Madagascar 6

(14th June)
Our room had a damp musty smell and on an investigation by Sue discovered that the bungalows had been flooded to half a metre in depth by the last cyclone. Nonetheless, we slept well though Sue was still having tummy issues despite now having antibiotics.
It was raining when after breakfast at 8 am we boarded the coach for a short drive up the valley to the entrance to the Ranofama National Park, one of the largest nebula rainforests in the world with many endemic animal species; birds, chameleons, frogs and a dozen species of lemurs, including the rare golden bamboo lemurs, one of the most elusive.
It was a rainforest after all and we had expected to get wet, so most of us were attired appropriately. Sue and I had also brought small umbrellas as back up and at times they were certainly needed, steady rain on the overhead canopy sluiced a constant deluge down onto our winding crocodile as we negotiated with extreme care the narrow, muddy forest trails. It was a minor miracle that no one came a cropper on the treacherous underfoot conditions, but slowly, slowly (morei, morei) was a constant reminder.
Yes, we came across chameleons and frogs in plenty, mostly small, some so tiny that they took some focusing, even when pointed to just a few centimetres away by our guides, but the stars of the day were the lemurs. Unperturbed by the rain, they went about the daily business of searching for food, swinging and leaping from tree to tree over our heads, shaking the canopy, inadvertently shaking leeches down onto the hapless tourists below. Though Sue and I escaped this unwelcome parasitic shower many didn’t and were grateful when you noticed a little black, creeping blob ln their attire and flicked it away into the undergrowth.
On one of our regular forays off the path into the dense growth around us, we came across a couple of natural scientists with their rangers. They were studying the rarely seen Golden Bamboo Lemur and we joined them to observe and photograph this small family group. It was at this moment that being soaked down to the underwear became worth it. Such beautiful, placid creatures, they were unconcerned that we were there and seemed to accept our group as a just another family of non-threatening forest creatures.
Eventually leaving them to their foraging, with the guidance of our rangers it wasn’t long before we tracked down more species of lemur, some more skittish than others. Red, fronted, brown lemurs and a variegated species that seemed to me to be related to the pandas of China rather than a genus of Madagascar seemed the least concerned about our presence in their territory, others just climbed, swung, and leapt their way into the forest and out of camera range.
Our meanderings eventually took us to a viewpoint on top of the mountain, on a dry day the scene before us would have been magnificent, but that is not the norm here and though photographs were taken, they were never going to be ones that would make it into an album. Rested, we began the long trek back to the entrance and our waiting coach, the rain continued without pause. Here, we discovered that not all in our party had negotiated all of the routes, some had found the steepness, slippy conditions, and rain too much and wisely had returned with a ranger leading the way. Other than a good soaking, no one had suffered any injury to spoil their enjoyment of what was left of their adventure to this island.
During lunch, at the hotel, the rain stopped and the sun came out.
Attired in dry clothes, during the late afternoon, some in our party joined an expedition to see chameleons. A short drive took us to a hillside that had been laid out with examples of all the native species of trees in the surrounding forest and many from other parts of the island. With a guide in charge, we wandered around the manicured garden, taking in the botanical info’ offered and photographing the cunningly, camouflaged chameleons when discovered. After the morning’s exertions, it was a lovely way to spend a warm afternoon. Pausing for a rest at a wooden gazebo we had time to observe locals catching a busy dugout ferry canoe across the river flowing far below our viewing point. They had walked kilometres from the town in which our hotel is located to visit the market and was now on their way home, some unknown distance away across the river.
I joined a small group to take the evening meal in a rather smarter hotel than our own on the other side of the town. Sue had been exhausted by the day’s proceedings and had chosen to stay and relax, quietly in our chalet, ordering chips for sustenance. I wish I had done so too! In a retake of the meal of a few days ago at the seaside resort, my meal failed to appear. The night started well with drinks and ordering of the courses, along with others my starter appeared on time. As the main course began to arrive it quickly became apparent that my fish selection wasn’t going to be one of them. Rather more quickly than on the previous occasion I left my seat and entered the kitchen to enquire as to where it was to see it empty of staff and everything shut down for the night. The head waiter got the sharp end of my tongue and a chef appeared with fish, I sat down to wait. Within 5 minutes a plate arrived with fish and cold sliced potatoes, missing any other vegetables. Opening up the fish it was raw. Back to the kitchen I went and offered the plate to the chef and waiter who had to agree it was uncooked. I accused them of trying to poison me and informed them I would not be paying this bill and returned to the table. A little while later the waiter appeared with each of our bills, including mine. He thought as I had not given them time to cook the meal, I should pay. I saw red. I invited him to follow me to the till, in the main lobby, and he did so. There I loudly proclaimed in earshot of the hotel’s guests that he had not provided me with the meal I had ordered, but after a non-appearance, presented me with raw fish which would certainly have poisoned me. I followed, that if anyone staying in this hotel thought that this was acceptable in an establishment of this quality, they must be crazy. He gave in and screwed up the bill.
Returning to our accommodation I resisted the temptation to order food, preferring to join a sleeping Sue in our chalet.

