Tag Archives: Baobabs

Activities at Anjajavy – and Farewell

Tuesday to Friday 18-21 June 2024 – We had three days to relax at Anjajavy before we had to return home. Following is a summary of it all, therefore this is a Long Post Alert.

As well as being a splendid place to relax e.g. after two weeks’ relentless tourism, crashing through forest and bouncing along dodgy roads, Le Lodge at Anjajavy offers a variety of Things To Do, some at no extra charge and some at, it must be said, prices which cause a sharp intake of breath; for example, a 1-hour night walk with a guide is €50 per person with an additional €50 for a limited group. In other words it would have cost €150 for Jane and me to do a guided night walk; for one hour, even taking into context the overall cost of the holiday travel, this is too steep. So we didn’t do that, but confined ourselves to things that were on offer at no extra charge. Typically, there were two of these each day, one starting at 0900, the other at 1600. There was also afternoon tea by the rather lovely pond in an area called The Oasis,

1990s Britpop in a single image

where, if we were lucky, we could see lemurs frolicking in the surrounding trees, and possibly other wildlife also.

Here’s a summary of what we got up to.

Sakalava Walk

Our relatively early arrival on Tuesday meant that we could participate in this afternoon activity, which was advertised as a chance to explore the different terrains in the Reserve, including a path which villagers working at Le Lodge would take to walk to work.  We were taken by car a short distance, walked a while and were picked up and driven back to the lodge.  Our guide was a young lad called Tom.

Tom led us along a well-defined trail, which led through a specially constructed gap in the fence

designed to be big enough for humans to squeeze through, but not Zebu; we had entered an area where traditionally Zebu would be herded for grazing, and through which local villagers would walk to get to work. Here, we got our first view of one of the species of lemurs to be found in the Reserve, the Coquerel’s Sifaka, which is a beautiful creature.

As is normal with these lemurs, this was a family group, and one of the females had a tiny baby, which it carried on its belly.  I may have got a shot of it – we’re frankly not quite sure if what you can see on her belly is actually the clinging baby or not. Your call.

I also got my first view of Tsingy; I had seen this mentioned in articles but wasn’t sure actually what it was. It is karstic stone into which groundwater has gouged fissures. Anjajavy has areas of Grey Tsingy

which is formed from limestone. There is also Red Tsingy in other areas of Madagascar, which is the same idea, but in sandstone and therefore a lot more fragile. More on Tsingy later.

We continued into an area with Mangrove trees in it.

You can just about make out the roots sprouting from the ground around it, which is a good indication of the type of tree. The big one is many, many years old, the smaller ones, as you might infer, being younger, but still some decades in age.

Our path led among these Mangroves; it became first muddy, and then

much wetter – full-blown swamp, in fact.  I was not particularly happy about this, as I had merely expected mud and puddles and so was wearing long trousers, walking shoes and socks. [Shorts and sandals in my case, ha ha – Ed] But there was little choice but to wade through the water, being rather careful about where we put our feet, to avoid stumbling and falling. Where there were mud banks, there were tiny mud skippers

who scattered if one stepped near them.

You can pick up a fallen Mangrove seedpod, which has the remains of the flower on its tip, and take the flower off.

If the remnant shows a little  spike such as you see above, it is ready to grow, and can be planted just by putting it directly into the mud.

Within two weeks, it will start to sprout leaves and will grow satisfactorily into another Mangrove tree if left alone for long enough.  We could see a few that had been planted by other tourists

and also some that had, we were told, been systematically planted as project sponsored by the Lodge to repopulate the area.

The repopulation project is important to the overall health of the Reserve. Mangroves are important for the environment: they support biodiversity through providing critical habitat for a variety of species; they act as a defense against soil erosion; they sequester carbon by storing it in their biomass; and they have cultural significance among the local people – one area, which was once a rich source of fish, they call fady, sacred or taboo, where silence should be observed.

The Crab Path – To The Batcave!

On the Wednesday morning, we set out from the lodge on a path signposted as the Crab Path. Anjajavy has two varieties of crab, a land crab and one called the Hairy-legged Crab, which is the one we hoped to be able to see.  Both sorts dig and live in holes, so it was not a given. We did see other wildlife, of course.

