Ashkeling 2005/6 trip - Madagascar     Last Updated: 12-Apr-06

25-Jan-2006 Madagascar - Ifaty

We had the breakfast "Tonic," the usual French breakfast with a fruit salad. The bold house cat came over to ask for his share. Geckos ran around as we ate.

Breakfast Tonic

About 30 meters up the beach is the Grand Bleu diving center, run by Richard, a South African who moved here about 15 years ago, but now seems to have gone native. The price (60 Euros for two boat dives, full equipment, which looked good) and the description were right, so Scott decided to dive. Roswitha came along for a snorkel, and Richard brought along half of the town, since it seems that he does not get that much business in this low season. Ziggy and Ronny went diving as well; it seemed to be a class for them. Once we got to the dive site, we noticed jellyfish in the water, so no one wanted to snorkel there. I asked Richard if he had any vinegar on the boat (it's good for j-fish stings), and he replied, "Nah, just piss on it."

Scott is drawn to places with plywood signs

We went down the anchor line in relatively murky water to a sand bottom and crawled across it to the coral. Literally - Richard and crew crept along the bottom with their hands while Scott swam just above them. The water was a very warm 86°F and not at all refreshing. The first thing we encountered was a purple ribbon eel with orange things like feathers around its mouth, a very strange fish. Then he showed us a leaf scorpion fish. Richard had talked about aggressive green morays; this was not surprising considering how he teased them. There were numerous scorpion fish and lion fish, and ceramic snails, which cover their shells with their foot, but then slowly retract when you touch them, revealing a pure white shell. He pushed the air to its low limit before ascending. During the ascent, Scott got to inspect the jellyfish; there seemed to be three kinds: small boxy ones (but not box jellies), sea urchin larvae (tiny writhing sun bursts), and something which looked like a small wriggling fish larva stuck in an envelope. As we got out, Richard said that his face burned all around his mouth, likely a jellyfish sting. Scott suggested that someone piss on it.

Heading out on Richard's boat

With half the village

They did not dive, but they did spit into the water

Ziggy gets ready

For a surface interval, we went snorkeling back inside the reef, where there were no jellies. But we did see many fish (though not as many as in the Seychelles) and quite a few giant clams.


Only Richard and Scott went on second dive, a drift dive. We saw many glass fish, some morays, two big spotted groupers, and several lobsters which were not as big as those we saw in the Seychelles. There were several caves, but none of the big lurking things he had promised.

Unfortunately, we had left the camera housing in Mauritius, so there are no photos.

Richard suggested that we have lunch at Chez Freddy. Walking there, we discovered that there was a whole lot more to Ifaty than the strip of beach resorts; a whole village stretched away from the beach. We were clearly outside of the tourist ghetto, so everyone stared at us. Lots were separated by thin wooden fences; some lots were crammed, and others were large and nearly empty. It was a lazy midday, with people sleeping under or next to their little stands. Many of the women had faces painted with red or pink paste or mud.

Ifaty is a fishing village

The Library

Fences define the roads of the town

And the walkways

Common hut style

Little market - the owner was sleeping under it

At Freddy's, we ate a fish fillet with ginger (very good and gingery) and fried potatoes, Zebu au mutard, with piment fort (spicy chile), and an orange tart. Freddy offered us any of his 30 or so rhum compose (composed rum). We chose Baobab which tasted a bit like medicine.

Chez Freddy

An arrangement of flavored rums

Fish fillet with ginger & fried potatoes, Zebu

Orange tart

Inside Chez Freddy

The rest of the afternoon was hot and lazy. We declared happy hour and had fruit juice with Dubai vodka. Then, suddenly, the ceiling fan stopped. We asked about it (once Lala, our driver, showed up to check in); the hotel said that they were part of an electricity group which ran a generator. It operated from 6ish to 12ish, morning and evening. There were no outlets in the room, and, being battery addicts (cameras, computer, GPS, etc.), we were worried about being able to charge enough during the trip.

Taking it easy

Getting a little sun(burn)

Selling trinkets

The easiest way to carry water

Rounding up the kids (to see what they sold)

No green flash tonight

Vovo Telo Beach Resort
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Lala talked about the plan for the next day. First, though, he had to fend off the security guard, who thought that he was just another beach urchin trying to sell stuff. We'd leave around seven, drive for about four hours, go into Isalo National Park to visit the "swimming pool," a natural spring-fed pool in the canyons, and hike to Cascade des Nymphes, where there was a chance to see lemurs. We said that we did not really want to go to the pool, since it was a hot hike, a dip into a risky pool (schistosomiasis, liver flukes, and so on), and then a hot hike out; we only wanted to get to the cascade. He then repeated the plan about going to the pool and cascade. We said to not do the pool. He said OK, and then told us we'd do the pool and cascade. We said that we'd not do the pool, and we wanted to leave one hour later. He finally got it.

