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Atdahl

Madagascar: A Trip of Extremes

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Atdahl

@janzin, yes I'm back!  I was actually out of town on business.  But, I see that you finished your report even though you started way after me so I think I am just really long winded. :)  But, it will be done soon.

 

@Zubbie15, No we didn't which is disappointing so I don't even know the species.  Every time I got close it stopped "calling".  

 

Thanks @Zim Girl

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Atdahl

Madagascar Day 19 - Masoala

 

It was actually a bit chilly in the tent overnight so I was up early and decided to walk the green trail before breakfast but I saw absolutely nothing.

 

Back at the lodge, the sun was well up and the locals were on their way to work.

 

Masoala Commute:

Going to Work

 

I enjoyed some coffee on the sea deck again watching the waves roll in and out.  Very relaxing.

View from the sun deck

 

 

Karen gets the gold star today because she spotted a panther chameleon hanging around a tree outside our tent before breakfast.  It was giving us "the eye":

 

i-jnnk54J-L.jpg

 

 

After another delicious breakfast and ample digest time, we decided to stay around the lodge and hike their trails since we had pretty much seen the diurnal mammals available in the national park. Peggy and Bill did go back with Felix to the park on a quest for the helmet vanga though.

 

So, it was just the two of us and we took the orange trail which is relatively new.  Here is a map of MFL including all the original trails which are across the river from the lodge complex.  They have since added the orange trail in the forest south of the lodge complex and they plan on adding more trails.

 

MFL%2BMap.jpg

 

 

The orange trail winds through some nice forested areas and over a few make shift bridges.

 

Masoala Private Reserve Hike

 

We ended up seeing a small troop of white-fronted brown lemurs on the way out and on the way back.  We also had a Gold-collared Snake (Liophidium rhodogaster), some decent bird action, and a new mammal; the Lowland Red Forest Rat (Nesomys audeberti).  But, nothing held still for any decent pictures.

 

The highlight of the hike though was a skink that we found that could be a new species.  I took a quick break to "check the tires" and looked down to see that I was peeing on a skink by mistake.  So, naturally I apologized and swiveled a bit to the right.  Well, the skink followed the stream and actually seemed to like it.  It did a few circles and stuck his tongue out a few times lapping up the moisture.  Wow, I don't think that behavior is known to science. So, until I am proven wrong I am saying this a new species and calling it the kinky skinky (Goldenia showerus).

 

We were gone for about 2.5 hours but when we got back to our tent our new neighbor was still around.

 

Panther Chameleon Outside our Tent

 

Today's lunch was a greek salad followed by fish tacos and was finished with banana cake.  It was all delicious and received an "Alan star" in my notes.  By the way, this is the first "Alan star" restaurant in all of Madagascar.  So, I should share some additional pictures.

 

The dining area is really nice with a great view of the ocean. It's here that you can get filtered water to refill your bottles (no plastic, YES!), coffee and tea, plus a plethora of numbing liquids including many bottles of home made flavored rum.

 

Dining Area

 

Here's a view of the main bar area:

Free Booze!

 

Notice the "Blue Menu" in the photo above. That's what we had for lunch and is the international option.  For most meals they also had a "Green Menu" for anyone wanting to try genuine Malagasy cuisine.  They were very flexible when it came to meals and many of us did a bit of pick and choosing from both menus.

 

Here is the rest of the bar with the green menu:

More free BOOZE!!

 

 

After lunch we split up again since we decided to walk the trails around the lodge.

 

So, from 2 to 4PM we walked the blue to the red to the yellow trail and all we saw was some white fronted brown lemurs.  We got a bit closer to this troop and they came to check us out and let us know that this was their territory:

 

When you have to go...

 

I wonder if there were any kinky skinkies down below it...

 

Today was Friday and on Friday the lodge does a genuine malagasy feast.  They provide malagasy sarongs (called lambas) in your room and invite you to wear them to dinner.  Of course we had to do that so we showed up to happy hour in our lambas.  I wrapped one around me and headed to happy hour.  Peggy and Bill were already there so I made myself a strong gin and tonic and sat down opposite Bill with only a short coffee table between us.  After my drink was pretty much drained I asked Bill if he ever saw the movie Basic Instinct.  As soon as he said "Of course", I proceeded to do an exaggerated uncrossing/spreading of my legs to be sure that he got my point, if you know what I mean.