Bees had made their nest in this limestone formation

Chabert Vanga

Flycatcher, taking time off from catching flies

We also saw a Coquerel’s Sifaka near the path.

He didn’t look all that happy, and there’s a chunk missing from his left ear. Tom, who again was guiding us, told us that he had been ejected from a family group after losing a fight to be the alpha male, so he would be solitary unless a) the alpha male who defeated him died, or b) he could creep back into his old, or perhaps another, group by using very servile body language and behaviour. It sounds a sad story, but it is, after all, Nature taking its course.

There were several large crab holes: one of them contained a crab which we could make out bits of by shining a torch down it; beside another, a crab had been digging, and so there was a large pile of black, oozing mud by its hole; and one was actually out and about.

This was a substantial crab, possibly as much as a foot across, and it looked dead sinister when it started towards us – but it was only retreating to its hole.

As well as crabs, the walk offered the opportunity to see subfossil examples of giant lemurs (now extinct for 500 years through human activity, apparently).  To do this we had to get into a cave, which required us to get Geared Up

Your intrepid blogger donning hard hat and harness

and to clamber down a 5-metre ladder.

Your intrepid Editor nearing the bottom of the ladder

The cave itself was not huge, but nonetheless quite spectacular

and we had to make our way carefully a little further down

in order to see the bones of this creature.  There were two sets of remnant bones (called subfossils because they’re not old enough to be grown-up, proper, fossils). The first one we saw is the smaller of the two.

To help orient you, I’ve circled its skull, which you’re viewing as from above. There are also leg bones to be seen lower and to the right.

The first set is actually under (salt) water

The other subfossil was of a larger beast; the main things you can see here are its skull and a couple of leg bones.

The second set of subfossil bones

At their largest, these creatures would have been gorilla-sized; these two probably fell into a hole whilst fighting, which just goes to show that violence really doesn’t pay.

As we climbed out, it became clear that this was, indeed, a Bat-cave!

The Tsingy Yard

Later on on the Wednesday, we were ferried a short distance by car, where we had a walk along a path through a particularly striking set of Tsingys, at times looking almost like an art exhibition.

“Tsingy” is Malagasy for “Stone that cannot be walked on barefoot”. You can see why.

The Baobab Walk

Some 15 minutes drive from the lodge is an avenue of Baobabs.

Like Tsingy, Baobabs come in Grey and Red, and there are many Red baobabs among the Anjajavy crop.

They come in all shapes and sizes

and, sadly, are threatened by increasingly high levels of seawater at high tide; salt water kills them.  So the team at the Reserve are trying to plant new ones, on higher ground.

However, it’s not just as simple as taking seeds and planting them. Baobab seeds are more likely to germinate if they have been through the digestive tract of a creature. When the Giant Tortoises were roaming the area, they acted as a vector for Baobabs, being one of the few creatures which could crack open a Baobab fruit and eat the flesh (and, of course, the seeds).

The other significant sight on this walk was something that Jane spotted;

tracks of a fossa, Madagascar’s largest carnivore – weasel-ish, something like a cross between a cat and a dog – which we’d dearly love to see in the flesh, but probably won’t, as they’re very shy and reclusive. Unless you’re a lemur, in which case you are dinner.

The Salt-Wells Walk

The limestone karst formations which erupt above ground as tsingys also, of course, continue underground. The passage of water through the stone creates channels which evidently reach the sea; the water covering the bones in the bat-cave was salt water and that cave is a good 250m from the nearest shore. This walk led to two salt water wells, equally far from the sea, which fill and drain according to the tides. The first was a bit of a scramble to reach…

Our path then led along the beach for a short distance

before turning inland again to reach the second salt water well.

In the same area are several caves which have been used in the past as resting places for the dead, according to local custom. This one was evidently of a fisherman, since a boat, as well as amulets and figures of spirit guardians, mark the place. The wall of small stones is a relatively recent addition as villagers were uncomfortable with the bones being on display (presumably to tourist such as ourselves).

