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Atdahl

Madagascar: A Trip of Extremes

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Atdahl

@Atravelynn, @kittykat23uk hit the nail on the head.  The wildlife is so localized that you really need to figure out what you want to see and then plan around that.  Also, you need to decide your tolerance for air travel (it's 1 full day per domestic flight) versus ground travel (a pain in it's own right).  The only place that everyone pretty much goes is Andasibe since it's only 4 hours from Tana and does have a lot to see.  It's the only place to see indri for instance.

 

So, once you figure out what you want to see (or try to see at least), then that dictates where you go and how much time it will take to get there.  The RN7 route is popular and is the typical itinerary that you will see most online when you start doing research.  But, you will spend a lot of time transferring from one location to another and we really only liked about half the stops on that route.  But, of course, that is personal preference.

 

If you start a trip planning thread and let us know what you might want to see I bet all the folks that have been will give some opinions to help you out.

 

Alan

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Atdahl

Madagascar Day 14 - Isalo National Park

 

The sunny and warm weather continued today so the plan was to get as early a start as possible.  But, the earliest they would serve breakfast was 7AM unfortunately.

 

The drive to Isalo was about an hour but that included a stop to meet our local guide and buy the tickets.  It was here that we spotted a ring-tailed lemur tied up at a building next to the entrance building.  That was pretty sad to see.  The whole area around the entrance to Isalo was way to touristy with people everywhere selling stuff or begging for handouts.

 

This was definitely not a good start to the day.

 

Our local guide was named Showy and he showed us a few trail choices that we could make once we were in the park:

Isalo Park Sign

 

Once we actually got into the park (it's another 15 minute drive from the entrance to the parking lot) we ended up making a 4 hour loop hike through the canyon, up on the ridge for a scenic view and then back down into the canyon.

 

Showy shared with us that the Bara people that live in the area have multiple wives.  Usually, it's 4 wives and the men spend a week with each one at different houses.  What a perfect arrangement I thought. Maybe I should consider the area for retirement.

 

He also mentioned that a man is judged by the # of zebu he owns.  "No zebu, no wife" he said.  Well, since I wasn't really interested in keeping zebu I guess retirement in Isalo is out.

 

Showy was our only local guide that actually shared information about the park and the local people so it was nice to get some insights into the local culture.

 

Isalo is a very pretty park and this hike was quite nice.

 

Isalo Rice Patties

 

Isalo Hike

 

We saw some cool insects on this hike including a couple walking sticks and these guys.

 

Adult flatid leaf bugs:

Flatid Leaf Bugs - Adults

 

Flated leaf bug nymphs:

Flatid Leaf Bugs - Nymphs

 

We also had a sighting of a Madagascar Button Quail with chicks:

Madagascar Buttonquail with Chicks

 

The guides herded these birds a bit too much and too long for my liking so I ended up walking away and getting a decent shot of a Madagascar Bulbul:

Madagascar Bulbul

 

As I mentioned before, the hike was very pretty.  Here is just a bit of the scenery we encountered on our way through the canyon.

 

Isalo Hike

 

Dead end...

 

Isalo does have lemurs.  In fact, it's another place to see ring-tailed lemurs and used to be a good place to see the Verreaux’s Sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi).  However we were told that there was a fire a few years ago that either killed or scared away all the sifakas except for one.  That one hangs out with a troop of ring-tails and we did manage to see it.  Sad to think it could be the last one in the park though:

Last Verreaux's Sifaka in Isalo?

 

 

Once we climbed up out of the canyon the scenery got better and better.

 

Time to head up

 

Don't look down though:

Don't look down...

 

Isalo

 

 

It was here that I fell in love with this mini baobab plant.  It was so cool:

Mini Baobab

 

We got to the top and shared a quick break with a few other hikers but then headed off in the other direction.  Here's a look at the trail we would be taking on the way down:

Isalo Vista

 

Back in the canyon we ended up catching up to a lot of people so we just took our time and enjoyed the scenery.

 

Isalo Hike

 

Madagascar Coucal:

Madagascar Coucal

 

There is a camp in the park where the locals serve lunch.  It costs 30K each and was pretty bad.  We had the typical dry, no meat chicken so I filled up on rice and food that we brought with us.   The other problem with this camp is that they let the ring-tailed lemurs hang out and steal people's food off the tables which isn't good.  Eventually, it's the wildlife that pays the price for close human contact.

 

The lemurs that weren't stealing food just hung out around us:

Peek-a-boo

 

Mass Grooming

 

There were some birds hanging out in the trees around the camp and I managed to finally get some good shots of some iconic birds.

 

Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher:

Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher

 

Madagascar Hoopoe:

Madagascar Hoopoe

 

Feeding time:

Hoopoe Feeding Time

 

Back at the lodge we walked the grounds before dinner but didn't find anything of interest. We did venture out in the woods behind the lodge and planned to come back after dinner.

