Sunday, October 27, 2019

Madagascar Day 2 - Ankarana

We woke up today with renewed energy and I was able to make it out early to walk the grounds a little bit.  Besides taking shots of the lodge that I shared yesterday I also managed to spot some new birds:

Crested Drongo:
Crested Drongo

Sakalava Weaver and nest:
Sakalava Weaver and Nest

The plan today was to spend most of the day at Ankarana National Park.  But, since the park didn't open until 8AM we didn't leave until 7:30AM.  It turned out that the park was only 5 minutes away but we got there early so that Bruno could take care of the entrance fees and we could meet our local guide.

In Madagascar, it is required that you use a local guide whenever you venture into a national park.  This was a good thing for the most part because the local guides knew where the wildlife would be.  Our guide for Ankarana was Frankie and he turned out to be so-so.

There was some really cool signage at the entrance to the park.

Ankarana Sign

Ankarana Entrance

Ankarana Mural

Before we headed into the park, Bruno said we would be having lunch at a restaurant right next door to the park entrance and we needed to order ahead of time.  I joked that this must be because they need to know what to kill but I think I was more right than I wanted to be...

Frankie took us aside and showed us the plan for the day.  We would hike to the tsingy in the morning and then return after lunch to visit the caves.  However, he really didn't give us an indication of the length of the hikes or how difficult they would be.  This would result in us being a little unprepared for what was to come.

Ankarana Map:
Ankarana Map

The "Circuit TSINGY MEVA" looks pretty innocent on the map doesn't it...?  The yellow dashed line leading to it is a road.  So, we only walked the blue part.  Looks like a loop trail to me, doesn't it?

Before we got to the tsingy, we walked through a really nice forest and it was here that we found our first lemur.

Ankarana Sportive Lemur (Lepilemur ankaranensis):
Ankarana Sportive Lemur Hiding

Sportive lemurs are nocturnal but for some reason they like to hang out around their tree hole during the day.  The guides know where their holes are so it's pretty easy to find them and we ended up seeing three.

Here's one that showed a bit more of itself:
It's almost out...

This one really cooperated with a full view:
Whoomp, there it is!

Besides the lemurs we also found some other wildlife.

White-breasted Mesite:
White-breasted Mesite

Madgascar Day Gecko:
Madagascar Day Gecko

And, we had a final sportive lemur that was just "chillin"...

Soon, the forest ended and the tsingy began.  For those that don't know, tsingy are limestone formations that were formed over millions of years by rain water into razor sharp edges as far as the eye can see. In fact tsingy means "place where one can't walk barefoot"...nor would you want to.

The tsingy at Ankarana pales in comparison to the large tsingy at Bemaraha but since we weren't going there this was our one chance to experience tsingy.

The hike began with some really cool plants and the beginning of the black tsingy formations:
Ankarana Tsingy

Tsingy Hike

And then the plants disappeared and it was as if we were walking on another planet:
Yup, it's sharp.

A planet that must have been MUCH closer to the sun because it was out of this world hot!  One might even say...extremely hot.

Tsingy in all directions

Close to two hours into this very hot hike we reached what Frankie said was the end.  "That structure is the end" he said.  Of course as we got closer we saw that there were a few more obstacles to cross to get to the end:

Of course I didn't go first...

That's when Bruno said that we didn't have to cross if we didn't want to you because it was a dead end and we had to turn around and hike all the way back.


None of us had brought enough water so the prospect of doing that hike all over again was met with a lot of muttering and a little cursing.  OK, I lied...

It was met with a little muttering and a lot of cursing.

But, most of us decided to cross the bridges (yes, there were two) since we had already gone that far and didn't want to let a couple flimsy looking wood bridges get in our way.

Here is a shot of the two bridges we crossed with Karen in the background. She chickened out on crossing the bridges so she kept an eye on Bill's tripod and 600mm lens.  Yup, he carried it the whole time without complaint.

But, I did cross

Here is a sign that wins an "Obvious Award":
The world's most obvious sign

Once we crossed back over the bridges and told Karen she missed the best views we had EVER seen, we divvied up our water among the four of us and headed back.  The only wildlife we saw on the way back (this could be because my head was down and my feet were dragging) was a couple crowned lemurs one of which was in a rather "exposed" position.  Luckily, I had a leaf play censor for me and hide his "tsingy":

Leaf Censorship

All told, it was a 5 hour hike.  This sign says it was only about 2 miles to "Point Suspendus" which I assume was the suspension bridges at the end of the hike.  But, it sure felt like we walked more than 4 miles round trip.

Don't believe's longer...

Lunch at the restaurant was quite good and was just about the best chicken we had on the trip.  Little did we know that we should have really enjoyed that boneless breast meat since that is NOT how chicken was served at most other places.

Lunch did help us get energized for the afternoon and this time we made sure to ask about the length of the hike and what we should bring.  We ended up bringing lots of water and drove into the park towards the afternoon trail head.

At the trail head parking lot we were met by a very curious crowned lemur:

Crowned Lemur

Hamming it up...

Then the guides said that there were more down the trail so we headed off to find about a 1/2 dozen milling around close to some man-made structures.  They were very tolerant of us and this one proceeded to clean its tail in front of me.

Tail Grooming

That's when I spotted the banana peel and we suspected that these lemurs were tolerant of us because someone was slipping them a little banana.  That was disappointing so we headed off on our hike towards the caves.

After a relatively short walk there was a long descent on 150+ tiny cement stairs to the caves.

Yup, 150. 

It was here at the bottom of those stairs that our guides said that we needed to remove our hats and leave our water.  These were sacred caves and the Malagasy don't allow hats or water in the caves.  I didn't really understand why but we took some final swigs of water and I was too tired to worry about my lovely "hat hair".

The cave itself narrowed down pretty quickly but not before we managed to spy a couple different species of bats which was great.  Luckily, there were not enough bats to make the cave smell too badly.  After we left the first cave, Bruno pointed up to another cave that we were going to venture into.  Karen's foot was bothering her (turns out she twisted it a bit on the tsingy) so she wisely stayed at the base of the stairs and didn't venture up the steep climb into the second cave.

Here is a view of those stairs from the mouth of the second cave:
Ankarana Cave Approach

The cave mouth was huge:
Cave Entrance Looking Out

Then we headed up a shale covered hill to a second cave that started out pretty big but narrowed and shrunk to the point that I couldn't stand up and had to walk bent over.  It was about that time I regretted holding two cameras and lugging a backpack.  There were a few places inside the caves that I just about couldn't bend down far enough to pass through.  But, thank goodness I was dripping with sweat which helped me squeeze through.  This little "hike" turned out to be quite a workout.

If only I had some water...

We ended up seeing a 3rd bat species in this cave but the guides couldn't identify it so it will be absent from our final mammal count.

After over an hour, we made it out of the hot cave into the hot air outside, I climbed back down the shale hill to enjoy water.  Ah, vacations...

Going back up the 150 stairs was easier than coming down but there were audible cheers when we made it to the top and headed back to the vehicles.

Back at the lodge, I enjoyed a nice cold beer (which ended up being a luxury as I would find out later in the trip) and we had another nice meal at the lodge.

The extreme winds that picked up that evening were an appropriate ending to a day with extreme heat and extreme fatigue.   But, we also started to see some of the extremely cool wildlife that Madagascar has to offer.

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