.

 

Yes, the tenrec was very cool even though that first sighting was disappointing. :)

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Atdahl

Madagascar Day 7  -  Andasibe

 

The plan today was to leave the lodge at 6:30AM and spend the day in Mantadia National Park.  However, if you haven't figured out by now it wasn't wise to make plans in Madagascar.  We had to wait 30 minutes to get our breakfast so we didn't depart until after 7AM.  We did hear some distant Indris calling while we waited for breakfast and I really hoped that we would have a chance to hear them much closer.

 

Mantadia National Park is 155 square kilometers of protected forest.  It's actually called Andasibe-Mantadia National Park and is divided into 2 sections.  One is Mantadia National Park and the other is now called Analamazaotra Special Reserve.  This causes a lot of confusion on the Internet (Trip Advisor reviewers I am especially talking about you!) so beware.  There are really 3 main "parks" to visit in the Andasibe area.  V.O.I.M.M.A, Mantadia National Park, and Analamazaotra Special Reserve.  They are separate entities and I think require separate entrance fees.  Here is a map to show you their locations relative to the Vakona Forest Lodge.

 

Mantadia.jpg

 

 

A benefit of staying at Vakona Lodge is that it is on the way to Mantadia National Park as you can see from the above map so you save a lot of time compared to people that stayed in the more touristy areas around V.O.I.M.M.A.  However, the road is 4x4 only so we had new drivers and vehicles for today only.  I don't remember the name of our driver and I don't care to for reasons that will become apparent.

 

The road to Mantadia NP is extremely HORRIBLE!  There is no way to mince words.  It is truly a 4x4 road only.  It took us 90 minutes to go 14 km!  During that 90 minutes I can't count the number of times my body banged against the side of the vehicle (I am 6' 4" and don't fit well in most cars anyway).  More bruises were on the way.

 

Mantadia National Park

 

We did see a distant Indri from the cars which provided a quick break:

Distant Indri

 

The first stop was a trail that was typically good for ground rollers.  Before we started out I noticed that Bruno rolled his socks over his pants.  I looked at him and said "Leeches?" and he said "Yes".

 

Ah, man.  We have had our fair share of leech encounters on our two trips to Borneo and while they are completely harmless the "ick" factor is high for both of us.  It turns out we needn't have worried since the leeches were tiny and we only saw a couple the whole day.

 

Anyway,  the word "trail" should be used loosely when describing the path we started out on since we pretty much made our own path following the ground roller calls we heard in response to Bruno's playback.  At one point we went straight up a slippery and muddy hill but creating our own path did result in some nice views of the ground rollers and other birds.  Thierry and Bruno did know what they were doing.

 

Blue Coua:

Blue Coua

 

Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher:

Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher

 

Short-legged Ground Roller:

Short-legged Ground Roller

 

Scaly Ground Roller:

Scaly Ground Roller

 

Karen's ankle was still bothering her but she was a trooper and kept up with the rest of us the best she could. Thank goodness we brought walking sticks with us "just in case".

 

Tylas Vanga:

Tylas Vanga

 

 

This hike lasted about 2 hours and was pretty tough so when we were done we were ready for lunch which was a short drive and hike away.  We ate on the shores of a small lake. Unfortunately, the pricey pack lunches provided by the lodge left a bit to be desired. It was the same dry ham and cheese sandwich we had the day before along with hard boiled eggs that didn't fair too well on the drive so once again we relied on the food we brought from home.  We were quickly making a dent in that suitcase and a half.

 

After lunch, we took a 2 hour hike expressly looking for Black and White Ruffed Lemurs but we struck out.  We did have a brief look at an Eastern Bamboo Lemur but it moved on too quickly for photos despite us scrambling up a hillside to try to get a decent look.

 

On the way back to Vakona, as we were bouncing along the road, I spotted a diademed sifaka and baby ahead of us just off the road.  They were on a bare tree and posed perfectly in good light.  I yelled "stop, stop, stop" but the driver didn't stop!  Finally, he stopped but it was way too close and the act of opening the doors scared the sifakas off into the jungle. Ahhhhh!!  The mental picture I took was perfect.  It's too bad I didn't take an actual picture.  I think the driver wanted to get closer because he is used to catering to the cell phone crowd.

 

Luckily, the sifakas didn't move too far away so I did manage to take a couple photos.

 

Diademed Sifaka (Propithecus diadema):

Diademed Sifaka

 

Diademed Sifaka

 

 

Since the lodge doesn't start serving dinner until 7 PM we decided to do a night walk around the grounds before hand.  The Vakona Forest Lodge has really nice grounds and it was fun to explore them.  We found some cool frogs but not much else until towards the end of the walk when I spotted movement.  It was another streaked tenrec!

 

Holy crap!  What were the odds?  Could I actually redeem myself with a decent photo this time?

 

But, it had buried itself in a bush and wasn't coming out. Damn, I thought.  Another missed opportunity. 

 

So, we started to head back to our room when Karen spotted another freaking streaked tenrec!  

 

Karen ran off to get Bill and Peggy since they really wanted to see one.  We all ended up getting to see the tenrec.  At one point I think we saw two different ones.  On the way back to our room before dinner I found a bigger tenrec in the gutter along the driveway.  It was like a tenrec highway.  Couldn't believe it - 3 tenrecs!  And, I finally got good pictures.  Redemption!

 

 

Lowland Streaked Tenrec

 

Lowland Streaked Tenrec Closeup

 

We were hoping that our food would be delivered fairly quickly since we had pre-ordered for a 7:00 dinner.  However, our food did not arrive until 7:45. But, at least it should be good since I ordered the Wok de boeuf again.  Right?  Wrong!  The beef was so tough I could barely eat it so I mostly ate the rice and vegetables.  I guess they killed a different zebu today...

 

Interestingly enough, the table next to us was empty so when they started to bring out some plates of food and headed in our direction we figured it was for us.  Nope, that would make too much sense.  Instead they put the food down on the empty table.  Yes, that's right.  An empty table was fully served their dinner before we were.  If I had one more beer in me I probably would have gotten up and moved tables.  A few minutes later the occupants of that table arrived to their waiting food.  Wow, what a nice luxury that must have been. 

 

After dinner we all did a little night walk around the property.  We walked out to the white insect sheet the lodge lit up nightly to see what bugs we could find.  We also spotted more Goodman's Mouse Lemurs in the trees bounding around but none got close enough for pictures.  So, the day did end pretty well and it was great to see how excited Peggy was to see the tenrec.  I think that was her favorite mammal of the trip.

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shazdwn

Wow three tenerecs - amazing.  Great images and a great story - thanks for sharing.  

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mtanenbaum

OK--what is a tenrec???It looks like a tiny porcupine?? 

 

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kittykat23uk
7 hours ago, Atdahl said:

Thanks good to hear Janet.  I certainly hope what we saw was an anomaly.  It's weird that we were told there was only one place to do night walk's in Andasibe.  We did them along the road outside the VOIMMA area.  But, it sounds like you had a very different experience.  Maybe we weren't told accurate information which would be disappointing.

 

Yes, the tenrec was very cool even though that first sighting was disappointing. :)

 

No I also experienced the same as you @Atdahl. Definitely not a one off. 

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Zim Girl

I just checked my notes for info on our night walks in Andasibe.  We stayed 3 nights at Vakona Lodge and each night walk was in a different area. One was actually in the VOIMMA reserve itself which opens for the night walks by request.  The other started from the old Perinet railway station and then we walked off the road and into the Orchid Park which again opens by request, there we walked around a small lake and found hunting mossy leaf-tailed geckos.  The third was a different stretch of roadside but I can't remember where.  Like Janet, none of our walks were busy with people either.

 

Great luck with the tenrecs and lovely pictures of the Indri.

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janzin

Wow, very lucky with the tenrecs! I'm incredibly envious! And you did really well with the birds...and photos...in Mantadia. I will wait to relate our experiences there for my trip report but you did better then us in terms of the birds!

 

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kittykat23uk

Beautiful shots of the ground rollers and the tenrecs! 

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