 

Dinner was once again pretty good but dessert was the highlight.  They had something called "Hot and Cold of Chocolate" on the menu so I ordered it and it was exactly as described.  Chocolate lava cake with chocolate ice cream.  Yummy!

 

With some extra sugar providing the energy, we headed back into the woods.  Earlier in the day Bruno said that the forest was empty around the lodge.  But, we lucked out when Karen spotted this Scops Owl:

Madagascar Scops Owl

 

I also spotted a rodent of some king but it disappeared before we could get any decent looks at it.  But, finding the owl was really fun and between that and all the chocolate I had, I felt pretty good as we headed back to our room for the night.

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shazdwn

Those baby ring-tailed lemurs are sooooo cute.  

 

@janzin - another vote from me for your trip report please?  I'd love to hear more about travelling in this country and who doesn't want more chameleon and lemur photos :D

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xyz99

I finally caught up with this TR and I am fascinated, what an abundance of wildlife, great photos and story-telling. Madagascar looks wonderful, but I don't think I will ever get there. Lemurs, geckos, chameleons, I would love to see them all, but the logistics, the long travel days, the no (clean) bathroom availability on the road, these are difficult things to ignore. So I'm enjoying this TR and I am grateful for it. 

I had to listen on youtube at the indri calls, wow! Reminds me of the gibbons in Thailand, out of this world sounds. The reward for what you endured on the road was so worth it!!!

 

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Zim Girl

Lovely pictures of the ring-tailed lemurs and really enjoying all the reptiles.

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kittykat23uk

Sad to hear about the verreaux's sifakas, I guess soon berenty will be the only place to see them :(

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Atdahl

Hi @xyz99, yeah travel to the "Mad World" is such a dual edged sword.  They have such great wildlife but it is intermingled with hours of uncomfortable travel.  It's a personal decision on whether the former is worth the latter.

 

@Zim Girl, thanks.  We certainly struck gold with all the reptiles we saw.  We actually saw way more reptile species than mammal species which is a first for us in all our travels.

 

@kittykat23uk, yes that is a shame.  But, the verreaux's sifakas are also at Zombitse NP which is the next report I will post.  So, all is not completed lost for them...yet.  But, Berenty is still the best place to see them based on our experiences and the couple of photos @janzin posted on Facebook from Berenty which were awesome.

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kittykat23uk

Ah yes, I think that's where I saw them, at zombiste. 

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Galago

Just caught up with your TR and it's fascinating. Some entirely splendid photos, too many to mention in detail, but the close-up of the Indri and the Ground-rollers blew me away! And your herps are just extraordinary!!

 

I was in Mada 20 years ago. It was my first solo trip, not a birding trip per se (it was with Exodus), but fortunately there were other birders in the group and I saw quite a lot. We didn't do the north, so the furthest north from Tana was (as it was then) Perinet-Andasibe. We did the whole trip to the south by road and it was fabulous! The evidence of slash and burn was marked, even then 90% of forests had been destroyed but, once out of Tana, there was hardly any traffic. I have never seen so many people walking and a zebu drawn cart was a luxury. So that made it fabulous, apart from the 'roads'. That was tricky sometimes but the Road to Ranomafana will forever be etched in my memory as torture (I believe it has improved)! You say the food is bad but you seemed to stay healthy. I had food poisoning three times in two weeks. I returned as a slender being.

 

I think the main thing about Mada is not to compare it to visits to bush camps in mainland Africa. It's an exceptionally poverty-stricken country which has been troubled by coups and ineffective government for a long time. In addition, the tribal differences are marked and a unifying ethos across the country is conspicuous in its absence. It kind of reminds me of my trip to Papua New Guinea - bloody tough going, a country riven with tribal aggressions, often dreadful food (not to mention rooms), but the most amazing birds and just great connections with people too. I was so ill and exhausted at the end of the tour - but I wouldn't have missed it for the world!

 

Your TR has spurred me to get out my 'diary' - no blogs then! If you're interested just DM me with your email and I'll ping it over so you can read what Mada was like at the turn of the century!

 

And @janzin yes please! Oh do write a TR. I love your photos and, having enjoyed being taken back to Mada, I would really like to do it again! As mentioned, you can have Xmas off, - and then it's TR time!!!

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Atdahl

Thanks so much @Galago for the compliments. DM on the way :).

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Atdahl

Madagascar Day 15 -  To Zombitse and Ifaty

 

I was up early today so I did a pre-breakfast walk around the grounds but saw nothing worth photographing.  I did notice that the lodge kept two radiated tortoises but they had lots of room to roam and were outside so this arrangement was much better than the one we saw previously at that gem store.

