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Atdahl

Madagascar: A Trip of Extremes

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Atdahl

@mtanenbaum, a tenrec is like a small hedgehog if that helps at all.  They are very cute!

 

@kittykat23uk, thanks.  But, that's not good news that you had a similar experience. :(

 

@Zim Girl, well it's good to know there are other options rather than just walking the road.  Our guides did take us into VOIMMA but I didn't know that the orchid garden was an option.  I imagine that would be a very good location for a night walk.

 

@janzin, thanks. We worked really hard for those ground roller photos let me tell you.  Those birds play hard to get more than most :).

 

@shazdwn, thank you.  Yes, we were very lucky to see three in one night.  I don't know how common they are around Vakona but they certainly didn't seem to mind us watching them so hopefully they will thrive there for a long time.

 

Alan

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Atdahl

Madagascar Day 8  -  Andasibe

 

We had another decent night's sleep which was nice.  Our bed was pretty comfortable by Madagascar standards and we only heard nature noises at night.  Vakona Lodge was nice and quite at night.

 

Amazingly enough, breakfast came on time today and we managed to get out around 7AM as planned.  The morning would be spent at Analamazaotra Special Reserve which is the other part of Andasibe-Mantadia National Park as I explained yesterday.  The road to that park is fully paved so we were off exploring it by 7:30AM.

 

There is a map at the entrance that shows the two parts:

Analamazaotra

 

Usually I am wary of trails named after the target species of that area:

Great trail names

 

But, it didn't take long for the indris to start calling which made the beginning of the hike magical.  I made an effort to soak in my surroundings and really enjoyed that hike with the indris calling.  Great ambiance.  This was an extremely good moment.

 

We have been lucky enough to hear some amazing wildlife calls in our travels.  Howler monkeys in Costa Rica and Belize, wolves in Yellowstone, gibbons in Borneo and now we can add indris in Madagascar.  That was an extremely nice start to the hike.

 

Analamazaotra Special Reserve is only 810 hectares and since it's so easy to reach it's popular.  So, we did encounter a lot of people during our morning traversing the hills of this reserve but they were all well behaved and for once didn't detract from our enjoyment.

 

Quick insect break:

Dragon Fly

 

Since the indris continued to call, Thierry lead us right to them.  As we arrived, they were silent.  Were they like howler monkeys that only seemed to call first thing in the morning and then were quiet the rest of the day?  Nope, not at all.  Soon enough the cacophony of indri calls started and it was loud standing right under them.

 

I took some video that I will share at the end of the report since it's a compilation of clips from the entire trip.  One of those clips is of the indri calling.  I pretty much just stood there and soaked it in until one of the indris appeared in an opening large enough for a photo:

Indri Calling

 

The calls were truly amazing and one of the few "wow" moments from the trip.

 

Eventually, they stopped calling and we moved on.

 

We tracked some diademed sifakas moving through the forest but they didn't stay still long enough for pictures but we were able to enjoy watching them leap from tree to tree with lightning speed.  It's so awesome to watch lemurs bounding through the trees.

 

There were a few good photo ops from the rest of our hike.

 

Nelicourvi Weaver and nest:

Nelicourvi Weaver and Nest

 

Madagascar Tree Boa (Sanzinia madagascariensis):

Madgascar Tree Boa

 

Crossley's Vanga on a Nest:

Crossley's Vanga on Nest

 

You may notice that I have a few pictures of birds in nests.  We didn't realize it but October was nesting time so there are more of these photos to come.  But, it did play a part in us seeing less birds since they weren't as active according to our guides.

 

Outside the park we went to a nearby orchid garden to find chameleons.

 

Orchid Gardens

 

We were in luck when we found this gorgeous Parson's Chameleon:

Parson's Chameleon

 

Parson's Chameleon Up Close

 

Somehow, Thierry spotted this mossy leaf-tailed gecko for us:

Serious Camo...

 

 

After leaving the orchid garden, we walked the main road to go find the Scops Owl we saw the day before.  On the way some Common Brown Lemurs (Eulemur fulvus) made an appearance:

 

Common Brown Lemur

 

Common Brown Lemur Snuggle

 

The Scops Owl was roosting in the same spot but the light was much better today so I was able to get a good picture:

Madagascar Scops Owl

 

We had lunch at a restaurant in town because anything had to be better than Vakona's food.  I remember my Tandoori Chicken as being pretty good but Karen ordered "Massaged Chicken" and it was pretty tough and there was little meat.  I guess the massage didn't do anything to tenderize it.  Maybe it wasn't a deep tissue massage.  But, more importantly, it was during this meal that I was introduced to "boob rice".

 

Yup, our lunches were served with two molds of perfectly shaped, firm, and supple rice.  It even came with a garnish on the top that, well, gave it even more of a boob like appearance.  For some reason, I couldn't take my eyes off them...I mean the rice.

 

After lunch we headed back to Vakona and I wandered the grounds a bit and ventured on the trail system looking for chameleons.  It was very scenic and I had the trail to myself but I struck out when it came to any wildlife.

 

Vakona Trail

 

 

Our itinerary had us scheduled to go to Lemur Island later in the afternoon.  Lemur Island is run by Vakona Forest Lodge.  It started with a few rescued lemurs and has expanded into a full fledged tourist destination.  We can't stand zoos and are typically reluctant to visit any facilities that keep wildlife "captive" but we had already paid for this and there really was no reason not to go since it was so close.

 

Based on what I read online, the tour consists of one island that you can walk on and then you take a boat ride around to see the other islands but you can't get out and walk on them.  When we arrived it was pretty crowded and we had to wait close to half an hour even though we had a 3:30 PM tour reservation time.  So, we didn't start our tour until after 4 PM.

 

The initial boat ride to the main island was almost unnecessary.  In fact, I bet an Olympic long jumper could have cleared the distance we covered:

 

The world's shortest canoe trip

 

I found the warning sign pretty interesting.

Lemur Island Sign

 

Looking at the bottom left warning, why would you take this tour if you were afraid of lemurs?

