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

31-Jan-2006 Madagascar - Look! Look! - the song of Andasibe

So why is the hotel called Faon'ny Ala (Song of the Forest)? Andasibe park is the (only) home of the Babakodo lemur (also called the Indri-indri - which is what the first Vazah thought they were called; Indri means "Look!"), the largest (and only tailless) of the lemurs; the park was created to protect them. They have a haunting territorial cry which goes OOOoooOO! OOOoooOO! OOOoooOO! OOOoooOO!, with each segment falling in pitch from the previous, and with a bit of the tonal character of air being whistled out of a large balloon. Each group cries for a few minutes to announce their territory, and they do it the first thing in the morning. (You can hear the calls from a link here and another here and another here and one more here). Our wake-up call came at 5:45, and it was magic to lie in bed and listen to them call from very close to the hotel, and also from far away; the call can go as far as 3 km. So, we headed in for breakfast, where we met the only other tourists staying here, a couple from England who are in Madagascar for 9 weeks as part of an around-the-world trip.


Dressed for the rainforest & leeches

At the park we met Patrice, who has been guiding for 13 years, and paid our entrance. (Like all of the parks, there is an entrance fee, and a fixed price for the guide, who is arranged separately. They are licensed to work in the park, but are not employed by the park, although they usually do help to maintain it.) It had been raining, and continued to rain on and off, but this time we were prepared. We'd donned proper leech plastic bags, and had raincoats and umbrellas. Within a few minutes, Patrice had found a pair of Coral Necked Jars, two birds that looked just like a small pile of dead leaves; there is no way we'd have ever seen them, an we have no idea how he did! They are nocturnal, and were sleeping - they just barely opened their eyes to look at us. He pointed out a few plants and insects, including a big thorn spider (which he called a crab spider) and a giraffe weevil.

Patrice even carried our umbrellas

Ant nest


Big honking orb-weaver spider

Nocturnal Coral Necked Jars


There was something about this tree...

Giraffe weevil


He led us up the slippery, muddy hill, and then said, "Wait here a few minutes." Patrice came back shortly and said to follow him quickly. We saw a family of four Babakodos in the trees having their breakfast, and followed them for a while. They paid us little heed as they ate and jumped among the trees.

There! Up in the trees!

Eating leaves




Yup - looks like a 4-yr-old in a panda suit

Big jump


We got a lot of this view

The English couple

Tromping through wet hills

Eventually we headed off, saw a few more things, and went in search of bamboo lemurs, which we did not find. We did, however, see a boa sleeping in the sun. It ignored us as we shot pictures, and was in the exact same place when we came back an hour later. In the meantime we'd come to the Green Lake, tromped around, picked off a few leeches, and seen a few more plants and insects. Wet, tired, and very satisfied, we headed off to lunch.

Tree fungus



Snake vine

Water lillies


What was this?

Set for the forest



Lazy snake

He barely moved

Just sunning himself

And not caring

A kingfisher waits

Type of ginger

Patrice and Roswitha by the lake. We stopped in the hut to wait out the rain.

Tenrec/porcupine "Ouch!"


Big Argiope spider

Crab spider



Coffee that has gone wild - it used to be a plantation

Size comparison, note the tiny
male at the upper right

Big Orb-weaving spider
Nephila madagascariensis

The Vakona Forest Lodge is considered to be one of the best hotels outside of Tana, but we were just there to eat, although we did flirt with the idea of checking in there. We used most of the last of our Ariary (with no place to change) on a tomato and mozzarella salad, warm goat cheese salad, potato and vegetable soup, and tomato soup, plus Campari and tonic.

