Still there – Masoala Forest Lodge Day 3

Tuesday 4 June 2024 – The day started the same way that the preceding days had – having rained all night, it rained on us as we headed to breakfast, which, by the way, was taken every day on the “sea deck”, virtually the only clearly visible building to indicate to passing boats that there is actually a lodge here.

The photo above was taken a couple of days before; this morning, the conditions were much less benign, with a cold wind and some rain.  This made the prospect of going out anywhere much less attractive; the original plan A had been for everyone to go for a serene outing on a canoe along a nearby river, and I didn’t much fancy the idea of floating along getting wet, which in any case makes wielding a large, heavy and expensive camera setup inadvisable.

Also, I was getting all behind with writing this blog.

I therefore decided that a morning at leisure, or at least at the laptop, was my plan.  Jane and Tom decided eventually that the canoe thing did appeal, and so made ready to go for the short walk down to the river.  As they were doing that, Jessie came by to tell us that there was a good snake photo opportunity nearby.  She led us through the lodge buildings Out Back (where all the hard work takes place – see later) to this scene.

It was a little difficult to make out what was going on, but it became clear that there were actually two snakes, tree boas, and they were making out.

There’s a snake at the top of the photo, and another one at the bottom. Careful examination revealed its head

and where the action was happening.

Apparently, they would be At It all day, and, while we were careful not to disturb them, they certainly seemed to have their minds on other things.

So whilst I sat in the beach house doing my blogging thing, Jane and Tom departed, in fairly gloomy weather but bright spirits, to their canoe ride.  I will let Jane take up the narrative.

A short forest walk (no wildlife of note to report) brought us to the bank of a river and a largeish dugout canoe – the locals make these dugouts from the buttress-rooted trees in the forest, but this one had been treated with an extra skin of fibreglass to make it slightly more robust and smoother for the softie tourist! The boatman and our guide Pascal shared the paddling fore and aft while Tom, Ursula and I perched on the cushioned seats amidships.

The rain held off until the very end of our trip; the vegetation was lush and dripping from the previous showers, and it was very quiet and peaceful.

Of course the air of peace and tranquility is completely misleading, since what is going on here is a silent and almost motionless fight for survival, as the various trees compete for light, air and water; either by being the tallest, or having the biggest leaves, or growing the longest aerial roots:

I say motionless, but in fact trees here can “walk” – a phenomenon we also saw in Costa Rica; aerial roots are thrown out in the direction of improved conditions, be that more air, light, or water, and the tree is therefore gradually supported further and further in that particular direction.

There are no crocodiles or water living predators; we saw a pair of dimorphous herons

and several of the tiny jewel-like kingfishers.

 

We saw evidence of the presence of the Aye-Aye, a lemur we are very keen to see – they demolish rotting tree trunks to reach the tasty grubs and larvae inside – but no sign of the (nocturnal) beast itself.

Our boatmen managed the river very smoothly, avoiding the many sunken boulders in the rather shallow water

and we were back unscathed and relaxed at the Lodge in time for lunch.

The Masoala Forest Lodge operation is superbly well-run, and yet is a distant outpost of civilisation – Maroantsetra is a 75-minute 40km boat ride away.  Ever since we arrived we were wondering how the team dealt with this remoteness such that everything fitted together to give such excellent service to their guests.  Jessie had told us that there were, all told, some 57 employees, once you take in the kitchen staff, the hotel service staff and the grounds maintenance staff, all marshalled with great efficiency by the administrative team.  Going to look at the tree boas in the morning showed us that there were quite a few buildings behind the scenes, and after lunch Alban offered to show us around. It was really interesting to see how things fitted together so that the guests were properly looked after. We had, for example, wondered where the solar panels were that powered the lodge, and they were part of what was behind the scenes,

and fed into a battery room

where there are a couple of freezers to keep essential supplies. These are used alternately so one can be cleaned whilst the other is in use.

