Sunday, October 30, 2011

We got up early, yet again. We went to breakfast with a bunch of people who no doubt were on our same early flight. It was not near as lively as the night before. We were a bit surprised that our ride to the airport was Richard, since he told us the night before he didn't know anything about our ride to the airport. We got to the airport really early, which was easy on our nerves but was completely unncessary. We were the only flight, and we were on a tiny airplane, so being there two hours early was more than overkill. During our waiting time, Justin caught up on the diary and Crystal read.

The flight was, as most flights are, uneventful. After getting our bags - which for once didn't take forever - we met Franck, who would be our driver for the next week plus. Our travel agent had recommended that Franck be our driver since he was a fan of plants and knew a lot of the local flora. He took us on a long and windy path through Tana, complete with three or four S curves, many changes of direction, all to end up just a couple miles east of the airport. We can only assume there is no road heading east out of the airport, or at least no good one. While heading west out of the airport, we passed a mammoth building that dwarfed everything in the area, and also had ten foot high fencing all around. We looked for a sign, and then saw it was the US Embassy - figures.

On the various roads, there were lots of markets along the roadside. We couldn't tell if it was because it was Sunday, or whether this was an every day occurence. The roads didn't seem to be wide enough for all this activity. We routinely had to come to a stop so that opposing traffic could go by, since the people on both sides of the road has squeezed the road down to effectively a single lane. Eventually we got out of the main part of town and out to the east, where there was a large roundabout that had the beginnings of Route 2 (headed east) and Route 7 (headed south). Route 7 would be our road for the next week, but not today. We got on Route 2, headed towards Andasibe Private Reserve.

This was our first "big road," or major highway, but it wasn't anything like highways we are used to. In fact, it was about as straight and as wide as Buena Creek Road in Vista, near our house. But at least it was paved. From waking up early and the bonine we took, we kept falling asleep, especially Crystal. We were winding through some hills, mostly going down but occasionally going up. We were near the bottom of one of the many valleys when we abruptly slowed down and turned into a parking lot. We were at La Mandraka Nature Farm, a reptile farm. We didn't recall this being on our itinerary, but it was. We were scheduled to go the next day, but Franck told us we'd be going today because it fit better, and we'd be getting lunch here also.

There were a number of small enclosures with many of the native reptiles, inlcuding chameleons, frogs, and snakes that seemed to encompass the entire color wheel. In one of the larger enclosures, there were some very large chameleons, which we got to see eat. While chameleons move in slow motion 99% of the time, when there is a bug nearby, their tongue moves in rapid motion. We got it on video, and told ourselves we'd have to watch it in slow motion when we got home.

After walking through the enclosures, we walked up a hill (we were not expecting this, and our legs were not either) to an area where our guide told us we'd be able to see some sifakas. A couple of minutes later, we did see some. Then our guide and some other guides coaxed them closer with carrots. While these sifakas technically were "wild," it was obvious that they were more than habituated to humans. While not as rewarding as seeing something in the wild, it was nice to see them up close without them running off, and also we got to feed them. We headed back down the hill, and had lunch, making sure to wash our hands thoroughly first.

After lunch, we continued our drive to Andasibe, and nodded off again. The weather was much cooler than on the West Coast, very comfortable. We were somewhere around 3500 feet in elevation, which really tempered the tropical heat. We drove through several towns/cities before reaching Andasibe, and got to our destination around 3pm. We were at the Vakona Forest Lodge, which was adjacent to (in?) the Andasibe Reserve. We had a very nice room, with a huge shower (not as big as at the Palissandre, but still giant), and lots of nice plants all over the grounds. After checking in, we took a very short walk down to Island of the Lemurs.

Once down at the Island, we read through some of the signs, and realized that the lemurs here were rescued and recovering pets. Lemurs are unfortunately very common pets in Madagascar, and often times people realize that they don't make good pets and are hard to care for, which leads to a dilemma, since the animals aren't adapted to go back to the wild. So the Island of the Lemurs and other similar places make good places for the animals to live semi-wild, and at least to not be in a cage any more.

On the Island, we saw golden (or maybe it was just gray) bamboo lemurs, red fronted brown lemurs, and ruffed lemurs. They were everywhere, and kept jumping all around us, and then on us. They were attracted to the bananas that the rangers had, and Crystal was getting jumped on so regularly she wondered if her new shampoo had banana in it. It was definitely a time to remember, but at the time it's worth mentioning that the lemurs don't smell like roses. We hung around for 30-45 minutes, watching the lemurs do their thing, taking some pictures and video, then headed back to the hotel. At the hotel, we got cleaned up, put some more banana shampoo in our hair, and then went to the bar to get a drink. Unlike the West Coast, where nearly all the tourists were French or at least spoke very good French, here there were a large number of Brits, and English outnumbered French.

We took another night walk, which was a much cooler and easier walk than what we had done in the Kirindy. We were walking along some very wide and flat paths, and then on a paved road. The flipside was that we saw many fewer lemurs than we did in Kirindy, just a mouse lemr and a dwarf lemur. We did see a number of chameleons, however. After the walk, when we got back to the hotel, Franck and our guide Patrice told us that our departure would be at 7:15 the next day, which meant we got to "sleep in." We had a late dinner, then went back to the room to attempt to get a full-night's rest.