 

Anyway, once on the main island the lemurs were all around.  Common brown were the most prevalent species but there was also a B and W ruffed as well as a bamboo lemur.  The local guide would rub banana on branches to get the lemurs to pose for pictures.  It was all pretty touristy.

 

Black and White Ruffed Lemur (Rescued)

 

Black and White Ruffed Lemur (Rescued)

 

Common Brown Lemur (Rescued)

 

Eastern Lesser Bamboo Lemur (Rescued)

 

Bamboo Lemur (Rescued)

 

Once we got to the other side of the tiny main island the common brown lemurs got more bold.  I had a couple use me as a spring board to get to a nearby tree and a few others just climbed on the rest of our group and stayed there.  They weren't bitey or begging for food.  They just hung out with us.

 

On a nearby island we could see both red ruffed lemurs and diamed sifakas.  The guide chucked some banana pieces over to them to get them to come closer for pictures.

 

Red Ruffed Lemur (Rescued)

 

Diademed Sifaka

 

This sifaka was obviously meditating and when the guide threw a banana piece at it and missed, the sifaka had the final laugh:

When  you interrupt a lemur meditating

 

Unfortunately, our tour started late so we didn't get to take the boat around to the other islands since 5PM was closing time.  So, while everything else seemed to get delayed in Madagascar closing time at Lemur Island certainly didn't.

 

As I mentioned, seeing captured animals is not really my thing.  So, I could have easily skipped this.  But, the others in our groups were happy to go and I did get some nice photos of these species in case we didn't get a chance to see all of them later in the trip.  Spoiler Alert: we did.

 

We took another pre-dinner walk around the grounds of the lodge after dark and spotted two more streaked tenrecs and a few frogs.  Boy, it was fun watching those tenrecs forage around.  I am extremely glad we got to see them and we definitely got lucky seeing so many.  Obviously, sometimes we saw the same ones multiple nights but the 3 we had in one night were definitely different individuals.

 

Our dinner at the lodge was another adventure.  We ordered for a 7PM dinner and they brought us duck instead of chicken so we had to send it back.  Because of that, we didn't start eating until 7:50 PM.  Basically, don't go to Vakona Forest Lodge for the food and service.  Go for the scenic setting and chance to see a tenrec or two.

 

We were going to do a post dinner walk as well but that got rained out.  Up until that point, the weather in Andasibe had been just about perfect although it had started to get a little smokey in the afternoon today.  Unfortunately, that was a harbinger of things to come.

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Pamshelton3932

This report is full of the good, the bad, and the very bad.  It’s been fun reading and hopefully now that the dust has settled the good memories are outweighing the bad.

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kittykat23uk

I also enjoyed lemur Island, but I didn't see and sifakas or red ruffled lemurs when I was there. 

 

Here's an example of the poor behaviour that I experienced on the night walks at, Andasibe-mantadia:

 

 

 

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TonyQ

I remember the wonderful sound of Indri calling, truly amazing.

You got a very good picture.

Your reptile pictures continue to be superb. 

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Atdahl

Madagascar Day 9 & 10  -  Andasibe and Traveling

 

Today was mostly going to be a travel day.  It's actually a 2 day drive to go from Andasibe to Ranomafana National Park which was our next destination.

 

Our itinerary had us making a quick stop at Mitsinjo Reserve before hitting the road but Bruno said that we wouldn't see much there so we went to V.O.I.M.M.A instead which ended up working out just fine since we had some good sightings.

 

Juvenile Parson's Chameleon molting:

Juvenile Parson's Chameleon

 

Another Mossy Leaf-tailed Gecko.  It was hard to not be amazed by these guys every time we saw one:

Mossy Leaf-tailed Gecko

 

By far the highlight was our best (and last) look at an Eastern Lesser Bamboo Lemur (Hapalemur griseus).  There was a small troop of them but only one came out into the relative open for a photo:

Eastern Lesser Bamboo Lemur

 

With that, our time in Andasibe was done.  I think 3 nights was the perfect amount of time and allowed us to visit all 3 of the main parks.  I wish they had better night walk options but of course that is an issue in all of Madagascar.

 

We left Andasibe at 9:15 AM and we didn't get to our hotel for the night (Maison Tanimanga) in Antsirabe until 6 PM.  We did have about a half hour break outside of Tana for a stop at another Gastro Pizza for lunch.  Other than that, time was spent driving in traffic, exhaust, and today smoke had filled the air so leaving the car really didn't get us any fresh air either.  It was not a great way to spend 9 hours.

 

Rather than go on about the crappy drive I want to spend a few words on our guide Bruno and driver Dida.  We had Bruno from day 1 all the way to the end of the trip when we left for Masoala.  Bruno had accompanied us for our leg in the north whereas Dida had not.

 

It took a day or so for us to warm up to Bruno and him to us but once we did we had a great time with him.  He is a fun, energetic guide and knows his wildlife.  He knew Peggy was the birder in the group and did everything he could to get her the sightings she was after.  He would let the local guides lead us but he was always on the lookout for things himself and was a good spotter.

 

Once Bruno found out that Karen always wanted bananas he would stop and get some for her and announce "Banana Gram".  Here are a few more "Bruno-isms" that we really enjoyed:

 

"See you tomorrow" - when whatever wildlife we were looking at would fly, leap, or even crawl away

 

"No Problem" - his answer to just about all of our requests.  He was really flexible.

 

"Uh-oh" - his way of telling us something wasn't going to work

 

By far our favorite was when he was talking about one of the lodges where we didn't stay:

 

"It's not very bad, but it's not very GOOD either"

 

Bruno would sing and dance once in a while and never met a conversation he didn't like.  Yup, he was a talker.  Mainly, he was a talker in the car to Dida which he later told us was to be sure Dida stayed awake and alert on the long drives which made sense.

 

However, Dida wasn't that much of a talker and had a great "UhhhHHH..." response to Bruno during these conversations.  At first, this was a bit of an inside joke for Karen and I, but then we learned that Bill and Peggy had the same inside joke.  So, from then on, every time it happened the four of us couldn't help but smile which did make the drives more tolerable.  Here's a little taste:

 

 

We learned that this was the first time Bruno had worked with Cactus Tours as a guide and hopefully it won't be the last.  He and all the Cactus Tours people are very much recommended for anyone thinking of going to Madagascar.

