Today we had to drive for 250 km to get to the rain forest of Ranomafana. Before leaving in the morning we had breakfast and visited some parts of the city of Antsirabe including the independence avenue and the totem that displays all the tribes of the Madagascar Island.
After that we stopped at a gem stone workshop to see how they work with stones and precious woods. I got some nice earrings of a stone which we are not sure about although they claim it was sapphire. After that a quick stop for cash and pharmacy since Bruce is still a ship wreck with a cold and cough and man flu.
The rest of the morning we spent driving and then we arrived at Ambositra famous for wood work and marketry which is the art of wood carving (basically like decoupage but with woods of different colors). After visiting the wood workshop we went for lunch at the Hotel D’Artisans where a local folk band was playing and dancing in folkloristic outfits. Pretty touristy but sweet. We had a nice and again very cheap lunch, we shared a massive bowl of Onion soup (the influence of French cuisine is evident even if not always up to the Parisian standards) I then had chicken with bamboo and Brucey the roasted duck with sauteed potatoes. Yummy and for only 15 euros in all! Amazing value.
After lunch we got back in the car and drove for another four hours. The landscapes are impressive, beautiful rice paddies and terraces as well as red mountains and lakes. People watching is also very interesting, a lot of brick making and burning, a lot of women doing the laundry or planting rice plants in the fields, sometimes helped by Zebus, lots of markets and rocks breaking. Every second you look out of the window there is something happening and it’s impressive to see how Fidi manages to drive on roads that are always full of people which often don’t look before crossing, kids running and of course geese, ducks, horses, cows and zebus.
We arrived at Ranomafana passing through the rain forest where predictably it’s been raining all the time, we checked in to our hotel at 530pm. We are staying at Le Grenat, which was our third choice of hotel but all the other ones we wanted were fully booked. The room is very simple and not particularly nice, but bathroom is clean. Noisy roads and humid, bit cold. The restaurant is very good though, we had prawns in coconut sauce, local crayfish in garlic sauce with rice and mixed vegetables and a couple of treats for dessert: crepes with caramelized pineapple and chocolate and banana flambée in coconut sauce. So yummy! To help Brucey get rid of his cold and cough we followed Fidi’s advice and got him some homemade ginger rum. Homemade rums are a big thing here in Madagascar, and they are not bad! Early night sleep now, ready for a full day of hiking in the rainforest tomorrow! Some funny noises coming from the mysterious forest around us. Goodnight.
Today it’s about jungle hiking in the rainforest! We’ve been cut out from the outside world as well since there is no wifi.
We had breakfast at 730am and luckily Brucey is getting rid of his cold and cough. After breakfast we met Fidi and our guide for the day, a nice guy called Gladys. He starts to tell us about the Ranomafana rainforest in the car on the way to the national park entrance. We start hiking at about 830am, the rainforest is beautiful, very thick green jungle with lots of incredible plants. We spot a green leafed geko as we enter deeper in the jungle. It rained for most of the morning hike but we still managed to see the rare golden bamboo lemur which is endangered. There are 12 types of lemurs in this jungle. The next one we spotted is the greater bamboo lemur which is a bit bigger than the golden.
For each guide in the park there is a “spotter” who is a training guide that needs to spot lemurs and needs to pass a spotting exam to become a guide, his name is Celestine. Along the way back we saw two dancing lemurs which are the biggest in the park and are black & white and quite fluffy.
Seeing a red stripy mongus was also very cool. We walked about 6km with lots of up and downs, in the rain, crossing rivers at times and sinking our hiking shoes in the mud. We saw a few leeches as well and were terrified to get “attacked” by one but we were lucky not to find any in our shoes or sleeves. On the way out we saw a beautiful chameleon, one of the smallest in the world. Tired but satisfied we came back for lunch at the hotel and had meat skewers and chicken with coconut sauce. They were tasty at the time.
After lunch we did a second hike in another part of the park. On the way there we stopped to see a waterfall from the river and saw a frog hanging on a wall. The afternoon hike was great, much more empty in fact we saw no tourist at all and it was amazing to hear the sounds of the jungle. Even the sun came out which is very rare in the rainforest! We saw the fluffy forest rat munching a snack, and then big family of dancing lemurs from really close. Beautiful. We walked for about two hours and towards the end we saw the fourth species of lemur of the day, a family of common brown lemurs eating yellow berries from the tree. Two of them were females each with a little baby hanging on their back. They have a very strong grab in their little hands and curl their tale around their mums waist line to remain attached to them as they jump from one tree to another. Very cute.
