Thumper…

December 31, 2014

South of Isalo

Another dodgy breakfast, dodgy by my standards I guess, probably many would be grateful for it… but not me, not today, was still not well.
Headed south for the day today, as the train wasn’t running in Fianarantsao, we were spending an extra day around here.
The aim of the trip was to go down and see some baobab trees, and we were of the understanding that it was some kind of park where you could wander through and look at them. Hmmm. Another misunderstanding due to language.

Car washing time, near TongaSoa

Car washing time, near TongaSoa

As we travelled south we came across the Zombitse Vohibasia National Park, renowned for its bird life. We stopped and had a wander through, our guides eager to show us the park wildlife. We saw a few lemurs in their natural daytime tree habitats, a few birds and a few chameleons, but overall wildlife was a little scarce. It was the wrong time of the day and the wrong time of the year we were told. What was good though, was seeing quite a few white safika lemurs, including younger ones, in the trees, just hanging around. A bit difficult to get some good shots of them though.

Baby lemur safe in the tree, Zombitse Vohibasia National Park

Baby lemur safe in the tree, Zombitse Vohibasia National Park

We continued south when in the middle of nowhere our driver pulls over and tells us to get out and look at the baobab trees. We thought this was the precursor to the park, but this was it. This was the whole point to our trip – viewing the baobab trees from the side of the road. Like I said, language difficulties…

Our destination - Baobab trees south of TongaSoa

Our destination – Baobab trees south of TongaSoa

After viewing the trees from the side of the road, we u-turned and headed back toward Isalo. We stopped at TongaSoa on the way back for lunch, convincing our driver to visit a local restaurant for lunch seeing as it was past lunch time. There’s not much on the menu at “local restaurants”, we had some dodgy chicken and rice which they charged us triple for, but at least it was something to eat.

Local food, chicken and rice

Local food, chicken and rice

TongaSoa is also known for the gems and precious stones in the area, so we drove about 50m back down the road (too dangerous to walk that far in broad daylight in this town apparently) to a gem/sapphire shop where the owners were more than happy to show us around hoping that we’d later buy.

We stopped at the visitor interpretation centre on the way back, spending a few minutes there looking around at the informative displays on the rock formations and culture of the area. It was free entry, but you could give a donation, which the caretaker admitted he kept. Never mind he probably wasn’t paid anyway and while some of the displays were looking a little tired, it was all clean and well kept and well worth a visit.

Visitor interpretation centre, Isalo, just south of Ranohira

Visitor interpretation centre, Isalo, just south of Ranohira

An early afternoon arrival back in Ranohira gave us time to wander the main street of Ranohira, which didn’t take long, and observe some of the locals, including the game of pile as many in the car as we can. Must have been about 10-15 in the old green laser which sat not much more than a few inches off the ground.

How many in the car?

How many in the car?

And just to prove I still wasn’t well, I found the first place I’d seen in Madagascar that sold ice cream and I passed.

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December 30, 2014

Isalo National Park

I was off to a good start today – ready early, then somehow managed to leave my camera behind. Going on a six hour hike through Isalo National Park is NOT the day you want to go without your camera. Problem was, I didn’t realise I’d left it behind until after we’d gone to the national park office, paid our money, collected our guide and were just about at the park. Oops! Anyway, our driver obliged and we drove all the way back to our accommodation (probably a good 20 minute return trip).

It seems I was there...

It seems I was there…

So that got us off to a bad start with our guide who was less than impressed at any delay, which we found out as we went along. We started off at a reasonable walking pace, from the car park near the Piscine Naturelle, stopping a couple of times for some fairly quick photo stops. It helped that there were other groups around who were also stopping and having things pointed out and explained to them. The scenery in many ways was unlike anything I’d seen – great rock hills and canyons, but yet sparse trees around the hills and almost desert like ground cover around the hills.

Looking South, Isalo National Park

Looking South, Isalo National Park

In the side of the canyon walls you will often see small tombs with coffins where people (maybe kings?) have often been buried. I’m not sure that they still do this and I think the coffins you can see from the track seem to have been placed there to illustrate the culture of the area. A small clump of trees in the distance marked our destination, which was the Piscine naturelle, a stunning pool in the middle of the canyon, an oasis in the desert.

Piscine Naturelle, Oasis in the Desert

Piscine Naturelle, Oasis in the Desert

It was good to have a rest at the pool, and while there were a few others there, it wasn’t too bad. It was really amazing though that out of the middle of nowhere an oasis could appear, lush plants, a water pool formed from the running stream, again which seemed to appear from nowhere.

