Song of the Lemurs

It was a lot of fun seeing the inquisitive ring-tailed lemurs and athletic dancing sifakas in Madagascar’s Berenty Private Reserve. Next up: looking for the Indri lemurs, whose soulful songs echo in the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, some 3 hours outside the capital of Tana.

Unlike the semi-arid spiny forests of Berenty National Park, Andasibe is a rainforest with abundant biodiversity, including many endemic and endangered species. We sprang for the Vakona Forest Lodge as its Lemur Island promised a close encounter with several species of lemurs.

Madagascar countryside

We traversed the lush countryside again on our way to Andasibe.

Blessed by abundant rainfall, the rice paddies in Madagascar yield as much as 4 crops a year. Outside the urban centers, those lucky enough to claim land through homesteading manage to eke out a living through subsistence farming.

Madagascar child outside thatched hut

Malagasy child outside thatched hut.

The locals though poor are extremely resourceful. Homes can be built from whatever material is at hand, so they can be anything from bamboo, brick to stucco. We find many of the people, especially the children, to be a cheerful lot.

Row of houses in the Malagasy countryside

Row houses in the Malagasy countryside.

Malagasy homeowners take great pride in their properties’ appearance and these vibrantly colored houses are a perfect example.

Brown lemurs on Lemur Island

Brown lemurs on Lemur Island at Vakona Forest Lodge.

The brown, ruffled, woolly and bamboo lemurs on the Island were purportedly abandoned pets and therefore used to human contact. The troops greeted us with overwhelming enthusiasm since we came bearing gifts of bananas. These rambunctious lemurs clambered all over me on sight of food but their soft furry paws sure tickle!!

Velvet Asity bird

A striking bird with green lashes!

As is often with birds, the male Velvet Asity is more colorful in order to attract the attention of the females: the jet black bird sports emerald green ‘eye lashes’ which are actually wattles. All asities are endemic to Madagascar.

Giraffe weevil with long neck

Our naturalist guide showed us several giraffe weevils around the Vakona Lodge.

Found only in Madagascar, the name giraffe weevil refers to the long neck of the male which is handy in fighting and nest building.

Frog in bromeliad.

Frog in Vakona Lodge.

There’s plenty of wildlife at the Vakona Lodge even sans-guide. We found this colorful small frog inside a bromeliad by the dining room entrance.

Dining room at Vakona Lodge

Dining room at Vakona Lodge.

Dining room at Vakona Lodge, memorable primarily as the scene of my second – and most serious – bout of food poisoning on the trip. Another meal of romazava, a stew made with zebu, accompanied by salsa, this time washed down by coconut rhum arrangé, did me in again. Apparently the offending bacteria were unfazed by the rum’s high alcohol content…

Rhum arrange with different fruits in the bottles

Rhum arrange, Madagascar’s home brew of rum flavored by fruits and spices.

For someone who’s not partial to swigging hard liquor, rhum arrangé is ‘rot gut’ personified. But it is the island nation’s favorite home brew, and you can find the rum infused with any combination of fruits, roots and spices, generally for a month or more.

Painted Mantella frog

Found only in Madagascar, the iridescent Painted Mantella faces the continued threat of habitat loss.

Not sure if it’s legal to handle the Painted Mantella in the park, but I assume our guide was angling for a bigger tip by showing us this poisonous frog.

After the morning hike, I took a turn for the worse from my zebu stew encounter and the resulting fever of 103 F with chills necessitated a detour to the local hospital. Having tested negative for malaria, I was given prescriptions and summarily discharged. The total bill for the emergency room visit, test, as well as medications for fever and turista came to 200,000 Malagasy ariaries, a whopping $90 USD! Yes we’re definitely not in Kansas and the US medical system anymore…

One of the largest lemurs, the black and white Indri lemur makes a haunting call that’s somewhat reminiscent of humpback whale songs.

Locals carrying sacks of goods on their heads

A country where chiropractors will have a field day: Malagasy, predominantly women, carry loads piled high on top of their heads.

It’s fascinating to see locals carrying everything from sacks of food and charcoal briquettes to stacks of bricks on their heads. Their ability to balance heavy, odd shaped stacks while walking long distances is truly incredible!

Woman carrying a bale of hay on her head.

Woman with bale of hay.

I saw this woman walk to the market with her head practically covered by her goods. Talking about a bad hair day!!

