Tag Archives: Andasibe

Analamazaotra and Andasibe Nature Reserves

Saturday 8 June 2024 – We had a really content-rich day today, as you’ll see from the length of this post (I suggest you get yourself a cuppa or a glass of something cold and settle down to it if you want to get through it in one sitting). As usual, it started with an 0530 alarm call and an 0730 departure.  We had only two destinations, but did four walks during the day.  In the case of three of them, I was struck by the similarity of wildlife walks and Wagner operas.  It was Rossini who said, “Wagner has some wonderful moments, but some dreadful quarter hours”. Similarly, walking around in Madagascar contains some wonderful moments, but also hours of tedious crashing through undergrowth, overgrowth, mud and tree roots. Sometimes in the rain.  I got quite tired and grumpy at one stage, since we’d only managed about 10 hours’ sleep over two nights; but nonetheless we came out with some good photos and some lovely experiences.

I haven’t talked much about the weather we’ve experienced so far, apart from moaning about mentioning the rain. Actually, we’ve been quite lucky in that it hasn’t often rained on us so as to ruin our enjoyment. The temperatures have been on the cool side – about 12°C in the mornings, a few degrees warmer during the days.  Today ended up in wonderful sunshine and temperatures in the low twenties Celsius, but as we left our hotel room, the start of the day was misty and cool.

Walk No. 1 was in a local National Park, the Analamazaotra Reserve.  Kenny told us that this was secondary rainforest (i.e. there’s been a degree of replanting over the years), that it was smaller than the primary forest we’d visited in Mantadia and more visited; also it was Saturday, so it was likely to be quite popular.  This view was supported by the activity in the hotel car park.

There were several tourist minivans awaiting groups from the hotel, and we knew that one such group was a bunch of Americans; we wondered if they were headed for the same place as us (see later).

Like most of the reserves we’ve visited, Analamazaotra offers toilets at the entrance.  There’s little doubt which is the way to the gents, that’s for sure.

We met Abraham, as before, and set off into the reserve.

The double line of blocks is something we’ve come across several times.  It’s not necessarily unbroken, but is a common way of laying the trails.  Abraham, of course, led us off the trails a few times, so there was quite a lot of crashing through undergrowth.  It wasn’t raining, but it obviously had been, as we were mercilessly dripped on by the forest trees.

It was half an hour before we came across anything noteworthy, and that was a quite substantial termites nest.

Someone had poked a hole in the top, and the termites were busy mending it.

At around the same place there was a wonderfully-shaped spider’s web,

but it was a further 30 minutes before we came across any major wildlife.  However, it was a splendid encounter, with a family group of Diademed Sifakas, At  first, they were a bit elusive;

but eventually we got good visibility of them, feeding in a really athletic fashion.

They were lovely to watch, so I took lots of pictures. Obviously.

The popularity of the reserve was demonstrated by the number of other people who had congregated to watch and photograph the action.

I have no right to be snarky about this, but I quite resented all these other people trying to get in on my action. At one stage, the entire group of about a dozen Americans from our hotel tramped past us in their search for things to see. The place was really quite crowded.

A few minutes after we left the Sifakas, we heard Indris shouting at each other, much closer than we had the day before, so I recorded a bit more of the sound, as it’s really (a) distinctive and (b) loud – apparently the Indri call is among the loudest animal calls known.

We did get to see the Indris, but they were very high up and I didn’t get any striking images or video, just a few snaps.

We pressed on again, and eventually Abraham led us off another path, which took us by a fish farm, something one doesn’t normally expect to find in a forest.

It’s partly a research facility, partly commercial, but the farming seems to be done in a responsible way, starting fish in the smaller enclosures you see above, and moving them between enclosures as they grow, then into successively larger enclosures before extraction.

A few metres on from this view of the fish farm, we got the second charming encounter of the day; two Eastern Grey Bamboo lemurs, stuffing their cute little faces with loquats.

The path then led to the Green Lake.

Yup. It’s green.  Not a lot to add to that, though, I have to say. And it was the last thing we saw on the walk, which was five kilometres spread over four hours, hence (looking at how many encounters we had) my comment about the similarity with Wagner’s music.

On the way back for lunch at the hotel, we stopped at Andasibe village and walked through it.  It’s very picturesque and colourful any day of the week, but this was market day!

Obviously, I took a load of photos of this very vibrant, colourful and noisy place. I have put them up on Flickr, if you’d like to take a look. Walking through the village also gave us an insight into what people of colour must feel in the UK; everyone was smiling, friendly and welcoming – but we were the only white faces in the village. I felt like an intruder, even though I wasn’t being looked at that way.