 

Thankfully for Bill, I actually had put my lamba on OVER my pants but we (OK, just I) still got a good laugh out of it.

 

Anyway, the lodge goes all out on this traditional meal.  This includes a table covered in leaves that would become both our place mats and plates.  They served rice in a huge mound in the middle of the table and you just pretty much had to drag what you wanted over to your leaf.  In addition, we had an eating utensil that was a cross between a fork and a spoon also made out of leaves.

 

Unfortunately, I didn't have my phone so I didn't take any pictures of this feast which I now regret.  However, I was able to get permission to post a picture taken by another guest that shows the leaves on the table as well as a few of the "leafy" eating utensils (There is one just next to the plate of tomatoes).

 

tipical-malagasy-meal.jpg

 

 

The whole experience was fun but most of us did end up switching to forks.  The food itself was OK but I didn't enjoy it as much as the other food served at the lodge.  However, there were triangular Malagasy empanadas that you can see in the above picture that were delicious.

 

A very popular drink among the Malagasy is ranovola which is burnt rice tea.  I had some and it is actually a lot better than it sounds.  It is made by burning rice and then adding water to the pot to soak up all that burnt flavor goodness.

 

After dinner, we did another night hike with Felix.  I haven't mentioned this before but our #1 rare animal to see on this trip was the aye aye.  It's such an interesting and strange lemur.  In any case, of all the places we visited our best chance to see one was here at Masoala.  This is because we are actually allowed to do night walks here unlike in any of the national parks.  There are actually better places than MFL to see them but most involve camping out which we just don't do.

 

In any case, the aye aye was the unspoken goal of every night walk (Everyone knows you can't talk about a specific target or you will jinx yourself).

 

We ended up staying out for a couple hours but only the first hour was with Felix.  We had a woolly lemur, sportive lemur, dwarf lemur, and we heard but didn't see a scops owl.  Once Felix left and we headed out on our own we found a very cooperative mouse lemur that actually stayed still for a photo.  The mouse lemur at Masoala has been identified as a separate species but it not yet named.

 

Masoala Mouse Lemur (Undescribed Species)

 

What a nice way to end the day.

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janzin
2 hours ago, Atdahl said:

@janzin, yes I'm back!  I was actually out of town on business.  But, I see that you finished your report even though you started way after me so I think I am just really long winded. :)  But, it will be done soon. 

 

 

 

To be fair, your trip was a lot longer than ours :)  Anyway I'm enjoying your report and getting to see some areas we didn't visit. Even if it wasn't very birdy Masoals looks very neat. Curious if you found the aye-aye!

 

Love the kinky stinky (Goldenia showerus) :lol::lol:

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kittykat23uk

That made me laugh about the kinky skinky🤣🤣

 

Aye aye would be the number one mammal that I would want to see next time I visit Madagascar! 

 

Did Peggy and Bill get to see the Helmet vanga? That would be my number one bird to see next time. 

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Atdahl

@janzin, yup our trip was longer but so is my wind.  Wait...that doesn't sound right :).  And, it's a "no" on the aye aye unfortunately.  Apparently, the aye aye is best seen at Masoala when you can find one of its favorite trees fruiting.  But, they don't even fruit annually so there is no way to time it.  None of their trees were fruiting while we were there so no aye aye :angry:.

 

@kittykat23uk, you've probably seen that all the mammalwatchers who have gone to Madagascar recently have seen aye aye.  But, all those reports came after we finished planning plus most of those locations seem to involve "roughing it" more than we want to.  But, if you are thinking of a return trip, there do appear to be several good locations now if you aren't has high maintenance as we area.  I thought about including Palmarium in our itinerary but I have a thing against seeing habituated mammals and decided even though I REALLY, REALLY wanted to see an aye aye, I wanted it to be a 100% wild one so Palmarium was ruled out.

 

Unfortunately, everyone struck on on the helmet vanga too.  But, Peggy and Bill came close.  The guide left them to scout and found one.  By, the time he grabbed Peggy and Bill and went back, it was gone.  They were nesting at the time of our visit and unless you find the nest they are next to impossible to see since they are not foraging.  At least that is what the guide told them.  So, that was a big miss for the trip since we were told they were "guaranteed" at Masoala.  That's not a good word to hear... 

