Tuesday, November 8, 2011

We woke up, still with no news from the travel agency. That meant we were unsure where we were going to spend the day or the night - nothing like a little surprise on vacation. Justin walked around a bit before breakfast, while the lighting was good. There were lemurs in seemingly every other tree, getting a start on their own days. The forest started only about 100 feet from our room, so we didn't have to go far to see them. It was a much nicer day than the day before, with no more clouds. If that meant we wouldn't have a nice sunset, so be it.

At breakfast, there were lots of ringtail lemurs in the vicinity, hoping to snag some food. This conflicted with what Roland had told us the other day in Isalo, where he said ringtails had no interest in "stealing," while the brown lemurs did. Here, there were no brown lemurs to be seen, but plenty of ringtails waiting for stupid Americans to feed them. We say "stupid Americans" because Americans were the only ones who couldn't - or wouldn't - read the numerous signs saying not to feed the lemurs. There was a group of about 10 Americans that had stood up and were taking pictures of the lemurs eating their food, while the rest of us guarded our food and shoo'd the lemurs away if they got too close. Americans are the worst travelers. The fact that people are consistently surprised to find out we're American we can take only as a good sign.

After breakfast but before our morning walk (assuming we'd even have one), we spotted some sifakas and ringtail lemurs not far from the restaurant, just hanging out in the trees on the side of the road. They were not remotely afraid of us, and really could not have cared less that we were there. At 7:30, we met our guide Jean, who told us what we'd be doing in the morning and in the afternoon. Afternoon? He told us that we'd be staying two nights, which was good news, but odd that it'd be coming from him and not our agency. We were hopeful that everything had worked out.

We walked through the forest a bit, the same forest that was not far from our room. We were walking more or less along the river's edge. The river was quite low, as it was near end of the dry season. We asked about the high number of lemurs, and Jean said there were a couple of reasons. First, there are no fossa in the area. Second, there are wells for the people, but the lemurs use the wells as well. So there are no predators and they have abundant water, so it's no wonder there are so many.

Despite the high number of lemurs, ther are only three species - brown lemurs, ringtail lemurs, and Virreaux's sifakas. In addition to seeing many of these, we also saw another Kua, which is a large bird with a bright blue patch on its head. Also, there were tons of egret nests around. We had seen a bunch of kites (birds of prey) the day before, and now it made sense - they were hunting for baby egrets. The sound was loud and annoying, but the smell was worse. There were feathers everywhere, and the ants had adapted, taking the feathers to their nest to eat. In addition to the egrets, we also saw a kite's nest and also a paradise flycatcher's nest.

There were lots of lemurs, including two groups of Sifakas that were very close to each other, yet no fighting. We found out Berenty was a bit like the Dole Plantation analogy we were thinking about the day before. Jean told us the same people own the Sisal (Agave) fields and the reserve. The day before we had thought this might be the case, and thought it would be like if the Dole company slowly but surely cut down on the foliage on Lanai to plant pineapples, and then when only 2% of the forest was left, stated "hey, come to Lanai, there's a forest that's chock-full of animals." But while the situation was a bit artificial, the animals are still in fact wild, and taking pictures and video was like shooting fish in a barrel.

We finished our walk around 9:15, and then went out on our own walk around 10:15. The lemurs had mostly disappeared, which was odd since the forest wasn't that big - where did they all go? We did see a couple ringtails, and a single brown lemur. We spent a good amount of time watching a group of tortoises. One tortoise kept trying to flip the other. We weren't sure why he/she was doing this, but we were glad he/she wasn't successful. After failing to flip, the two tortoises went head to head and pushed on one another. After that, the aggressor tortoise walked away, apparently the loser.

At lunch, we had to fend off more lemurs, but not as many as at breakfast. After lunch, we took a short nap before going out again. We set out at 3:00 for an afternoon walk. When we walked outside our door, there were a couple of lemurs sitting on the ledge not 10 feet away. We began our afternoon walk near the sisal fields, at a lone tree. The tree was full of sifakas, and if they got out of the tree, they would necessarily have to jump or "dance" to somewhere else. Sifakas don't walk on all fours like most of the other lemurs, so when they aren't bounding from tree to tree, they jump around on two feet, using their arms to balance. It looks ridiculous, but in an endearing way.

The only problem is that it was very windy, so they were not coming down from tree. Jean was trying his best to get the sifakas to come down, but to no avail. At one point, he was doing everything but burning the tree down, but only two of the group came and jumped through the field. After giving up on that, we went to the spiny forest, and looked for nocturnal lemurs resting. We saw a fair number of sportive lemurs and lizards, possibly the same animals from the night before. Then we went to a museum that had information on the area and the local people. While at the museum, the dancing sifakas came by, right outside the front of the museum.

After leaving the museum, we passed by a Nile crocodile, which was in a pen right near the tortoises. Somehow we missed the crocodile earlier in the day, not sure how. We walked through the forest a bit, to an area full of flying foxes. Usually they are (mostly) quiet during the day, but for whatever reason, they were flying about between the trees, hundreds of them, and even Jean seemed impressed. After checking out the bats, we walked to a 150 year old Banyan Tree, which made ours in Pahoa look like a baby.

We finished up around 5, and Jean told us we'd be going back through Fort Dauphin the next day, eating lunch there after the Berenty folks dropped us off and before the Manafiafy folks picked us up. We went to grab some drinks and play Scrabble at the bar. There were loud Americans again - different Americans this time. They were Peace Corps employees chatting about work. Since they were locals who were (presumably) doing something good for the area, Justin was willing to let their loud talking go, but Crystal was drinking her haterade. Also, we were both were drinking a fair amount of gin and tonics. At dinner, Crystal tried to prevent Justin from doing anything embarrassing, e.g. speaking up to the group of loud Americans that was irritating Crystal. Justin said that doing something embarrasing might make for a good story. Crystal's response - "How would this story go? Justin had 6 gin and tonics and tried to pick a fight with a group of peace corp volunteers?" Nicely played. We went to sleep without any good stories to tell.