 

After a nice breakfast, we ordered pack lunches from the lodge since we were told there was nowhere to eat anywhere until we got to tonight's lodging in Ifaty.  However, our packed lunch ended up being a small dinner roll and piece of cheese each.  That was it!  How the lodge can call that a packed lunch is beyond me.  But otherwise, we enjoyed our stay at Le Jardin du Roy.

 

We drove for about 1 hr 15 minutes through dry open country and most of it was on the best road of the trip.  In fact, the road was so good it actually had painted lines.  I thought this rare landmark was worthy of a photo so I did just that:

 

The only good Malagasy road

 

The "housing" along the road was about as bad as we saw in the north with little shacks made from sticks and straw:

Typical village along the road

 

Then, all of a sudden we saw a thin line of trees ahead.  It turns out that this was Zombitse National Park which would be our destination.

 

I had to share a picture of one of the few people we saw not beating their zebu.  This gentleman did have a switch at the ready but he didn't use it around us which was nice to see.

 

Zebu Beating...

 

Zombitse is very much a dry forest.  It covers about 36,000 hectares across three non-contiguous forests.  We were going to be hiking in the main Zombitse forest from what I could tell.

 

Zombitse National Park

 

Zombitse Hike

 

We spent 2 hours hiking around Zombitse with a local guide and had good luck with the local wildlife.

 

White-browed Owl:

White-browed Owl

 

Madagascar Scops Owl:

Another sleeping scops owl

 

Male Cuckoo Roller:

Cuckoo Roller

 

Hubbard's Sportive Lemur (Lepilemur hubbardorum):

Hubbard's Sportive Lemur

 

We found another beautiful new gecko.  This is a standing's day gecko (Phelsuma standingi):

Standing's Day Gecko

 

Giant Coua:

Giant Coua

 

All the couas we saw were interesting birds but I liked them even more because I could do my Al Pacino impersonation from Scent of a Woman.  "Coo-Ahhh!"

 

I am certain that didn't get annoying for the others at all.

 

I love the detail on this oustalet's chameleon:

Oustalet's Chameleon

 

Zombitse is home to the lemur that I wanted to see the most next to the indri. It's the famous dancing sifaka also knows as the verreaux's sifaka.  They are called dancing sifakas because when they come down to the ground they sort of do a sideways skip to cover ground that looks a little bit like dancing.  So, when we were able to locate some we all were pretty excited.

 

Verreaux's Sifaka

 

Verreaux's Sifaka

 

There was even a baby:

Baby Verreaux's Sifaka

 

However, when we asked about them "dancing" the guide told us that the sifakas at Zombitse don't dance because the forest is dense enough that they don't need to come to the ground.  So, there wasn't really any chance to see the dancing there.  Instead, he said we should go to Berenty which, of course, wasn't on our itinerary.  Argh!

 

Later in the hike, Bruno was somehow able to find this arboreal snake that the local guide had been told was in the area but was really hard to see.

 

Southwestern Night Snake (Ithycyphus oursi):

Southwestern Night Snake

 

Three-eyed Lizard (Chalarodon madagascariensis):

Three-eyed Lizard

 

For all you Game of Thrones fans, I asked if they had any three-eyed ravens in the park but I got a strange look...

 

We had lunch at Zombitse at a picnic area that was pretty nice.  We shared it with a NatHab tour group that looked to be having a good time and I quickly understood why when I saw the nice lunch they had.  I thought about sitting on the ground near them eating my roll and piece of cheese to see if they would take pity on me but I think my big camera and lens might have been a clue that I didn't need any handouts.  Good thing we brought our own snacks...again.

 

I do have to say that the hole in the ground toilet situation at the picnic area was disgusting.  They obviously don't get cleaned so it was much nicer to go in the woods instead.

 

Out next planned stop was a birding location called La Table.  But, on the way there was a chance of seeing some sand grouse since Bruno (and most other guides I suspect) knew their general location.  When we arrived near that location, Bruno talked to some locals selling things by the road and one ran off to see if he could find the grouse while we waited in the van. It was really hot out so waiting in the van in the shade sounded great to us.  About 15 minutes later the guy came back nodding so off we went following him.

 

The grouse themselves aren't that exciting but they are rare so it was worth the stop to see them quickly before they flew off:

Madagascar Sandgrouse

 

Back at the van we asked Bruno how much we should pay the locals (about 6 ended up coming with us all hoping to get paid I think).  He said 20K each couple was enough so that is what we handed them and we thanked them.  But, they weren't happy with that amount and confronted Bill a little bit so Bruno had to get into it with them just a bit while we retreated to the van.  He said that they were used to buses of people coming so naturally they would get more since there were more people but we paid them a fair amount in his words.

