Tag Archives: Culture

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!


On the road (yet) again – Ambalavao to Ranohira

Friday 14 June 2024 – We had a comfortable enough night at the Betsileo Country Lodge, disturbed only by the occasional ghastly-sounding and very loud gurgling from the water system, and, when we went to take a morning shower, the water pressure was so low as to make the ablutions merely case of cleaning the Important Bits.  We heard later that someone, one of a party of German tourists, had left their shower running, and completely emptied the tank!  Another problem was very intermittent electric power from the hotel’s generator. This didn’t stop us from having our breakfast, but it did mean there was no internet access, meaning I couldn’t publish my latest update. The manager explained that they were still waiting for some new batteries, which strikes me as probably being a common problem in Madagascar.

Anyway, the morning dawned cool and misty,

but the sun soon burned the mist off as we started our journey south, now with a significant westward component also.  Our target for the day was Ranohira, which is near the Isalo National Park, a place we would be visiting the next day. All we had to do was to get there, a distance of some 230km. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll remember that a previous journey of 210km took all day because of the vagaries of RN7; but today was different – the road surface was, by and large, very good and so we made good progress.

It was clear at first that we were above a valley where the fog had not yet dissipated

but we eventually had to drop down into the mist.

That burned off pretty quickly, too and so we could appreciate, once again, some good views of a changing landscape.

As we left Ambalavao, we had gone through the “gateway to the south”, an area which marked a significant change in the surrounding countryside. We ended up on a high plain, which was huge.  This was the view from my side of the car

and this was from Jane’s side.

See what I mean? Horizon to horizon flat – and with comparatively much less agriculture going on, although rice paddies were still to be seen – largely in places where the rainy season would allow the one crop per year they expect in this part of the country (cf the three a year in the wetter, cooler north). The houses in the villages we passed were generally much smaller.

Here are a few of the sights we saw as we went along:

Herding Zebu near a village

People flocking to market in the village ahead of us

People flocking to market in the village we had just passed

Seeing people on the road in any number quite often meant that we were approaching a village or town, and people were walking to the market there.

A roadside shrine – the first we’d seen, actually

Kids in their school uniforms leaving after the morning

Taking tomatoes to market

Taking goats (or maybe sheep, we couldn’t separate them) to market, on the top of a bus

The collapsed ruin of a house built with unbaked mud bricks and washed away by the rains

Drying rice before packaging and carting it, presumably to market

Zebu grazing

View of distant sandstone cliffs – this particular formation is known as the Pope’s Hat

More sandstone hills in the distance

The sandstone hills mark the edge of the plain and the start of the Isola National Park

The sandstone in the landscape is a distinct shift from the granite we’d seen so widely before this point.  Eventually, we caught sight of Ranohira,

the town from which we would access the Isalo park tomorrow. You can begin to pick out the detail in the sandstone in the photo above. Our hotel, the Jardin du Roy, was 20 minutes’ drive past the town, and was through a wondrous landscape of sandstone eroded by wind, rain and time.

It included a “statue” which is locally nicknamed “The Queen”; one can see why.

The Jardin du Roy is a very swish hotel and we were staying for two nights, so we were able to relax for the rest of the day and gird our loins for a hike the following day. A walk through a canyon is the main item on the agenda, but there may be some wildlife to be seen as well. Who knows?  Only time will tell.


Fogón Conclusion. Well, sort of.

Saturday 16 March 2024 – or, in another way of looking at it, Thursday 28 March 2024 .  It’s actually nearly a fortnight after our return home as I write, a lacuna caused by a couple of health-related items, but mainly the Worst Cold In The Known Universe, which basically laid both Jane and me low from the day we arrived home (Monday 18th) until today, some 10 days later.

Also, “sort of” in that the first thing I’m going to write about, Fogón, is a conclusion only in the sense that it was the last thing we did in Buenos Aires, it wasn’t the last thing I’m going to write about for the trip as a whole; but I just couldn’t resist the pun.  Below, I also write about something we did on our first night here; well, the first evening of the first full day of the three we had on our second visit to BA, that is, this being the hub we travelled through.  Come on, keep up at the back.


OK, it’s a restaurant, in the up-market Palermo neighbourhood, and the word “asado” tells the foodie cognoscenti among you that it’s a barbecue-style meal.  It being in Buenos Aires, one can reasonably expect it to involve much very high quality meat.  The other key word on the sign is “experience”.  This is not just some guys chucking burgers onto a barbie; this is Food Preparation As Theatre.

There will be pictures of food in the following.  Many people will mutter and make rude remarks about me posting photos of food.  To them, I say two things:

  1. it’s a piece of theatre and it involves food. Conveying the experience photographically without showing a scrap of food here and there is a nonsensical ambition. I’ve minimised, but not eliminated, the actual food content in the pics.
  2. Actually, what I object to is people sharing a photo of the plate of food they’re about to eat, to show the viewer what cool, cultured cats they are and what posh places they’ve managed to get into. I really object to that, and so you don’t see it on these pages. Also,
  3. It’s my blog. I make the rules and I can break ’em if I want. So, there.

