Tag Archives: Environment

North! to Anjajavy (part 2) – Flight from Tana

Tuesday June 18 2024 – Our flight today was described in our itinerary as “early”, and the driver who deposited us at the Relais des Plateaux told us that we would be picked up at 0615, which meant something of a brisk start. The hotel’s official breakfast time start was 0600, so at 0555 we were knocking on the door on a mission to stuff ourselves quickly with as much pastry as would easily accompany a hasty cup of Twining’s Finest Earl Grey.

It all worked perfectly well, and we were picked up by the very chap who had welcomed us to Madagascar two and a half weeks ago, whose name rhymes with “hyena” and, for reasons I will explain in a later post, we now know is spelt Aine. If he were Irish, that would be pronounced “Onya”, but he isn’t, so ‘yena it is. He asked us how our drive down RN7 went and we were able to tell him how good it was; it turns out that he has acted as driver for that route before, and has worked with Kenny and Haja, so knew what the conditions were like.

The check-in process was pretty much exactly the same for flying to Anjajavy as it had been to get to Masoala, with people and bags alike being weighed. The difference was that there would be a greater number of passengers, and the consequence of that was the need for a larger aeroplane,

a Cessna 208 Caravan, as it happens. In all, there were seven passengers – us; a younger couple, Jenny and Sam; and three older folk who were carrying with them in several inconvenient polystyrene containers the packed breakfast that their hotel had provided them. We all climbed aboard and set off on the dot of 0700 for the 100-minute flight to Anjajavy.

As we left Antananarivo, I was once again struck by the staggering extent of the rice paddies near the city.

Beyond them, there was, as one might expect, a fair bit of agriculture going on.

As on our previous flight north, after climbing, clouds obscured the view for a while.  When they cleared, we were over quite mountainous terrain

but one could still see areas that had been cultivated;

even in what looked like the most rugged terrain, one could see areas that were being farmed.

After we’d been aloft for about an hour, the landscape changed into something less mountainous – quite possibly a central plateau – looking pretty rugged and untouched,

but even here, one could spot terraces and other evidence of farming.

This landscape changed again, into something that seemed less touched by human hand

though I wonder whether the scars in the land are evidence of the erosion that follows deforestation activity. It wasn’t then much longer until further landscape changes and we could once again see that the land was being farmed.

I couldn’t make out whether that fire was intentional burning of an area or an actual bush fire. Malagasy farming does involve some systematic burning, and so it could be either, and I wasn’t in a position to ask which it was.

Shortly thereafter, we could just make out the north-west coast

with some areas of forest, but continued evidence of agriculture pretty much wherever a river permitted it,

and, once again, extensive rice paddies.

Then we were down and at 0900 walked into Anjajavy’s self-proclaimed “International Airport”!

where we were greeted by Frederic, the manager of “Le Lodge”, our accommodation for the coming days.

He welcomed us to the peninsula and gave us a short introduction, specifically telling us about the 30-minute car journey that awaited us.

I was glad when Frederic joined us as we rode on the back of our vehicle, because it meant that he could give us some (in my case consciousness-expanding) background on Anjajavy.

Looking at the place on Google Maps, it’s clear that the place we would be staying, Le Lodge, is a resort, with a central building, villas and swimming pool and that kind of thing.

What I hadn’t realised was quite how remote the place is.  The nearest town is 100km away, and the journey there takes several hours, so, as manager of the Lodge, he has to make sure that it is self-sufficient; as he can’t whistle up a plumber or an engineer to fix problems, he has to make sure that he has all the skills, as well as provisions of all kinds, and equipment, onsite.  Le Lodge has 24 villas, but Frederic is the manager of over 180 people. Most of these, he told us, we would never see, because they were there to keep the place operational, not to serve us punters. That is because of something else I hadn’t realised, which is the scope of Le Lodge’s eco/diversity activities. Frederic is also the manager of the 2,500 acre (1,000 ha) Private Reserve  in which Le Lodge stands, and of the 24,000-acre Protected Area which surrounds the Reserve.  That’s where a large fraction of his workforce is employed – the biodiversity of the Protected Area is something that Le Lodge is committed to protect and preserve.

