Mitsinjo reserve and the journey back to Antananarivo

Sunday June 9 2024 – The afternoon today was spent retracing our tyre tracks towards Antananarivo. But first we had one final wildlife walk in the Mitsinjo reserve within the Analamazaotra park.  This actually started from the same place as yesterday’s night walk, but today we entered a reserve where yesterday we walked along the road. We met Abraham there, and before we started the walk proper, he was able to show us a young Elephant-ear Chameleon that he’d spotted on a tree outside the reserve.

“Mitsinjo” comes from the Malagasy for “looking ahead”; it is a private reserve set up by guides to promote conservation and community tourism.

It also features the steepest trails with the trickiest access of all the walks we’ve done so far.

It starts of with a fairly standard-looking path, oh yes.

But this gives way very soon to narrow, steep and tricky paths through the rainforest.  Before we started up the steep bit, Abraham showed us a reforesting centre that has been set up in the reserve.

Original species – some trees, some other plants – are started in pots, which are set up in a potting shed

beyond which is a nursery area for bring on the more mature seedlings.  it’s very encouraging to see initiatives like this, dedicated to countering the ravaging deforestation that the island has suffered over the years.

The Steep Bit was only 60 metres or so of vertical ascent, but was quite hard work. However, the walking we’d recently done in Spain served us well and so when Abraham offered us a rest at a specially-constructed rest area

we were able to decline, and so pressed on. As we did so, Abraham spent a lot of time on his phone, and it became clear that he was chatting to other guides who were out in the reserve, to get pointers to where there were creatures to see.  The first of these was an Indri, who was not inclined to be helpful to us paparazzi.

Abraham woke him/her up by playing Indri calls from his phone, and so we got a bleary glance

before it decided to go back to sleep.

Some time later, we came across a male Parson’s Chameleon, obligingly sitting at head height in a tree.

I took some detailed photos; I’m fascinated by ithe eyes which look like elephant eyes within the spooky, independently-moving chameleon socket.

The Parson’s Chameleon is the largest of the Madagascan chameleons.  This one was apparently not particularly large, as they go – here’s a photo to give you an idea of scale – as I say, he’s head height above the ground.

Nearby, Abraham also found us a young female of the species, which was a distinctly different colour.

As she matures (in about a month’s time) her skin will turn more green and she will end up a darker shade of green than the male we just saw.

Within a few minutes, we found a small family group of common brown lemurs, but they were very high, difficult to see and not very active.  I got a snap of two young’uns,

but that was all that was on offer, really. Towards the end of the walk, I got this photo

which looks like just these leaves, you know? But on closer examination, there’s a cricket there.

That was it for the Andasibe area.  We bade Abraham goodbye and set out on the road back to Tana, so the rest of this post concerns the scenes we saw on that journey.

We passed once again through the substantial town of Moramanga, which is the site of a national monument to the 1947 Malagasy Uprising, a revolt after the failure of Madagascar’s 1945 effort to achieve independence through legal channels. Malagasy nationalists, armed mainly with spears, attacked military bases and French-owned plantations in the eastern part of the island. The French response was, in a word, barbaric. It tripled the number of troops on the island to 18,000, primarily by transferring soldiers from French colonies elsewhere in Africa, and then engaged in a variety of terror tactics designed to demoralize the population. The French military force carried out mass execution, torture, war rape, torching of entire villages, collective punishment and other atrocities such as throwing live Malagasy prisoners out of airplanes. In the 20th Century, for Christ’s sake!

Combining this with the French political skulduggery that gave rise to the 2009 defenestration of a president who was improving the lot of the islanders in many ways, but who was moving in a direction that didn’t suit French interests (which led to the worst economic crisis in the island’s history) leads one to lower one’s opinion of the French political classes. This is further lowered by hearing about its further manoeuvring to prevent his re-election in 2018 by getting the rules of the election changed to exclude him. Furthermore, the French are still pulling political strings and interfering with Malagasy affairs to the point where many locals consider the island’s 1960 independence to be a sham.  All in all, these actions present a very sorry story about French foreign policy in Madagascar.  The celebrations on June 26th – Madagascar’s Independence Day – will be more muted than they might have been had independence truly been achieved.

A feature of Malagasy life – possibly a consequence of the economic turmoil that started in 2009 – is that everyone seems to have a side hustle – farmers, for example, will often make charcoal; the fires that can sometimes be seen dotting the landscape.  We passed one who had finished making charcoal and was busy bagging it up in standard-sized bags, either for his own use at home or, more likely, for selling on. The grass visible at the top of the bags is just to keep the charcoal in.

Every village we passed has an array of (normally, it has to be said, ramshackle) shops, most of which sell foodstuffs.  Occasionally there are roadside markets as well, like this fruit market we passed.

Because the route we were on (National Route 2) is a major route for transporting of goods from the port of Toamasina to Tana, the heavy traffic necessitates much repair work. This does sometimes get done, which inevitably causes huge queues to form.  Drivers therefore often nip out to have a quick roadside pee – so we had a giggle at the “roadworks” sign, which actually appears to be advertising a toilet.

We eventually got past the roadworks, and took a sandwich lunch, once again provided by our hotel, at a pleasant riverside picnic area,

which provided an opportunity to photograph a Madagascan Sparrowhawk, which is just as handsome as its European counterpart.

Some way down the road, we passed a crowd scene, which proved to be a cockfight. Cockfighting is a recognised activity in Madagascar; according to Kenny, it’s not the vicious sport that one finds in illegal and undergound events in other countries, because the fight ends as soon as one bird leaves the arena. It was amusing that one chap spotted Jane videoing and kindly stepped out of the way so we could get a little sense of the flapping and jumping that was going on inside the ring.

Mr. man got a thumbs-up from Jane and gave one in return.  We passed other cockfighting venues, one of which was a permanent arena, advertising itself on its walls.

Another interesting scene we passed was a laundry party,

where many members of a community will get together to do their washing at a stream or other water source.  it’s a great opportunity for community bonding, community spirit and gossip; it can also be a chance, for example after a bereavement, for people to help the healing process by gathering to wash the clothes of the deceased as part of closure.

Everywhere we went, the scenery featured rice paddies.

The journey was torturous as well as tortuous, and it was mid-afternoon when we arrived in the outskirts of Tana and could start to see the city itself.

On the horizon in the photo above, you can see two huge buildings – the Royal Palace (left) and the former Prime Minister’s Palace.

Our hotel for the night was La Varangue, which was simply (and wonderfully) bonkers, evident from the moment you stepped into its courtyard,

into the hallway,

and thence into the bar

where they also had a reception desk.  We checked in, and were led through the restaurant terrace

which has two remarkable pictures on its wall

across a courtyard

to our room, which had a veranda with a nice view across the city.

The restaurant is something of a destination restaurant, and the decor there is just as bonkers as the rest of the place.

The food was very good, and we ended a very enjoyable dinner by having a chat with a Dutch couple we’d met in the primary rainforest in Mantadia; they were on their honeymoon, and, having been in the south of Madagascar heading north, were bound for Mauritius to decompress, whereas we, of course, are now heading south.

That journey southwards starts on the morrow, with a day spent mainly driving in the direction of Antsirabe.  Maybe it will be an interesting drive, maybe it won’t; stay tuned to find out which.




3 thoughts on “Mitsinjo reserve and the journey back to Antananarivo

  1. Kate Burridge

    My type of hotel! Tana looks crowded compared to your 1st overnight stay. I cannot wait for your travel thru! Great chameleons.


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