 

About 3 hours of driving from Zombitse we turned off the main road onto a really bad road that we inched down at a snail's pace before we could go no farther.  So, we all hopped out and followed Bruno to do some birding.  Interestingly enough this road took us farther from La Table (a mountain that looks like a table) and not closer.  So, we really went birding across the RN7 and quite a distance from La Table.

 

The big draw here is the recently described (1997 I believe) red-shouldered vanga which we ended up seeing pretty quickly thanks to Bruno's playback:

Red-tailed Vanga

 

We saw a few more lifers like a distant crested coo-ahh and a madagascar lark as well as a new lizard the madagascar keeled plated lizard (Tracheloptychus madagascariensis).  But, none of those pictures are good enough to include.  Plus, it was so hot that Karen and I went back to the van while Bill and Peggy searched for more lifers so we didn't see as much as we could have.

 

A little over an hour later we pulled into the Ifaty Dunes hotel which would be our accommodation for one night before our travel day back to Tana tomorrow.  The hotel is located on the beach with a view of the Mozambique Channel.  Eight porters greeted us and each insisted on taking one bag even though most were small duffel bags.  Four led Bill and Peggy to their room and 4 led us to ours.  Once again all of them wanted tips for carrying lightweight bags that I would have preferred to carry myself.  I gave one of them my standard tip amount and asked him to share.  I found out later that Bill felt pressure to tip them all so that is what he did.  I think the porters are running a bit of a racket at this hotel.

 

The room itself was nice enough although I couldn't get any of the outlets to work:

Dunes Ifaty Room

 

Once again, I forgot to take "B-roll" photos of the lodge.  I think either the heat or anti-malarial drugs were getting to me because I never forget to do that and I did it twice on this trip.  Oh well.

 

We were starving and hoped to have a reasonably timed dinner but once again dinner was served "late" by our standards.  It didn't start until 7:30PM.   While we were snacking in our room before dinner, a lady who didn't speak English knocked on our door.  She had a spray can in one hand and I eventually realized that she wanted to come in and spray for mosquitoes.  We said no thanks since we didn't want to smell the spray.  Well, after that I looked around the room and realized that they had no screens on the windows.  They just wooden shutters with gaps between the slats so large that a small bird could fly through. Uh..oh.

 

Dinner ended up being really good chicken and rice but they didn't have cold beer which was disappointing.  There was no night walk in our itinerary which was too bad but I didn't know what would be near by anyway.  We did see a large hermit crab wandering around on the paths near our cabin which was cool.

 

Well, we had a very bad night's sleep since it was so hot and there was a lot of noise coming from the neighboring village.  That and we decided to sleep with the mosquito net down around the bed for the first time due to the open windows.  So, that kept the air flow from the fan to a bare minimum.

 

Today was another long hot day that was split between driving (5.5 hours) and wildlife viewing (4.5 hours).  We were really looking forward to getting off the road and today was the last day of road travel for the entire trip so that was good news.

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janzin

Ah, La Tabla...we too went to "La Tabla" and I thought we'd be going to the table-topped mountain but, like you, went to a forest some distance away.

 

You were lucky to get those Sandgrouse...they were an obsession with our guide and eventually we did see them but I only got a brief look as they flew by.

 

Due to popular demand my trip report will come...after the holidays! But really I don't think we saw much that @Atdahl didn't see!

 

 

 

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mtanenbaum

I'm loving your report--I look forward to the rest! Thanks so much for sharing all your fabulous photos and your great stories....

 

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Atdahl

@janzin, I think I speak for everyone when I say... YEAH!

 

@mtanenbaum, thanks very much.  Still more to come...

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Atdahl

Madagascar Day 16 - Ifaty to Tana

 

I was up really early today thanks to the poor night's sleep so I wandered around the grounds as soon as the sun came up but only saw a few of the very common birds and nothing else.  I did see quite a few hermit crab tracks though so there was obviously more than one wandering around last night.

 

Before heading to the airport today we had a stop at the spiny forest.  I though this would be an actual large forest but in fact it's a private reserve in a populated area that is owned and run by the Mosa family.  Some people refer to it as the Parc Mosa.

 

I am pretty sure that everyone that visits the "spiny forest" in Ifaty comes here.  I don't believe there is anything else to see in the Ifaty area wildlife wise.

 

It's actually a really nice forest and was one of the few places that had some baobab trees. So that, plus some cool wildlife, made it a worthwhile 2 hour stop.

 

Boabab Twins

 

The mighty Baobab Tree

 

Malagasy Graffiti

 

We came across a pair of sickle-billed vangas hunting for insects and grubs and I managed to catch one in the act of finding, flipping, and eating something:

 

Sickle-billed Vanga Hunting...

 

And catching...

 

And flipping...

 

And eating

 

These are very cool birds and it was fun behavior to witness.