Vakona Forest Lodge

Geckoes (Phelsuma pusilla pusilla) provided entertainment

Drinks & nuts

Tomato & mozzarella salad, warm goat cheese salad, two soups

We tossed bread to the fish in the murky water

While a kingfisher watched, waiting for his chance

After lunch, we visited their private reserve, which is a small island in a lake. On it are 3 species of lemur: black and white ruffed, common brown, and diademed sifaka. Each lemur (except for the offspring) were "rescued" from people keeping them as pets, or similar conditions, and "returned to the wild." You cross a 25-foot bit of water in a canoe, and several of the lemurs are there to greet you and take your bananas. Since most are very used to humans, they are not shy, and will crawl all over you. Several like to be petted, especially the lone sifaka, who was raised with a housecat. The ruffed lemurs are the most aggressive, trying to steal the banana pieces from the others, and one nipped Scott's shoulder as he sat there, trying to get his attention and some more banana. That one is also quite the ham; he posed above us in the gazebo rafters. If, as they claim, none were purchased or caught for the island, and all have been placed here as a way of returning them to a healthier habitat, then maybe it is OK. Still, they do seem to be unnatural.

Sign at the entrance

A short ride to the island

The welcoming committee

They know we bring bananas

Give me some!



Diademed sifaka

What about us?

Curly tail

B&W Ruffed

I'm watching

Thank you

Common brown

Yeah! Right there!


What's this?

What does it do?


More banana!

Patrice took us on another short walk to find some chameleons. He found a tiny brookesia, the smallest species, and a Calumma brevicornis (horned) male, to which he fed a grasshopper while I shot the sequence of his tongue darting out.

Small Calumma brevicornis


Another small Calumma brevicornis


Bizarre little spider - maybe a Lynx spider?

Chameleon on fern

Male Calumma brevicornis

Towards dusk, Patrice took us on a nocturnal walk along the street and into the edge of the park. We don't know how he did it, but he found numerous chameleons sleeping on branches. ("They are white in the flashlight.") From the shining of their eyes, we (Scott found one also!) found two mouse lemurs and a greater mouse lemur. Frogs were calling around us, including the kid's hammer (somewhat like this or this - click the speaker icon near the top, but it starts off with a thunk), and one which sounded like a sonar screen in movies - we actually found one of those. This would not have been a walk for Diane A.; we were walking through the dark with only two flashlights, through wet (and leechy) grass and underbrush, up and down slippery slopes, and attracting bugs and bats to our lights. Even all of the chameleons we found had mosquitoes on them. Fortunately, it did not rain, we ran into no spider webs, and it was rather fascinating.

Look down there

Calumma Nasuta Chameleon


Little chameleon, 2 mosquitoes

Little frog

Parson's Chameleon; most of the spots are mosquitoes

Walking stick

Parson's Chameleon with raindrops

Sonar Screen Frog

Eyes in the tree

What is it?

It's a nocturnal mouse lemur

Patrice did an excellent job all day, and we would strongly recommend him to anyone else. He is one of the few English-speaking guides in Andasibe, and is knowledgeable and a generally nice guy. (Patrice Rabearisoa, tel: 033.12.734.92 or 56.832.35,

We finished the evening with dinner in the hotel: a Chinese soup, ginger chicken, yogurt for the Malarone, and some pineapple.

Chinese soup, ginger chicken, Malarone

yogurt, pineapple


1-Feb-2006 Madagascar - Heading out

This morning's wake-up call was a series of grunts, mumbles, and laughter, courtesy of the French and German tourists who had checked in the day before. We packed for the flight, loaded everything into the car, and headed for Antananarivo.

Huge Argiope spider right outside our bungalow

With a dragonfly snack

The day was rainy and misty (another cyclone may or may not have been hitting), so it took a bit longer to get to the city than it did the other direction, and even more once we hit traffic. As we climbed up towards Tana, past the hydroelectric plant (that they seem to be proud of) and into the mountains, the low-lying clouds got stronger, and then we were mostly above them. Still people had to work; we passed trucks, cars, and people on the road. As elsewhere, there were many stands on the roadside selling a wide range of things, usually the local produce. Lala stopped by one woman to buy some fish for dinner, which he dropped off with his wife as we passed through the east side of Tana.


