Thursday, October 24, 2019

Madagascar Day 5 & 6 - Tana and Andasibe

Well, after complaining about bad sleep yesterday, we actually did pretty well last night.  The wind didn't howl nearly as bad as the night before and the dogs were mostly silent as well.

Initially, I had thought the dogs were owned by neighboring properties but at breakfast today there was a dog who just stood and barked for about a 1/2 hour outside the dining room and none of the staff did anything about it.  I have some baggage when it comes to barking dogs if you couldn't tell...

Today we were leaving the north and flying back to Tana.  We saw some great wildlife, especially reptiles, but it just didn't seem worth it for only 4 nights.  We basically will have 3 travel days and only two wildlife watching days.  That's not a great ratio.  There is more to see at both Ankarana and Amber Mountain so maybe staying more nights would make the travel worth it.  But, then you likely would have to give up nights elsewhere.

Anyway, as I mentioned today was another dreaded travel day but we still had to plead for an early breakfast so that we could leave at 7AM to make our 9:30AM flight out of Diego Suarez back to Tana.

We arrived at the airport at 7:45 and then stood in a long line to check in.  Luckily, Bruno worked some sort of magic with the agents and they didn't hassle us about our carry on bag weights.  But, we did see other passengers getting hassled so having Bruno along definitely helped us.

We finally got all our tickets and carry on bag tags at 9AM (yeah, there must be no Malagasy word for "efficiency") and then had to wait in another line for our checked bags.  That's when Bruno said that the flight was delayed until 11:05 AM.  But actually didn't leave until 12:05.  Just great...

When the plane finally arrived, we had to get in another line to go though the metal detector that didn't work.  So, they made everyone open all their bags for inspection and gave us the FULL pat down prior to letting us on board.

Once on board, the captain made barely audible announcements in Malagasy, French, and English and I was pretty sure I heard the words "Nosy Be".  Uh, oh...

Yes, this "direct" flight to Tana was going to stop at Nosy Be on the way but unlike the first unscheduled stop we had on the way north, they made us all get off the plane in Nosy Be.  Here was yet another example of us trying to practice "mora mora" which is basically Malagasy for "relax and be patient".  There was more mora mora on this trip than I could stand however.

The stopover on Nosy Be did have some entertainment as Karen went to the little food counter they had to buy some water.  They also  had some pastries and other goodies so a line quickly formed.  However, the guy behind the counter was the world's slowest worker and half the line didn't even get to buy anything before we all had to board the plane again.  Karen thought that he might have been enjoying a little local plant if you know what I mean.

By the time we landed in Tana it was 2:45PM and we were all starving.  That's when we made our first stop at a chain called Gastro Pizza.  Yes, that's right.  We went all the way to Madagascar to eat pizza.  It was pretty good too though.  But, what wasn't good was the high pitched out of key karaoke going on.  If you can picture Yoko Ono, Bjork, and a dolphin all singing together you get the idea.

Before the trip, we had decided to change our hotel for this day from the Relais de Plateaux to the Tamboho Hotel.  The latter was closer to a lake that Peggy thought would be worth a visit that afternoon.  Unfortunately, we didn't count on the long flight delays or the after lunch traffic getting through Tana to our hotel. So, we didn't make it to that lake (although Bill and Peggy went the last day of our trip). In fact, we didn't arrive at the hotel until 5:15PM which was almost dark.  The utter chaos and squalor that we drove through to get to the hotel was once again very eye opening.

The hotel itself was nice and located by some wetlands and across from a little mall.  So, we were able to buy some water and other essentials there  (booze and wine) quite easily.   We enjoyed some drinks and a decent dinner outside on the balcony of the hotel.

You will notice that I didn't post any pictures from this day.  Well, that is because I actually didn't take any for the entire day which is a vacation first for us I think.  Well, actually I lied. I did take one cell phone picture to show the rather unique "port hole" located in our bathroom that lowered the level of privacy just a tad:


I guess they put that in so that you could be passed food and water if you were having a particularly long "session".

It wouldn't be a trip report from me without a little potty humor so there you go.  And, since you had to put up with that you get a bonus report for the next day thrown in for free!

