Sunday, November 6, 2011

We woke up early again, despite our best efforts to avoid it. We got another small breakfast - most of the places we had been starve you at breakfast, stuff you at lunch and dinner, which is backwards since we needed energy in the morning for hiking. This morning, we had a hike to Piscine Naturelle, a natural pool in the park. We had a different parking spot than the day before, and started the hike by walking straight up into the massif. On the way up, Roland explained to us the Barra burial procedures after showing us one of the burial sites (we didn't take any photos). There are two graves, one temporary and permanent. After a couple of years in the temporary site, the family removes the body and cleans the bones, then moves the bones to the permanent site.

There is a big celebration when a body is moved to the permanent site. There is a large gathering with a big meal, and no one is allowed to cry or appear to be sad - if their emotions are going to overcome them, they need to leave and come back. At the celebration, everyone drinks tons of homemade rum, then take the bones up to the permanent site (usually on the side of a cliff). Roland told us that if you happen to come across one of these celebrations and someone offers you rum, rub it in your hair and move on. If you rub the rum in your hair, it is a sign of respect and that is it. But if you drink, you have to keep drinking with everyone else, and eventually you will pass out at the base of the cliff where the body is being buried.

Back on the trail, we found some walking stick bugs, which we found out Crystal very good at spotting. Although not as good as Roland, who could see them from 10 feet away, which is incredible since the bugs look just like the branches. A little farther down the trail, we went to a big viewpoint looking out to west. The view was spectacular, and was also interesting in that the massif takes up a relatively small area, only about 20km east-to-west. Out to the east, as we had seen a couple days prior, was nothing but grasslands. At the lookout area, we met someone from Lake Tahoe, who was only the second American we'd seen or heard the entire trip.

Near the trail we saw the Elephants foot pachypodium, Pachypodium rosulatum. We had seen several at the Lodge, but had no idea what it was, other than to surmise it was some time of Pachypodium. The base of the plant is very fat, and shrinks into short, thin branches that then fork in a sort-of candelabra pattern. There are also small yellow flowers which look like they belong on a different plant altogether. If we can find a source in San Diego, it might be a nice plant to have.

The Piscine Naturelle was very nice, and well "landscaped" with palms, pandanus, and other plants. Unfortunately, since it is a popular spot, there were a couple dozen people there, including a couple people smoking (wtf is up with that?). Since we still had to drive to Tulear that day, we stayed for just a bit, then headed out. We saw many birds on the hike - bulbo (sp?), which the Malagasy call the Italian Bird (because of its incessant noise - sorry Italian folks reading this), a big Kite (a bird of prey), hoopoe, and a bee eater. There were no lemurs on the hike today, which was a first. The only day we hadn't seen lemurs so far was the day driving to Ranomafana, where we didn't go on any hikes.

We finished up around 10:30, then went back to hotel. We had packed up before leaving at 7, not knowing we'd be coming back. Since we were already packed, we didn't want to unpack and re-pack again, so instead we grabbed a drink and checked out super-slow internet at the hotel. We had an early lunch at 11:30 (very good duck and zebu filet), then headed out. On the way out of Isalo, in the first tiny town, we saw a big grove of Majesty Palms (Ravenea rivularis), which were thriving on the banks of the river. But as we got closer to Tulear, the scenery (both the flora and also the villages) started to resemble what we saw north of Morondava. We started to see some Baobabs, but they were the same species we'd seen before.

In Tulear, just before getting into the main part of town, we stopped at a Botanic Garden. We got a guided tour of plants in the area, mostly Euphorbia stuff. Interestinglty, one Euphorbia tree had a sap that caused blindness, but the Jatropha tree nearby had sap that would cure blindness. We doubt that in nature the plants are found right next to one another. Lots of these plants could be grown in San Diego, but because most of them are very spiky and thorny, they are not good for dogs (or people for that matter).

At the Hotel Hippocampo, we found out we were the only guests, and so got a big suite. We went down to grab a drink and check out the sunset. Tulear is on the coast like Morondava, but our hotel had no beach like Morondava. In fact, the "beach" access at the hotel was a large concrete platform that was probably 5 feet up from the ground, either to dissuade guests from stepping down or to dissuade others from climbing up.

The pool looked nice, but was empty for repairs, which was of no moment since we had no intentions of using it and we were the only guests. There was a cage with three ring-tail lemurs (so we did actually see some lemurs on the day), which initially irritated us until we saw a sign indicating that these were sick/injured lemurs that were recovering, and as soon as they were ready they'd be going back to the Berenty Reserve, where we were headed the next day. We came back to the room to get cleaned up for dinner. Dinner was very good, with our first "authentic" Malagasy dish. It looked like Nasi Goreng or Malaysian Fried Rice. The manager's big ridgeback came by to see if we had some extra. We kept it all for ourselves, then went up to bed.