Tag Archives: Ambalavao

Ranomafana to Ambalavao – great landscapes and lemurs

Thursday 13 June 2024 – Before we continued our journey south, there was a small item of business to conduct.  Jane had agreed to buy a print from the “artist in residence” at the Valbio Centre, Alain Rasolo, a charming man and very skillful artist . He came to the hotel to deliver the print into Jane’s safekeeping.

Marvellously, the weather held so that we could appreciate, as we rose out of the valley, the views and landscapes that we couldn’t make out in the rain a couple of days earlier.

Most impressive of all was the waterfall near where we rejoined the infamous RN7.

Until a flurry of action later in the day, the journey was mainly about the marvellous landscapes we passed as we drove along.

We of course passed other scenes of local colour:

Boys ploughing with zebu

Boys driving zebu out for their grazing for the day

A man drives his pigs along the road

One of the more striking things that we stopped to watch was the activity at a largish brickmaking site, where we could see the clay being put into moulds and laid out to dry for a couple of days before being stacked up and fired.

Note, in the stack of unfired bricks, the gaps left in the stacking so that firewood can be put in to do the firing.

Beyond it is a previously fired set of bricks.  It really was an impressively well-organised site, probably one shared by several families (rather than being a site owned by a company with the work being done by employees).

As well as the increasing rockiness of the scenery and the marked increase in temperature, further evidence of the changing landscape could be seen as we approached Ambalavao;

a water tower, something that isn’t a feature of rainforest areas.

In Ambalavao itself, we had to run the gauntlet of a couple of demonstrations-cum-retail opportunities that Kenny had organised.  The first one was at a silk producer’s establishment, where actually a question that has been at the back of my mind since my childhood was finally answered.

Where climate and soil are favourable, Madagascar’s landscape is dotted with Tapia trees. The Tapia is the main habitat of an endemic species of wild silkworm – the landibe – which feeds mainly on its leaves. The landibe forms cocoons of wild silk, which are collected, soaked, drained, aggregated and boiled to produce a fibrous mass  When dried, this fibrous mass can be spun into silk thread – and this is the answer I got today.  When I was a kid, one of the things that kids did was to get some silkworms and some mulberry leaves and watch the silkworms weave cocoons of golden silk. What I didn’t know was how you got from the silk in the cocoons to silk that you could make garments out of. And here is the answer.

The silk threads are then dyed

using natural substances (for everything except blue, which is a chemical dye): rosewood for red; passionfruit leaves for green; rice paddy clay for black; turmeric for yellows and browns; and some sort of mushroom for the purple. At the far left are the un-dyed wild silk (darker) and the undyed farmed mulberry-leaf silk (the light gold).

Immediately after this visit, Kenny took us to lunch at a hotel which also featured a hand-made paper operation.  This stems back to the time when Arab traders came to the island and wanted something upon which to print the Quran. The most suitable tree was the avoha, the wild mulberry tree they found in Madagascar.

The production process is pretty standard, processing the bark to to create a(nother) fibrous mass which is then pummelled; the Malagasy way of doing this involves an old lady with a sense of rhythm and two wooden mallets.  What differed for me was how the final laid paper was decorated before being put out to dry:

real flower petals, laid out by hand, making for an attractive final product..

The lunch venue provided an opportunity to see a new kind of chameleon, a Oustalet’s Chameleon, which was quite sizeable.

Here he is in the context of the poinsettia tree he was perching on.

After lunch, we drove a short way, past yet more spectacular scenery

to the Anja Community Reserve for our day’s sheep dip in wildlife. The small (30 hectare) reserve is home to the highest concentration of maki, or ring-tailed lemurs, in all of Madagascar, and we were not the only ones looking for them.

It was very easy to see them, actually; they seem to have the same demeanour as the Common Brown Lemurs we saw in Andasibe, although they didn’t come down and play around our feet. But it was not difficult to get decent photos of them.

There are about 25 family groups and a total of some 300 lemurs in the reserve, and it was nice to see this family group in action.

There are a lot of lemurs there, but timing of the visit is quite important, as during the day they are feeding and then sleeping in the trees, and as the afternoon wears on they go up into the rocky areas to sleep; but we caught them actively feeding just before a nap!

There are only so many photos of lemurs that you can take, so after a while we sought other entertainment – and found it, in the form of Oustalet’s Chameleons.

These are quite chunky chaps, also known as Giant Malagasy Chameleons. Our spotter found a small-ish specimen,

but our own guide Kenny nonchalantly pointed out a much bigger one, quite high up in a tree; he was hungry; Kenny and the spotter tempted him down from his relatively high perch by waving a grasshopper under his nose so that he came down a bit, and gave us a demonstration of his flycatching technique.

The reserve has some lovely scenery all of its own, too,

and it forms the backdrop for our accommodation that night – the Betsileo Country Lodge.

Tomorrow’s entertainment is to continue our journey south-west; most of the day will be spent on the road, so we’re hoping for nice weather and grand scenery. I will bring you a selection of scenes from the journey, so stay tuned, won’t you?