This commitment leads Le Lodge to be the host for several scientific research and conservation projects. One involves re-introducing the Giant Tortoises that went extinct here several hundred years ago because of human activity: they provided a convenient and self-preserving source of fresh meat for sailors! Luckily some escaped and survived on the Seychelles, from where they have been restocked. A second involves re-introducing the Aye-Aye, the local population having been basically killed off by superstitious local people who regard them as ill-omens. This therefore requires a considerable effort in re-education, as well as the provision of two of the actual animals thus far, with more to follow over the next two years.

Frederic is committed to working with the local villages, and 80% of his staff come from the area. He was eloquent about the benefit to him and to them of working together. He has a considerable education project on his hands, since, to start with, some of the people didn’t even speak conventional Malagasy (using rather their own rather different and specific dialect), let alone French or English, and also had strong superstitions (eg concerning the Aye-Aye) which had to be sensitively handled as part of the education process.

If he hadn’t told us about this on the journey over, I don’t think we would have suspected that there was so much extra to the place. We would just have seen a marvellous central lodge

with very swish villas,

lovely gardens,

a beautiful beach

and an infinity pool.

It’s a superb place, but then again it’s Relais et Chateaux, same as gaffs such as Cliveden in the UK, so one would jolly bien pense donc. Le Lodge itself was built in around 2000 (from the wood of the Palisander tree, so its development, ironically, wouldn’t be permitted today) and is an absolutely wonderful environment – beautifully comfortable villas, an excellent restaurant and many resort-type activities to be contemplated and possibly undertaken – nature expeditions, sailing, snorkelling, kayaking, etc etc.

So: j’y suis, j’y reste, and Jane likewise.  Starting tomorrow, we have three full days to explore the place, the activities and, of course, the bar. Stay in touch with these pages and I’ll keep you updated with our progress.



(South) Georgia On My Mind

Sunday 3 March 2024­ – The observant among you will have noticed a lacuna in the updates to these pages.  That’s because nothing of any photographic import happened yesterday. It was a Sea Day as we headed towards South Georgia – in surprisingly calm conditions, bearing in mind that we were adjacent to the Drake Passage and could well have had some unsettled weather as a result.  But we didn’t.  We just had fog,

Even the best efforts of my image processing software couldn’t improve much on the view.

The weather did cheer up to the extent that we could infer the presence of sunshine via a fogbow.

That’s not to say that the day was dull, or content-free. There were some lectures, about the geology of South Georgia and about the whaling industry, which developed from a start around Grytviken on the Island and plundered the seas of a significant proportion of the whale population before humanity came to its collective senses (just about) and banned the practice. Pippa, who gave the lecture, pointed out that at the time, whale oil was as important to the world as fossil fuel oil and gas is to it now; a commodity which it was necessary t exploit.

More importantly, there was a mandatory procedure to go through before we would be free to visit the Island.  It’s a UK Overseas Territory, and has its own governance committee; a passport is essential for all visitors to the area.  More importantly, it has very, very strict rules and controls regarding biosecurity.  The rules are substantially similar to the ones we’d been briefed about for visiting the Antarctic region, but the stakes are higher. A particular concern is that avian flu has been raging across South Georgia since October last year and the importance was impressed on us of not putting anything on the ground, or sitting or lying down anywhere, and keeping at least 5 metres away from wildlife if at all possible. (I wonder, from what we were told, if the situation in some areas of South Georgia might be similar to the Galapagos, where wildlife is so ubiquitous that it’s actually impossible to keep your distance.)

