Friday, November 4, 2011
We actually were able to get some good sleep for once, and this was aided by the fact it was not bright at 5 in the morning. In fact, when we woke up, it was raining outside - fitting for our time in Ranomafana. We got breakfast, and halfway through the waiter brought over a basket that a piece of paper stating "thank you" in it. We hadn't seen this at any of the other places - or anywhere else for that matter - so we couldn't tell exactly what we were supposed to make of it. Best as we could tell, it was a tip basket, which was odd since there was already a tip jar right next to the front desk, which was less than 50 feet away.
We checked out and got on the road around 8:15, happy to be leaving Ranomafana and looking forward to Isalo. We got to Fianarantsoa a little after 9, and stopped at what we got the impression was the central business district. There were multiple banks, and we hoped at least one of them would come through for us. Thankfully, and mercifully, our credit card worked at the first place we tried, and so we got a cash advance and finally felt comfortable. As soon as we got back in the car, from our phone, able to pay off credit card bill so that no interest would accrue. It got sunny immediately after leaving Fianar, which seemed to be a good omen.
We descended a bit, and the scenery gradually changed, with it looking like several places in California, such as the hills surrounding the 680 highway in the East Bay and the area through Camp Pendleton. Around Ambalavao we started to see some amazing rock formations, like we saw around Paarl in wine country near Cape Town. There were still lots of rock formations when we stopped at the Anja reserve around 11am. Anja is a small reserve, and we were told it was started and maintained by the local people. Near where we parked we saw a couple of small Delonix Regia, or Royal Poinciana. We had wondered previously why there were so many Jacarandas and so few Poincianas on Route 7 - perhaps the Jacarandas just did better in the highlands.
The Anja reserve is known for its multiple families of ring-tailed lemurs, which were totally wild as far as we could see. Despite being totally wild, they were not afraid of the humans, and in fact couldn't really seem to care less that they were there. All without bribing them with bananas. We saw a couple of different families, both of which had a whole host of babies that were playing and eating. We were told the babies were about 5-6 months old, and we saw a couple eating leaves on their own, which we were told usually starts around when they are 6 months. The backdrop to the reserve was a rock formation called the Three Sisters, which were massive granite formations. While they may not have been as impressive as the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains, at least they were visible, which goes a long way. We were told that there is a trail leading to the top of one of the peaks, which takes several hours. We thought Anja was a really nice place, and that we should have stayed here instead of Ranomafana - oh well.
Back on the road, started to see a lot more Poincianas (including an incredibly vivid orange one), and the vegetation had really dried out. We stopped for a bit in Ihosy, where we saw our first Bismarckias. Franck also pointed out a Moringa tree, which looked a bit like a Baobab but with many more leaves. Franck said the local people call Moringas "false baobabs." After Ihosy, we went up in elevation a bit, and the scenery became total grassland. We wondered what happened to all the granite peaks, since that's what we vaguely remembered Isalo as having. We saw a couple farmers, and some very expensive farming equipment (much nicer than anything else we'd seen), making us wonder if the area was owned by a large company.
Eventually we started to see a couple rocks and trees here and there, and then our hotel was right on the side of the road. We were staying on the eastern edge of the Isalo massif, not far from Ranohira. Our hotel was the Satrana Lodge, and our room was far nicer than anything we'd had so far on the trip. The room was actually a large canvas tent, but with a thatched roof on top of the tent. It had a large concrete bathroom with dual sinks and a large shower, and outside there was an outdoor shower as well. It reminded us of the various places we stayed in Botswana. We decided we should have spent an extra night here, an extra night at Vakona Lodge in Andasibe, and one night in between, maybe around Ambalavao, and skipped the three nights in Ranomafana. But, as they say, hindsight is 20/20. Talking about it, we realized that "hindsight is 20/20" is a stupid saying, since 20/20 is just average vision. Obviously, hindsight is much better than average, but "hindsight is 20/10" doesn't have the same ring to it.
We started on a short walk in the area around the hotel, but it was hot and we weren't really feeling it, so we decided to get cleaned up and go to bar instead. We had some drinks at the bar, which was very nice and right next to a very large pool. Interestingly, there wasn't a lick of English being spoken by any of the employees, but we knew enough French to ask for a menu, and then to point at what we wanted. We went to dinner around 7:30, and were the only ones in the restaurant for quite awhile, which was odd since they had told us at check-in that dinner was served only from 7 to 9. While sitting in the empty restaurant, we noticed there was a puppy dog roaming around, presumably one that belonged to the owners or managers.