(15th June)
I ate heartily at breakfast. Today we were to travel north, in readiness to fly home in couple more days. After collecting spare food from the breakfast table for the village dogs I took a walk down the road and fed a couple of grateful animals before boarding the coach.

It was another long journey, passing through the countryside we had traversed the previous week. Everywhere we have been these two weeks, the soil has been a vivid red, only the dryness of the south had tempered its impact on the eye. Layered fields of crops were everywhere, stacked one on top of another, marching along with the river courses and up the sides of the valleys, narrow paths giving access and serving as banks to contain brackish water necessary for the rice crops. The further north we went, twisting crimson rivers flowed faster and deeper, only froth from water churned by numerous cascades added any significant colour change. As we climbed into the mountains, the gulleys became deeper and our road-hugging their treacherous sides, became increasingly potholed with plenty of evidence of mudslides. We passed one unfortunate lorry laying on its side, the contents of its bowels scattered across the verge and down the slope. The poor driver attempted to collect the thousands of drinks bottles before too many of them disappeared into the countryside. We didn’t stop, we have a timetable to meet.
Several bush toilet stops took us to the little town of aluminium pot makers and here we had lunch in the same restaurant. This time we were greeted by colourful dancers, sparked into action by a small band sitting to one side of the entrance courtyard. Their dress was not elaborate and neither were the rhythms they stepped to, but it certainly was African. Another excellent meal. After purchasing a few more trinkets from hawkers perched expectantly by the gate it was back on the coach and a few more relieving bush strops on our push northward.
It was still light when we arrived at the Colouer Cafe. We checked into the same room as before and promptly got one of the staff to light the fire, we didn’t mess with this blaze but left it to warm the room at its own pace while we met the rest of the group in the restaurant for dinner and instructions on the following day’s drive. It was to be the earliest start yet! We returned to a much less smoky room than on the previous occasion, showered then hit the pillow for a comfortable but shortened night.

(16th June)
We were up and dressed by 4.30 am. Breakfast was at 5 am and we were all bleary-eyed on the coach for 6 am. We were going home.
It was to be a 6-hour journey back to Antananarivo and it went reasonably well. A section of the road was being resurfaced by a gang of Malagasies using some quite modern mechanised machines, just as soon as we were getting used to a smooth and comfortable ride, their handiwork stopped and it was back to the random, bouncing and yawing of a coach weaving its way around the deepest of pits.

Around three hours into the journey we were bemused to witness a fracas in the front of the coach. One of two brothers in our party took it into his mind to severely chastise an elderly gentleman sitting on the front seat, it turned into a loud and unpleasant confrontation. Later, after a bush toilet stop the unpleasantness continued at the rear of the coach as the elderly gentleman attempted to defend his viewpoint. His suitcase had gone missing during the several flights to Antananarivo. He claimed his baggage contained medication. Our guide had organised his baggage to meet him in a couple of days’ time, but the gentleman pressed him for earlier repatriation. The guide informed him that it could arrive sooner by special taxi, but he would have to pay the cost of it. He agreed to that, I sat behind and I and others heard his confirmation. The suitcase arrived and the guide paid 135 euros on his behalf. Since then he has refused to reimburse the guide. To ensure the guide was not out of pocket the rest of us had a whip-round to cover the cost and the old gentleman was ostracised for the remainder of the trip.
Those in our group who were flying via Mauritius visited the Queen’s Palace and a viewpoint over the capital before we proceeded to a restaurant near to the airport for lunch.

Checking in for the flight did not go well for Sue and me. Our check-in was conducted by a novice who was being supervised by his superior, so he was slow and nervously covered all the questions that could be asked. Eventually, our boarding cards were printed, and then panic ensued. Technicians arrived, more supervisors made an appearance and eventually we were told that the system had broken and it wouldn’t print out our luggage tags. We moved to another desk and after handing over our boarding cards and paperwork, the suitcases were tagged and disappeared into the ether. With the paperwork returned we were invited to go to security. I decided to check what I had been given, to discover that our six boarding cards were now only five, and my Mauritius to Dubai was missing. The checkout operator said he had given us all of them, I told him he hadn’t. A supervisor checked our paperwork (again) and then printed me another boarding card. Good job I checked!
Our Madagascar flight to Mauritius left and arrived on time. Our Mauritius to Dubai flight arrived and left on time, but the Dubai to Birmingham suffered a half-hour delay as two passengers on board changed their minds before take-off and decided not to travel to the UK, it took time to unload their baggage. Some people are just plain crazy!


(17th June)

We landed on time. As if to welcome us home the weather witches had upped the temperature to a giddy 31 degrees celsius, the hottest day so far in the UK.

Out in the airport car park, our taxi was waiting for us, within forty minutes we were home. It wasn’t long before Sue got busy with the first load of washing and I began mowing the lawn. We were back for three days, and then we will do it all again, this time on the largest island in the world, Greenland.

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