 

The long-tailed ground roller was a key target for the morning and we were eventually able to see one but it wasn't keen on holding still for pictures so this is the best I got:

Long-tailed Ground Roller

 

It reminded me a lot of the roadrunner which we have in our yard. In fact, one was just sunning itself outside my window.

 

Bernier's Striped Snake (Dromicodryas bernieri):

Bernier's Striped Snake

 

Antimena Chameleon (Furcifer antimena):

Antimena Chameleon

 

Sub-desert Mesite:

Sub-desert Mesite

 

We also saw two new mammals. The Petter's Sportive Lemur (Lepilemur petteri) and the Grey-brown Mouse Lemur (Microcebus griseorufus).  Both were in thick foliage so photos were just about impossible.

 

The only downside to this stop was when we got back to the parking lot we were really hassled to buy stuff from the people manning the tables, several of which were children (which was common throughout our trip).  They were all pretty much selling the same stuff but saying "no thank you" to one of them just meant another would get in our face and try some high pressure sales tactic.  It was way over the top and cost them sales since even though there was some nice stuff none of us felt like actually buying anything.

 

We got to the airport about 1.5 hours before our 12:55 flight to Tana.  Once again, all bags were weighed and we were hassled about our over weight camera bags.  Bruno stepped in and tried to work his magic as much as possible.  Now, unknown to us, Cactus tours actually bought business class seats for us.  The agent told Bruno that the only way they would let Bill through would be for him to downgrade to economy.  We suspect they overbooked and wanted to use that business class seat for someone else.  Bill graciously agreed and we ended up not being charged for our camera bags.

 

With the bags finally taken care of we had to say goodbye to Bruno and Dida. As I mentioned earlier we really enjoyed spending time with both of them and they are definitely one of the fond memories that we will take back home with us.  Plus, Dida provided me with the perfect response that I can use at home when Karen starts to ramble a bit.  "UhhhHHH!"

 

And now, the most surprising news of the trip!

 

The flight actually left on time and was a direct flight back to Tana.  Wow, we couldn't believe it but we figured that we were due for some good luck on Tsaradia.  They did give us a full bag search and frisking before they let us on the plane though.

 

The "business class" seat was just a normal seat but they did try to serve us food which we turned down since it included uncooked food. But, the highlight was a fancy looking amenities pack that ended up holding a hand fan.  Thank goodness we got that fan because it was incredibly hot in the plane for the first 30 minutes or so and we were all waving those fans in front of our faces like there was no tomorrow.

 

We arrived back in Tana to smoke filled air just like when we left which was too bad.  Luckily, we once again were staying at the Relais de Plateau hotel so our drive from the airport was only about 10 minutes and was relatively traffic free.  Once we got back to the hotel the heavens opened up with some monsoon like rain that helped to clear the air.

 

Dinner was interesting. Karen's fish was really good and mine was really bad.  But, I did enjoy the apple tart for dinner and of course the Relais de Plateau always had my beverage of choice...

 

What a lifesaver

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offshorebirder

Days 15 and 16 had some incredible sightings  @Atdahl.    The  Sickle-billed Vanga sequence is great - thanks for sharing those  cool photos.   

 

 

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offshorebirder
On 12/19/2019 at 11:05 PM, Atdahl said:

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.

 

Thanks for your candid and relevant wildlife and spotting info in this trip report @Atdahl.   Also regarding food and water and other details.   Also commentaries on ethics and local practices.

 

Sorry to hear about the state of conservation - it sounds like things are approaching The Lorax by Dr. Seuss.   

 

In terms of photos, you made some nice "lemonade out of lemons" with the cloudy and canopy conditions you had.

 

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Atdahl

Hey @offshorebirder!  Thanks very much.

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Atdahl

Madagascar Day 17 - To Masoala

 

We had a 6:45AM charter flight this morning but didn't need to leave the hotel until 6:30AM.  How nice was that?  So, we had a nice leisurely breakfast and then got picked up by a Cactus Tours driver who took us to the offices for the charter airline.

 

We would be staying the next 4 nights at Masoala Forest Lodge and they only allow transfers on charter flights since they only have pick ups twice a week and the domestic airlines are too unreliable to plan their schedules around.

 

Once at the offices, they checked us in. Since the flight was not full they didn't even bother to weigh all the bags.  We did leave some suitcases behind at the Relais de Plateau since the charter flight only allows smaller soft sided bags.  This was a free service offered by the hotel and was very handy.

 

After about 10 minutes we boarded a van that took us straight to the plane:

 

Heading to Masoala

 

We were headed to Maroantsetra which is north east of Tana.  Here is a map that shows the general area.

 

masoala.jpg

 

 

The flight to Maroantsetra was a little less than 2 hours and was quite comfortable.  The plane was a little hot at first but we broke out our superb business class Tsaradia hand fans to solve that problem.

