Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Adventures in Madagascar

Madagascar is unique: it's not Africa and it's not Asia but an exotic blend of the two with some French colonial influence thrown in. The majority of the Malagasy people in the highlands and around the capital Antananarivo (Tana), appear Asian.  And although I haven't  been to the coast, I'm told that the coastal people tend to be African.  Madagascar is a magnet for biologists and botanists with over 90 percent of its flora and fauna not found anywhere else.  

On this, my fourth trip to Madagascar, I finally made it out of the capital of Antananarivo. I had a free Sunday and hired a car and guide to pick me up at 6 a.m. so that I could see as much of the Island as possible, with my primary goal being to glimpse some of the island's famous lemurs. Our drive to lemur country took about 3 hours on an excellent highway running through scenic towns, mountains and valleys. I was surprised at how clean everything was. Rice paddies were common in the valleys which made the island feel very much like Asia.  I've never seen a rice field in Africa which supports my view that Madagascar is not really Africa, despite the close proximity.  During my trip, I never had the impression that the rural population was really poor. Poverty is much more visible around Tana.

I saw my first lemurs at the Andasibe reserve, the home of the Indri, the largest of the species. I spent about two hours with a guide hiking around the park with binoculars, looking at the shy Indri which remained high up in the trees eating leaves and chattering with their mates and which were almost impossible to photograph.  We also saw several brown lemurs at Andasibe.  Our next stop was at Vacuna Forest Lodge where we had lunch. On lodge property is a small island with about 5 species of lemurs including the ring tail. The Vacuna lemurs are much more accustomed to tourists than those at Andasibe and when we got close they climbed on our shoulders to eat the bananas we had brought for them. It was a long day, but I can now say I've seen lemurs.  I also have a much broader appreciation for the island than previously.

With Ernest, my lemur guide, at Andasibe

Brown lemur at Andasibe National Park Madagascar
A colorful lemur species at Vacuna

My second Madagascar adventure started on Monday morning when I arrived at the embassy for work.  A meeting of the Emergency Action Committee had just been called to prepare for a category 2 cyclone that was coming straight at Antananarivo and was expected to arrive that night.  Monday morning had blue sky and many in the embassy were skeptical that we would really have a cyclone that day.  However the Charge' d'affairs directed that everyone except essential security and administrative staff, remain home on Tuesday because most embassy employees live long distances from the new embassy compound that was completed in 2010, and they have to pass through low lying areas that always flood with major storms.  Since my hotel was near the embassy, I was told I could work, which I did for a few hours although the  computers and air conditioning was down.  

As predicted, the storm hit Monday night with a fury.  The wind howled and torrents of rain came down for several hours.  On Tuesday morning I could see some flooding and damage from my hotel window, but the worst of it was on other parts of the island.  After about 12 hours the wind died down and things began returning to normal.   The airport was closed for a couple of days but opened just in time for me to leave on Thursday as scheduled.

Anything else you may want to know about Madagascar and lemurs can probably be found at one of the following links:

Click below to see some pictures of some of Madagascar's scenery and to hear the most famous German song ever sung about island:

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