The site also uses another ingenious idea to keep some fruit and vegetables fresh – a charcoal ‘refrigerator’ – the charcoal acts as a dessicant enabling the contents to remain fresh for longer.

For storing other dry goods there’s a building which looks not unlike the horreos we saw in such profusion across Galicia in Spain.

Note the “mushrooms” atop the legs, which serve to keep the rats out (and, yes, they take the steps away at night!).  The roof thatching for these types of buildings is made from traveller palm leaves and lasts about four years before needing to be replaced.

Alongside the laundry and kitchen facilities there’s the bread oven

where the bread is baked fresh every day (and the room can be used to dry wet boots as a welcome side effect). The staff sleep in dormitories

and even the lodge’s two dogs have their own traditionally-built kennels.

All of this infrastructure sits behind the beach house, which is where the guests eat lunch and dinner, and, importantly, find the bar.

All of these facilities came together for today’s dinner, which was a traditional Malagasy meal.

The tablecloth is made of traveller palm leaves, and diners also have a spoon made by doing origami with palm leaves.  The final table was well loaded with food.

In the foreground, you can see a pile of rice.  There were four piles of rice to be shared between the 10 diners, but Jessie pointed out that actually each pile of rice would be what a single Malagasy person would eat in a day; as you can see, rice is an important part of the Malagasy diet.  There were kebabs and samosas and kingfish and cassava root and fried sweet potato and beans, and altogether it was a splendid dinner.  The way to eat is simply to use the spoon to take a scoop of rice, add a little bit of whatever takes your fancy and eat it as a single shot. And at the end of the meal, you simply roll up the tablecloth to clear the table – a marvellously sustainable approach.

Staff, guests and guides after an excellent traditional Malagasy meal

The last activity of the day was another night walk, with the hope that finally it might be possible to track down the Aye Aye. Once again, I decided to prioritise writing over squelching around in the rain forest (because I thought the likelihood of spotting an Aye Aye was remote), but it wasn’t long before Jane came back from the walk demanding that I come at once to see something.  I knew better than to demur, and so picked up the Big Camera and followed.  This is what the excitement was about – something that Jane herself had spotted – the guides had missed it!

It’s a Leaf-Tailed Gecko – quite a sizeable beast, probably the better part of a foot from top to bottom. It was not at the best angle for photography, so Pascal chivvied it along a bit so we could get a better view.

It has simply extraordinary eyes,

like the Eye of Sauron in Lord of the Rings. Its other noteworthy feature is the leaf-shaped (shed-able) tail; that, together with its tree-bark-and lichen colour scheme, makes it very difficult to see when perching against a large tree. Since this one was on a thin branch, which allowed its shape and pale underbelly to show, it was less well camouflaged.

After that, it seemed a good idea to join in with the walk, so we all carried on, and, indeed, found a few other creatures.

Tufted Tail Rat

Young Brown Leaf Chameleon

Long-nosed Chameleon

And, among some excitement, Pseudoxyrhopus Tritaeniatus, which any fule kno is the posh name for the Three-striped Ground Snake

This one had lost its left eye somehow – we’re not quite sure how.

That was that for the day’s action.  In some ways I regretted not joining in on the canoe outing, but on the other hand I was happy that I had looked through and processed all the outstanding photos and brought the blog up to only a day behind.

This was our last day at Masoala Forest Lodge. The morrow sees us transferring back to Tana in order to continue our Madagascar adventure.  This will be the reverse of our journey out – boat, car, light aircraft – but maybe we’ll see some things worth writing about. Who knows?

3 thoughts on “Still there – Masoala Forest Lodge Day 3

  1. Kate Waite

    Really enjoying reading about your journey and seeing the pictures! Thank you for the sheer amount of detail and effort going into this. It is great to be able to see Madagascar through your perspective!

    Reply
    1. Steve Walker Post author

      Thanks for the kind words, Kate. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed reading the blog. As well as being simply a journal to help with our later recollections, it’s something I get a great deal of pleasure from writing.

      Reply

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