 

The air around Tana was still very smoky and there were quite a few clouds too.  As we approached Maroantsetra, things cleared up a bit.  In fact, from the plane I could see the island of Nosy Mangabe which we would visit on our way to the lodge:

 

Nosy Mangabe

 

We landed and were met by a representative of the Masoala Forest Lodge who took us to a good sized bus for about a 20 minute transfer through town to the river.  There they provided some snacks and a clean toilet (a luxury NOT to be missed).  We also met our guide Felix and one of the lodge managers, Sam, who proceeded to provide some information about our transfer and the stop at Nosy Mangabe.

 

Not to scale...

 

Soon, we all boarded the boat and were on our way to the island.  Nosy Mangabe is about 520 hectares and is part of Masoala National Park.  The island looks like a set from Jurassic Park as you approach it:

Welcome to Nosy Mangage

 

I will get a major gripe about Masoala Forest Lodge out of the way right now.  Their boat transfers are all horrible.  There are no docks anywhere so all landings are wet landings.  They did not tell us that so we didn't bring any sandals.  Plus, all boats are very uncomfortable.  The cost of the 4 nights at Masoala Forest Lodge including the charter flight was about 1/3 the total budget for our 22 days in country so it was far from cheap and you expect better transfers for that type of money.

 

Anyway, our "transfer" from our boat to the island was aboard a small inflatable not much bigger than a rubber ducky you would play with in the tub.  Consequently, it only held a couple guests at a time.  There were actually 6 guests so they had to do 3 trips to get everyone on the island.  Here is a picture of our boat and the inflatable (The boatman's name might even have been Ernie)...:

Transportation

 

One nice thing about Masoala Forest Lodge (MFL from now on) is that every group gets a private guide.  So, Felix was the guide for the 4 of us and the other couple (who were from Colorado and were great fun to chat with) had their own guide as well.  Once we were all on the island we started our 2 hour hike which was well worth it:

 

Quick stop at Nosy Mangabe Island

 

Climbing Mantella (Mantella laevigata):

Climbing Mantella

 

Nosy Mangabe is the best place to see black and white ruffed lemurs (Varecia variegata) and we were able to get some decent looks but the photography was tough since they were up high in the trees:

Black and White Ruffed Lemur

 

The only other diurnal lemur on the island is the White-fronted Brown Lemur (Eulemur albifrons):

White-fronted Brown Lemurs

 

Huge huntsman spider:

Huge Huntsmen Spider

 

Nosy Mangabe is home to a different species of leaf-tailed geckos and they were everywhere yet utterly invisible as well.

 

Common Leaf-tailed Gecko (Uroplatus fimbriatus):

Where's Gecko?

 

Great Camouflage

 

Same Species, different Camouflage

 

This one was still getting the hang of the whole camouflage thing:

This one is still learning...

 

We ended up looping back to where we started where there were some picnic tables and a house for the island caretaker.  There were some white-fronted brown lemurs hanging around waiting for us to start eating (they have figured out this is the easiest way to get food I think):

 

White-fronted Brown Lemur Pair

 

There was even a mother and baby:

White-fronted Brown Lemur with Baby

 

While the MFL staff were very much against feeding the wildlife the island caretaker threw a banana out to the lemurs which was sad to see.  Now I know why they hang out in that area.

 

We had a nice lunch of rices, beef, and veggies while chatting about this and that.  The topic of the remaining transfer logistics came up. It was going to take around 1.5 hours depending on wind and surf.  It was going to be wet on the right side of the boat we were warned but they had ponchos for us.  Well, I wanted to get on board first to ensure that we could move to the left side to stay dry but Karen didn't want to be on a bobbing boat since she easily gets motion sickness.  So, we boarded last and only the right side was open of course (I would have done the same thing, so no hard feelings there).

 

The boat had no seats.  Instead, everyone sat on a raised section in the middle of the boat which had a cushion.  So, we were basically back to back facing out sideways.  There where no backs to the "seats" and nothing to hold on to.  We set off towards MFL for an incredibly miserable 1 hour and 15 minute boat ride.  The wind and surf picked up and the boat lifted up and pounded down most of the time.  I was soaked inside of 15 minutes since I only had the poncho on top of me.  It was way too hot to put it on because there was no way to block the sun.  Karen eventually cried uncle and asked to squeeze in on the other side of the boat. But, due to all the pounding my back was on the verge of hysterics so I just preferred to stay where I was and not twist or move anymore than I had to.

 

The whole time I was just shaking my heading wondering why in the hell I actually paid for this ride. But, I knew that my clothes would dry and I was pretty sure I wasn't getting sunburned so I just made sure not to aggravate my back and I just sucked it up.  At the end of the trip they told us that was "average" surf.  I couldn't imagine that trip on a bad day!