A key part of the briefing was a “Visitors Guide” video, narrated by David Attenborough, which is well worth a watch by anyone, not just those planning to visit.  South Georgia was, at one stage, an environmental disaster area; the strict controls that are in place have actually made it almost unique on the planet in that it is a recovering ecological system.  Our boat will be inspected by officials from the island; the inspection will include a dog team to ensure there are no rodent stowaways and a sample of passengers will also be inspected to ensure their boots and other outerwear are free of any trace of biological material.  To try to ensure that the boat is compliant, a significant part of the day was spent with the staff doing a preliminary inspection of every passenger’s gear to make sure that it was clean and clear. And every cabin has blackout blinds, which must be lowered before dinner to try to ensure that no birds land on the boat.

Thus it was, having steamed all day and much of the night, that Hondius was just off the south-eastern tip of South Georgia, in Cooper Bay.  The scenery was a sharp change from what we’d been accustomed to on the Antarctic Peninsula.

It was green! The centre of South Georgia is covered in glaciers, but tussock grass is very widespread, and it’s this that gives the very different appearance.  The sunshine helped make it a gorgeous day.  Our guide for our first Zodiac cruise, Elizabeth, said that she had never seen weather like it at Cooper Bay; once again, we are very fortunate.

The plan for the day involved two Zodiac cruises.  Landings, though they have been part of previous expeditions, were not possible for us because not permitted – avian influenza means that the landing sites towards the south of the island are off limits.

But we had a great morning, nonetheless.  There were new species of penguins to look for, as well as seals and plenty of bird life.  The scenery generally was outstanding.

It included an area which is known as “the cathedral”, which was spectacular.

The penguin species we were expecting to see most of was macaroni penguins.  The name derives from foppish and elaborate 18th century wigs, following Italian fashion, which in the UK were nicknamed after a familiar type of pasta. (It’s probably why Yankee Doodle called the feather in his hat “macaroni”, by the way). Anyway, the penguins indeed sported a foppish and elaborate hairstyle!

Among the adults were some fledging chicks,

some of which were beginning to grow the punk fringe that marks the species out.

As well as the macaronis, there were numerous king penguins.

More of them later.  Many, many more.

Other wildlife included several fur seals,

and I was able to catch a few photos of the many sorts of bird life in evidence:

giant petrels,

(including one in a white morph

and a sequence of one taking off from the water);

the inevitable shags;

several snowy sheathbills, known, because of their dietary habits, as shit chickens;

a juvenile kelp gull;

an Antarctic tern


and – at last! – my stormy petrel on a stick!

It was a great morning, with uniquely lovely weather.  After lunch, we moved around the island, amid a forest of icebergs,

to St. Andrew’s Bay, on the north-east side, where there was a colony of king penguins.  There were lots of them.

Really, lots.

No, seriously, really lots. ‘king loads of them.

There are something like 200,000 nesting pairs in this colony.  That’s 400,000 adults, plus their young and “teenage” chicks.

Really, a lot of penguins.  To the point where I was a bit bored, to be frank.  There are only so many pictures and video one can take of penguins, after all.

One “teenage” chick was very engaging, half way between the brown down he had when born to his adult plumage.

There was other wildlife, of course.  Elephant seals;


kelp gulls;

as well as the giant petrels.  The videos I have show that there was quite a lot of sparring between the young fur seals and the penguins on the beach, so there were a few things to distract one, but I felt the Zodiac cruise was about an hour too long.

Back at the boat, the kitchen had organised a barbecue, which was quite fun, if a bit chilly.

The beer and wine were free and the food was very good; but I was quite frozen by this stage so didn’t stay long.

