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Madagascar is a very special place.

 

After the supercontinent Gondwana broke up, Madagascar split from the Indian subcontinent about 88 million years ago. Madagascar has been isolated for 65 million years and is the oldest island on earth.

 

Plants and animals evolved in relative isolation, resulting in large numbers of species occurring only there.

Eight whole plant families exist only on Madagascar; many thousands of orchid species, succulents, insects, 450 species of frog, 400 kinds of reptile, five families of birds…and nearly 200 different mammals.

 

There is a complete branch of the primate family tree, the order to which we also belong.

We were amazed by the chameleons and lemurs, but found we enjoyed unique insects and other species as well.

 

We wanted to keep many (too many) photos, so to speed through to see something in particular, the photos are roughly in the following order (there are other experiences we had as well):

 

·        Tana (the capital city)

 

·        East coast including lemurs, chamelions and canal

 

·        3-day paddled dugout canoe trip on river

 

·        Visit to Tsingy National Park – caverns and fissures in limestone (we climbed around on it)

 

·        Visit Avenue of the Baobabs (Madagascar’s iconic scene)

 

·        Visit Ranomafana National Park (lemurs)

 

·        Visit private reserve of Ring Tail lemurs

 

California is about 70% the size of Madagascar.

 

We started and ended our tour in Antananarivo (Tana) the capital. It was an interesting city with a mix of styles and placed on several hills. It is on the map in the upper right. We then went NE and back, then W to Miandrivazo where we took a dugout canoe to Belo. Then we went N to Tsingy, and back S to Morondova. Then we drove back to Antsirabe, and S to Toliara where we caught a flight back to Tana.

 

Our tour took us through much of the middle third of the country. The roads are full of large potholes and worse. It’s slow going.

 

Only about 24% of the population has access to electricity.

 

 

 

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This is a view over Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital city; the population is 1.3 million.

 

It is commonly referred to as Tana.

 

Telephoto shot of the above view. The city sits at 4200’ elevation.

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The French were involved with Madagascar from before 1883 to 1896 when it became a French colony. Britain got involved when British mercenaries trained the Malagasy army to fight the French.

 

The British invaded Madagascar to keep the Japanese from using a harbor. In 1943, it was handed back to France.

 

In 1960 Madagascar achieved independence after 80,000 locals were bloodily repressed by the French.

 

The Gare de Soarano is the main train station of Tana. It is from the old French Colonial period.

 

The (now modern) toilet is an old train carriage that was left deserted on the tracks.

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The Immaculate Conception Cathedral (finished in 1890) is a Catholic cathedral.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s amazing in this very poor country that there are spectacular churches everywhere.

 

We looked into one of the churches.

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This local market even sells artistically chopped veggies for any number of uses.

 

 

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A few photos follow of typical streets in Tana. The traffic was always dead slow.

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Tana is on many hills and so the traffic snakes along up and down the hills.

 

 

 

The humped-back Zebu cattle is the favorite local food.

 

For this reason, 80% of the country has been burned in order to grow food for them, and to provide charcoal – the only cooking fuel!

 

About 2000 years ago the first humans settled here. At that time the island was mostly forest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The chameleons are a lot of fun to watch. They move very slowly.

 

The eye and all those wrinkles move together. It’s very unusual.

 

One eye can move clockwise and look back, and the other can move anti-clockwise and look up. They are totally independent.

 

The feet are specially designed for climbing small branches. It’s as if they have a mitten on (one section for “thumb” only).

 

Their colors are varied and wonderful.

 

This guy was perhaps, the strangest looking one we saw. The head is below at left.

 

What does strange mean? We look equally strange to them.

 

Unless it was this one. Look at that primitive head!

 

 

 

This fellow turned colors while we watched. He has an especially cute tail.

 

There are entire species with different kinds of snouts.

 

This Panther chameleon is the background for our website.

 

 

 

 

 

A leaf-tail gecko sits in the dead leaves during the day. At night they are very active hunters.

Their camouflage includes unblinking eyes.

 

A dozen species of these have evolved on the island.

 

 

 

This looks like a type of uroplatus gecko.