 

Dida was only our driver from the Andasibe portion (minus the day at Mantadia NP) until he too left us before we headed to Masoala.  Driving in Madagascar is not easy and he did a great job.  We never felt in any danger despite all the obstacles that we encountered on the roads.  He was always on time and always got us where we needed to go.  He even got out and opened doors for us most the time which shouldn't have been needed but the van we all shared had doors that were really hard to open from the inside.

 

Now, back to the end of the days travel.  Maison Tanimanga was just fine for a one night stay.  The food was actually some of the best we had the whole trip. The owner was French and didn't speak English so it was a bit hard to communicate.  Also, both rooms were quirky.  Bill and Peggy had no shower and only a clawfoot tub with a hand nozzle while our shower was so small that my arms dangled outside of it during the shower.  Plus, we felt sorry for the guests underneath our room since our floor creaked horribly.  We tip toed as much as we could but it still could not have been pleasant for them.

 

Maison Tanimanga

 

World's smallest shower

 

There was also a lot of city noise during the night so we didn't sleep great.  But, for one night it's fine especially when you consider that both the dinner and breakfast we had were very good.

 

The next day was another full travel day.  I knew going in that we would have these two full travel days but boy they took their toll on us.  Traveling in Madagascar is just brutal and two days in a row is not very enjoyable.

 

Anyway, after a nice breakfast we headed out at 8 AM and we wouldn't arrive at our hotel in Ranomafana until 5 PM.  But, at least we had some longer breaks and diversions today.

 

The first one was at a gemstone place that was interesting until I saw they had 5 critically endangered Radiated Tortoises that they would haul out for the tourists to take pictures.  I looked at their "cages" and they weren't much bigger than they were so they must lead a crappy existence.  While we didn't feel overly pressured to buy anything we of course did.  Based on other people's trip reports you can read online, this is a common place to visit for anyone doing the traditional RN7 road trip like we were.

 

The next stop was at a wood working place that was more interesting. They make everything by hand including the tools.  We watched the master woodworker do some inlay work and it was pretty remarkable.  We had no qualms about buying a wood chameleon from their gift shop which we have enjoyed daily since returning from our trip.

 

Lunch was spent at an OK restaurant that had real bathrooms and ended up having some live entertainment which was different.

 

Since I didn't take many pictures over this 2 day drive, this is probably a good time to talk about some observations we made during our trip.  Anyone thinking of going to Madagascar should really temper their expectations.  I thought I had done that but I was wrong.  Things appear much worse than I expected.

 

First off, 95% of the population is dirt poor.  Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world even ranking below Haiti if you can believe that.  We were amazed that people in the north lived in tiny one room shacks made from sticks.  Around Tana the houses got bigger and were made out of brick but outside any of the major towns people lived in appalling conditions.

 

95% of the population also seems to live along the roads.  The roads were always crowded with literally masses of people, traffic, and animals at all times of day.  The video at the end of the report shows some examples.  I don't know how Dida managed to maneuver through everything without getting hit or hitting something.

 

The burning of the forests appears out of control. Making and then selling charcoal is the best way for people to feed their families according to Bruno so most people do it especially since most people cannot afford electricity.  We saw so much burning and charcoal for sale that I can't imagine their unprotected forests lasting my lifetime.  This means big problems for the Malagasy and even bigger problems for their wildlife.

 

Here are a few pictures I took from our plane ride returning from Masoala back to Tana. They were the last pictures I took on the trip but I don't want to end this report with them so I thought I would include them here.  The plane ride was about 90 minutes.  At one point I counted smoke from over 50 fires in view at the same time and it would have been impossible to count all the scorched areas I saw.

 

Not much hope for the future

 

Fires everywhere

 

I already mentioned that we saw numerous people going to the bathroom along the road and we also had a young boy squat and take care of business not far from us in a park in Ifaty (which was inundated with trash).

 

While everyone we met was nice to us, the staff at all the lodges were really stoic. This is the complete opposite of our last trip to Kenya where everyone greeted us with smiles and thanked us for coming.  We got none of that in Madagascar.  We never saw any staff members smile or laugh or even thank us for coming.  This occurred at even the "upscale" lodges.  It just must not be part of their culture.

 

The worst thing for me was the blatant exploitation of their wildlife.  Besides the poor mouse lemur in Andasibe, we also saw kids with chameleons trying to get money out of tourists, a ring-tailed lemur chained up outside the National Park office at Isalo (that day is still to come), the feeding of wildlife at some parks (Ankarana, Isalo, and Nosy Mangabe) and just an overall tone of disrespect when it came to how they treated the wildlife that we were watching.  Whether it was the incessant indri calling trying to get them to call back, the over herding of ground birds (even ones with chicks) or even the corralling of a snake with sticks at Anja (also to come).  That lack of respect was present a lot and it impacted our enjoyment of the trip.

 

The domestic animals were exploited and mistreated too.  Just about every person that passed us with a zebu was beating or whipping the zebu.  It was awful to see.  At one point, a zebu must have run away from some guys because they chased it and caught it and proceeded to run it back beating it's front legs with a large stick the whole way so that it almost tripped multiple times.

 

You would think with all the beating the Zebu would be "tender" but that certainly wasn't the case with most of the meat we had.

 

Those were some of the extreme lows of the trip.  But, there were extreme highs as well and I will try to give those more "page time" than all the venting I am doing of the lows.  I just want to be sure anyone thinking of going has the right expectations based on what we saw.

 

One good thing that came out of this is that going to Madagascar really made us appreciate what we have and what we all too often take for granted.  The "problems" we face in our country today certainly don't even come close to the problems faced by the Malagasy every day.

 

Anyway, back to the road trip.  Over all the RN7 was the best road of the trip.  But, it got worse the farther from Tana we drove so it got rough in places in the afternoon of this trip.  That didn't stop me from taking pictures from the car with a Sony point and shoot camera.  I can't say I have tried that before but when you are a photographer cooped up in the car for two days you get desperate.  Only about 5% of these pictures were keepers though.