We actually woke up a little more refreshed thanks to a decent night's sleep but I found that the Tamboho was another hotel with no coffee in the room.  They had a hot water kettle and tea, but no coffee.  What happened to the French influence?  But, at least it was quiet over night.

Anyway, once the sun came up I ventured outside to check out the wetlands.  There were quite a few herons around and a few other birds.

Tamboho Hotel Wetlands

Black-crowned Night Heron.  One of the few birds for us the entire trip that wasn't a new species:
Black-crowned Night Heron

Malagasy Kingfisher:
Malagasy Kingfisher

The hotel served a big buffet breakfast that included eggs to order which was really nice.  But, they took their time so breakfast lasted about an hour which delayed our departure.

When we eventually left the hotel,  the street in front of the hotel was empty and quiet.  Wow, what a nice change we thought.  We climbed into the van and our new driver (named Dida) drove down the street and stopped at a huge gate.  Whoa...we didn't realize that this little neighborhood around the hotel was gated.  But, that would explain the stark lack of traffic and people around the hotel.  But, as soon as the gates opened, that all changed.  It was like passing through the huge gates into Jurassic Park except that it was an urban jungle and all the dinosaurs were people and cars and they had already escaped and were causing bedlam.  The noise level went up about 100 decibels with honking, music, and shouting.  We couldn't believe that our quiet little wetlands hotel was just one block behind us.

This satellite view kind of shows you what it was like leaving the empty streets of our hotel into the mass of humanity along the RN3:

Here is a fun fact, there is no Google street view in Madagascar.  Rumor has it the Google van was last seen trapped in a pothole.

The drive to Andasibe was 5 hours with two short breaks. Luckily the RN2 was a better road than the RN6 up north.  I didn't say it was good. I just said it was better.  But, we did encounter people and vehicles everywhere.  Bruno mentioned that he has done that drive in over 10 hours a few times due to all the truck traffic.  It also became apparent that Madagascar has no emission standards.  Every vehicle seems to spew out exhaust and a few were so bad I actually thought they were on fire.  Maybe being over filled with people and supplies were the cause because we sure didn't see any empty vehicles.  So, the two breaks we took were welcome to not only stretch our legs but also to breathe in some exhaust free air.

It was along the RN2 from Tana to Andasibe that we saw people on the road begging for the first time.  Most were kids and they would scoop dirt from the sides of the roads to fill potholes and then hold out their hands as we passed by.  That is how they spent their days which was really sad.

We made it to Vakona Forest Lodge which would be our home for the next 3 nights in time for lunch.  I knew that this lodge was very pretty and it did not disappoint in person.

Welcome to the rock...

Vakona Forest Lodge

Our cabin:
Our Cabin

Our Room at Vakona

Vakona Bathroom

After our sandwich (which was very dry) and pomme frite (which were good) lunch we quickly settled into our rooms before heading out in the van at 2 PM for our afternoon activity.

This afternoon we would be visiting V.O.I.M.M.A which is a 28 hectare community run forest.  At the entrance we met our local guide Thierry who was very good.

Not 5 minutes into the hike we found a few Common Brown Lemurs (Eulemur fulvus) that were actually too close for pictures.  They weren't tame, they were just foraging and passing through right beside the trail so even with my 70-300mm lens I couldn't get anything worth sharing.  We would see more later on though.

Next it's time to play another game of "Where's Gecko":

Where's Gecko Round 2

I made that one easier since this mossy leaf-tailed gecko was in the middle of the frame:
It was right in the middle

A few minutes later, Thierry found another one.  So, how about round 2 of "Where's Gecko":
Where's Gecko Final Round

Even close up, this one had some really good camouflage:
This one is hard to see even close up...

Here is a side view.  Extremely cool!
A side view helps

It was at that point Thierry got word that some Indri had been spotted. So, we headed up a small hillside to get to them quickly.  The Indri are an iconic Madagascar lemur and are only found in a couple parks around Andasibe. But, they aren't hard to find luckily and even their scientific name is easy.

Indri (Indri indri)

There were quite a few people around so we had to jockey for position.  Eventually Bill and I headed up hill away from them to get eye level shots.

Indri Closeup

Balancing Act

Some of the guides (not ours) were imitating the Indri loudly to try to get them to respond.  It went on far too long and was quite annoying.  The Indri must have thought so as well because they stayed silent.