It was now lunchtime, the sun had come out and it was a glorious day.

During the afternoon, we returned to the VOIMMA (community-run) reserve at Andasibe, as Jane wanted to see some chameleons during the day time when we’d see their best colours. Thus started another Wagnerian walk.

After about half an hour, we saw a Parson’s Chameleon, which is the largest of the Madagascan chameleons.

Chameleons move very slowly.

We saw very little for the next 40 minutes or so. But then what happened was rather lovely – a group of common brown lemurs came to play with us.

I had never expected to get this close to lemurs, but these were clearly habituated to humans.  They didn’t even appear to mind when the arsehole of a Frenchman who was also at the scene started using them for selfies and had to be warned off actually touching them.  The vacuousness of some people utterly bewilders me.

We saw no wildlife of any pith or moment for the rest of the walk, but our path took by the river, across which was a Sacred Place.

This is reserved for spiritual occasions. The colours, red and white, represented the colours of the king’s first and second wives in those times when the island had a monarch (deposed by the French in 1897). It seems to be used to mark special occasions, sometimes accompanied by an animal sacrifice.

After an all-too-brief rest back at the hotel, we embarked on the final walk of the day, a night walk around the Analamzaotra reserve.  This was clearly also a popular option for a Saturday night.  We started off along a road and there were dozens of people in front of us all heading along the same route.  The path led by a lake, and it was faintly amusing to see our American gang from the hotel walking along the opposite side,

We didn’t see much, to be honest.  A poor unfortunate Goodman’s mouse lemur got spotted

and caused another of those feeding frenzies which I find so uncomfortable.

Apart from that, all we saw was a small (but pretty) frog

and a couple of big-nosed chameleons.

A note, here.  Their noses might be big, but they themselves are tiny.

Thus ended a day which seemed to be largely filled with tramping round dripping rainforest, but which had actually had some really lovely moments.

Sorry to have droned on for so long about the day, and well done for reaching this point. We leave Andasibe tomorrow and take the five-hour drive back to Tana, albeit via a final wildlife walk, so I doubt there’ll be that much to write about. You’ll have to keep reading these pages to find out, won’t you?






East to Andasibe

Thursday 6 June 2024 – The room that we had this time at the Hotel Relais des Plateaux was directly above the one we’d had on our first visit. It was very similar in size and organisation, however, the bed seemed a great deal less comfortable; but at least we had a chance for more sleep than on our first visit.

After breakfast, we met our driver from last night again. He had brought Kenny, our guide, with him, and I think we’re going to get on well with both of them. Kenny speaks excellent English and has a wealth of knowledge about local matters, including the correct way to spell our driver’s name, which is Haja (with a silent H).

As soon as we got under way, it was clear that it would not be long before our brains were full, as Kenny started explaining things. Some Madagascan history: it used to be split into several separate kingdoms which were perpetually at war with each other until the chap who ruled over what is now Antananarivo used 1,000 soldiers to establish some order and himself as overall ruler – thereby providing the name an (to) tanana (place, city) arivo (1000): the place of a thousand. Some politics: the island became independent from France in 1960; it has six regions, each split into multiple communities; it has a president, a prime minister, a house of representatives and a senate, along similar lines to the French model. He pointed out various plants and trees; told us about many of the places around us, whose names we haven’t a chance of remembering; some useful Malagasy words – excuse me, thank you, goodbye – which we also have no chance of remembering; and all in all it became clear that he is going to do a great job.

The first thing we had to do was to get through Antananarivo.  Given that Madagascar has a population approximately half of that of Great Britain, spread over two and a half times the land mass, and given that the population of Antananarivo is less than a third of that of London, you’d expect that to be an easy job.  You’d be wrong. The traffic was ludicrously heavy, and it took us the best part of an hour before we were free of the capital.  However, we learned a few things as we ground our way slowly along.

As well as the colourful and traditional buildings in many of the streets, there are quite a few funky modern buildings.

There are old cars being used as taxis (this is a Renault 4); heaven knows how they keep them going.

Unless you’re bang in the centre, there will always be rice paddies to be seen.

There’s a sort of “mobile phone taxi” service; if your mobile phone has run out of credit, you can pay for just a few minutes to make your calls.

The influence of France is still very clear.

The entrepreneurial spirit is strong, whether in formal market stalls

or chancing it in the traffic jams.

Madagascar imports fuel wholesale

and appears to operate an informal retail operation on the side.

The outskirts of Tana have many scenes of very colourful (and probably quite ramshackle) buildings,

and as you get further out of the city, the roads can turn feral.