 

Everywhere we went we saw people doing laundry in whatever water they could find.  But, of course they didn't have any clothesline to dry them on so they made do with what they had; the ground.  If they were lucky they would have a bush but most times the "clean" laundry was laid out in the dirt to dry.

 

Laundry Day

 

A taste of the brick making business that was huge along the RN7:

Brick making was everywhere

 

We saw lots of instances of people sitting around chiseling rocks. I couldn't figure out if they were making stone bricks, gravel or maybe both:

Making gravel...by hand.

 

In Madagascar they have a saying that "Rice is life".  They eat rice at every meal. So, that means that most rivers have been converted into rice patties since the demand is so high.  There are rice patties everywhere which made for some nice scenery especially on the latter part of this drive:

More rice patties

 

Planting the rice:

Planting rice

 

Other than taking some pictures, and the one sided banter from the front seat, the only other entertainment we had during the drive was provided by Karen.  Besides one gas station just outside Tana, there were no proper bathroom breaks on any drive.  So, most of us just drank less and held it.  But, you can only do that for so long.

 

Before we made it to Ranomafana, Karen asks for a break to "check the tires".  She proceeded to come back and just as she was climbing back into the van she goes "uh oh, what's that smell and what's on my pants?"  That is about when the rest of us got hit by the stench cloud coming from her shoes which were pretty new.  It had quickly become apparent that Karen didn't pay close enough attention to the ground when she took her break and her shoe and pant leg had been "zebu'd".  So, the entertainment was watching her try to clean her pant leg and shoe off.  Thankfully, Peggy offered up some wet wipes which helped immensely.   I don't know what they feed the Zebu but maybe I don't want to know.  Maybe it's the zebus getting revenge for all the beating. Whatever the reason for their extra sticky and stinky poop, it took days and a lots of grass scraping and water to get her shoe completely clean.  That was some long lasting shit.

 

So, the moral of the story is that when you go pee pee near the small tree don't get zebu poo poo on your new shoe.

 

We arrived at the Thermal Hotel outside Ranomafana NP at around 5PM and it had just started to rain. So, our timing was good.  And, holy crap, I just went through all my pictures and realized that I didn't take any "B-roll" of the Thermal Hotel.  Darn it!  Well, you are just going to have to Google it for pictures if you want it.  The hotel looks nice, the grounds are nice and our room was decent.  But, it had quirks like most other places.

 

We ended up spending three nights here and it was, to quote Bruno, "Not very bad, but not very good either".

 

However, I do need to point out that the pork we had for our first dinner was outstanding.  Definitely, one of the best meals of the trip.  Too bad that was my last good meal at the Thermal Hotel.  Although, they made special chicken for Karen a couple nights that she said was fantastic.  I guess I should make up some dietary restrictions next time so I get the "good" meals too.

 

The rain continued all evening so there was no opportunity for a night walk.

 

Rather than end the report there, I will take a page out of the old Daily Show with Jon Stewart which sums up my opinion of traveling in Madagascar.  "And now, your moment of Zen..."

 

When  you interrupt a lemur meditating

 

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AfricIan
On 12/18/2019 at 12:39 PM, Atdahl said:

The owner was French and didn't speak English so it was a bit hard to communicate.

 

Surely with your expert French (as demonstrated on the plane) you wouldn't have any problems communicating ;).

 

More seriously, I can identify with your frustrations, we also struggled with the travelling - especially between Andasibe to Ranomafana, and things appear to have got much worse over the past 6 years since we were there.

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Atravelynn
On 12/14/2019 at 12:42 PM, mtanenbaum said:

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....

I have done a few Nat Hab trips and was 100% satisfied, but they can be very pricey and I think they are getting way more expensive.  I still think going more local is a better strategy for Madagascar than the organized trips. There are lots of reports here to help with finding a good Madagascar operator and Cactus Tours gets high marks here.  Even with hassles, look at what has been seen and heard by @Atdahl!

 

If you do get there Mtanenbaum remember this warning-- when you go pee pee near the small tree don't get zebu poo poo on your new shoe.



"Warn your guide if you are afraid of lemurs."  That's hilarious.  There is a word for it even, very logically, Lemurphobia. 

 

Seems as though Madagascar poses problems for many.  But the rewards, as demonstrated by this report, seem to be worth it!

Edited by Atravelynn

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Atdahl

@Africlan  (Hmm...can't seem to get your tag to pop up) - You are right, I was able to communicate with the owner a little bit but she had no idea where the library was either...;).  That 2 day drive is not one we would want to do again, that's for sure.  Which is too bad because Ranomafana does have a lot to offer as you will soon see.

 

@Atravelynn, I agree.  We have encountered some Nathab people on our trips before.  Once in Brazil looking at the Golden Lion Tamarins and again on this trip a bit later.  On both occasions we were impressed by the guides that they hide and the "amenities" the guests were provided in comparison to us.  But, it sounds like you do pay.

 

I think they should have that Zebu rhyme on signs all around Madagascar since it's hard to find a spot without poop around. :)

 

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Alexander33

Alan, great shots of the ground rollers. I wasn’t familiar with them until now. Of course, a high-five on the 3! tenrecs. 
 

I totally understand your frustration with your driver at the sighting of the diademed sifaka and baby.  When you’ve got that perfect image already formed in your mind, stop! means stop now!!  Looks like you handled it well. 
 

I really appreciate your sharing your honest opinions about the trip and your impressions of the country. It’s not about dissuading others; it’s about tempering expectations, as you say, and your report does a great job of that — with your usual doses of good humor. 

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Atdahl

@Alexander33, thank you.  The ground rollers were all very cool birds.  We see another one coming up in the dry forest too.

 

Yes, I am trying to just report what we went through so that people can make their own decisions on whether the same things would bother them or not.  For some, I am sure some of these things wouldn't bother them since we seem to get "higher maintenance" with each passing year.  :)

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Atdahl

Madagascar Day 11 and 12 - Ranomafana

 

 

Despite being pretty big and bustling with people, our room at the Thermal Hotel was not noisy so we slept pretty well.