After leaving the Indri, we continued to wander the trails to see what we could see.

Giraffe-necked Weevil (Female, which has a shorter neck than the male apparently):
Giraffe-necked Weevil

Big Nose Chameleon (Calumma nasutum):
Big Nose Chameleon

Somehow, our guides found this Collared Nightjar sitting in the leaf litter.  I swear that we wouldn't have seen it unless we stepped on it:
Collared Nightjar

During the afternoon we found both a Long-eared Owl and Scops Owl (this owl was just outside the park) but the pictures weren't very good since the owls weren't out in the open.  We also, we had a brief look at a Trail Madagascar Garter Snake (Thamnosophis epistibes).  No decent pictures of the snake though since it went about its business quickly.

From 5 to 6 PM we hung out at the car waiting for dark so we could take a night walk.  Apparently, everyone does night walks along the same road because the darker it got the more cars showed up. Bruno confirmed that was the case and I mentioned that we didn't want to join the crowds if at all possible.

Once it got dark enough, we set out and Peggy joked that it looked like a crowded street at Halloween with all the flashlights waving around.  We certainly didn't have the place to ourselves.  But, immediately we saw some eye shine that turned out to be a distant Eastern Woolly Lemur (Avahi laniger).  Our guides then took us off the busy street and onto a trail that lead into V.O.I.M.M.A where there were only a few other people.  The trail was muddy in parts since it rained before our arrival but we did find a cool Parson's Chameleon (Calumma parsonii):

Side 1:
Parson's Chameleon Side 1

Side 2:
Parson's Chameleon Side 2

The rest of the walk was uneventful and we looped back to the road where we got word that a mouse lemur had been spotted.  Unfortunately, everyone else had gotten word too and there were already about 25 people off in the forest surrounding the poor thing.  A small group of them (I assume a guide or two were among them) trapped the mouse lemur in a small palm and proceeded to pull down the branch it was on and shine multiple flashlights right at it from point blank range.  Thinking back, I wonder if they were trying to catch it. It was a disgraceful thing to watch and we stopped our approach as soon as we saw it.

After someone yelled "There it is" and there was more branch moving and jockeying, the poor mouse lemur somehow managed to escape and bound away up a nearby tree.  I cheered its escape loudly.

Goodman's Mouse Lemur (Microebus lehilahytsara) escaping stupid humans:
Escaping Goodman's Mouse Lemur

Another 10 to 20 people had arrived by now and I was so disgusted that we left.  I was pretty angry at what I saw and our guides agreed that it was wrong but their body language told me it's not uncommon and there was nothing they could do about it.

That experience really left an extremely bad taste in my mouth because I can't stand when people exploit and harass wildlife.  They just don't seem to give a shit about anything but themselves and their clients and it pisses me off.  Meanwhile, it's the wildlife that suffers because of their ignorance.

In fact, I am getting pissed off again just writing about this so I am going to move on.

When we got back to the lodge, I was still in a bad mood so I forgot to grab my camera when we headed from our cabin to dinner.  And of course, I immediately see movement outside our cabin. When I got the movement in the light I knew immediately what it was..."Streaked Tenrec!"

Holy crap, this is one animal we really wanted to see but I did not expect to see it here.  Karen kept an eye on it while I went back inside (banging the door open and then closed) to grab a camera but by the time I got back out I was only able to get one shot of the little thing before it disappeared into a nearby bush and that shot was really bad.  And, since we don't harass wildlife I wasn't about to try to flush it out of the bush just for a picture.

Lowland Streaked Tenrec (Hemicentetes semispinous):
Missed Photo Opportunity

Now I was even more mad but this time at myself for not being prepared with a camera in hand.   That was likely my one chance to get a photo and I blew it.

We had really hoped to see a tenrec this trip so it was great that we did.  We later learned that most tenrec species are still in torpor in October and don't come out until November or December.  So, there was little chance we would see the other species.  Doh...!

I was relatively somber at dinner for multiple reasons and the not very cold beer didn't cheer me up at all.  But, the "Wok de Beouf" I ordered was really good so at least the day ended on a bit of a high note.

No comments: