Getting wet in the Rainforest Parks and a final day in Tana


Published: November 13th 2023

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A Mouse lemur in Ranomafana National ParkA Mouse lemur in Ranomafana National ParkA Mouse lemur in Ranomafana National Park

One species of mouse lemur is the smallest primate in the world (see Kirindy blog)

We now await our plane home at Tana’s modern airport. It has been a whirlwind tour and finished with trips to famous rain forest parks and on our last day a tour of Tana’s reconstructed royal palace.

We drove back from Manakara on the coast and before reaching the top of the escarpment stopped at Ranomafana National Park. Ranomafana means hot water and the town was originally created as a colonial thermal spa. The National Park is a popular destination for tourists, especially those just focused on the wildlife, because it is within striking distance of Tana. It has had a lot of support from NGOs and academics and there is an on site Research Station that also has programs for overseas students.

It is a rainforest and lived up to its name. There is a lot of focus by the guides on finding lemurs and yet I find the reptiles and insects just as, if not more, fascinating. Our guide was Teo who was very proud to have worked with Attenborough on his visit in 2012. I was suffering from a case of ‘Delhi belly’. (Most people get hit at some point

Lemur watching in AndasibeLemur watching in AndasibeLemur watching in Andasibe

In National Parks they always attract a crowd

and we have been no exception.) I spent a lot of the 3 hour walk resting on my poles, the rain dripping off my leather hat and creating henna-like streaks down my face. Not a pretty sight.

We saw three sorts of lemurs (just). Who can blame them for staying high in the trees when there are several bunches of excited tourists below. More impressive was an amazing leaf tailed gecko and the attention grabbing giraffe weevil, which has to be seen to be believed.

It was good that JeanBe had put us in the modern Thermal hotel. Having had a sleepless night I promptly slept for 3 hours and we relaxed in a hot thermal pool for another hour. This put me in a much better place for the evening walk along the road above the park despite it still drizzling steadily. The guides attracted mouse lemurs to nearby branches with smears of banana, a practice we were not entirely happy with. It emphasised the ‘zoo element’ of the roles these National Parks undertake.

On this walk it was the chameleons that were the standout sights. Teo’s

Mrs and Mr Giraffe weevilMrs and Mr Giraffe weevilMrs and Mr Giraffe weevil

These extraordinary insects live on a single species of plant

nephew produced an enormous Parsons’s chameleon on a stick. With a multi-coloured head and a body weighing over a kg it was amazing how it balanced with such ease on such a narrow perch. Apparently chameleons are easier to spot at night because they stay still asleep on branches. Teo must have picked out 4 different species, some as small as 3 or 4 cm. I tried to spot them myself and failed dismally.

It was a two day drive to our final National Park at Andasibe to the East of Tana. As with any Madagascan journey it was not without interest. We climbed back over the rim of the escarpment to N7 and the weather immediately brightened. We stopped at a small rural village specialising in making metal spades. The ingenuity and teamwork of the lads was impressive. Some worked the manual double tubed bellows; one held the hot metal in position on a small metal block with pincers and two took it in turns to hammer the metal into shape.

We stopped for lunch on N7. Our stomachs were limiting us to bananas so we went to the local market to find some.

Great team work hammering out a new spadeGreat team work hammering out a new spadeGreat team work hammering out a new spade

This team turn out 40 spades a day

There I final got to play a game of table football of table football (baby-foot in Malagasy) with some lads who really should have been at school.

We stayed the night in the same hotel we had had our second night of the tour in Antsirabe. In doing so we had completed a large circuit of the country by road. We drove on the following morning through Tana and then dropped over the escarpment again to the East. The road wound around the edge of steep valleys each with a streak of green rice paddies and glimmer of rushing water at its base. Incredibly the French with the help of Chinese navvies had built a railway down this terrain. It was no longer functioning and probably would make a great hike.

We stopped before Andasibe at a private chameleon reserve. They had some lemurs in the surrounding rain forest (yes it was raining again!) which were easier to spot than at Ranomafana. They breed many of the chameleons and periodically release some to the wild. As impressive were their collections of leaf tailed geckos, some longer than your hand, and tiny brightly coloured tree frogs.

Double tube bellows to get the metal hotDouble tube bellows to get the metal hotDouble tube bellows to get the metal hot

We were staying in a bungalow near the entrance to Andasibe National Park. We had awoken to the shrill callings of the Indri (lemurs) which make sure neighbouring family groups stay in their place. JeanBe yet again had ensured we got an experienced guide, Donna (he). The guides know where the lemurs are so he was able to show us all the diurnal species. We also saw many new birds which we have not seen in the rest of Madagascar. Donna helped to tick them off in our guide book. There was an incredible site of a paradise flycatcher incubating it’s eggs in a tiny nest just next to the path. Donna also found us a sleeping Collared nightjar. As we walked out a large Madagascan boa was asleep beside the path. Jane skipped on!

Later on the drive to another private reserve (more lemurs/more bananas) JeanBe yelped to stop the car. There next to the road was a bright orange pygmy kingfisher, a rare sighting. It was most obliging and stayed on the branch for a photo.

The night walk that evening was a struggle in the

I got to play table football ("baby - foot") in alocal marketI got to play table football ("baby - foot") in alocal marketI got to play table football (“baby – foot”) in alocal market

The guy in yellow was very good especially as the ball they use is so small (well that was my excuse). The kids should almost certainly have been at school.

rain to find nocturnal lemurs (they tend to be small). We glimpsed two high in the trees, their eyes standing out in the torch light. The stars were the tree frogs which Donna was expert at finding.

The last leg the next day was back to Tana. We had free time in the afternoon to explore the city. It is built around a steep hill. The streets on Google maps seem to just end and then you find steps that lead you to the next road. It must be a typical African city with classy hotels, ministries in barbed wire compounds, bustling markets selling products imported from China, hawkers on every corner and begging barefoot women and children wherever you looked.

There was a certain tension in the air especially around Independence Avenue. The presidential election is next week and the army and police crowd this main avenue. There is a history of trouble at this time when opposition supporters may try and ‘claim this strategic territory’ (JeanBe’s words). We saw none.

On our last day JeanBe had arranged a guide to take us around the old royal

A Painted chameleonA Painted chameleonA Painted chameleon

Their ability to balance on a twig is incredible

palace compound, the Rova, which sits on the hill dominating the city. It offered fantastic views of Tana’s 8 million inhabitants in all directions. In fact the palace complex had been torched (no one is sure who by) in 1995. The current president decided to restore it in the last ten years with grants from France and the EU etc. The museum makes use of modern technology to emphasise all the interesting history, culture and sights of the island. Most Malagasies have no knowledge of this. It underlined the rarified atmosphere and separation from reality in the palace compared to the real life outside that many country leaders must experience. In many ways it encapsulated our trip: We have experienced many amazing things and met so many interesting people and yet could retreat as required to a western standard bubble (spacious car or hotel) divorced from reality.

That said as our first major trip to the African continent it has opened our eyes. One worries for the Malagasies who are exploding in number in a time of unprecedented climate change. The hope comes from their smiling faces which I will never forget.


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