 

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kittykat23uk

Oh dear, sorry to hear that you missed the ayeaye and the helmet vanga. But you saw a lot of other cool stuff! :)

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Atdahl

Madagascar Day 20 and 21 - Masoala and Final Thoughts

 

Today was our final full day at MFL.  We ended up sleeping well because I finally realized that closing all the tent flaps kept the light out longer.  I must say it is nice falling asleep to the sound of the surf.  Although there were very little other nature noises at night since there just wasn't that much wildlife around it seemed.

 

After my morning ritual of coffee on the sea deck and another great breakfast we talked about the days activities with Bill and Peggy.  Peggy still hadn't seen the helmet vanga so they were going back to the national park with Felix.  Even though we hadn't had great luck we decided to walk the lodge trails again.  The big reason for this was the the wind really kicked up this morning and the surf was already rocking and rolling so we didn't want to go anywhere near that zodiac trip to the national park.

 

In the morning, we took a 3 hour hike doing the coastal trail to blue to orange to green.  So, it was a pretty long trek.  Now I have mentioned before that we really didn't encounter any bugs on the whole trip.  But, there were some mosquitoes around MFL especially in the early evening. But, other than that we were never bothered on any of the hikes.  In fact, Madagascar was pretty devoid of insects in general.  I think this was one of the things that made their rain forests disappointing.  We saw no ants or beetles and very few butterflies and spiders at any of our stops.

 

So, when we came upon an cool looking orb weaver, I had to take a picture:

Orb Weaver

 

We also found a paradise flycatcher that built its nest so close to the trail that I had to go into the forest a few feet just to get a photo:

Nesting Paradise Flycatcher

 

At one point, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye as something shot into a crack in the rocks.  It turns out it was a new reptile for us. The  Antongil Velvet Gecko (Blaesodactylus antongilensis):

Antongil Velvet Gecko

 

I also decided to do another kinky skinky experiment since we really weren't seeing that much wildlife.  I waited to "check the tires" until there was a skink nearby.  This one also came over to test the stream but didn't seem to revel in it as much as the one did yesterday.  So, I couldn't really call this experiment a total success.

 

The rest of the hike was pretty quiet.  We did encounter two small troops of white fronted brown lemurs but they were both pretty skittish.  The highlight of the trip was towards the end when I almost stepped on a crab.  We had seen a few crabs on our walks but they always took off the moment they say us.  However, this one didn't.  It just stayed in the middle of the path.  So, we walked around to see what it was doing.  It was eating...a worm and there was no way it was letting go just because we came near it.

 

Crab Grabbing Lunch

 

We had another great lunch today of shrimp and gnocchi (Karen had fish instead of shrimp).

 

In the afternoon, we decided to take advantage of using Felix to see if he could find any leaf-tailed geckos or chameleons since we had seen no leaf-tailed geckos at all and only that one chameleon that Karen spotted outside our tent.  So, at 3PM we set off for a little over an hour with Felix.  Much like our first night hike this was another sweaty stroll through a wildlife devoid forest.  We saw NOTHING.  No bird, reptiles, mammals, or even insects.  If it wasn't for Felix's incessant self muttering there would have been little sounds at all in the forest.

 

The highlight of the hike was a plant.  Yup, a plant.  It happened just outside our tent where Felix pointed out some wild vanilla.  The smell was heavenly and we made it a point to sniff it every time we passed it after that.

 

Wild Vanilla (smelled amazing)

 

After a delicious dinner, we did the usual 1 hour night walk with Felix and then we did an hour by ourselves. We actually had decent luck with Felix this time since I spotted a nightjar and he found a couple sleeping chameleons but they were small and pretty high up in the trees.

 

But, Karen yelled that she found a gecko.  So, I went back and sure enough she found a Common Leaf-tailed Gecko (Uroplatus fimbriatus) on the prowl.

 

Leaf-tailed Gecko on the prowl

 

Awesome Eyes

 

It was hard to take photos of it because of how it was positioned so we were watching it for more than a few minutes hoping it would re-position itself.  We looked up and Felix was gone.  He just left us and continued the night walk alone.  So, we left the gecko to catch up thinking that maybe he found something, but no he hadn't. I can't say a guide has ever just left us before.  Good thing we have no problem being out at night alone in the rain forest.

