What Did We Do?

Dennis and Jenny Hacker's Year in Africa

Home and gone. That was fast!

November 8, 2017 | Only 8 days between arrival and off again.

Rest fast!

We arrived home Uganda very exhausted.  Originally, our itinerary was for us to leave again in two days!!!! We had the entire next trip re-booked by our travel agent several months ago. This is before we had any inkling about Jenny’s back/leg issues and how tiring our Uganda trip would be. It took Jen and me about three days just to stop sleeping 9-10 hours per night. We did laundry and got ready for our next flight. We tried to change the plans again only to find out we’d lose all our money as it was too close to the departure date. So, as real troopers, we soldiered on.

Re-packed, we again headed to the airport, this time at 4:30 AM. Still too early for the airline counters. One day we’ll get it right. Our flights were again uneventful as we traveled to Antananarivo (Tana), the capital of Madagascar.

Tana

We found ourselves in a sweltering airport area, going through the most bizarre visa and customs screening we’ve been through to date. First, waiting in one line for some unknown thing and getting through. We waited in a second line for our visas, paid and got through. Finally, we went to passport control and they took our passport and put them into a glass “stall” with 50 other passports and four officials inside. There were literally 50 people standing around the other side of the stall waiting for their passports to be returned for 10-15 minutes. Let me tell you, there is no feeling like being in a foreign country and having your passport taken for God only knows what reason. The only bright spot was that everyone was in the same fix.

Once our passports were returned and we retrieved our luggage, we were met by out driver and guide as well as a hundred porters wanting to push our luggage cart. The porters all wanted money and I had no Ariary, the local currency. Although I gave them $1 USD, the porter wanted more. Sorry! The Ariary is pure Monopoly™ money. The official exchange rate is 3000 Ariary per USD. Once we were on the road, I had the driver stop at an ATM just so I could get money. I retrieved 400,000 Ariary which is $125 USD. The largest note they have is 20,000 Ariary. The roads were packed because it was a Sunday afternoon. The roads were crowded with busses, cars, bicycles, trucks and man-powered carts.

The main languages in Madagascar are French (it was a French colony during the colonial days) and Malagasy (the indigenous language). There were three epochs in Madagascar history: the monarchy epoch, the colonial epoch and the republican epoch.

Many families had rice paddies in which they grow rice for their families. Rice is the main staple in Madagascar. The farm families only are able to grow a small amount of rice. Most of the rice is imported from Pakistan.

We were taken to our overnight accommodation in the Belgian Counsel General’s house.

Unused rooms are rented out to tourists. The rooms were quite nice.

Before dinner, we walked down the street to a hotel and had a couple drinks. Once we returned, we got ready for dinner. We ate family style with an Italian family who were finishing their Madagascar trip. Thank God, they spoke some English. Lovely folks.

The following morning, we were picked up by our original guide’s wife and the same female driver. As we made the trip to the airport, we were told how unusual our driver was, being a woman. Very few women drivers in this nation. The poor of Tana live like the poor everywhere: in rundown huts they make themselves.

That’s our luggage.

As we went to the airport for our flight, we stopped again for me to get Ariary. This time I took out a lot more. We went to a “puddle-jumper” airline hangar for our flight to the bush.

We loaded our gear and had to wait for the “other couple” to show up. When they did, they had four HUGE suitcases. It was “cram-in” time for the flight.

Mandrare River Camp

After a 2.5 hour flight, we landed on a typical rock surfaced airstrip. I was sitting in the co-pilot’s seat in the sun. The pilot had the heat on! Theo (Tay-o), who was to be our guide whilst at Mandrare River Camp, met us at the airstrip. We were shown to our tent cabin and got lunch whilst they brought in a second bed.  After unpacking, we rested until our evening game walk. Off to the Forest of Zenavo AKA “spiny forest”, or as I called it, the “wait-a-minute” forest. Everything has spines or stickers. When you brush against a tree or bush, it says: “wait a minute.” My arms will attest to the point (get it?) that the vegetation is sharp.

Arriving, we met the man who lives outside the forest. He’s the unofficial forest guardian. There are serious restrictions on logging octopus trees which are a hard wood and used for home construction.

During the sunset walk, we saw our first sifaka, white or dancing lemur.

White lemur

They are called dancing lemurs because their front legs are much  shorter than their hind legs. Thus, when they ambulate, they use only their hind legs and they sort of hop. Unfortunately, as with many lemurs, it was quite a ways away and up in an “octopus” tree. It was thrilling to see our first of these herbivores.

Octopus Tree

The octopus tree is named because it has many trunks that develop from the main trunk. Thus the limbs look like an octopus.

We saw a Napoleon Hat Tree, named for the shape of the leaves.

Later in the walk, we saw white-footed sportive lemur and mouse lemur.

Brown Mouse Lemur

Sportive Lemur

Really wonderful for the first evening/night drive.

After returning to camp, we met Susan, Cyn and Darrell. These folks were doing the same two trips we were doing so we would be seeing a lot of them. We ate all our meals together and mostly did the same excursions.

Sacred Forests

The next morning, we went to the “Sacred Gallery Forest” to see the Ring-tail lemurs and maybe white lemurs. We waded across the Mandrare River (ankle deep) to get to the forest. Whilst walking there, we were instructed not to point with our fingers as that was taboo. Instead, we were to use a knuckle from a bent finger. This was hard to remember at first. We saw our first warty chameleon.

You could hear the bees buzzing over 100 feet away!

and a huge wild bee nest. In addition to a large family of Ring-tail lemurs. Many had babies.

It was a hard task to get a photo of lemurs leaping from tree-to-tree. They leap quite high and it took me 4-5 tries to get one good shot.

Aim too low. Korean pilot?

Finally, I got a jump.

After lunch, we rested and lounged by and in the pool which had water of 86 degrees F. It was cold, but the ambient air was 104 degrees. The water was very shocking but refreshing. Following the afternoon pool plunge and rest, we went to the “Sacred Spiny Forest”. Here we saw a baobab tree that was over 1000 years old.

In the octopus trees, we saw two mouse lemurs. Just darling little critters. They didn’t seem too worried by us being there.

We also found several scorpions

There are over 60 species of scorpions on Madagascar. Only a couple are poisonous. Fortunately, this one isn’t.

and a snake.

The snake is in the center of the photo and looks like a twig.

A family grave gave us an opportunity to learn about the traditions of the indigenous peoples of the area. For example, when a wealthy man died, ALL his cattle (zebus) were killed and the mourners were fed from them. We observed a burial site where multiple family members were buried in the corners of the 15 m X 20 m stone covered burial are. Somewhat like a family crypt in the states.

Just before we left the sacred forest, we saw a white lemur with a baby in a nearby tree.

Then, we had our first sundowner. We were on the side of the Mandrare River and had G&T’s and a few snacks.

Bunches of villagers were in the river bathing. A pregnant woman was off to our right side and several naked young men were a bit further off.

We were captivated by the lack of inhibition. I guess when your whole family lives in a 4′ X 8′ shack, you aren’t too inhibited.

Day Trip

We talked with Theo and decided to go to Lac Anony to see Flamingos. This was a crap shoot as the flamingos are often spooked by the fisherfolk who wade into the water to catch the fish in the brackish lake. It took about 2 hours to get to the lake. We passed kilometer after kilometer of sisal plants, hundreds of thousands of hectares. Much of the southern rainforests were cut down to plant sisal.

Here, we’re driving on a private road belonging to the plantation owner. Relatively flat and smooth. Although these trees look like young baobabs, they are moringa trees (Moringa oleifera).

Sisal is  used in France, Madagascar and Europe for making rope, paper and place mats. Whilst on the trip, we saw moringa trees and cereus cacti. Once we arrived at the lake, we noticed piles of small crustacean shells which the locals dredge up from the lake bottom and pile up to dry. The sell them to manufacturers in Tana.

There were several dugout canoes and netting around.

Theo scanned the lake with his binoculars and thought there were no flamingos present. Jen and I were philosophic about this as we knew that the guides cannot guarantee any specific wildlife. A few days previously, guests hadn’t seen any. We remained optimistic about seeing some. We drove along the bank of the lake and, at the far end, there they were. Both Greater Flamingos and Lesser Flamingos.

The taller, with pink on their wings, are Pink Flamingos. The shorter with dark wings are Lesser Flamingos.

We also saw a Grey-backed heron.

After our photographic session, we drove to the dunes where our butler from the lodge had proceeded us and set up a great lunch of vegetables, cooked fish and wine, water and drinks. What a surprise, but at this point, the Camp had surprised us so much nothing was beyond them.

Looking at life in a different way. Jenny’s idea.

After eating, we hiked between the dunes to get our first look at the Indian Ocean. Very majestic!

Theo at the beach with us.

A long ride back to the Camp and dinner was very hot! 41 degrees C (106 degrees F)!! Finally, I asked Theo if we could PLEASE turn on the a/c. He said most guests don’t want a/c! What fools!

Day 3

First thing in the morning, Theo and I headed off to the “wait-a-minute” forest for another look for white lemurs. Jen stayed in camp and rested. This morning, we saw several lemurs as well as an Angricome orchid, a female Nephila madascarnisis spider.

It was warm and heating up fast. We were supposed to visit and experience a village market in the early afternoon. As it was so hot, Theo suggested we go early. Even before noon, it was stifling. We walked down aisles of clothing, cookware, maize, beans, meat and drugs.

Cooked food for meals.

Some women were using sewing machines to repair cloths or to make school uniforms.

Hand cranked no less!

Bicycle repairs were done, while you wait.

These drugs were pharmaceuticals! I have no idea from where they come, and I doubt the women who sell them know what they are or what they should be used for. There was prednisone, ampicillin, ciprofloxacin, augmentin, erythromycin-anything and everything. 

Zebu and goats were for sale.

After about an hour, it got very hot that we headed back to the Camp. To think, the villagers from all around leave their villages at 3:00 AM and walk as far as 15 km to go shopping and sell their wares at the market. It was unbelievable!

In the evening, we headed off to the Baobab forest and had our final sundowner. Lo and behold, local villagers came and put on a show. for us.

Manafiafy (Manna-fee-ah-fee)

The next morning, we got up and were driven to the airport to fly to the Fort Dauphin. Fortunately, it was only a 15 minute flight.We were met by our guide, Amir, and Victor, our driver. Just outside Ft. Dauphin, there is a tungsten refinery. Tungsten is taken from the sand from the area. The sand is grey from so much black tungsten in it. The tungsten is separated from the white sand and exported.

From Ft. Dauphin, we had a 2.5 hour drive to Manafiafy Beach and Rainforest Lodge. Bear in mind, the distance from Fort Dauphin to Manafiafy was only 30 km! We averaged 12 km/hour (7.5 mph)! These roads were by far the worst we’ve ever experienced anywhere in the world. We thought India was bad. Nope! We thought Uganda was bad. Nope! We thought the Desert Rhino Camp was bad. Nope! National highway 12 had holes deep enough to hide a zebu in…the holes are called “zebu nests” for a reason.

Along the way, we passed a cemetery. These were unique as entire families are buried under each stele. Unique though was that as each newly deceased person was laid to rest, all the previously deceased were exhumed and the newest was laid at the bottom. Finally, the older bodies were put on top.

The zebu horns gave an idea how wealthy the deceased was.

We arrived at the Beach Lodge shaken, not stirred as James Bond would have said. In some areas, the highway crosses small streams and Victor had to get out and re-build the ramps on each side of the stream. Some bridges had to be repaired before we could cross.Victor had to rebuild the edges of this stream so we could ford it.

The Lodge is in the Sainte Luce Reserve-the last of the coastal rainforests in southern Madagascar. We started off with a night-time walk through the forest looking for lemurs. We found Pendanas (related to sisal plants and used by villagers for roofs on their shacks), Madagascar traveler palms (looks like a banana and you can tell directions using the leaves), warty chameleon, wooly lemur, Elongated leaf pigmy chameleon

Golden Orb-web spider, extremely common in southern Madagascar.

This beautiful girl is about 4″ across. That’s legs!

Mossy leaf-tail gecko,

Long-nose Chameleon,

Scorpion spider, Huntsman spider,

Stick insect,

a spider eating a grasshopper,

a Fat-tailed dwarf lemur

and a Phelsuma dubia– gecko.

Day 2

Right after breakfast, we returned to our cabin to clean-up. As I was brushing my teeth, I picked up a bottle of water to rinse my toothbrush. On the neck of the bottle was a huntsman spider about 3 inches across. My scream sure got Jenny’s attention! I wasn’t frightened, just surprised. After taking him outside, I released him.

This morning we went for a walk in the rainforest with Edgar, the other guide. It was an up-and-down hike but we had our hiking poles for this trip. We observed a family of brown lemurs,

Madagascar green pigeon,

vinca plants,

a spider eating a moth,

a masonry wasp, some tiny frogs,

an amazing caterpiller,

and another elongated leaf pigmy chameleon. Following the hike, we had a refreshment break on the beach under some trees.

In the late afternoon, Amir and I went on another walk looking for brown lemurs. Lo, they came out of the forest and crossed the sandy trail just behind us. A whole family. There were more than 15!

This one had a hurt right front paw.

They went right up into the brush and began browsing.

As we walked along, in the dark, Amir found an elongated pigmy chameleon and picked it up

It looked dead. Amir said no, it was just playing possum. He was right. Within a few minutes, it was upright and walking.

We also saw a wooly lemur during the walk. Usually, all you can see is eye-shine.

At dinner, I was looking up Malarone for one of the other three. As I was reading the adverse reactions common with the drug, I came across “cough”. I had been taking Malarone since just before our Uganda trip. I had been coughing for 3 weeks now. Not sick, just coughing. I stopped taking the drug that evening.

Day 3

At breakfast, we met a honeymoon couple from Oz (Australia). We were discussing Malarone, and lo-and-behold, she was coughing as well and had been on it for 3 weeks.

After breakfast, we boarded a small motorboat to go on a mangrove cruise. We observed Nile crocodile,

Common Greenshank,

a pair of White-faced whistling duck,

Red-billed teal,

a Black kite carrying a snake,

yellow hibiscus

and Madagascar malachite kingfisher.

A lovely cruise with the water so calm it resulted in some great photos.

After lunch, we went to see the Madagascar giant fruit bats. It was a hot, muggy hike. We got to see a tree boa which was actually on the ground. Again, they were skittish because they had/have been hunted for bushmeat. It was another “long lens” photo shoot.

After seeing the bats, we headed back to the Lodge. Along the way, we observed some Pitcher plants.

These have red tops when mature. The tops don’t close over insects. There is a sweet-smelling enzymatic liquid within and cilia that point toward the bottom of the pitcher. Insects enter, can’t climb out and are digested in the liquid. Quite ingenious.

Decisions

We were supposed to stay another day and then go to Ft. Dauphin on the morning of Day 5. The thought of a 2.5 hour ride along Highway 12 to Ft. Dauphin, a 2.5 hour flight in a small plane to Tana, a 4 hour flight to Jo’burg and a 2 hour flight to Cape Town was just more than we could handle. We decided to go to Ft. Dauphin a day early. As it turned out the Lodge paid for us to stay in a hotel and pay for dinner and breakfast prior to our flight. Amir and Victor stayed in Ft. Dauphin to ensure we would get to the airport on time. We invited Amir and Victor to join us for dinner as our guests. We had a long talk with Amir about life on Madagascar. Victor only speaks Malagasy. People in Madagascar go after zebu which is their currency. A man with a certain number of zebu can get more than one wife- two, three or more. He’s a wealthy man. Just like Americans with big houses, cars and yachts. Wealth is measured differently in different countries. Amir has had 5 different girlfriends and three children. His current girlfriend has had a son by him. He’s a happy man.

The following morning, we completed our trip home to Cape Town. Although long, we were able to skip the road trip. That was a blessing. Now home.

Two weeks after we were home, Madagascar developed a plague outbreak. Both bubonic and pneumonic plague are occurring. Turns out these occur on an annual basis. Lucky for us it didn’t start until we were home.

FILED IN: Sighting Lists, Travel Notes, This and That

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