We are undergoing quite an extraordinary period of weather.  Normally, the west coast of the island is battered by winds, and hence seas, which would make it impossible to mount any kind of expedition from the ship.  However, for us tomorrow, the west side offers a better forecast than the east, so the plan is to visit the sites on the western side, in King Haakon Bay: Cape Rosa and Peggotty Bluff, where the sainted Shackleton first made ground on the island in the former before seeking a way, via the latter, to get to the whaling station to seek the help of the men who had told him not to go out in the first place.  Two cruises and a possible landing await.  If the conditions are right…

Whitehorse, Green Light

Saturday 27 August 2022 – Despite a late night, we couldn’t indulge ourselves with a late rising because we were booked on a City Tour starting at 10am.   We took breakfast in the hotel; it was a substantial rather than a luxury offering, but tasty – and they have Earl Grey tea.  The dining room (in fact much of the hotel)  is set up with vibes from the good ol’ days when people came out here to die whilst failing to find gold.

After breakfast, whilst Jane was discussing the strange antics of the telephone in our room with reception, I popped outside to see what the temperature was.  Looking through the hotel window, I’d been disconcerted to see ice in the gutter outside.

It turned out to be foamy detergent runoff, presumably from cleaning the car. The temperature outside was mild – about 10°C.

For the City Tour our guide was Bernie, originally from Germany but a long-time resident here.  He first took us to the Hydro Dam, which uses the Yukon River for electricity generation.

Impressive as the mighty flow of the river is, it’s not as impressive as the facility that runs beside it – the longest wooden salmon ladder in the world.

These pictures tell only half the story, but, as a digression, if you look at the picture above you can see a beaver in the water.  He obligingly popped out for his close-up (yes, I know I’m making an assumption here; deal with it)

and then rather satisfyingly buggered off before anyone else in our little tour group could get a photo.  The salmon ladder extends out the other way as well before turning back on itself for a total distance of 1182 feet to help the salmon rise 60 feet vertically and bypass the dam, which would otherwise be an impassable barrier.

The dam constructors specifically put in an impassable waterfall to ensure that the salmon made their way up the ladder.

There is a hatchery there, which deals in the Chinook breed of salmon that inhabit the river. Inside, there are  windows into the ladder

alongside much other information about this particular  salmon run, which, at 2,000 miles, is the longest in the world (the red line in this map).

The shape of that red line is used in a rather nice, if slightly dog-eared, artwork outside

and there’s much other artwork on the salmonid theme there

along with a rather depressingly low number of returning salmon counted there this year – 128 so far, when in previous years the total was in the thousands.  It all underlines the increasing challenges the salmon have to overcome in the face of climate change.

Bernie then took us to the Whitehorse visitor centre (via the log skyscraper, of which I hope to write tomorrow). He explained a lot about the geography of the whole vast area – Alaska, Yukon and the North Western Territory

in which mining is a major industry – all sorts of minerals come from this part of the world, celebrated in a display case in the centre.

The other major industries of the area are government – Whitehorse is the capital of the Yukon territory – and tourism. He also explained that it was an expanding town.  There were lots of well-paid job vacancies, but the trouble is that house-building hasn’t kept pace, meaning that accommodation is (a) hard to come by and (b) expensive.

That was the end of the City Tour (it’s a small place, and Jane and I have a plan to walk round it to explore it further tomorrow, weather permitting); but Jane had spotted another tour which looked interesting, to the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. As it happened, Bernie led that tour as well. The preserve is about half an hour’s drive from Whitehorse and is home to around a dozen Yukon species, each in their own natural areas, spread over 350 acres.  One can walk round the 3-mile trails, but Bernie took us in his minibus.  Here’s a selection of pictures of what we saw; each species is in wire-fenced enclosures, some of which are very large and so we couldn’t get close, but we certainly got a flavour of the wildlife and spotted several species we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to see.


mule deer;


red fox (actually, this one was wild, nothing to do with the preserve);

thinhorn sheep, female and male;

musk oxen;

mountain goats;

a cute little arctic fox, which Jane captured very nicely;

reindeer, or caribou as they’re known in these here parts;

a scene which should have featured a moose but it was hiding somewhere;

and – my favourite – a lynx.  I wouldn’t have spotted it, but Jane did and between us we managed to get a very satisfactory image even though it was quite distant.  My mobile phone did a great job, here.