 

 

 

We didn’t see this one initially. He blended in with the wood.

 

The Madagascan moon (comet) moth is about 8” across, one of the largest on earth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notice the baby’s face!

 

The Indri is the largest living lemur. It cannot survive in captivity, so conservation of the wild population is critical.

 

The indri is a vertical clinger and leaper and holds its body upright when traveling through trees. It has long muscular legs which it uses to propel itself from trunk to trunk.

 

Unlike any other living lemur, the indri has only a rudimentary tail.

 

It “sings” and can be heard up to two miles away. A couple seem to “talk”. We heard it from our cabin in the park.

 

The Common brown lemur occupies a variety of forest types. They spend less than 2% on the ground.

 

Coquerel’s Xifaka can stand vertically and “hop” sideways so it is called the dancing lemur.

 

 

 

 

 

This frog wasn’t much larger than a fingernail.

 

We did many hours of walking through forests like this one. The lemurs were usually above 10’ high in the trees.

 

We saw a documentary by Sir David Attenborough on this giraffe-necked weevil.

 

www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVR6bm2y9Ko

 

 

It was one of our requests to our guide to find one on our time in the forests. The guides didn’t let us down.

 

Those hinged necks are used to make notches in a leaf, then roll it up as a nest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In front is our driver, in the middle is the guide that traveled the entire tour with us.

 

There was only one place we could go where the lemurs could touch us if they wanted to. Here they were fed to get them to come to us.

 

These were lemurs that had previously been captured for pets, and the owners turned them in.

 

The fanciest lodge there created a little island by surrounding it with a ring of water that we had to cross by canoe. On that island they put the few lemurs.

 

It was actually a good experience. We got to feel how “light” they were when they landed on us and how they only seemed to think of us as trees to rest on before they got their food from the guide.

 

They have nothing in common with monkeys. In any way.

 

Lemurs are older than monkeys, as they evolved prior to monkeys, which evolved after Madagascar split and became an island!

 

 

 

 

 

Nile crocodile in a private zoo we visited.

 

This is in the private zoo that had many species not commonly seen in nature otherwise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lemurs only have two predators: this Fossa is one of them. It is a large cat-like animal which is related to the mongoose family. Fossas have consumed large numbers of lemurs in recent years due to their other food sources becoming less plentiful and the lemurs must move around more due to loss of territory.

The Harrier Hawk is also a common predator.

Humans are the biggest problem for the lemurs. They trap, hunt and eat them. They cut away the forests and burn the land.

 

After a long bone-jarring trip to the coast, we boarded a boat in Manambato and rode through man-made canals to the Palmarium Hotel.

The coastline has many shallow coves and lies on a often stormy sea, so the early French colonists created a canal 413 miles long that connected a series of lakes. Two-thirds of the length is still navigable.

There is no need for locks on this canal.

It was a pleasant, peaceful ride.

Palmarium

 

This was our “cruise” ship.

 

This is how goods are transported on the canal.

 

Some of our hotel’s rooms were cabins near the beach.

 

Our hotel was on the hill in the trees.

 

We took a tour to see the rare and primitive Aye Aye nocturnal lemur.

We went by boat to the little island where it lives.

There is a place where food it put so it can be seen by visitors – that provide their own light.

 

This feeding and people watching may be normal for them, but they acted very afraid and were “sneaky” at getting the food while trying to keep us from seeing them.

 

The hotel had a garden where many lemurs played.

 

 

 

 

 

This guy decided to land on Juergen but had no interest in him other than a support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The garden also had chameleons.

 

The garden had a fenced-in area with these two turtles.

They didn’t seem to care who watched.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We NEVER tired at looking at them!

 

 

 

We hiked along the beach in the heavy “forest” for a long time just to see an area that had these insect-eating pitcher plants.

 

 

 

A village after we got back from the canal and headed back to Tana.

 

The buildings left over from the French colonization are interesting.

 

 

 

The zebu cattle are also used to perform work; not just for the main diet in Madagascar. We only tasted zebu once. It was dry and tough.

 

 

 

 

 

A couple of places had these “toy stores.” A local makes these colorful trucks out of sheets of tin and sells them roadside.