Continuing the lazy trajectory, we ate dinner in the hotel: salad de crudite, champignon quiche, bad pizza, and Malarone for dessert. We then sat for a while playing Set and drinking cold fizzy water.

Salad, man pie


What? Where?

Before going to bed, Roswitha saw a big cockroach run across the floor. (It did not hiss.) She smashed it with a shoe, and then did it again until it was convinced that it was dead. Not wanting to repeat another sleepless night, Scott took a Tylenol PM to help him sleep. Again in the middle of the night (about 11, actually), the fan went off. Later, he felt a gecko or something fall on him (under the mosquito net), so he brushed it over the side of the bed. A few hours later, Roswitha got up to use the bathroom, using a flashlight to navigate. As she passed, Scott thought that he saw something on his net. he took the light and shined it onto a big cockroach INSIDE his net, over his head. It instantly dropped, and he jumped up, trying to sweep it off the bed. Roswitha had no idea what the hell he was doing (or why he was screaming), but she said that Scott's dance on the bed would make Diane proud.


26-Jan-2006 Madagascar - Drive to Isalo

We ate breakfast (bread, butter, confiture, juice, fruit salad, hot beverage), and headed back out onto the very rough dirt road, this time in Lala's 1992 Peugeot 405. He road bashed his way back into Toliara and its diverse traffic jam. We passed the airport, and headed northeast on Route Nationale 7.


Heavy traffic on the bumpy dirt road

They appeared out of nowhere when we stopped for pictures


Picking the road's sweet spot


More sticks

Commercial traffic

Well-worn bridge

So this is the dirt they spread

It lasts until the next rain

Watering the goats

Zebu cart in Toliara

RN7 is a two-lane paved (most of the time) tarmac running about 1000 km from Toliara to Antananarivo, and we were going to drive its length, with some side trips to parks and such. It was mostly empty, with only occasional vehicle traffic, but lots of people walking, some ox carts, small zebu herds, and some bicycles. As we drove to Isalo, we went through a wide range of terrain. Just outside Toliara was desert, with scrub brush, cactus, small stands of stick or earth houses, and mostly red dirt. At each ridge or small pass, the terrain changed, sometimes to sandstone mountains, mesas, farms, loose forest, steppes, or grass. Most of the time, large mango trees were scattered about, as were bright red termite mounds up to about one meter high.

Hitting RN7

This mesa tells Lala he's nearing (or leaving) Toliara

Wanna buy some charcoal?

The road goes on forever

Red land, pink church

Baobab and hill

One stretch took us through a baobab forest, although the tall bulging trees liked their solitude and were never very close to each other. We stopped to photograph one, and kids came running from all over to ask for bon-bons.




They appeared within moments

Sapphires and other precious stones have been found around Iraka within the past few years, so numerous boom towns have sprung up along RN7 to support the strip mines. They've imported labor from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Bangladesh, so many of the signs have south Asian names. Near the road are a few stone buildings, many made of wood to house the imported labor, and stick buildings for the locals. Mosques and Hindu temples stand near newly-erected churches.

Taxi brousse - not very loaded

Termite mounds

Sapphire boom town

Along the main (and the only) street

Typical shop in town

And a butterfly
Every once in a while, we'd see a solitary tomb or a small cluster of them. A tomb might be a simple pile of rocks, but often it was a structured rectangular pile, typically three or more meters on a side, completely filled with rocks, and capped with a cross and one or more sets of zebu horns. Sometimes the tombs would be painted white. For the most elaborate ones, there would be a white stucco wall surrounding the stones, and it would be painted with scenes from the person's life. We stopped at one that had a Rambo-like figure, a figure of a man with a machete chasing a woman with a bloodied knife, and various images of the deceased working, clearly as a younger man and as an old man. The more elaborate it was, the richer the individual, and the number of zebu horns showed wealth as well; these were the zebu sacrificed for the funeral feast. We were here at the wrong time of year, but further north (and not with these types of tombs), typically in August or September, families will exhume the bones of their ancestors. This is a happy event, with a big party, zebu BBQ, lots of music, and then a reburial. Each extended family will do this when they agree that they can afford it, typically every seven years or so. Lala (who is catholic) said that his family does it, but that it is very expensive.