 

Unfortunately, we woke up to rain with no signs of it going away.  Still, we got dressed and headed down to breakfast with the hopes that it would clear up.

 

The breakfast at the Thermal Hotel was sparse.  Really sparse for us since we weren't eating any fruit we couldn't peel ourselves.  Plus, the staff didn't speak great English and couldn't tell us if the milk was pasteurized.  We asked if we could order eggs and the waiter bluntly said "no eggs!".  So, we ended up having dry cereal (literally) and some pastries (all the bread and pastries in Madagascar were very good).

 

We left at 7:30 AM and picked up our local guide Jean Chris on the way.  Jean Chris turned out to be a very good guide.  It was too wet and rainy to head to Ranomafana he said so he had Dida drive down a road that was blocked off to all other traffic.

 

We walked along the road looking for chameleons and anything else we could find but we all eventually got too wet and headed back to the van.  Meanwhile, both Jean Chris and Bruno stayed out to locate something...anything.  Jean Chris managed to find this Baron's Mantella (Mantella baroni) and brought it over on a leaf to show us.  It was gorgeous but hard to photograph:

 

Baron's Mantella

 

At that point, some wind came along with more rain and we all decided to call it a morning after only an hour and a half.

 

After the sparse breakfast, we were quite hungry so we headed to the dining room as soon as they started serving lunch. The Thermal Hotel gives you 2 choices for lunch and dinner. If you don't like either one, you are pretty much out of luck.

 

For lunch today I chose tilapia and it ended up being the boniest fish I had ever had.  I couldn't get the bones out of mine at all but Karen did manage hers OK.  Bill's lunch was also so bad he couldn't eat it so we both were looking for other options.  At that point, a big table next to us got served huge omelets which weren't on the menu.  When our waiter came over we asked about them and he said they weren't on the menu but were the vegetarian option.  We didn't even know they had that since it wasn't on the menu.  Anyway, we ordered one and split it and it was quite good.

 

Lunch took a long time (like usual) but since the rain hadn't stopped we were in no hurry.

 

After lunch we hung out in our room.  At one point I looked at the window and spotted this Souimanga Sunbird at the top of a nearby bush:

Singing in the rain...

 

We met again at 2:30 PM to try walking in the main park. Since it was still raining, I decided not to take a camera except for my point and shoot.  Most photo ops in the rain forest are above you and the second you point your camera up in the rain, it's all over. I didn't have water proof housing for any of my DSLRs and I just didn't want to mess with trying to keep one of them dry.  

 

The hike was wet, muddy, and cold at times.  We did see a huddled eastern woolly lemur and a satanic leaf-tailed gecko but neither were in any position for photos even with my point and shoot which I did bring.  So, the whole 2 hour afternoon hike is photo-less.  I discovered that if I can't take pictures, it's just not that enjoyable for me. Karen said I was grumpy the whole day and I am sure she was right.  I know the anti-malaria has an effect on me but I am sure it was the inability to take photos that really brought out the inner grump.

 

Our scheduled night walk was also rained out so today ended up being a total rain out.  But, it was really the only day where rain impacted us much. So, for a 3 week trip that's actually not that bad.  Luckily, we had added a third night to our Ranomafana stay just a few weeks before the trip and that was a good call as it turned out.

 

We woke up the next morning to some mist but it was the kind that you could tell would burn off and it did.  It ended up being a lovely day.

 

We had more dog issues overnight as the lodge's dogs which they let loose all night for security liked to bark under our window.  I swear it's like the dogs know exactly where to find us.

 

Today we went down to breakfast expecting another sparse selection but when I asked a different waiter today about eggs he said "how would you like them?"  Eggs were no problem today so we were able to pack away the calories this morning which was good since we did a lot of walking today.

 

From 7:30 AM to 11:30 AM we hiked in the main part of the park.  Ranomafana is 161 square miles in size so it's very large but as far as I can tell it only has two access points and the main entrance is the one everyone uses.  So, everyone ends up on the same trails.

 

Ranomafana National Park

 

Ranomafana Map

 

The parking lot was a lot more crowded today.  I guess lots of local guides just hang out hoping that people will show up that need guides.

 

As I mentioned before, Jean Chris was very much a good guide.  He always seemed "in tune" with his surroundings and his approach was much different.  He would walk slowly with his hands behind his back listening.  Then he would point out what made this noise and we would go check it out if we wanted to.  It was hard not to step on his heels but once we figured out that slow walking was his M.O. we were able to give him some space and try to get in tune with the surroundings as well.

 

Setting a brisk pace...

 

Ranomafana River

 

Ranomafana is very hilly. So, there were lots of ascents and descents.  Sometimes there were steps and sometimes there weren't.  It was quite the workout but the forest was really pretty.

 

Ranomafana Hike

 

Once we crossed the river which marked the entrance to the park, Jean Chris said that we were going to go see the bamboo lemurs.  He proceeded to lead us over to where they had been spotted and all we saw at first were people.  That had to be close to 100 people on this one trail. Half were looking up and half appeared to be local guides that were just milling about blocking the trail.  Eventually, we were able to find holes large enough in the foliage and crowd to see the lemurs:

 

Golden Bamboo Lemur (Hapalemur aureus):

Golden Bamboo Lemur

 

Golden Bamboo Lemur Eating

 

The golden bamboo lemur was only discovered in 1986 and it critically endangered.  This is one of the species that we really wanted to see since there is a chance they will go extinct in our life time.

 

As you can see, getting a clear photo was just about impossible and was made harder with other people bumping into me.  Plus, whenever a spotter found what he thought was an opening he would call over to me "mister mister, come here".  The first couple of times I went but then I realized that while the views may have been closer they were worse since they were looking up.  I had this problem in multiple parks where the spotters didn't understand that a longer lens meant I didn't need to get closer.  I needed to get more at eye level so that the sky wasn't in the background.