Need some orchids?

A few baskets


Bricks, made right here

We'll cook the corn for you


What's good today?

Quick, buy something before the building collapses


Sausages are popular

Nice veggies

Some scary meat

A general store

Maggi-branded store

Fresh river fish

Driving home

Nice hat

It was scary driving behind this

Rail lines were destroyed by the military in 2002;
this one has been restored for cargo between the coast and Antananarivo

According to the terrain and the weather, houses are constructed in different styles all over the country, but not as differently as we were led to expect at the model houses at the hotel near the Rova. We saw the supposed Merina/Tana style of tall, narrow earth houses in most areas we covered, which, admittedly, is not the whole country. We asked Lala how it worked. Somehow, someone gets a piece of land. He (it's usually, but not always a he) may get it from his parents, buy it, or simply squat it if no one lays claim. If he is building a straw or wood house, he will simply do that, rebuilding it every couple of years. If it is to be more solid, he may take one of several approaches. The minimum is to construct a wood or bamboo frame, make bamboo walls, and then slather mud (much of the red land is clay) and straw onto it in successive layers. He may cut pieces of turf and stack and smooth them, making a solid wall. If he can afford the wood or charcoal fuel (either making it from his own land or buying it), he may fire his clay mud to make bricks. Or, he may buy bricks made by his neighbors or by a brick factory. In some cases, he may get someone else to do any part of the process. The less stable the approach, the more likely the house is to wear down sooner. Unfired earth houses end up being abandoned every few years when the owner builds and moves into a new one. We saw many abandoned and crumbling houses in all areas, some are simply discarded, while others may have been left by deceased people with no one claiming them. Of course, like most places in the world, self-built houses are usually somewhat of a community effort. In many cases, the son(s) of a family will build their houses next to their parents' - women usually move to their husband's community. He (and his brothers) will typically inherit the parent's house. Little clusters of houses are typically an extended family group. In some cases, people do sell houses, although it is more likely in the cities.

New walls will get filled with earth


Crumbling abandoned structure

Earth walls

One wall filled

Nice house

Carving stone

Making bricks

Farmers make scarecrows out of their clothing. But, the main target is not birds, it is people. Everyone believes that by putting personal clothing out, it will put a curse onto anyone who steals from the field. The agricultural areas soon gave way to more and more houses and business as we climbed up the hills to Tana. The east side of Tana has a big taxi-brousse station (for travel eastwards to the coast), and stall after stall of butchers.

Laundry day



Lots of sausages

Is that healthy meat?




Back in Antananarivo

We did a quick run through the large city market, but did not find much of interest. (Other than photos, of course.)

Antananarivo central market


I have towels

This must be where pousse-pousse drivers shop


Dry mops!

Vegetable market

Nice selection

And habaneros!

Crabs & green beans





I'd like the latest by Poopy, please

So, we had an excellent lunch with Lala at the Hotel Varangue: Spirale de foie gras (foie gras with chouchoux and excellent balsamic vinegar, foie gras stuffed into tomatoes, and a shot of gazpacho), camarons rôti, and beef with Roquefort and cépes.


Beef with Roquefort and cépes

Camarons rôti

Spirale de foie gras
Then we had a final bit of internet, a sprint through the rain, and the home run towards the airport, with a brief but successful detour at a tchotchke market.

Caught in the rain

Rugby on the edge of town

Fishing in the fields

We checked in, and, as we were clearing immigration, we were paged over the PA; we were wanted at Customs. Backstage, one of our bags had been flagged by the X-ray machine, and they wanted us to open it up. They let us look at the image, and it was clearly the can of OFF!, although they denied it at first. With the can removed we asked them to run it through again, and that was indeed it. Once every few minutes, another passenger got the page.

Dinner on Air Mauritius
Madagascar lessons


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