Soon though, we had to move and our guide had us moving at a frightening pace. This is where I disclose that I wasn’t really that well (thanks to the malaria medication I think) but even still, we were overtaking over groups and we’d started much later than them – no need for that.

Our walk (march) across the Namaza Canyon toward the Canyon of Monkeys (Canyons des Makis) was quick and occasionally I stopped to take a drink and some photos, but overall it was really disappointing (not the scenery, although we didn’t get time to really look at that). Nothing was pointed out to us, the pace was fast and if we stopped to enjoy it, we found that we were even further behind our guide who barely took a backward glance to see if we were still following.

Scenery on way from Piscine Naturelle to Canyon of Monkeys

Scenery on way from Piscine Naturelle to Canyon of Monkeys

The descent to the canyon of monkeys was steep, but that was about the most challenging part – the rest was fairly flat I think! The canyon had a stream running alongside of it, some picnic tables and some toilets to compliment the camping area. No monkeys were spotted but there were plenty of friendly lemurs around ready to steal your food if you left it for a moment.

Ring Tailed Lemur, Canyon of Monkeys picnic area

Ring Tailed Lemur, Canyon of Monkeys picnic area

We had a really short lunch break – 15mins at most because we were still in a hurry. As we set off for the waterfall, the other groups we’d passed since the pool began to arrive. It was at that point that I abandoned the walk to the waterfall – there was no way I was going to keep up that pace, so instead I spent time by the stream, enjoying the noise of the bubbling stream, the scenery, the birds, and the lemurs.

Stream alongside camping area, Canyon of Monkeys

Stream alongside camping area, Canyon of Monkeys

It was about a 15 min hike out to the carpark (at our frightening pace), but it was another fairly flat walk – which was what I needed.

We headed back to Ranohira on the rather rough road, much more suited to a 4WD than our car. Our national park guide, Marmy (not our driver who shared the same name) then informed us that he was glad we’d finished early because he had to go out later on and he had more time than he thought he would. So that explained the poor service we’d received, the fast pace, the shortened tour and lack of commentary and information on the park. He was most disappointed when he got no tip, he looked a little bewildered (and tried again for a tip). So here’s a tip: avoid the guide we had if you can!

Glow of the rocks, Sunset near Isalo Rock

Glow of the rocks, Sunset near Isalo Rock

We went to Isalo Rock later that night and watched the sunset through the hole, before eating in town, at a fairly nice hotel, whose name has escaped me. But, you can find the hotel set back from the road, basically on the main road as it takes a sweeping right angle bend, with a carpark in the front, two storeys and a grand staircase coming down into the restaurant.

Not sure if it was safe or not, but we walked back to our motel in the dark, no street lights, so it was quite dark!

Isalo Rock

Isalo Rock

Overall, great scenery, but events conspired to make it a day that I won’t forget for the wrong reasons.

December 29, 2014

Cattle, Lemurs and the Market

Ambalavo is known for it’s crafts and markets and we spent the first part of the day looking around at these.
Paper making demonstrations were taking place at the Hotel aux BougainvillieĆ©s where we were staying, so that was the first thing we looked at. It was created from the trees of a plant (possibly the mulberry tree) and the whole process was done by hand. Dried flowers were often placed on the paper during the process to decorate it – depending on whether the paper was going to be cards, writing paper, bags etc. It was an interesting process.
Next up was a silk making factory, where again, the whole process was done by hand, right through from boiling the raw product to spinning the silk.

Silk Factory, Ambalavo

Silk Factory, Ambalavo

The market was an interesting place, it sold different fruit, meat and crafts including plenty of hats, which looked colourful on the people, some of which were made of traditional grasses, some of which, on closer inspection were actually made of plastic bags! We were a bit of a tourist attraction in ourselves as we walked through the market and plenty of people were willing to try and sell us their wares. Prices seemed fairly reasonable, perhaps a little overinflated for us, but not as hugely as in other places.

Colours of Ambalavo market

Colours of Ambalavo market

The cattle market was perched on the highest part of the town, providing a great view of the surrounding area. This was the meeting place for the real men. It was noisy, busy and chaotic. I have no idea how everyone knew which cattle was theirs, how you knew which lot of cattle was for sale now, or coming up or how everyone kept their cattle under control. Occasionally one cow would break loose , attempting to make a run for it, but it was quickly brought under control by the young boys charged with keeping them together.
The atmosphere of the cattle market was really unique and it was a great place for people watching. I enjoyed this far more than any of the other “tourist” things that the area was known for. If you’re in Ambalavo when the cattle market is on, get there! (I was there on 5/6/13, a Wednesday).