Sorry, got carried away a bit there….back to the evening at Fogón.

It’s very, very well managed theatre that provides very, very good food.  You are shown, with a flourish, into the “auditorium”

where you take your seat and have the idea of the evening, and some of the rules, explained. For example, if you want something refreshed (e.g. the soda siphon below, or your wine glass), you put it up on the counter. When delivered, you take it down and use it.

The setup shown above is a bit of audience participation – making a chimichurri sauce. They’ve made it pretty idiot-proof, with the ingredients nicely parceled up and a little recipe to follow.  This will be used, we are told, with the main course.

A big part of the theatre involves the central barbecue apparatus which is large, complicated and hot.

It has many moving parts and every so often someone, normally this chap (who is wearing a gaucho cap and is therefore a chef)

would pick up a shovel and wander around in the confined space on his side of the counter with a shovel full of glowing coals to put them where they were needed, often without injuring anyone.

The meal has nine courses, and they are all explained in some detail,

so above was the talk about what meat we would be eating.  The pine cones were not just decoration, by the way. They were used to smoke some of the meat.

Each course is carefully assembled in front of you before being passed over.

For the main course, in possibly the most pretentious part of the evening, you are asked to make the reverent selection of Your Knife from a box of them.

The main chunks of meat were mainly prepared, cut and cooked by this chap,

who, Jane reckons, is actually a moonlighting James Anderson (if you don’t know who Jimmy is, you should be slightly ashamed of yourself, but telling you will make no difference to your life).

It was a great evening – very entertaining, brilliantly choreographed and engagingly presented.  By the time my main course came around I was so full I could only manage a token mouthful, and, as usual, I passed on dessert, but all the other courses were very good indeed.  I have, of course, plenty of video, but I won’t be sharing that with you at any stage, oh no.

So, Fogón was the finale of our time in Buenos Aires, but it’s not the end of this story, because I wanted to finish the BA part with an even more dramatic piece of theatre, which we saw on the evening of our first of three days here.  Argentina is known for its meat (which is all originally from imported British stock several hundred years ago, by the way); it is also known as the home of The Tango.

Yes, we went to a tango show.  It was at a place called Aljibe, over by Puerto Madero.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. On one of our drives, we passed a great glittering place with “TANGO” writ large in lightbulbs outside, and I wondered if the experience there would be like an Argentinian version of Moulin Rouge (the Paris show, not the film).  This place, however, was clearly a lot smaller, with a charming foyer

where we were greeted and taken to our seats in a compact, but nonetheless attractively decked-out auditorium.

At the far end was the stage, where the entertainment would presumably happen,

and where one could get one’s photo taken in relevant fancy dress as a memento of the evening. At a charge, of course.

As well as the dancing, there is eating. The menu is brought, followed by one’s food, in pretty brisk succession, carried in towers of plates in order to get it out to the punters quickly.

Yes yes, I know it’s more pictures of food… get over it.

We were there for one of three shows they were staging that day, and they had about an hour to get our orders (only made slightly more intricate by our habit of not drinking wine and therefore demanding G&T), deliver them and clear away before the entertainment started. It’s very obviously a production-line, but it’s done with assured efficiency and the food was pretty good.

After a short while, the musicians ambled on to the stage and looked like they were debating which pieces to play

and the place filled up nicely, in time for the show to begin.

and we were off!

As one would expect for something as flamboyant and exciting as the tango, the evening’s show was eye-catching and engaging. It started with an ensemble piece involving six dancers,

who managed to whizz all over what was quite a confined space without actually stabbing anyone with stilettos, or whatever. There was the occasional song break

much individual skill and flair displayed among the cast

not all of whom were in the first flush of youth,

but who all danced with great skill, athleticism and passion.

In a departure from raw tango, the show featured a middle section of gaucho-style entertainment, with a very theatrical couple

who didn’t just dance, either.

These two also provided the most left-field piece of theatre of the evening when they got their balls out.

Not only did they whirl their bolas around with great skill and energy and without breaking any lightbulbs or knocking each other unconscious, but they also used them as percussion instruments!

It really was a spectacular centrepiece to a great evening of Argentinian theatre.  Most of the photos above are from Jane, because I was busy videoing bits of the show. If you have five minutes to spare, you can watch this video that I cobbled together from some of the snippets.

Fogón and Aljibe were two very different pieces of theatre that conclude the story of our three days based in Buenos Aires and so (if you’re still awake) you’re pretty much up to date with the story of our travels to South America and the Southern Ocean.

Despite the “conclusion” in the title, I think I have one more piece to write.  Over the course of three weeks on Hondius, we collected a fair bit of video footage.  Because the internet aboard was slow, but much more importantly, metered, uploading video would have been ridiculously expensive.  So I will go through what we have and try to weave a few stories from those pieces of footage.  Give me a couple of days, though, won’t you?