Afternoon Tea

Served at 1700 daily beside the lily pond at The Oasis,

this was an opportunity to relish the relative cool of the late afternoon, and a chance to see lemurs as they came by on their afternoon patrols. Engagingly, Le Lodge operates on an artificial time zone, one hour ahead of the rest of Madagascar. This carries the benefit of extending the daylight time to make the afternoon tea a delightful time as the day cools.

Common Brown Lemurs and Coquerel’s Sifakas routinely came by towards 6pm and we could admire their agility as they clambered and leapt through the trees surrounding us.

These creatures are so beautiful and so eminently watchable that it’s difficult not to keep trying to get just that one extra great photo.  The Oasis lawn during teatime was dotted with people watching and photographing these lovely lemurs, who, although not fed by humans, are quite habituated to them.

Other guests

Among the Anjajavy photos, there are pictures of some of the other guests whose company we enjoyed at the lodge. Above, you can see one of them, Douglas, who was accompanied by his wife, Robin and their friend Val. They were on our flight up from Tana, as were a younger couple, Jenny and Sam, who had been on an itinerary around the north of the island and who, it turned out, were driven to Andasibe and back by Aine, the chap who had greeted us on our arrival to Madagascar; it was they who told us how to spell his name. Also joining the Lodge a couple of days after we arrived were Shirley and Ian, completing a gemütlich group of kindred spirits (the spirits in question being mainly rum and gin).

There were two other guests, an American couple, but they completely ignored us all, which seemed strange, but, hey….

Other animals

We’ve seen 20 species of lemur during our time here. Not that we’ve been counting or anything.  As well as them and the other animals you’ve seen so far, we have seen Banded Iguanas,

Drongos (yes, really) and Parrots (a very dull colour),

and the lesser-spotted bathroom frog,

a little chap who persisted in finding his way back to our bathroom no matter how often we tipped him into the bushes or how firmly we closed the doors and windows.

There was also the remarkable Coconut-Collecting Pool Guy. There are footholds carved into the trees, but still…


Saturday June 22 2024 – I write this as Jane and I sit in the familiar surroundings of Room 24 at the Relais des Plateaux hotel – the very room we first stayed in on arrival to Madagascar.

Frederic joined us on the drive to the airport from the Lodge and we were able to tell him how much we’d enjoyed our stay.  He then had to marshal the incoming guests – 16 of them!  It took two aeroplanes to deliver them.

The flight down was uneventful, and we were delighted to be met at Tana airport by Haja, who transferred us here to the Relais des Plateaux, and who will also take us back to the airport later for our flight back to the cold, wet weather that’s bound to await in Europe.

Oh, wait…

Our time at Le Lodge was supremely relaxing; a great end to a wonderful three weeks exploring a new country and an unfamiliar culture. Although our phones are full of photos and our brains are full of new experiences, we realise that we’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to understanding Madagascar; but what we have experienced has been intense, educational and fun.

After previous travels, I have often done a valedictory post to sum up our impressions of a place, but Madagascar is too complex and varied to even consider doing that.  I hope that these pages give a reasonably coherent impression of our 23 days as strangers in a strange land.  We’re very grateful to Kate at Whisper and Wild and to Tamana, the local agency, as well as all the teams at all the places we’ve stayed for creating an absorbing itinerary that took us faultlessly around fascinating and welcoming places across 1,000km of a remarkable and unique island.

Maybe we’ll be back!


North! to Alaska Anjajavy* (part 1) – The Spiny Forest

Monday June 17 2024 – We had to get under way pretty sharpish today in order to get our flight up to Tana and squeeze in a visit to the Spiny Forest, so the alarm was set for 0430, just to make sure that we hadn’t forgotten that We Were Travelling. In the UK, we have a saying, “the early bird gets the worm”. In our case, the early Jane got the warm. My somewhat jaundiced impression of the Bakuba Lodge was not improved by the lack of hot water in the shower by the time I got there. However, the service for breakfast was, as the evening before, absolutely impeccable, and I didn’t want to interrupt Jane’s love-in with Bruno as she praised the architecture and décor by suggesting that he fix the plumbing (and the lighting, and the dangerous step down in the room that might trap an unwary person en route to the loo in the middle of the night, and the idea of having an open plan loo in the room, and the lack of places to plug in one’s essential charging devices).  However, I will emphasise that food was terrific, and the service utterly faultless.