 

On the evaluations at the end of the trip I did let them know that they needed to fix this transfer.  Installing seats of some kind and putting up sun/spray shades on the sides of the boat would make such a huge improvement. I hope they do that at some point.

 

Masoala Forest Lodge is set on a 10 hectare private reserve but they aren't surrounded by much civilization so it feels larger than that.  We actually learned during our stay that they plan on buying a lot more land to help preserve it.  The lodge and its surroundings are beautiful.

 

Dining area:

Masoala Forest Lodge Dining Area

 

Our "tent" as seen from the beach:

Our Tent

 

The inside of the tent is pretty bare bones, but we got used to it and it wasn't too bad. They did have some places to store gear including a charging station which was nice.  Clothes could only be hung under the tent though which was a bit inconvenient:

Inside of the Tent

 

One thing that took some getting used to was that the bathroom was down some stairs outside our tent.  That made a middle of the night visit quite awkward. Luckily, I only had to do that once.  But, the bathroom itself was quite functional:

Bathroom

 

It even came with a nice ceramic frog to keep the toilet paper in check:

Surprise!!!

 

Wait!  That frog is alive!

 

We ended up having a couple in the bathroom and they were fun to watch as they hopped around.  They were Dumeril’s Bright-eyed Frogs (Boophis tephraeomystax).

 

Another nice thing about MFL is that the booze is free (well everything but the wine for some reason).  So, I helped myself to cold (thank goodness) THB beer and gin and tonics whenever the notion struck me.  Weird how having free drinks caused that notion to strike more often. Hmmm...

 

MFL consistently had the best meals of the trip.  I put stars by the really good meals in my daily log and almost all the meals here have stars.  For dinner tonight I had coconut shrimp that was melt in your mouth good.  Their deserts were good too and tonight's was some sort of lemon dessert which was tasty.

 

I know I have said this a lot but I am going to say it again.  Another nice thing about MFL is that they actually understand that a lot of travelers don't eat raw fruits and veggies in Madagascar.  So, they soak all of their produce in a solution that gets rid of bacteria.  I can't remember what they actually called it but it works and the end result is that it's fine to eat produce and drink juices there which was very much welcomed after two plus weeks of avoiding such things.

 

Bill and Peggy aren't into night walks as much as we are so it was only Felix and the two of us for our after dinner hikes.  The weather was still pretty hot and humid when we set out.  Felix led us around the paths of the private reserve for an hour.  He was not really much of a talker and didn't communicate much at all except he muttered to himself a lot.  Anyway, the night walk can best be described as a sweltering hour of nothingness.

 

All we saw was one sleeping deceptive chameleon and I am only including the photo to feel like that hour was worth something since the photo isn't very good:

Decepetive Chameleon

 

I haven't mentioned this before, but all four of us noticed that the forests of Madagascar were pretty sparse when it came to wildlife. Especially birds.  We are all seasoned rain forest travelers and we have never come across forest so devoid of wildlife.  I am not sure what the cause is but it was noticeable to us and other guests that we talked with throughout the trip.

 

I bring that up now because we literally saw nothing moving besides that chameleon (which actually wasn't moving either).  No frogs, toads, or even insects.  That hour was pretty disappointing so we were thinking about continuing on our own when it started to rain.  Apparently mother nature had other plans so we just decided to turn in for the night.

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Alexander33
On 12/19/2019 at 10:05 PM, Atdahl said:

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

 

You could have written this for me.  Boy, can I relate!  However, you did an impressive job in capturing the Souimanga Sunbird in the rain (post #87).  And you had to be happy with the O'Shaugnessy's Chameleon and Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher, among many other standouts. 

 

Love that mouse lemur -- and this entire report.  You even got @janzin going, so don't stop now!

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Atdahl

@Alexander33, thank you.  Yes, now that I am back and removed from the situation, I am happy with many of the photos that I got.  However, I have never taken less photos on a trip before.  For a 3 week trip I only had pictures on 3 SD cards and only brought home 2,000 pics.  It would have been half that many probably but I stopped my nightly deletion of crap shots when I realized I wouldn't come close to filling all the cards I had.  Bill had the same issue.  There just wasn't that much to take pictures of when compared to other trips we have taken.

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Atdahl

Madagascar Day 18 - Masoala

 

The first night in a new bed is always a little hard when it comes to getting a good sleep and so it was true last night as well.  Of course the bathroom break at 2AM did a lot to wake me up since you have to unzip the tent, zip it back up so the bugs don't get in, walk down the stairs without killing yourself, do your business, play with the frogs, then walk up the stairs, unzip the tent, zip it back up, stub your toe, and then finally get back into bed.

 

Phew, it's an ordeal I tell you.