 

This is the site of a large weekly market.

But today was not the day.

 

Another problem with deforestation is the number of places where bricks are fired.

 

Wood is also burned for charcoal – which is the main way food is cooked.

 

 

 

Rickshaws are used in the cities.

 

 

 

The night before our dugout trip, we stayed in a tourist cabin that is used just for people going on the river.

 

We stopped in Miandrivazo for the food we needed.

 

This was one of the disappoint-

ments of this tour. We selected beautiful veggies in this market. Our boatman gave them all away as bribes on the river. We were served overcooked chicken that was so tough that we ate very little of.

 

dugout

 

 

The road had washed away, so all of our supplies had to go by zebu cart the last half mile while everyone walked. One of our duffels is on top.

 

Views on the river.

 

If a dugout is not the desired way to travel, the next step up is a boat like that one.

Dugouts are slow and silent.

That boat is noisy. Very noisy.

 

Goods are transported on this river too.

 

Look at how low in the water that is!

 

This is like the local taxi.

 

Tourist boat. They sleep and lounge on the upper deck, not on the sand like we did!

 

These zebu cattle had been drinking water. It was interesting seeing the guys make the cattle climb up that steep bank.

 

 

 

We wound up traveling down the river with a tour group from Kuwait, and a one-person tour woman from the US.

 

Farmers and herders live all along the river.

 

 

 

 

 

We camped on that large sandy area.

We weren’t far from the others.

There were several people and kids that came from somewhere and watched us until dark.

The woman guide for the Kuwaiti group gave them all candies.

Our duffels were used as back rests (and were comfortable). The wooden bottom of the dugout was made comfortable by the design of the mat they provided for sleeping. It was folded in such a way that it covered some of the sides as well as the sitting area.

The metal object in front is the grill.

 

This is the Kuwaiti group.

 

This is the contents of our kitchen. Those are the feet of the live chicken that traveled with us. Our still-alive chicken is visible just below the bench.

 

Dinner being prepared by the boatman. Not only did he paddle all day, he did all the cooking.

 

 

 

That chicken had laid in the dugout for two days in the heat. We figured it was dead.

 

But when the boatman took it out of the boat and loosened the ties on its legs, it stood up as if nothing had happened to it.

 

Then. It took off like a rocket! It wanted outta’ there!

 

The boatman tried everything to catch it, but at the moment of capture, the bird took off again.

 

Eventually, half the Kuwaitis took off and the entire camp was wrapped in attention. The guys dove into the sand but always the bird kicked in its afterburner just in time to escape once again.

 

After a while almost all the guys had bit the dust at least once. 

 

Often, they were so close!

 

Then the locals from the Kuwaiti tour joined the race.

 

Eventually they caught him.

 

That was our dinner. No wonder his meat so tough that we couldn’t eat it.

 

Along the river we traveled, there is this waterfall just a short hike from the water. All the boats stop here. (That means us, the Kuwaitis, and the single woman).

 

It was lovely to have the spray – it was very hot, and we’d been in the sun all day.

 

The lady in the hijab is the wife of the Egyptian who were travelling with the Kuwaitis.

 

One of the Kuwaiti guys was just standing on the shore when he flipped.

Everyone asked him to do it again, and Juergen got this shot!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All sorts of plants are grown along the river.

 

 

 

This was our favorite experience on the river.

 

We were dugout-ing along parallel to the shore that immediately went up a 100’ hill.

 

We spotted this Verreaux’s Sifaka in the trees.

 

 

Then it started to travel, parallel to us, by quickly making the very long jumps it is famous for. Such powerful legs! So graceful.

 

So fun to watch in nature!

 

 

 

From the boat we could look up into areas with lots of bats.

 

After arriving we were assigned Zebu carts to ride in to get to our SUV.

The road out was flooded in places so the car couldn’t get to us.

 

We tried it for a while. But we had to sit on those hard side rails while the cart lurched back and forth.

 

We said no way and wanted off.

 

There was a squabble because the driver thought we’d walk too slowly.

 

We did get back on the cart when we had to cross deep water.