 

Not 5 minutes later, Karen spotted another leaf-tailed gecko.  We couldn't believe it and this one posed a bit differently for pictures:

Camouflage not necessary when hunting

 

It was really fun to see these geckos active as opposed to lying camouflaged on tree trunks.

 

The last highlight of the walk was spotted by Felix since Karen and I really found nothing during our extra hour later.  It was a Webb's Tufted-tailed Rat (Eliurus webbi):

 

Webb's Tufted-tailed Rat

 

That was our last night walk in Madagascar and we had struck out on aye aye.  The chances of seeing one at MFL is slim but they do see them every month or so and have had them in the trees right around the dining room.  But, as with all wildlife watching, luck plays a large part in what you see.

 

The next morning, after another nice breakfast, we boarded the boat and said goodbye to MFL.  This really is a very nice resort with excellent food.  The main disappointment, besides the hellish boat ride in, is that the forests around the lodge and the national park itself just didn't have a huge quantity of wildlife.  But, that can be said for all of Madagascar's forests based on our experience.

 

The boat ride back to Maroantsetra was a non event since there was little wind today which meant little surf.  The trip is still not comfortable since they have no seats but we will take it over the ride in.

 

Our charter flight back to Tana was a bit depressing due to all the fires I saw the whole flight.  But, I already talked about that.

 

Back in Tana, it was still smoky and I imagine that is not uncommon since we saw it during all of our stays there except for the first night.

 

We had a day room at Le Relais de Plateau which worked out really nice since our Air France departure flight wasn't until around 1 AM.  The check in process was fine but when I went to exchange my left over Ariary to USD, they turned me down.  You have to have at least 100K in Ariary or they won't exchange it and I had around 90K (only around $25).  Once again the shady lady standing outside the currency exchange offered me "top rates" but I declined.

 

I had read that the shops beyond security didn't take Ariary which is why I wanted to get rid of it but this is not the case.  I bought a few small souvenirs a different shops and ended up donating the rest in one of the donation bins they had in the terminal.

 

Here is a short video that contains clips from the trip:

video_object.png

 

 

 

The long and tiring flights back were uneventful and gave us time to think back about the trip and formulate our opinions.

 

First off, it was really great to go with another couple.  Peggy and Bill are perfect travel companions and we certainly had more fun with them than if it was just the two of us.  Plus, we had more people to vent to when needed or to share in something amazing.

 

Almost every trip report we read prior to our trip mentioned someone having stomach issues and we did not want this to happen to us.  So, we ate only cooked food and bottled liquids.  No juice, no ice, no fruit, nada.  This, plus a cipro or two worked fine since we had no major stomach issues which was a relief.  We did have some fruit and juice at Masoala Forest Lodge at the end of the trip after learning about how diligent they were when it came to food prep.

 

Travel in Madagascar is tough and there is no way to avoid it. In fact, on the way back I figured out how much time we spent traveling and it was hard to believe.  We were away from home 25 days and here is how we spent those days:

 

- Wildlife watching = 10.5

- Traveling = 13.5

- Rain out = 1

 

Yup, we spent over half our time traveling and that traveling was never enjoyable.  In fact, most of the time it ranged from tough to miserable.

 

Another thing that made the trip disappointing was that there just wasn't as much wildlife around as we expected.  Sure, the target species were there most of the time but otherwise the forest were really sparse especially when it came to birds.  I think we saw one mixed flock of birds the whole trip.

 

Finally, we have very little hope for the future of the forests and wildlife.  Between the burning of forests and treatment of the wildlife in a few places it was just depressing.

 

Since we have returned home we have been asked if we would ever go back and the honest answer is a strong "No".  Maybe that would change if they allowed night walks in the national parks and we had no where else we wanted to visit and somebody offered to pay us big bucks. But, none of that is likely to happen.

 

Overall, we are glad that we went to Madagascar.  We saw lots of amazing wildlife that can't be found anywhere else on Earth.  Hearing and seeing the indris in Andasibe, watching sifakas take huge leaps from tree to tree, watching the ring-tailed lemurs in Anja, and all the incredible geckos and chameleons were certainly things we will never forget.  Plus, now we don't have those two dreaded words hanging over our heads...