Tomb on a hill

Painted tomb


Probably the guy; other sides of his tomb follow

Dancing, Rambo, Zebu

What's going on here? (The woman is carrying a knife)

Zebu horns from the burial feast

We entered Isalo National Park (2) from the west, stopping briefly at the visitor center. Isalo is a large park, encompassing sandstone mountains which rise out of the plain.

West edge of Isalo

A road runs through (part of) it

Stopping for photos

The queen

Visitor's center

Bonsai baobab

Isalo from the Visitor's Center
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After about six hours (without any significant stops), we reached the town which services Isalo, and the Orchidee hotel, to check in and have lunch. Scott's stomach was not doing well, so he had an egg and cheese sandwich, although he did put some hot chile sauce onto it. Roswitha had rôti chicken, and we split freedom fries. The rooms were quite reasonable, and we deployed the mosquito nets. Just outside the rooms someone found baby Furcifer oustaleti chameleons and a green female.

Rôti chicken, fries, egg sandwich

Adult Furcifer oustaleti chameleon

Baby chameleons - odd little feet

Work on that color, little guy

These guys were sooo cute

Slow motion


Full-grown female
We strolled over to the town market, where the butchers waved fly mops at the swarms of flies covering the cut meat. We got the park tickets to save time in the morning, and met our guide, named Lala. Towards dusk, the nearby Protestant church started choir practice, and they were amazingly good; their voices drifted over the tiny town.

Earth and thatch

Mangoes for sale

1-brand-painted shops are common all over

Melting stairs

Firewood for sale



Vanilla flower and seeds

Living fence posts for sale
Ranavalona's revenge settled in with Scott, so he was not feeling hungry or well, but we headed out to the Isalo Ranch, a resort outside of town. Scott had a Chinese soup (basically ramen with some other stuff thrown in); Roswitha, also not too hungry since we'd had a late lunch, had cucumber salad and pineapple. The waitress there spoke Malagasy, French, English, German, Italian, and Spanish. We could have stayed at the ranch, which looked quite nice (and it had a pool), but the power there is less reliable than at the Orchidee - as battery addicts, we needed a fix.

Cucumber salad, bread, Malarone, Chinese soup


27-Jan-2006 Madagascar - Isalo and Anja

The beds here are basically blocks of foam on some sort of slat support. We imagine that a new one might be OK, but the well-used beds in the hotels have a compression well, making for a very uncomfortable bed. Combine that with the fact that Scott was feeling poorly, and that the power went off (with our fan) at 4:30, followed by banging next door and a church bell that went on for several minutes, he had a lousy night. Roswitha slept just fine. And our batteries were sufficiently charged.

For breakfast, Scott had Imodium and tea, while Roswitha had a normal French breakfast. We met guide Lala (not to be confused with driver Lala), and headed off to the park. We were only going to visit one area of the huge park, the Cascade des Nymphes. Driver Lala navigated his Peugeot over a road that we'd be afraid to take most 4x4s on.

School girls off to school

Valley of Cascade des Nymphes

Horrible road

Sandstone ridge

We reached the parking area and started hiking in with Guide Lala; the driver stayed behind. Lala pointed out various plants, including those of interest to lemurs and people. He found a tiny chameleon. By the time we got to the camping area, Scott was beat, and decided to stay there while he and Roswitha continued on to the cascade. There was a group there, Malgasy guides and such, and French tourists. Lala spoke to them and found that the French had also been having stomach problems, so they already had some citronella tea brewing. They offered Scott a cup, and he sat and watched their disassembly of the camp while their tourists hiked. He spoke with their guide, Sylvain, who was quite engaging.

Tiny chameleon

Citronelle tea brews in the pot on the left

Suddenly, Sylvain told Scott to turn around; a group of lemurs was heading their way. They were a family of seven White-Faced Brown Lemurs, and they just cut right across the camp ground, barely paying them any mind, although one did take a great interest in Scott's shiny camera. The French tourists had returned and were relaxing, and seemed to take no interest in the lemurs. Scott sat a while longer, and then saw some activity in the trees across the creek; it was a large group of Catta, Ring-tailed Lemurs, also called Maki. This was great fortune, because they are infrequently seen. They stayed a bit higher in a tree, eating.

White-faced brown lemur

Here they come

They rambled right through camp

Let me have that camera

And here come the catta

One of about 30

Meanwhile, Roswitha and Lala hiked up to the cascade, and then on to the black (very deep) and blue pools. It was wet and humid going. Along the way they saw a snake (a viper), several chameleons, an endemic bird, butterflies, and dragonflies. They did not, however, see any lemurs. While walking, Lala told Roswitha that most Americans and Australians were very interested in the animals and plants, while French and Italians were mostly interested in the landscape, but not the creatures.