We were due a visit to what I understood to be the Spiny Forest. Reading Wikipedia, though, I discover that the Toliara area hosts several spiny thickets which might be considered to be the Spiny Forest. The thicket that we were due to visit was about 25km outside Toliara, which gave us a chance to see once again the colour and variety of the traffic through this substantial town. Mainly tricycle rickshaws. My God, there are thousands of the buggers!

and they don’t only carry people; this one was laden with sugar cane  , for example.

There are also oxcarts,

any number of people carrying stuff to market,

and (I nod here to the late, great John Peel), Desperate Bicycles,

not to mention Desperate Minibuses

and Unexpected Items In The Road.

Despite all these challenges, we made it through to Reniala Reserve, a small, 0.5km² private reserve, where we would spend an hour or so on a guided walk along its trails.

To start with, it seemed merely a rehash of the plants we’d seen the day before at the Antsokay Arboretum. But, gradually some extra background and new information began to shine through.  For example, many of the baobabs were pockmarked with holes.

These date from the time before this area became a private reserve, when the locals would cut holes in the bark to use as foot- and handholds in order to climb the trees to pick the fruits, which are edible.

The tree above is quite old – a few hundred years only – and is quite substantial,

but the grand-daddy of them all is a Baobab that is 1200 years old!

One wonders what stories the face (bottom left of the tree, having its eye poked out by Jane) could tell….

Other Baobabs came in all sorts of strange shapes and sizes.

This one fell early in its development, but continued to grow (the right-hand end does look like a rhino, doesn’t it?). And this one

is very young, and just looks like a normal tree; the strange shapes only develop once very mature.

The thicket we were being guided around was, indeed, pretty spiny

but the main attraction was the Baobabs

Our guide was good enough to point out some creatures as well, to keep me happy.

Malagasy Brush Warbler

Green-capped Coua

Crested Coua

Three-eyed Lizard

But the best of all was saved until the last. At every wildlife opportunity, Jane has been keen on seeing a Tenrec, a hedgehog-like creature endemic to Madagascar. At every opportunity, guides had patiently explained that these creatures have gone into hibernation. But at Reniala, one of the staff actually managed to find and uncover one so that we could see it.

It was carefully replaced and covered up afterwards so that it could go back to its hibernation.

On our drive to and from the Reniala Reserve, we followed the coast, and so could see the Mangroves that are so important to the local ecology.

If you look around the base of the mangroves, you can see what look like sticks poking out of the ground; these are actually roots of the tree simultaneously providing nourishment and enabling the mangrove to spread.  We’ve been familiar with washing parties, but we passed a formal construction to make washing easier,

similar to the lavadoiros we’d seen in northern Spain on our peregrinations there.

But eventually it was time to go to the airport to catch our flight back to Tana, which meant we had to say goodbye to Kenny and Haja, who had done such a great job of looking after – and educating – us on the 1250km drive down from Tana via Andasibe to the south west coast. Despite an occasionally uncomfortable ride on the often crappy road surface, we’d had a lot of fun, and learned a huge amount about Madagascar and the Malagasy people; the 10 days we’d had with them had hugely enriched our time here.

Kenny actually had one final task, which was to sweet talk the check-in staff to allow me to take my camera bag as hand luggage (it was well over twice the theoretical weight limit for such things). This task successfully completed, we bade him goodbye as we headed for our aeroplane,

a De Havilland Canada, since you ask.  It actually took off half an hour early and landed a whole hour before its scheduled arrival time. But the people at Tamana, the agency who’d been looking after us throughout our time here, were on the ball, and there was a driver waiting us to take us to our overnight hotel, the by-now-familiar Relais des Plateaux, where we had a comfortable night, but an uncomfortably early start the next day to be whisked to the final segment of our stay here in Madagascar.  To find out what that involved, you’ll have to keep in touch with these pages and I’ll tell you all about it, some other time.


* Any regular reader of these pages will remember the first time I used this reference, which was when we actually did go North! To Alaska.