Madagascar, October 2-19 2011 Trip Report
Escorted by: Cindi LaRaia
This was a 'reccy' (reconnaissance) trip to travel all over this wild country in order to design the most interesting itineraries to see endemic only to Madagascar, The Lemurs! These amazing colorful, elusive tree dwelling primates, live only in Madagascar, as well as some species in the nearby Comoros Islands.
Madagascar is truly a wild, somewhat backward 3rd world country. It is not easy to travel here; one needs to be relatively fit in order to hike up and down uneven paths, your guide somehow sees the lemurs high up in the tree canopy and quickly guides you through the thick forest roots, vines and branches, then pointing up and through bramble, there they are, the most incredible gorgeous primate family! On many occasions I commented 'this is a Tarzan moment'.
Madagascar boasts incredible diversity; the island has many different habitats; from extreme hot and dry in the west and south, to the fertile highlands in the north center, and wet rainforest along the north and eastern part of the country opposite side of the mountains ridge.
My adventurer client friend Shari and I started our 17nt trip flying to Antananarivo (Tana), the capital and largest city. I was here with a small group 13 yrs ago, not much has changed other than they have cell phones now. The one traffic light no longer exists, it is a mess of a City, traffic is horrendous but somehow it works, as only it can in a very 3rd world country. Somehow they say 20 million people live in the country with about 800,000 living in and around Tana. I live north of San Francisco, with a population of 800,000 also, imagine no traffic lights in SF!!??
The main objective of this trip was to get to as many areas in Madagascar to see as many Lemur species as possible. Sadly the habitat is being degraded due to a government that is not looking out for the precious environment that must be maintained and saved from deforestation for these amazing Lemur species.
The most amazing thing we learned is with the astounding number of species of Lemur, only 2 or 3 types can share a forest! They actually fight for territory which makes this incredibly interesting for those who enjoy nature and the amazing way these animals have evolved. There are soooooo many species of Lemur, Sifaka and nocturnal animals. The chameleon species is wild and glorious to find them on the tree branches eye level, you can stare right at them, and not see some as they are so well camouflaged and others so brightly colored green and turquoise like glimmering jewels! Geckos of many species are also endemic, with approximately 285 species of birds which most are endemic to Madagascar.
The history of Madagascar is long and rife with European countries and Arab nations raping the country of its natural resources, rich in semi- precious stones, hardwood, cloves and vanilla. The French colonized Madagascar until independence; the country has floundered under local rule as it seems per usual in these situations. The largest percentage of tourist numbers come from the French at about 80%, the remaining 20% a mix of Europeans, Asians and Americans. The local name for tourists is 'FaZa', the tourist season is short due to the rainy season which begins in November through May/June, and they also get regular cyclones during January/February. My goal here is to design a tour for the North American market; it will have a mix of options dependant on length of holiday time allowed for guests.
National Geographic magazine has played a big roll in my love and intrigue about visiting Madagascar again, (after I said I would never put myself through this as a travel designer again) 13 yrs later here I am! We started our trip after one night in Tana flying to Morandava in the southwest of the country, the hot dry area. All flights are early in the morning and you must be at the airport 2hrs prior, so we had several 0345hr wake up calls. We were met by our guide Loudow and driver in a 4x4 as we soon learned was a must needed vehicle in this country .What we were not prepared for, was a gut wrenching pot holed 9 hr drive to get to our hotel in Bekopaka, near the Tsingy of Bemaraha. There are 2 rivers that you do cross on a car ferry very interesting to say the least, you do get to meet and visit with the local people of Madagascar. A short drive out of Morondava you get to drive through the Giant Baobab forest a very unique species of Baobab endemic to Madagascar.
We stayed at the best places in all areas visited; we had a variety of good, great and not so good. The type of accommodation will vary in the particular areas you visit. We never really knew what to expect.
The visit to Big Tsingy was remarkable! It was as I hoped it would and could be as per Nat Geo's article. The best way to do this trip is to take 4 days, 1 long day driving up, and 1 long day driving back to Morondava. The first day would be to hike the small Tsingy and take the canoe ride on the river. These are UNESCO sites based on the culture of Vezo people from a few hundred years ago, you learn about the burial and reburial traditions, and visit the tombs where they are high up in the rock overhangs of the river. There are beautiful caves with stalactite and stalagmites that your local guide will take you to on the river; it is a very sacred lovely area.
There are several types of treks that can be done in the Big Tsingy depending on your level of fitness. It is a stunning area made of jagged limestone peaks created over thousands of years of erosion and movement of tectonic plates. There is an overlook to begin the trek that is beyond incredible to see the vastness and sheer beauty of this extremely spiritual place.
WE chose to do the longest and most 'sportive' trek; they said it would be about a 4 hr trek, so we went for it. What we did not know is that we would be given harnesses, still unsure why. Our local guide was very knowledgeable and passionate about the Tsingly he knew the history very well; it is a great anthropological and archeological UNESCO site and well worth the horrid drive to get there! We trekked through so many different types of breathtaking scenery, hot dry, then beautiful forest down through the base of the Tsingly, into an oasis of tropical pools with palm trees and waterfalls! There is an underground spring and caves, you are encouraged to bring your bathing suit and go for a swim in the lushness of this amazing place. We ate our picnic lunch in a cool cave and got to see our first red ring tail mongoose.
This Tsingy trek was beyond our wildest imagination, a French man took years to help build in cables so we could clamp on with our carbeaners and hike up to the very top of this grand awe inspiring site. Up up and up we went, we got great exercise as well as witness one of the most incredibly gorgeous 'out there' places on earth. We did it, we loved it, we crossed bridges, we sat at the top of these limestone jagged formations peering eye-level at precarious limestone which appeared to be hanging mid air sideways! The pictures of this tell the story. Toward the end we found our very first lemurs, red fronted brown lemur's and a nocturnal sportive lemur in a tree with his big golden eyes looking out at us.
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