 

Once again, I think they were more used to people with cell phones.

 

While it was cool to see these rare lemurs (although these 2 were always in this general area we were told), it wasn't fun sharing the experience with so many other people.  So, we left pretty quickly and headed to the next thing on the list.  The greater bamboo lemur.

 

Once again, these lemurs were surround by people although there were less here. They were high up in the branches and I only was able to get a couple proof shots that aren't worth sharing.  We did come back later when it was less crowded and got better looks.

 

Next on the list was the Milne-Edwards Sifaka which the spotters had already located so Jean Chris took us directly there..

 

On the way to the sifaka we encountered this nesting Rufous Vanga:

Nesting Rufous Vanga

 

The sifakas were quite active so while we got good looks, they weren't easy to photograph so I only have one decent one to share:

Milne-Edwards Sifaka

 

Yes, those are flies around the sifakas but they didn't come near us.  Speaking of bugs, the whole trip was relatively bug free.  I never used bug spray and I only got one bite.  Mosquitoes were scarce except for a couple places later on the trip.  The lack of bugs the whole trip was really nice.

 

Jean Chris thought it would be a good time to go back to the greater bamboo lemurs so we did that and on the way spotted this cool Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko (Uroplatus phantasticus).  It was hard to maneuver to get a decent photo though:

Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko

 

The Greater Bambo Lemurs (Prolemur simus) were closer to the ground now and there were less people.  Both made for better photo ops:

Greater Bamboo Lemur

 

We had two other cool sightings that morning.  The first was a Eastern Red Forest Rat (Nesomys rufus) but no pictures of that one.  The second was a Big Nose Chameleon (Calumma nasutum):

Big Nose Chameleon

 

Ranomafana has spotters that go into the park early and radio back telling the guides where everything is.  So, you don't really ever "happen" upon anything.  It felt more like Disneyland then a national park if you ask me.  First you have Golden Bamboo Lemur Land, then you have Sifaka Land, then you have Greater Bamboo Lemur Land and all the while you dodge a parade of people.  Once in a while between "lands" you would encounter a "character" in the form of a gecko, bird, or chameleon. All that was missing was huge turkey legs and people dressed up as animals. Although, Karen does call me Goofy a lot...

 

We escaped Ranomafana and somehow made it past all the people hard selling wares and an overflowing parking lot to our van.

 

Instead of going back to the Thermal Lodge for lunch, we stayed near the park entrance and went to the Setam Lodge. It can't be worse than the lunch yesterday....right?

 

Despite having to dodge more people selling wares are the restaurant entrance (they have to be able to stop this, right?) we had high hopes for a good meal since the restaurant looked really nice and it was combined with a nice gift shop.

 

The choices for lunch were slim and I ordered chicken and sausage.  Everyone else's food came out in about a half hour including the exact dish I ordered which bill also ordered.  The waitress said nothing to me and I told everyone not to wait for me.  10 minutes later I asked the waitress about my lunch and she said it was coming.  Well, once everyone had finished their lunch mine finally arrived. An hour after I ordered it!  It wasn't bad actually but it certainly wasn't a "quick stop for lunch" like Bruno had hoped.  I wonder if it is even possible to have a quick meal in Madagascar?

 

Anyway, after saying "No thank you" way too many times we got past the people selling stuff and back to the van.  The plan now was to go to the upper Ranomafana entrance and hike in there.  This turned out to be a great thing because not only did this actually feel wild but there was no one else around.

 

On the way, Jean Chris somehow managed to see a mating pair of Madagascar Boas from the van.  We all had no idea how he saw these up off the road in some grass:

Mating Tree Boas

 

As I mentioned, the afternoon hike was really nice and a complete opposite of the Disneyland experience in the morning.

 

Frog eggs:

Frog Eggs

 

Here is Jean Chris debating which way to go.  Of course, we ended up going UP the stairs...

Nope, we went up of course...

 

We happened upon a troop of Milne-Edwards Sifakas and really enjoyed watching them.  It was so nice to have them to ourselves:

Milne-Edwards Sifaka

 

Milne-Edwards Sifaka Stare

 

Milne-Edwards Sifaka

 

I tried unsuccessfully to get a shot of them leaping.  They were just too fast for me:

One giant leap for lemur kind...

 

Milne-edwards' Sifaka

 

Next, we spotted some movement which led us to a pair of Red-bellied Lemurs (Eulemur rubriventer):

Red-bellied Lemur

 

The males have really cool white tear drops around their eyes:

Red-bellied Lemur

 

Next, we found another new lemur species; Red-fronted Brown Lemur: (Eulemur rufifrons)

Red-fronted Brown Lemur

 

Both the red-bellied and red-fronted brown lemurs were far away and didn't really want to pose for pictures but the experience of finding them and watching them were both quite enjoyable.

 

Muddy trail:

MUD

 

Common Sunbird Asity.  Our only Asity of the whole trip unfortunately:

Common Sunbird Asity

 

We had another brief encounter with the sifakas before leaving the park:

Get a grip...

 

As we were approaching the van, Karen spots a small rodent that runs under the van and across the road.  I got a few pictures and I pretty sure it's a shrew tenrec but I don't know the exact species:

Shrew Tenrec

 

It was 5PM by the time we made it back to the van so we hung out for about an hour until it got dark.  I used this time to talk to Jean Chris about the night walk options.  He said that night walks are only done on the road by the main entrance.  There they "lure" (AKA bait with banana) the lemurs and we were virtually guaranteed to see a mouse lemur and dwarf lemur.  He also said it would be crowded.

 

Well, we didn't want any part of that so we asked if we could just walk the road instead and see what we could see and he seemed really happy to do that.  I think he preferred it to the staged lemur show.

 

Before it got dark we noticed someone photographing something so naturally we walked down the road to see what he found.  It was a beautiful O'Shaughnessy's Chameleon (Calumma oshaughnessyi):

O'Shaughnessy's Chameleon

 

The Tail

 

I was hoping to find a really colorful chameleon on the trip and we finally had.