 

This was the nice part of the road.

 

The driver was a showoff character, but he did see this chameleon in the tree and bring it down for us to see.

 

Our “parade” for an hour back to “civilization” Antsiraraka.

 

Y and our guide walking after our Zebu cart.

 

This ferry brought our SUV some distance on the river.

 

Interesting design. They just line up the local boats and build the platforms across them.

 

The heavy metal treads must be moved by hand for every landing.

 

It’s scary even watching the vehicles coming off the ferry on those unstable treads! Lots of metal-sliding-on-metal noises.

 

Here is a ferry we had to drive in not-very-deep water to get to. The treads that our SUV had to use are visible down the side of the middle of the ferry.

 

 

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Here we are approaching the ferry.

 

We went up those treads!

 

Imagine!

 

View through our front window.

The water wasn’t deep – see the guy standing by the ferry.

 

Life beyond the ferry.

 

 

 

 

 

This is the only gas station.

 

We stayed overnight in a hotel here.

 

 

 

This was about our worst travel experience ever. This is all the food we had for 30 hours.

 

We had to get up for another river cruise before the hotel kitchen was open. We got back after it was closed. This is what they said was all they had.

 

Our car had gone elsewhere. We were in a fenced-in compound (the rooms were cabins) and we were not allowed to walk to “town”.

 

They don’t get many tourists and they absolutely don’t care.

 

We took our SUV to Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park.

The first day we climbed the circuit on Little Tsingy; the second day we climbed the Great Tsingy.

 

The Tsingys are karstic plateaus in which groundwater has undercut the elevated uplands and has gouged caverns and fissures into the limestone.

 

Tsingy is from the Malagasy language and translates as “where one cannot walk barefoot”.

 

 

The days in the dugout and the long drive and ferries were all to get to the tough-to-access Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park.

 

We arrived in Bekopaka around noon and visited the Little Tsingy after lunch.

 

It was practice for the next day’s bigger area.

 

We were told that many tourists do one or the other, not both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starting back down. It was up and down for hours. Fun!

 

 

 

 

 

The swinging bridge provides a bigger picture view.

 

 

 

 

 

This platform provides a way to get to the highest place and to have a great view.

 

Very early the next morning we took a “tour” to little caves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note the funny foot holds. Juergen is on one of them.

 

Sculls.

 

Little Lemur hanging out in the daytime.

 

This bird was drab except for a large iridescent spot on the sides of its head.

 

We had to hike a couple of miles to get to the Great Tsingy. Along the way we saw lemurs.

 

Off we go up into the Great Tsingy! At this one they made us wear gear.

 

 

 

Here the circuit goes up to a viewing platform.

But, in general, we were climbing up and down for hours.

 

Views from the platform.

 

 

 

This area has a very long swinging bridge.

 

 

 

Note the “helper” steps again.

 

Those hollows are our foot/hand holds.

 

 

 

Look at its cute tail!

 

More entertainment as we walked back to the SUV.

 

 

 

 

 

After a grueling 4x4 drive on a narrow one-lane road on loose sand, we arrived at the famous Avenue des Baobabs. It’s as spectacular as the photos.

 

 

 

Baobab fruit.

 

This is a sacred Baobab tree. One has to take the shoes off before entering a fenced area.

 

 

 

We were happy that we didn’t just get there, take a photo, and leave.

 

We spent hours there and photographed it in bright sun until sunset.

 

There were more people here than at Tsingy, but they were all enjoying themselves as we were.

 

 

 

A most distressing feature of travel in Madagascar is the state of the country.

 

The people are poor. There is little infrastructure.

 

The people choose to consume zebu cattle as the mainstay of their diet even though the raising of cattle is causing the destruction of the island. The primary fuel for cooking is charcoal. Often wood is burned for that sole use.

 

Traveling in Madagascar, you are never far from a scene like this one, or a similar one smoldering, or one burning.

 

It’s so depressing. The habitat for the lemurs and all life is being destroyed.

 

 

 

The train station in Antsirabe.

 

It’s 100 miles between Tana and Antsirabe. We’d guess an average or 30 mph on those roads is reasonable, so the drive would be over 3 hours. It’s a grueling drive.