 

"What if?"

 

But, we spent less time enjoying ourselves on this trip than on any other trip we have ever taken.  And, if you can't enjoy yourself on a vacation, why are you there?

 

Because the wildlife in Madagascar is so localized. I decided to put together a list of all the mammals and herps we saw and where we saw them.  This document is available online here.

 

Meanwhile, here are the various species lists from the trip.  We made a killing on reptiles and never before have we seen more reptiles than mammals on a trip.

 

37 Mammal species seen - all lifers:

Ankarana Sportive Lemur

Crowned Lemur

Madagascar Fruit Bat

Malagasy Mouse-eared Bat

Amber Mountain Mouse Lemur

Common Brown Lemur

Eastern Woolly Lemur

Goodman's Mouse Lemur

Indri

Lowland Streaked Tenrec

Diademed Sifaka

Madagascar Pygmy Shrew

Eastern Lesser Bamboo Lemur

Eastern Red Forest Rat

Golden Bamboo Lemur

Greater Bamboo Lemur

Milne-Edwards Sifaka

Red-bellied Lemur

Red-fronted Brown Lemur

Rufous Mouse Lemur

Shrew Tenrec

Ring-tailed Lemur

Verreaux's Sifaka

Hubbard's Sportive Lemur

Grey-brown Mouse Lemur

Petter's sportive lemur

White-fronted Brown Lemur

Black and White Ruffed Lemur

Greater Dwarf Lemur

Masoala Mouse Lemur

Moore's Woolly Lemur

Western Lesser Bamboo Lemur

Red Ruffed Lemur

Lowland Red Forest Rat

Scott's Sportive Lemur

Webb's Tufted-tailed Rat

Peyrieras's Woolly Lemur

 

 

50 Reptile species seen - all lifers:

Aldabra Day Gecko

Giant Day Gecko

Mimophis Mahfalensis

Amber Mountain Lined Day Gecko

Leaf-tailed Gecko

Northern Blue-nosed Chameleon

Oustalet's Chameleon

Petter's Chameleon

Amber Mountain Chameleon

Antakarana Leaf Chameleon

Arthur's Chameleon

Madagascar Dwarf Gecko

Montagne d'Ambre Leaf Chameleon

Big Nose Chameleon

Parson's Chameleon

Perinet Chameleon

Trail Madagascar Garter Snake

Lined Day Gecko

Madagascar Day Gecko

Madagascar Tree Boa

O'Shaughnessy's Chameleon

Deceptive Chameleon

Glaw's Chameleon

Mossy Leaf-tailed Gecko

Ornate Plated Lizard

Peacock Day Gecko

Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko

Dumeril's Madagascar Swift

Grandidier's Madagascar Swift

Madagascar Cat-eyed Snake

Madagascar Plated Lizard

Western Girdled Lizard

Gravenhorst's Skink

Merriam's Madagascar Swift

Southwestern Night Snake

Grandidier's Dwarf Gecko

Madgascar Keeled Plated Lizard

Standing's Day Gecko

Three-eyed Lizard

Warty Chameleon

Antimena Chameleon

Bernier's Striped Snake

Peyrieras's Pygmy Chameleon

Speckled Day Gecko

Brygoo’s Girdled Lizard

Gold-collared Snake

Panther Chameleon

Small Lined Day Gecko

Antongil Velvet Gecko

Common Leaf-tailed Gecko

 

12 Amphibian species seen - all lifers:

Climbing Mantella

Baron's Mantella

Green Bright-eyed Frog

White-lipped Bright-eyed Frog

Charlotte's Madagascar Frog

Central Madagascar Frog

Pandanus Frog

Mantidactylus femoralis

Boophis madagascariensis

Platypelis barbouri

White Folohy Madagascar Frog

Madagascar Bright-eyed Frog

 

81 lifer birds species seen (Add maybe 10 non lifers for total species):