Colorful chameleons, frogs and crickets at Peyrieras Reserve

Tomato Frog, Giant Grasshoppers and Chameleons in a riot of colors at the Peyrieras Reserve.

The chameleons and fauna at the Peyrieras Reserve were simply spectacular despite their rather run-down digs. Unfortunately the Cipro hadn’t fully kicked in, so I was too pre-occupied with other pressing issues to enjoy the visit.

Anjozorobe at sunrise.

Anjozorobe sunrise.

Our final stop was Anjozorobe, one of the last high plateau forests in Madagascar. We failed to find the elusive aye-aye but caught a couple mouse lemurs nesting in the rafters of our cabin! The verdant valley below was shrouded in layers of mist as we left Anjozorobe at an ungodly hour to catch our flight for Tanzania to start the second chapter of our African Safari.

Vanilla infused preserves

Vanilla infused preserves make a delicious breakfast treat.

Malagasy jams are one of our prized souvenirs. Since the country is a major grower of vanilla, local confitures are generously studded with vanilla beans, taking the humble preserves to new culinary heights. Try this peach vanilla jam recipe for a taste of Madagascar. Enjoy!

4 thoughts on “Song of the Lemurs

  1. Amy King on said:

    Wow, Marie what an adventure!
    How did your tour guide catch the poisonous frog? woah, I can tell that the frog is laying on his hand…

  2. Marie Chan on said:

    It was a lot of fun. The guide listened for the frog’s calls which pinpointed its location. If you look closely, you can see he was just hanging onto the tips of the frog’s toes to minimize contact.
    Actually naturalist guides are pretty good at this sort of thing – when we were in Ecuador last month, we found teeny frogs the size of a thumb!

  3. Thank you for sharing your experience of Madagascar. Just amazing! We are going in Oct ’14. How did you get from madagascar to Tanzania? We will be in Tanzania before Madagascar and believe we can best go via Johannesburg- a long way around.

    • Marie Chan on said:

      You are welcome! It was an wonderful trip and you’ll have a great time! We flew from Antananarivo (Madagascar) to Nairobi on Kenya Airways and then Nairobi to Kilimanjaro on Precision Air. This is not cheap, but the most direct route to Arusha. I looked into starting the trip in Tanzania, but somehow the flights didn’t work out as well. We flew into Madagasar via Johannesburg as South African Air has decent schedule to Tanna. Please read my Tanzania blog on air travel woes.
      I’m just about to publish part 2 of my Tanzania safari!
      Generally, air travel in Africa is highly unpredictable. I tried to mitigate it with a 2 hr layover, but Kenya Airways cancelled our flight to Nairobi and ALMOST cancelled it the second day! It’s the one trip to buy travel insurance because of the cost of the tour. We lost the 1st day of our safari but got compensated by the insurance.
      After our original Tana-Nairobi flight was cancelled and we were supposedly rescheduled for the next day, I booked a private car to take us from Narobi Airport to Arusha because we couldn’t get a confirmed flight from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro on short notice. But the driver who met us at Nairobi airport reneged on our original agreement to pay by credit card and demanded payment in full up front. Luckily the ATM machines didn’t work for our bank cards. It’s a 5-7 hr car ride from Nairobi to Arusha, depending on the border conditions, and I have major concerns riding that car. I ditched the hustler and went on standby with Precision Air. After talking to the 3rd customer service rep about our sad story, the lady agreed to put us on the plane using tickets for the flight we missed. After that, we had to scramble to contact our Tanzania tour operator for transfer arrangements from Kilimanjaro airport to our hotel in Arusha.
      From my hours camped at Tana and Nairobi Airports, I see that most airport employees are absolutely indifferent to customer issues. If you missed a flight, you are on your own! Note Madagascar was a French colony so very few airport staff speak English. so half the time we don’t know what’s going on.
      Note: Cipro is a must in Madagascar – my husband and I had 3 bouts of food poisoning during our 10 day stay there. Parsley did him in and cilantro got me both times. We had no issues with Tanzania, but the tours cost a lot more there!
      But to more positive things. Wildlife and cultural experiences at both Madagascar and Tanzania are first rate, each in their own ways. If you go to Madagascar and need a driver, I suggest you check with Dodi of Dodi Lemur Tours and ask for Unis. His constant good humor, patience (he’ll pull over anywhere if I want to stop for pix) and knowledge really made our trip in Madagascar so much more enjoyable.
      Sorry for the long reply, but you will have an awesome trip. If you need any other info, feel free to ask!

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