 

There is a train that runs from Tana to Antsirabe. It only operates with freight trains!

 

The line was extended southwards, but the line is not in use.

 

Buses are used.

 

 

 

This monolith depicts Madagascar’s 18 main ethnic groups.

 

 

 

Our hotel was very nice. The office and dining room are in an old French home, a new wing has the rooms.

 

Zebu carts loaded down with bricks – that are also fired by using wood.

 

Cathedral of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Ambositra (south of Antsirabe on the way to see lemurs in National Parks.

 

These carts are “people powered”. They “ride” them when going downhill.

 

 

Big churches are everywhere in Madagascar.

 

 

 

 

 

Yvonne going by the local transport.

 

 

Arriving in Ranomafana National Park.

 

 

This was the first group we had to join on this trip.

The lemurs were higher in the trees here and a little difficult to see.

Yvonne is foreground right.

The photo doesn’t capture the mood, but we’re all standing on quite a steep hill.

 

A leaf-tailed gecko is hard to spot.

 

This is a leech that attached itself to Juergen’s shin. (Not for long)

 

We took night wildlife walks whenever they were offered.

 

This is the tiny mouse lemur.

 

The park gets them to come out of the forest at dusk by smearing bananas on the trunks of trees along the road.

 

Everyone stands around waiting for them to appear.

 

Providing food may happen every night (?) but it didn’t seem to affect their behavior. They were very skittish and mostly kept “hidden” behind a branch.

 

 

 

 

 

If more banana was on the side toward the viewers, the mouse lemur would dart out, lick, then dart back.

 

It’s amazing Juergen got this photo!

 

Frog.

 

Chameleon with nice tail and color to match the tree.

 

Chameleon.

 

They have the cutest feet.

 

We went to the private Anja reserve to see the ring-tailed lemurs.

 

An area of a large troupe of lemurs lies within the boundaries of a village. In 1996, Anja was an ecological disaster with the forest burned, water disappearing. The government did a joint project with the locals, turned Anja into a protected area, and a portion handed over to locals to manage, with government assistance.

 

First, they moved the farmers to a new area, the area was reforested with native trees, and the natives trained.

 

Lemurs are difficult to see in nature, but at Anja they were on the ground and in the trees, everywhere while we walked through.

 

We spent a long while watching them. Especially a mother and her tiny twins.

 

We took a video of lemurs which shows their quick motion.

 

 

 

 

The tails up are only for saying “here I am” we were told.

 

 

 

 

 

We saw many mothers with twins.

 

 

 

Mooning lemurs…

 

We visited Isalo National Park and had a picnic by a stream in a little canyon (very commercialized) and a lovely long hike through the park that was not.

 

We spotted this hoopoe bird fly to this cave with an insect presumably for the off-springs in the nest.

 

They have a wide distribution across Europe, Asia, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa – and Madagascar.

 

The guide spotted this stick bug while we walked.

 

We climbed on that rock too and had a look-around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Atop the rock.

 

Looking the other direction.

 

 

 

People went in this oasis pool to escape the heat.

We hadn’t brought suits.

 

 

 

This box relates to the “turning of the bones” rites of the people.

 

Cute “eye” on the back of its head and a crazy tail!

 

 

 

 

 

When the guide pointed out this beetle we were surprised because it looked like a flower.

 

No flower, it was walking along the branch. When we looked closely, we could see its legs.

 

 

 

 

 

The hoopoe again. This time with its head feathers spread out.

 

 

 

 

 

The longer we were in Madagascar the more we were saddened by the sight of charcoal-making and habitat trashing.

As far as the eye can see that land was forest and is now barren.

 

 

We stayed at the Isalo National Park in this Santrana Lodge.

 

The cabins are permanent tents nicely done in old British style.

 

 

 

On our way to our final stop we saw this area where everyone is panning for gold.

 

 

 

Arboretum of Antsokay at Toliara. Example of one of the Madagascar 6 species of Baobab trees which is the largest (the picture shows a young tree). It is an endangered species.

 

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Bye!