Wednesday, November 2, 2011

We got to sleep in again, but this was of no use, as we were up much earlier. All the rain and dark skies from the day before were replaced with fog, which was better than rain, but only slightly. It was more than cool, it was actually a bit cold. We had a small breakfast, sitting next to the German family we had sat next to the night before. As with the night before, the younger boy (probably aged 8 or so) was constantly whining, which the adults ignored and the older boy (maybe 10) mocked.

The park entrance was not more than a minute or two from our hotel, so this was one bonus of our place. We met our guide Steffan, and Steffan told us that in addition to him being our guide, we would also have a spotter, who would go ahead and try to locate the golden bamboo lemur. Apparently the golden bamboo lemurs are rare and hard to spot, so having a spotter would help. Steffan told us that the park gets 2.85 meters (120 inches, give or take) of rain every year, which was reflected in the greenery. He told us there were dozens of different fern species in the park, and in a couple places showed us a half-dozen different fern species situated right next to one another. Steffan also told us about some of the local trees and their uses, but his information was much less thorough than what TV had told us in the Tsingy and what Patrice had told us in Andasibe.

We asked how big the forest was, and found out that there is a narrow strip of primary forest on the eastern part of the park that stretches north all the way to Andasibe. So, in other words, everything we drove through and looked at the day before had been forest in decades past - very discouraging. While the forest we were in was very thick, Steffan told us that it was actually secondary forest - regrowth after the primary forest had been thinned or slashed at some point in the past. In the secondary forest, one of the main trees is guava, which chokes out other plants that would attempt to grow, making a return to the primary forest very difficult. Also, the animals over time have gotten used to eating the guava fruit and leaves, which makes the park rangers hesitant to remove the trees. We did see some of the plants from the primary forest, including the Caranga bamboo, which grows about a foot a day during the growing season. The culms are a nice green with black, and are one of the main plants in the primary forest.

Our path started off as pretty good, but when we got a call from the tracker, we started crawling up and over all sorts of stuff on steep hillsides, all of which was muddy from the rain the day before. There was at least a payoff, as we did see some Golden Bamboo lemurs, along with about two dozen other folks, all staring straight up at the lemurs. Thankfully they didn't jump away, as what they could do in about 5-10 seconds would take us 5-10 minutes. A little later we saw red-bellied lemurs as well. Steffan told us that the red-bellied lemurs were monogomous, and were a female-led, or matriarchial society. In contrast, the polygamous golden bamboo lemurs were a patriarchial society. It seemed common sense to us that it would be matriarchial in a monogomous society, but maybe that was just us.

In the meantime, between sightings, we seemingly walked around in circles, walking up and down steep hills for no apparent purpose other than for killing time before the trackers called again. There wasn't much explanation of what we were seeing, and the questions we had about anything "off script" were unknown, for example what species of palm trees we were seeing - all Steffan knew were that they were palms. At one point we went up to a lookout, but there was nothing to see because of the fog. At the lookout, we discovered that we had a couple of small leeches on our clothing.

When the trackers called, they apparently called everybody, and the various groups would show up in noisy heap after noisy heap. Rather than being quiet and motioning to where the animals were and whispering what they were, the guides would repeatedly excitedly utter what was around, and constantly exclaim "Look! Do you see?! Do you see?!" which was unnecessary if we saw what was there, and annoying as hell if for whatever reason we couldn't see.

This got more and more irritating to us, and boiled over when at one point, there were close to 40 people tracking a single lemur and its baby. The people would all horde around and make a lot of noise, which then (not surprisingly) made the lemur jump away. The people would then follow the lemur with the excited statements of "Look! Do you see?!" for the new location, followed by the lemurs moving again. This continued multiple times, leading Justin to state out loud "This is fucking ridiculous," which he assumed no one would understand, forgetting that many of the tourists probably knew English - whatever. We gave up and just watched from afar, and not too surprisingly the lemur came to us, or at least a tree near us, which led to some of our better photos of the day. Overall, the whole setup was amateur hour compared to Kirindy, Tsingy, and Andasibe. Plus, the animals were higher up and there were less of them - we had gotten spoiled in the previous places.

When we got back to the parking lot, we realized that we had been bitten by leeches - Justin around his ankle, Crystal on her calf. Leeches have an anasthetic in their bites, which means you don't even notice the bite, but they also have an anticoagulant which means the wound keeps bleeding for awhile. We determined that, on the whole, we'd rather have leeches in Hawaii than mosquitoes, not that we get a choice. Not spraying every time we go outside, and never itching, would be worth the risk of bleeding every now and then.

We got back to the hotel a little before noon. Franck told us our walk for the next day was planned for 5 hours, we told him that wasn't happening. After the morning we had, we weren't sure we wanted to go on any walk, let alone 5 hours. We decided to check with Steffan when we saw him for the night walk (which we also weren't especially looking forward to) to see what other options there were for the next day. When we were getting cleaned up Justin realized that his bite hadn't stopped bleeding, but was being suppressed by the sock. It looked a bit like Curt Schilling's famous bloody sock, but Justin wasn't exactly Curt Schilling.

At lunch, somehow we got on the topic of the poor choices for actors in the Miami Vice and Dukes of Hazzard movies. We discussed who would we cast if we were making the casting decisions, but didn't really have any concrete ideas. For Miami Vice, Justin suggested Bradley Cooper and Idris Elba. After lunch, we got some sleep, Crystal read, Justin worked on the diary. Crystal tried to take care of money problems by calling USAA, to see if perhaps we could use our credit card to take money out. Ironically, since we had internet access (even if slow) on our phone, we could do literally anything we wanted financially except get money out of an ATM. We played some Scrabble, and then got ready for the night walk. As it turned out, we didn't go on the night walk because it was pouring rain again, with lots of thunder. At dinner, the power kept going out - unplanned this time, not like the night before - and Justin exclaimed "what the hell is, a third world country?" Crystal laughed at him, and then he laughed at himself.