There are other photos – no, really – but these are the pick of the bunch in my view.

As I’ve hinted before and elsewhere, we had an activity booked to start at 10.30pm, so we went out for dinner to store up the necessary energy.  Jane’s first choice, a joint called Klondike Rib and Salmon, was taking walk-in customers only and the line of them stretched down the street. So we headed for another place, one Bernie had recommended as we drove around on his tour.  It is called Antoinette’s and has, I think, been recently opened, because they had all sorts of signs around the outside insisting that they were, indeed, open.  They also had a table free, so we had their unusual twist of Yukon and Caribbean cuisine, and very good it was, too.  I’ve not eaten bison or elk before, and this meal enabled me to try both.

Then it was time for our evening activity, which was an attempt to see the Northern Lights; this is actually the principal reason we visited Whitehorse, and was as part of a special Aurora package put together by Northern Tales, a local agency (who also provided our City Tour and Wildlife Preserve tour earlier). We were whisked away to a site north of Whitehorse (and not too far away from the wildlife preserve, as it happens), where there were a couple of heated cabins, drinks, snacks, a bonfire and an open area where we could set up to view and photograph the Aurora Borealis.  As anyone who has tried this will know, success is entirely a matter of chance, and the initial omens weren’t too good, as we drove there through what sounded like heavy rain.  The rain, at least, had largely ceased by the time we got there, and so I busied myself with the relatively drawn-out process of setting up to get photos should the clouds decide to clear and the aurora to turn up. This excursion was basically the reason I had toted a tripod and an extra wide-angle lens with me, though it turns out that I could have left the tripod at home, as they provided some.  Never mind, I am familiar with mine which helps, I think.

After a few minutes, it seemed that the rain was going to hold off, so I set my tripod up with the camera and a remote trigger on it and checked, as far as I could, that I had a working setup. jane helpfully made tea and eventually (because the cabin was too warm and the weather was not cold) we settled down on a seat near my and others’ tripods and stared into the far distance to see if we could see anything happening.  It was really quite dark by that stage, although we could just make out lighter and darker patches; after a while of getting dark adapted, my eyes started playing tricks on me and I could have sworn I saw flickering patterns in the sky and the odd occasional dancing light.  We waited for about an hour, between 1130 and half-past midnight, taking occasional photos of dark sky and clouds.  I got to the stage where I thought I could entitle this blog post “I came for the Northern Lights and all I got was this bloody wildlife” when we thought that maybe we saw a little extra light out to the north.  So I took another photo, and, sure enough there was a tiny flash of green in the far distance.

Was it real?


The next 90 minutes was an orgy of photo taking and checking the results as best one can in near-total darkness.  I thanked God for a Nikon product called Snapbridge, which transferred photos from camera to phone, so we could check results on a phone screen rather than on the small one on the back of the camera.

It was great. We didn’t see the gorgeous dancing hanging curtains of light so beloved of marketing departments; but we did see enough to make staying up until 3am worthwhile.

A fundamental truth of the northern lights is that they are rarely bright enough for the human eye to see the colours; camera sensors, however, have greater colour sensitivity.  Often, humans see just a greyish light when the camera shows green.  But sometimes the lights are bright enough so that the cones in the human eye can make out colours; and so it proved now – we could just about make out the colours, although they were much clearer on digital images.

I took a lot of photos.  No, really.  But to save you the agony of looking through them, here’s a video constructed from two sequences of photos from two slightly different viewpoints.

Obvs, I’m pretty pleased with that little selection, but that may just be because I’ve only had four hours’ sleep and I’m getting hysterical.

You’ll be glad to know (yes, you will) that we repeat the whole process tonight, so I may take a few more snaps and share them with you.  Come back tomorrow and see whether the clouds got in the way or not.