Satisfied and tired we got back at about 5pm and said goodbye to Gladys. We chilled and had a hot shower, but unfortunately we both had quite bad food poisoning probably from lunch. We had a light and quick dinner before taking turns in the toilet for the rest of the night. The night noises in this hotel are unbearable – honks, cars and lorries, people checking in at 4am in the next door room with two toddlers, dogs barking all night, and weird noises from the forest. Safe to say this hotel is not getting good reviews. Honeymoon bliss!
Day 5 Fiarantsoa, Ambalavao and arrival at Tsara Camp
We woke up early after the 4 or 5 hours sleep that we managed to have and had a very small breakfast – not hungry yet with our bad stomachs. We were very happy to leave from Le Grenat, where the overall experience was quite bad – even if the staff are so friendly and smiley it’s hard to be angry at them. To finish things well, the bill was wrong – we were meant to be on a half board basis and they charged for one of the dinners.
Aaanyway, we left and got driving and we stopped after the first hour of driving in Fianarantsoa to fill the tank and buy some water. Busy city with a busy market.
After another hour of driving we stopped at Ambalavao, where we visited first a small silk factory and learnt a bit about the different cocoons (farmed and wild) and then we stopped at Aux Bouganville, a hotel and restaurant with a beautiful garden full of multi-coloured bouganvilles. Inside the same garden there is a small production of the Antaimoro paper – pressed paper made with a local bush in which they press leaves and flowers for decoration.
Because of our not feeling too well, we were quite happy to have a chilled and driving day.
We had lunch at the Bouganville hotel, we managed to eat very little though and we got the most boring thing in the menu – spaghetti au nature!
After lunch we got back in the car and stopped about 12 km south of Ambalavao at a small community park called Reserve D’Anja with ring-tailed lemurs. We had an amazing time doing a circular one hour route with a lovely guide called Samuel (very young with basic but good enough English) and seeing many families of lemurs with kids, especially one with twins coming very close. So sweet seeing the little babies play on the branches and learning how to climb – you could watch them for hours. The only predator for them is the boa snake which can be 3 metres long and eats the lemurs but only comes during the wet season. The sun was hot but not too bad, about 25 degrees a very good temperature for an easy and flat walk, we managed to enjoy it so much despite feeling a bit rough still.
After the visit we got back in the car for about 2 hours to get to Tsara Camp. Half of the drive was fine but the second half was off road on a bumpy country track which Brucey didn’t enjoy too much since he was also on the sunny side of the car and temperatures got higher and higher as we went more into the Tsaranoro Valley. We arrived at Tsara Camp at about 4pm, Brucey a bit destroyed. The camp is beautiful, the tents are very well equipped and the people very friendly and welcoming – although we found that in most of Madagascar so far. All Malagasy guides have been friendly to us, and the local people it depends – some are saying hello and smiling, especially kids, other look at you with a bit of anger on their faces. They call white strangers with the name Vasa here so you often hear them saying “Salut Vasa!” as you pass by in the car.
Once we got in the tent Bruce fell asleep straight away, while I of course wrote this!
After a rest, we met our guide for tomorrow’s hike at 630pm called Faly, a lovely 21 years old local guide. He told us the three options for the walks: a 4 hour small walk to the local village, a 6 hours hike to the Mount Chameleon mountain and a 8 hours climb to one of the biggest mountains here called Tsaranoro (the name of two daughters of the king Tsara means nice and Noro means nose).
We opted for the mid way one the Chameleon, we picked our pic-nic options (weary of the tummy problems) and went for dinner. Our appetite is almost back but we were still not too hungry and didn’t finish our main meal – they were a bit shocked and we felt so bad and sorry, we tried to explain our problem but the language barrier didn’t help. Before going to bed I had a little accident in the toilet: I was peeing and I saw a shadow behind me which I thought was a very scary animal but it was of course my own shadow – because of the scare I started jumping while I was still peeing meaning that my trousers got a bit wet and so did the floor. Brucey obviously laughed a lot at me! In bed at 8pm and asleep by 9pm meant an amazing night sleep.