 

Once darkness settled in around us we all walked down the road looking for eye shine or other signs of critters.  The road was fairly busy so we did have to dodge vehicles but it wasn't that bad.

 

Deceptive Chameleon (Calumma fallax):

Deceptive Chameleon

 

Eventually, I spotted some eye shine.  It was a mouse lemur that was quite active but eventually it settled down and allowed a few pictures.

 

Rufous Mouse Lemur (Microcebus rufus):

Rufous Mouse Lemur

 

Rufous Mouse Lemur

 

We did see a few other frogs and chameleons. However, seeing that little mouse lemur so well was the highlight of the evening for me.  I wasn't sad at all that I missed seeing a baited dwarf lemur.

 

Back at the lodge another dinner adventure waited.  Karen, Bill and I both ordered the pork chop which looked great when it came out but it soon became apparent that it was all bone.  I only got 3 fork fulls of meat off of mine and the others did no better.  So, back at the room we broke open the "suitcase of plenty" to fill up.

 

Of course, I had a few of my favorite bottled Malagasy beverages with dinner:

 

What a lifesaver

 

Drinking so much water out of plastic just about killed Karen but you really have no other option.  The only lodge with filtered water was the last one on Masoala.  I am glad I didn't count the number of plastic water bottles we went through since I am sure the number would have been depressing.

Drank too many of these

 

Surprisingly, today was day 12 of the trip but the first day we actually had a full day of wildlife viewing with morning, afternoon, and night activities. Looking back, it was definitely one of the best days of the trip because of that.  Peggy rightfully pointed out that we certainly made the correct choice by adding an extra day here at the expense of only spending one night later in Ifaty. If we hadn't done that today would have been a travel day and we would have missed so much.

 

It's tough to know ahead of time how many days to spend where but for us 3 nights at Ranomafana worked out perfectly.

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pault

You're off to a great start. Day 2..... 300 steps +++ without water for unidentified bat.... after knackering and roasting yourselves on the tsingy stuff* to get to not one, but two bridges to nowhere. Am I missing anything?  I am avoiding thinking about poor Bill with his tripod and 600mm lens! With all due respect to you Alan, and the others, I have to say Karen is looking like the only non-masochist with functioning common sense in this group ("ouch! my ankle hurts"; "I'll take care of Bill's lens" - smart!) but fortunately you tell a nice story and take beautiful pictures in between putting yourself through the equivalent of a Japanese endurance gameshow.... so I am loving reading of your discomfort - while obviously hoping the things are just about to really pick up.

 

Brilliant!

 

* I'd have walked across the tsingy stuff and the two bridges to get those lemur shots, but note you either already had them  or got them only on returning from it! :D

 

 

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TonyQ

@Atdahl

Another fascinating section with some great lemurs. Ramanofamna certainly sounds much more crowded than when we went. It is good you found some quieter parts.

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Atdahl

@pault, there were no lemurs anywhere near the Tsingy unfortunately.  They were all in the forest within a half hour of the vehicle.  But, it was nice to see the tsingy.   We just didn't know to bring enough water.

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Atdahl

@TonyQ, Ranomafana was by far the most crowded park.  At least at the main entrance.  But, the entrance up the road had no other cars and I don't think we saw anyone else while we were there.  It was really nice and we had real wild encounters with the wildlife.  I don't think they have any bamboo lemurs in that part of the park though.  If it wasn't for that fact I would recommend not even going to the main park.

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Atdahl

Madagascar Day 13 - Anja

 

Today was going to be another travel day but we would be making two stops one of which would be at the Anja Community Reserve.

 

We left Ranomafana around 7AM and made the 1st stop 3 hours later.  The stop was at a silk making shop in a small town along the RN7.  It was interesting to learn about how they made the silk fabrics but this stop really wasn't that exciting for us so we were happy to move on especially because there were a couple bus loads of tourists there already.

 

I tried my hand at some photos from the van again with varying degrees of success.  At one point, we encountered multiple large herds of zebus that pretty much took over the road:

 

Zebu Jam

 

Zebu

 

Bruno said they were being walked all the way to market in Tana on a journey that takes weeks.  Luckily, the people don't walk the whole way.  They change constantly but the zebu obviously have to make the whole journey.

 

Another observation about the Malagasy is that the women have perfect posture.  They carry everything on their heads no matter how large or heavy.  That is a skill that must take a long time to master.  I never got a decent photo of this so when we encountered some young girls taking items to market I tried some action shots from the car.

 

Perfect balance

 

The area approaching Anja is quite picturesque:

 

Anja

 

 

The Anja Community Reserve is 30 hectares of protected land and forests that was formed in 2001.  It was established mainly to protect the iconic ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta).  This is one of the few remaining strongholds of the ring-tailed lemur in Madagascar and is likely the best place to see them.

 

Our local guide assured me that they do not feed the ring-tail lemurs but they did seem semi-habituated to people which was likely because the park has so many visitors.

 

Anja:

Anja Community Reserve

 

It didn't take us long to find a troop of ring-tailed lemurs hanging out in some trees:

Ring-tailed Lemurs

 

i-2HhPzm9-L.jpg

 

Look at that tail!

Ring-tailed Lemur

 

There were even a few babies:

Awwwww...

 

Baby Ringtail

 

The park is home to a lot of reptiles as well.

 

Oustalet's Chameleon:

Oustalet's Chameleon

 

Our guide walked right past this one but I spotted it even though it blended in so well:

Oustalet's Chameleon

 

Oustalet's Chameleon

 

Female Oustalet's:

Female Oustalet's

 

Western Girdled Lizard (Zonosaurus laticaudatus):

Western Girdled Lizard

 

The scenery of the park is pretty spectacular with lots of rocks and small areas of trees.  It was obvious that we were in the dry part of Madagascar now.

Anja Hike

 

At one point, we were told that there was a snake nearby and when we went to see it 3 of the workers had corralled it with sticks to head off its attempts at escape.  I didn't really like that level of harassment so I took a quick picture so that we could later ID it (It was a species of Madagascar Cat-eyed Snake - Madagascarophis ?) and asked that they let it go, which they did.