Hustle and bustle, Ambalavo cattle market

Hustle and bustle, Ambalavo cattle market

Not far from Ambalavo is the Anja Private Lemur Reserve which is run by the community and provides a protected reserve for the lemurs to live in. Primarily it is the ring tailed lemurs living there, but there’s other wildlife calling the reserve home.

What are you looking at? Ring Tailed Lemur, Anja Park

What are you looking at? Ring Tailed Lemur, Anja Park

The park seemed to come from nowhere, all around were the bare hills, unless it was covered in rice paddies, then up rises a huge mountain, a tiny patch of green at the bottom. The tiny patch of green though was the park, which was surprisingly big when you were in it.

Looking up, View Point Anja Park

Looking up, View Point Anja Park

We had a couple of young guys as guides who did a really good job. We had a couple of language difficulties, but we were used to that. Right next to the park were some crops that other locals were growing. We asked whether the lemurs who were right next to the crop ate the crops. No, the lemurs didn’t leave the park. There was no fence, so we “marvelled” at how clever the lemurs were knowing exactly where the boundary ended. A few minutes later as we rounded another bend right on the edge of the park, there were lemurs in the crops eating their fill. Ah yes, the lemurs love eating the crops said our guide… Like I said, sometimes we had some language difficulties, but overall our experience with the guides at this park was positive.

Tails in the air, Ring Tailed Lemur, Anja Park

Tails in the air, Ring Tailed Lemur, Anja Park

It was great seeing the lemurs up close, they were so cheeky and playful, but also fairly friendly, and even part way up the large rock (called the three sisters) (from view point) got you high enough to get a good view of the surrounding area.

Toward Ambalavo from View Point, Anja Park

Toward Ambalavo from View Point, Anja Park

The remainder of our day was spent driving past some impressive scenery, including the huge Bishops Hat mountain, en route to our hotel – the Isalo Motel in Ranohira, our home for the next few nights. We spent some time relaxing by the pool before a nice meal of crocodile and duck.

Bishops Hat, Road to Isalo NP

Bishops Hat, Road to Isalo NP

December 28, 2014

Ambositra to Ambalavo

Filed under: Trips — pearsey @ 3:52 pm
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The mornings were surprisingly cool in Madagascar and today was no exception. There was dew on the ground as we wandered down for another thrilling breakfast – bread (stale by our standards) and jam. I think we’d have been better off abandoning our “included” breakfast and choosing something from the menu, but never mind we persisted. It was only day 2 or 3, surely they would get better! Other than that though, our accommodation was pretty good, we stayed at the Violetta and we stopped for lunch here on the way back later on in our trip and it was excellent.
There wasn’t a lot on the agenda today, just a light day of travelling and visiting some tourist shops, so we took our time earlier on (and ran out of time at the end of the day!)
Our first stop was still in Ambositra, a little woodworking shop tucked away on a side street just off the main street. The men here cleverly craft many different portraits and pictures, one piece of wood, a little piece sawn out, and another different coloured piece stuck in creating a flat picture. Really clever and good craftsmanship.

Wood carving

Wood carving

Following this we headed toward Fianarantsoa, past plenty of scenic rice paddies and hills, and through a major locust/cricket plague. Not sure what effect that would be having on the rice paddies, but I imagine it would be fairly devastating.

Ever the entrepreneurs though, the Madagascans had piles of dried crickets available for sale on the side of the road. Yummy!

Crickets for sale!

Crickets for sale!

Fianarantsoa, our lunch stop, was a little different to the other Madagasy towns like Ambositra. It seemed to have much wider streets, lower buildings and was much more flater in the town area – but was still surrounded by steep hills providing a scenic backdrop for the town, but a great place to go and get a good view of the city.

Overlooking Fianarantsao

Overlooking Fianarantsao

We visited the train station, a trip of which was meant to be on the itinerary, but the train wasn’t running, a photography place, selling postcards and posters with some lovely scenic shots of the people and places in Madagascar and finished it off with a view to an out of the way lookout where we had a group of young kids selling some stuff to help raise funds for their school (or something like that).

Church in Ambalavo

Church in Ambalavo

Onward to Ambalavo where we had just enough time before it got dark to have a really quick walk around the area where we were staying, then back to the Hotel aux BougainvillieƩs where we had a meal almost by candlelight to finish the day.

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