 

Anyway, the plan this morning was a trip to Masoala National Park which is actually a boat ride away.  But, first I got to enjoy the calm morning.

 

View of the sundeck

 

All the fishermen we saw used traditional dugout canoes still:

Fishermen in dugout canoe

 

Broken record time...another nice thing about MFL are the breakfasts. They are awesome.  You have breakfast on the "sea deck" which you can see overlooking the water in one of the pictures above.  There they have coffee waiting along with fresh baked bread.  Then you can order pretty much anything you want and they make it to order for you right there.  By far, these were the best breakfasts of the trip and I actually looked forward to them every morning.  I loved having my coffee overlooking the rocks and waves.  I watched fish, crabs, and even mud skippers daily.  It was a great way to wake up.

 

At 8:30AM we met for our boat ride to the national park which would be aboard a zodiac.  The ride, which was less than 30 minutes, wasn't bad.

 

Our ride

 

The forest looked pretty pristine from the water:

Masoala National Park

 

We ended up doing a 3 hour hike which unfortunately was pretty sparse when it came to wildlife.  A major draw of this park is the red ruffed lemurs (Varecia rubra) and we were able to see some. However, they didn't pose readily for pictures.  Which is a good for the animals since that means they are hopefully not habituated.

 

Red Ruffed Lemur

 

Red Ruffed Lemur

 

The only other wildlife photo I have from that hike is of a red-breasted coua:

Sunning Red-breasted Coua

 

When our 3 hours were up we got back to our landing point and there was no boat:

Pickup Point

 

Eventually, we could hear a motor and saw a boat coming towards us but it was an outrigger and couldn't be our transfer boat right?  Wrong...

 

Hey, that's not the right ride...

 

Well, getting inside that boat with the waves moving it constantly was no easy feat.  Somehow, the 4 of us managed to time it well enough to keep our shoes dry but the other couple wasn't so luckily and one of them got pretty wet (although they actually have a "dry room" at the lodge that worked wonders on his shoes apparently).

 

Lunch was another great meal of fish kebabs, couscous, vegetables and papaya cake. This one got a star too.

 

After lunch we split up since Peggy and Bill decided to go snorkeling. We learned later that they had a great time.  We preferred to walk the trails in the lodge's private reserve.

 

It was too hot right after lunch to do anything so we didn't head out on the hike until 3PM.  We took the yellow trail (all the lodge trails are color coded) and we saw nothing but crabs in an hour and a half.  We did hear some birds but never saw them.

 

Earlier in the day, one of the camp managers clued us in to the fact that bamboo lemurs like a couple of the small groves of bamboo at dusk near the last tent.  So, we headed there during happy hour to see if we could see them.  At first, there was nothing around.  Then we could see and hear some distant movement.  The moving limbs and branches got closer and pretty soon we saw the outline of a lemur.  Luckily, they decided to eat in this little grove so I was able to get some pictures.

 

Western Lesser Bamboo Lemur (Hapalemur occidentalis):

Western Lesser Bamboo Lemur

 

Bamboo Lemur

 

Now THAT, was a good happy hour.

 

During dinner, a streaked tenrec came out to say hello briefly.  Apparently, they live under the dining area.  But, this would be the only night we would see one unfortunately.

 

After dinner, we did another hour walk with Felix that started at 7:45.  We had a bit more luck tonight.  We ended up seeing 3 wooly lemurs and a few other things as well.

 

Moore’s Wooly Lemur (Avahi mooreorum):

Moore's Woolly Lemur

 

Boophis Masoala which was first described in 2018 and are endemic to this area:

Boophis masoala (First described in 2018)

 

We also saw a greater dwarf lemur (Cheirogaleus major) but the picture was only good enough for an ID.

 

After the hour with Felix was up we decided to stay out by ourselves and we managed to see a scops owl, what we think was another dwarf lemur, and a masoala mouse lemur.  It's officially called miccrocebus sp. nova since the species at masoala is separate but not fully described yet apparently.

 

The last sighting of the night was more of a audible thing.  We heard what we thought was a female calling out with pleasure, if you know what I mean.  But, it wasn't coming from the direction of the cabins.  So, with a little trepidation we followed the calls and they led us to a frog.  I have no idea what the common name was but the scientific name had to be something like boophis screaminum orgasmius.

 

"I'll have what she's having"...

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janzin

Glad you returned to this report, I was wondering when you would! Surprised that Masoala was so unproductive for you, but at least you got nice looks at the Red-ruffed Lemur; hopefully birds picked up later... 

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Zubbie15

You didn't happen to take a video of that frog, did you? I'd be interested to hear that, although I guess I'd have to be careful where I was when I listened to it. 

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Zim Girl

Nice picture of the red-ruffed lemur and I love the frog!

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