 

After hiking a bit of a loop trail it was time to head back to the entrance for lunch.  But, on the way we encountered a troop of ring-tailed lemurs that had come down to the ground to eat.  They put on quite a nice show which was a highlight of the trip for us:

Ringtail with Twins

 

Profiles of Ringtail

 

Piggy Back

 

Ringtail and Baby

 

Ringtail and Baby

 

I think this little guy was surprised to see us:

i-NZhn2Kj-L.jpg

 

I think we caught this one in the act of something:

Ring-tailed Lemur

 

i-9qTmxJ6-L.jpg

 

Once they all got some water they had to "move it, move it" back into the trees so we watched a few with youngsters aboard as they walked away towards the forest.

 

i-mSTFV85-L.jpg

 

Twins!

 

Here's a final look at the reserve:

Anja

 

We only hiked at Anja for about an hour and a half, but we really enjoyed it.  It wasn't overly touristy or crowded and the views of the ring-tailed lemurs were fantastic.  We had lunch at a small restaurant there which was good but the views were better.  We had both a dog and cat under our table.  Both begged a little bit for food but we didn't give them any and they both curled up to sleep the heat away.

 

Most of the afternoon was spent driving to our lodge Le Jardin du Roy which is located near Isalo National Park.

 

Along the way we encountered some nice scenery:

Madagascar Scenery

 

But, we also encountered a lot of scorched earth where fires had recently burned:

Scorched Land

 

As we were driving along, we hit an extra large bump which caused a big bang on the roof.  Dida and Bruno got out to inspect and realized that the luggage rack had broken:

When the roof rack broke...

 

They tried a quick fix but after another mile we all realized that it wouldn't hold. So, all the bags came down off the roof and into the van.  It actually wasn't too crowded and was better than seeing our unmentionables scattered across the highway.

 

Le Jardin du Roy is a very picturesque lodge set amount the rocks and when we arrived around 5PM the light was perfect:

Jardin du Roy Lodge

 

Jardin du Roy forest

 

They also have some very cool plants in their landscaping:

Landscaping

 

Cool plant

 

Our room was quite nice although it was weird to have the toilet on one side of the room and the bathroom on the other so that we had to walk all the way around the bed to wash our hands:

 

Jardin du Roy room

 

In my mind, I was thinking that this should be a good place for lizards and not 5 minutes after we first left our room I spotted this one.

 

Dumeril's Madagascar Swift (Oplurus quadrimaculatus):

Dumeril's Madagascar Swift

 

Le Jardin Du Roy was definitely the most upscale lodge of the trip and their prices followed suit.  For instance, they served smaller beer for high prices than anywhere else.  But, that didn't stop me from drinking my share of course.

 

After a nice dinner (the food was quite good at all meals), we decided to walk the grounds a little bit to see if we could find any critters.  But, there was nothing to be seen so after about an hour we turned in for the night.

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kittykat23uk

I really enjoyed my time in Anja as well, a beautiful little park with fabulous lemurs of course! 

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janzin

I didn't realize that there were Ring-tailed Lemurs on your route. Of course we had plenty at Berenty, which I guess is one of the other strongholds for them.

 

Very interesting to read about these areas where we didn't go. I'm starting to wonder if I should bother doing a report at all since you are covering so much more ground!

 

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Atdahl

@janzin, if you have time I am sure everyone would appreciate some sort of synopsis from your trip.  I  know I would since our experiences seem like they were quite different.  Plus, I am sure you have a lot of great pictures to share.  You wouldn't deprive us of those, would you? :)

 

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TonyQ

Seconded. Always good to get different perspectives and to see more great photos. I don’t think we are overloaded with Madagascar reports

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Atravelynn

The amazing ring-tailed lemurs production and the "rice boobs" seemed have made it all worth while. 

 

So many beautiful wildlife photos of creatures almost beyond the imagination!   The frog eggs, which are not yet a creature are a unique catch too.

 

I believe you mentioned you would not visit these places again or something like that.  If you're able, what kind of 2-week itinerary would you suggest?

 

Thank you for sharing all this with us.

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Atravelynn
4 hours ago, janzin said:

I didn't realize that there were Ring-tailed Lemurs on your route. Of course we had plenty at Berenty, which I guess is one of the other strongholds for them.

 

Very interesting to read about these areas where we didn't go. I'm starting to wonder if I should bother doing a report at all since you are covering so much more ground!

 

Don't be silly.  Your experiences help those you have not gone and would like to Where you went, who you booked with, all helpful.

 

Jan-Zin, Jan-Zin, Jan-Zin, Jan-Zin, Jan-Zin!

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wilddog
7 hours ago, Atravelynn said:

Don't be silly.  Your experiences help those you have not gone and would like to Where you went, who you booked with, all helpful.

 

Jan-Zin, Jan-Zin, Jan-Zin, Jan-Zin, Jan-Zin!

Quite right @Atravelynn 

 

@janzin I forward to reading your TR in the new Year. You can have Christmas off:lol:

 

It will complement this excellent report from @Atdahl

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kittykat23uk

@Atravelynn it really depends what's on your must see list because all the wildlife is so localised. I had about 2 weeks so I had to pick and choose.

 

I would suggest doing what I did. That was basically andasibe-mantadia and then the same route @Atdahl took down the RN7 fly back from tulear. It seems from his report that he didn't stop at ialatsara, which I did, on the way to ranomafana, but still got the milne-Edwards sifakas, which I got there, but not in ranomafana. 

 

I didn't make it to nosy ve Island and you could probably skip the last park I went to which was tsimanampetsotsa national park. 

 

I therefore only had one internal flight which saves a lot of hassle by the sounds of it. 

 

I saw all but one of the lemurs I hoped to see on this route. 

 

I saw fossas that I didn't think I would see (not going to Kirindy) . 

 

I knew I would not get aye aye and red ruffed lemur in these parks and whilst I got verreaux sifakas, I didn't see them dancing like you do at Berenty. 

 

If I were to go again then my priorities will be very different. 

 

My trip report is in the archives. I believe you read it at the time.

 

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