I suspect that the road surface suffers badly because the road we were on, National Route 2, which leads eastwards to Andasibe, also continues on the the island’s main port, Toamasina; hence there’s a very significant amount of very heavy lorry traffic in both directions.

There is actually a railway connecting the two

along which freight is also run.

Kenny explained that some 80% of Malagasy people are farmers, tilling the fields both for subsistence and for selling.  Rice is the main crop, and the people consume it in huge quantities, but there’s still enough left over to export.  However, farming is not a full-time occupation year round, so many farmers have sidelines. One such is using the clay on their land to make bricks; ovens dotted our route, but we couldn’t get a satisfactory picture, sadly.  What we could get photos of, though was another major activity, which is quarrying granite.

This activity is responsible for some of the gashes in the landscape we could see on the flight down from Maroantsetra.  There are other gashes, too

and the impression we got from Kenny is that this is erosion which has deforestation as its root cause. It will be interesting to revisit those photos from our plane journeys, when we have time, to see how much more of the story this extra understanding reveals.

We also noted the dreaded eucalyptus trees, which so dominated parts of our travels in Spain: however here these seem to be non-commercial plantings representing another land owner’s side hustle, as they can be harvested quickly and the timber either used to make charcoal (much used in rural areas for fuel) or used for building work.

Going from the city of Antananarivo through the countryside to Andasibe also revealed a change in architectural styles.  For example, this house shows a typical Tana style,

brick built, with sloping roofing and balconies.  Our route took us out into the country, where clay and mud become a significant building material, based around timber frames and with thatched roofs

and then as we approached Andasibe, into rainforest country, wood becomes the principal building material.

We went through Moramanga, which is a substantial – and busy – town,

which is where we first came across cycle rickshaws as a mode of transport. You don’t see these in Tana because it’s too hilly.  In the UK, these are used only for ripping off carrying tourists, but  here they are a common mode of transport.  It’s ubiquitous, but not quite public transport.  This comes in the form of minibuses; different coloured minivans cover different destinations, but a common theme appears to be the bus conductor, who ushers people on and off and collects payment, quite often whilst hanging off the back of the bus.

What else did we see?  Piglets;

Traffic management for roadworks (known as “go go girls”, apparently);

the rather ritzy railway station at Andasibe, from the days when the railway carried passengers

and which is theoretically going to be used for passenger transport at some stage in the future, but which has done service as a hotel in the past, with lodgings opposite it;

and a slightly weird version of milk for your coffee, which we took at a slightly weird lunch stop at Pizzeria Diary, just outside Moramanga.  (Diary in Malagasy means something completely different from its English sense; I’ll try to find out what for you.)  We had tourist stuff (pizza for me, and tilapia & vegetables for Jane – whilst Haja and Kenny went off to a different part of the place (a staff canteen or something, we posit) and had pork, rice and beans, a traditional Malagasy meal which we would much have preferred to eat. After the meal we ordered coffee with milk, and this is what we got.

This was (sweetened) condensed milk; adding it to coffee made it sweet enough for me to drink, but it had a weird, gloopy consistency.

Quite soon after lunch we arrived at our accommodation for the next three nights, the very swish Mantadia Lodge. To get there, we went through Andasibe village and I hope we get a chance to wander round with a camera, because I think it’s really quite photogenic.

I suppose because we’d “wasted” most of the day getting to the lodge, Kenny had organised a night walk for us which was to happen before dinner (don’t forget that darkness falls with a crash here at about 6pm); this made dinner rather later than we would have liked, but actually I guess there was no other way to organise it, and it gave us a couple of hours off during the afternoon to draw breath.

The walk was at the VOIMMA Community Reserve, a wildlife reserve managed by the local community, just a ten minute drive away, and we were led by a guide called Abraham.  The route was through rainforest, but the conditions were dry, which made everything more pleasant for us.  There are prepared trails through the park, which gives it a more manicured feel than we experienced at Masoala, but there was a profusion of magnificent tree ferns, which we hope to go back and look at in more detail and daylight over the next couple of days.

We didn’t see any lemurs during the walk (barring the glint of a mouse lemur’s eyes at a considerable distance) but there were other creatures to admire.

Finally, Jane found another chameleon just outside our room at the lodge.

We eventually established that this is a male Elephant Ear Chameleon.

Dinner at the lodge completed the day, which, despite being spent almost entirely on the drive, was content-rich and quite satisfying.  The morrow’s plan is for a longer walk around the Mantadia National Park, which is primary rain forest and brings the prospect of some more varieties of wildlife.  Today was a lemur-less day; what will tomorrow bring?