Sunday, October 13, 2019

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.

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)...:

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:

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

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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