The reason Ranomafana is a rainforest is well, because of the rain and it was raining lemurs and chameleons when we departed on the 22nd at about 8:30 am. We were expecting another 5.5-6 hour drive but this time Google Maps was fairly accurate. We did the drive in 5.5 hours. The traffic was very light and being a Sunday it seemed there were far fewer trucks and passenger busses and the road was surprisingly good with few pot holes and even some stretches where we could hit close to 80km/hr however the last 45 minutes was gravel, rock and clay with some serious bumps along the way.
Our accommodation for two nights was at Tsara Camp nestled in the Tsaranoro Valley in the Andringitra mountains surrounded by great mastifs in the west and tall craggy peaks in the east. A very stunning location. Andringitra National Park is a World Heritage designated site established in 1999 and is part of the Rainforests of the Antsinanan and covers 31,160 hectares. As in most places to date the lodge offers wifi but as we have said many times before and as is here it is ” why try”. First world problems but a hassle when you want to keep your blog up to date.
Our lodging was a permanent tent with an outdoor shower with very hot solar heated water, great views, good food, great staff and an a amazing location. The road to access the camp off of the RN7 was about 23 kms and was very bad. A regular car probably couldn’t make it to the lodge so a 4×4 in our opinion is a must. A great place and we highly recommend it.
Some local residents
The location was truly beautiful and we took advantage of it by doing another 4 hour hike and this time our knees stood up to the challenge. We walked about 1 km along a dusty clay road with a panoramic view that is hard to describe past a small village to the “Guides” office where we hooked up with Evenie, a young female guide who spoke very good english. She has only been guiding for four months and has plans to continue on in university to complete her full-fledged guiding certificate. To become a guide in Madagascar requires we’re told, about four years of study and and apprenticeship. They are required to know the latin and local names of all of the flora and fauna of the area, the medicinal properties of the flora as well as the cultural and historical facts of the area(s) they guide.
We hiked for 4 hours through mostly flat trails with some challenging vertical thrown in. Wandering through the “Sacred Forest” we saw many stone constructed markers which identified the location of tombs. They were scattered throughout the forest, in the hundreds, and housed (is that the right term?) generations of families that have lived in the area.
While we strolling along we came upon a small group of hikers that were staying at our lodge. Two of the people in particular seemed to have big chips on their shoulders that we noticed earlier on. As we crossed paths they commented to the effect that the hike was a waste of time, they only saw one lemur, it was hot outside, my bunions are hurting etc. etc. We hate people like that but what caught our attention was the lemur comment. We didn’t realize there were lemurs in the area and it turns out there are two diurnal species and three nocturnal species. Within about twenty minutes of our meeting we encountered three or four Ring Tailed Lemurs and then ten minutes later another at least another 15 Ring tails. As we weren’t expecting this it was definitely a big highlight of our hike. Fantastic!
The first group seemed quite timid in our presence but with the second group we were able to get quite close and we were told that since so many hikers come through the area they have become a little habituated to the human presence. This is also the case on the mainland of Africa and is okay when you’re in a national park but not so good for the animals if they are outside of the park boundaries. We’ve been to places, notably the Okavango Delta where many of the animals are skittish when they see humans so viewing them is very difficult and is usually due to previous human encounters of the not-so-positive kind, a conundrum but with the massive amount of people visiting relatively small areas inevitable.
With the sun high above us the temperature was hitting close to 35 C as we descended our final leg of the hike. On our way we passed an exposed tomb bearing skeletal remains. The remains were those of several Betsileo people who live on the other side of the Andringitra mountain range. These people had stolen the prized zebu from the local Bara people and their punishment was death. The tomb has been exposed to act as a warning.
The knees were holding up but we were getting pooped and we bid farewell to Evenie and trudged back the 1 km to our lodge for a small lunch and a well deserved siesta.
That evening after dinner in the restaurant we were treated to some local music and dancing. This was not your “typical” tourist oriented crap that you might expect to find at some some 5 star hotel. The musicians came from the local villages and the dancers were some of the staff at the lodge. It is so difficult to find this kind of entertainment, we’ve searched high and low throughout our travels through 12 countries in Africa to date and although the show was short it was a great way to end a great day!