What is this?

It's an orchid



Ant nest in tree

Ants nest off the ground

Water in the desert

A narrow walkway


Spider under a fern



Black pool

Blue pool


Lala and Roswitha arrived shortly after the Cattas had moved on, but we found them still in the area. Lala mentioned that he had never before seen a mother Catta with twin babies, like was in this group.

Arriving with the good lens

Quick - come look

Why is


looking at me?

On the way back from the park, Lala amazingly (from the moving car) spotted a large Furcifer oustaleti chameleon in a tree, and then found his mate. She was actually mimicking the seed pods of the tree, seed spots and all.

Doing laundry in the stream

Male chameleon

Female mimicking seed pods

We had a cool beverage, got some charcoal tablets for Scott, and drove northwest. The sandstone of Isalo gave way to granite mountains. In some places, there were almost no signs of inhabitation, although a random person might suddenly appear. The quick lunch stop (stew, plain white rice) in Ihosy was at a busy restaurant with a parrot walking around, and a few dead chickens on the back porch. The deep red of the soil contrasted sharply against the green of grass and rice paddies. Mango trees dotted much of the landscape, and large (red) termite mounds were almost everywhere. People break them open to feed the termites to their chickens and turkeys. As we came closer to Ambalavao, the center of the zebu trade, we saw more of them. Ambalavao holds a weekly zebu market (which we had missed by a day), and people drive their cattle up to 1000 km to sell at the market. The zebu trails open up wide red swaths across the hills.

A charcoal smile

Huts on the red plains

Beginning of the granite mountains

Deep red earth

Narrow bridge!

A tomb of piled rocks

Earth houses

Zebu herders

More granite mountains

This mountain is the traditional border of the South

Amazing red earth


Burning in the rice fields

Classic zebu

Driving the herd

Is Ambalavao the goal?

Working the field

Rice country

Family village

Rare white house

Zebu & rice

Beautiful, rough landscape
Outside of Ambalavao, we stopped in at a private park, Anja. Recently created, it is owned by a village, and the proceeds support the park, but more importantly, help to convert the farmers to more productive and natural rice farming. The park is home to about 650 Catta lemurs, and we were there to see some. This was the backup plan in case we had not seen any in Isalo, but there's no harm in seeing more. We paid the park entrance, met our guide, and set off through the farmland to the small patch of forest under the huge granite massif. The first thing they found for us was a snake which preys on frogs and chameleons. Then we saw a leaf chameleon, which lives in the leaf litter. He told us to be careful of the large nest of angry, angry wasps. The park guard had gone scouting ahead, and came back with word that the Catta were on the granite boulders, so we scrambled up to see them. They were scurrying around while some of the group seemed to be fighting in a tree with another band of Catta. We walked through dense undergrowth, and they pointed out various plants, including fruit that the lemurs eat, one which was good for stomach ache (my was doing better), a type of basil, and several more.

Mango tree under the Anja rocks

Frog in the rice field

Guide & Roswitha

This plant is good for stomach ache


Big lizard

Ants with their friend, the grub

Long snake

Leaf chameleon

It hangs out on the ground, and hides from the snake

Catta on the rocks

Look at me

It was a big group

I'm hiding

There he goes!

Shoot fast!

Snack before bedding down for the night

Watch out for the angry, angry wasps

Rare bird hiding in the rocks

Lala paid to go on this tour

Anja Private Reserve

Every once in a while, a rough stone column sat in a field or next to a road. There was one in the middle of a playing field right near the reserve, and we asked about them. The guide explained to us that sometimes someone will die in a remote place, and the family cannot bring the deceased back for burial. In that case, they may put up one of these stones. The one in the field, however, was put up to commemorate a big win by the village's soccer team. But, it seemed that there was some sort of curse on it; everyone who touched it would soon suffer some injury. He had broken his foot soon after he touched it.

The cursed stone

Along the road

We then drove the rest of the way to Ambalavao, and checked into our hotel, which is on the grounds of a paper making factory. We got a tour of the factory - they make a very coarse paper with impressed flowers - and then got to see the factory store. Roswitha went to the red silk factory, where they make coarse silk products.

Paper with real flowers

Drying the paper

Plant used for paper fibers

Boiling silk pods

Boiling in the dye

Silk weaving

Then, we tried to mosquito-proof the room (there was no place to hang a net), and ate in the hotel restaurant. Scott had another "Chinese soup," and Roswitha had dessert. Four of them.

Bungalows at the hotel (we did not stay in these)

We thumbtacked the mosquito
net into the window

4 desserts, one soup

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