Madagascar Bulbul

Madagascar White-eye

Madgascar Fody

Crested Drongo

Sakalava Weaver

Madgascar Green Pigeon

Souimanga Sunbird

Madagascar Magpie Robin

White-breasted Mesite

Madagascar Cuckoo Shrike

Blue Vanga

Sickle-billed Vanga

Pitta-like Ground Roller

Madgascar Blue Pigeon

Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher

Cuckoo Roller

Amber Mountain Rock Thrush

Madgascar Wagtail

Squacco Heron

Malagasy Kingfisher

Madagascar Long-eared Owl

Collared Nightjar

Madgascar Munia

Madagascar Cuckoo

Blue Coua

Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher

Short-legged Ground Roller

Scaly Ground Roller

Tylas Vanga

Madgascar Harrier Hawk

Chabert Vanga

African Stonechat

Nelicourvi Weaver

Crossley's Vanga

Madagascar Scops Owl

Madagascar Turtle Dove

Rufous Vanga

Brown Mesite

Common Sunbird Asity

Forest Rock Thrush

Madagascar Buttonquail

Madagascar Hoopoe

Madagascar Coucal

White-browed Owl

Giant Coua

Madagascar Sandgrouse

Red-tailed Vanga

Crested Coua

Madagascar Lark

Long-tailed Ground Roller

Running Coua

Red-breasted Coua

Spectacled Tetraka

Madagascar Nightjar

Pied Crow

Madagascar Pond Heron

Black Heron

Greater Vasa Parrot

Lesser Vasa Parrot

Common Jerry

Common Newtonia

Dimorphic Egret

Mascarene Martin

Red-billed teal

Little Grebe

Madagascar Kestrel

Yellow-billed Kite

Appert's Tetraka

Madagascar Partridge

Madagascar Buzzard

Madagascar Sparrowhawk

Lesser Crested Tern

African Palm Swift

Olive Bee Eater

Madagascar Brush Warbler

Madgascar Cristicola

Stripe-throated Jerry

Long-billed Tetraka

Common Myna

Rand's Warbler

Red-shouldered Vanga

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Galago

Really enjoyed this, thank you. What amazing lists of lifers!

It really was a fitting end to a trip that was frequently difficult that your guide just walked off and left you in the middle of the rain forest at night!

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janzin

wow that's a very impressive list of reptiles...FAR exceeds our paltry list!

 

Its interesting, we both had disappointments in our trips but came back with different perspectives. I would definitely return but almost certainly won't just because there are so many other places we want to go, and other places we want to go back to more, and we aren't getting younger (or richer!) But at least you don't regret going!

 

 

 

 

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kittykat23uk

Fantastic trip report @Atdahl You saw so many goodies! The tenrecs, the red ruffed lemurs, and all the other lemurs, loads of reptiles and a really good selection of birds! Really makes me yearn to return to this amazing island. Thank you for sharing!

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xelas
22 hours ago, Atdahl said:

And, if you can't enjoy yourself on a vacation, why are you there?

 

Might be so, however, I have enjoyed your trip report, and if you would not go .... so Thank You !

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Alexander33

Alan, the Basic Instinct reference made me burst out laughing, and in spite of all your impressive sightings, was definitely a trip report highlight!  I appreciate the humorous take in all your narratives. 
 

Thanks for taking the time to do this report for us. I’ve had mixed-feelings about a Madagascar trip, and I still do, but regardless of what decision we ultimately make, the straightforward and unvarnished  information you've provided here is a benefit to us all. 

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Atdahl

Thanks everyone.  I appreciate the nice comments.

 

@janzin, yes the reptiles pretty much saved the trip for us.  It is interesting how different our experiences were.  Even at the airport going home.  I found 2 stores that would take Ariary even though I read that none would while you weren't able to find any stores that would take it.  I think we can add inconsistency to the list of Madagascar frustrations.  But, you are right.  We don't regret going at all.

 

@Alexander33, I am glad someone else gets my humor.  You never know what I will do after a strong G&T :D.  Only you can decide if Madagascar is right for you.  On the positive side, if you were able to take the high points of our trip and the trip taken by @janzin...that would be one great trip.  

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Zubbie15

Somehow I missed that you'd finished this report, as others have said I definitely enjoyed reading about it. Really interesting to contrast the two reports, and really get an idea of what the possibilities are for the country. I'm still not sure my thoughts, although for now I don't see Madagascar hitting the top of my list anytime soon. 

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