Tag Archives: Lemur

Still getting there – Day 2: Transfer to Masoala Forest Lodge

Sunday 2 Jane 2024 – After less than four hours’ sleep, we didn’t exactly spring out of bed with a song on our lips, but we did manage to get ourselves presentable and breakfasted in time for Aina to take us to the airport, past scenes of Sunday morning activity.

Even though it was Sunday, the streets were quite busy and the shops were open. Aina pointed out that shopping was a major activity, since very few people had the means to keep food fresh, so going shopping several times a day is the norm.

Once again, arrival at the airport was a slightly disconcerting experience; instead of dropping us off in front of the terminal building (where quite a lot of people seemed aimlessly to be standing about doing nothing), he parked up and suggested we stay in the car for five minutes.  A couple of guys in red high-vis came over and Aina got out and opened the boot so they could get at our bags.  Trustingly, we followed them and they appeared to be going towards the check in area, which was reassuring.  En route, we met a friendly American chap who introduced himself as Tom and told us that (a) he was going to be joining us on our flight and (b) we three would be the only passengers.  The check-in area bore out his story.

It was a fairly standard check-in, except that all three of us were weighed alongside our baggage.  Having gone through the standard security thing, we climbed into a battered minibus for our mystery tour to the middle of the airfield, which is where we found out why there were so few passengers and why the weight mattered.

Our transport was a Cessna 206, which has just four seats.  One of them is, of course, needed for the driver, who was called Fury.

We settled ourselves in for the two-hour flight and donned ear defenders, which were very uncomfortable, but absolutely necessary.

A flight in a small aircraft is a golden opportunity to get some aerial photos – if the weather permits.  We had moderate luck.  Jane was on the better side of the plane for photos and got a shot of the extensive rice fields outside the town,

but as we ascended, blanket cloud coverage developed below us.  This persisted long enough that I decided I would try to make up for lack of sleep, so dozed for a while.  When I woke up, it was to see that the clouds had cleared and so there were some good aerial shots to be taken. They were quite revealing, and, as it turns out, demonstrated to me how easy it is to miss a story if you’re not paying attention.

Out of my side of the plane, I saw mainly forests.

but what I missed was the signs of cultivation even among the hills, which you can see bottom left in this photo.

What Jane saw on the other side of the aircraft was a radically different story – that of massive agricultural exploitation.

which extended pretty all the way up to Lake Alaotra, which lies about halfway between Tana and Maroantsetra, the airport we were headed to.

At the north end of the lake, there were extensive rice plantations.

Even in the forested areas, it was possible to see the consequences of this exploitation in brown water in the rivers caused by agricultural run-off.

The flight had given me entirely the wrong impression about the state of the land in this area of Madagascar.  It turned out that Tom, our fellow passenger, is a distinguished academic – a Professor and chair of the Global Health Institute at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia in the USA, and heavily involved with the Valbio Centre at Ranomafana, which works to protect Madagascar’s unique and biologically diverse ecosystems through conservation science and projects that directly benefit the local people.

It’s the first time I’ve ever met someone who merits a Wikipedia entry.

In later conversations with Tom, we learned a huge amount about the Madagascan environment including its reckless over-exploitation – 90% deforestation across the island – and its consequences to the health of the population; for example, one in six children born in Madagascar die before their first birthday.  Some reforestation projects are under way, but those aerial photos give some insight into the scope of the problems faced by the people here.

Eventually we landed at Maroantsetra, a decidedly rural airport.

The final stage of our journey to today’s destination – Masoala Forest Lodge – was by boat; but we had to get to the boat first, a journey which was undertaken in the sort of transport

which, it turned out, was essential for anyone trying to get anywhere on the local roads.

We passed the outskirts of the village, but the ride was so bumpy that I completely failed to get any decent photos of the life we were passing, which is a shame; it being Sunday morning, people were going home from church (or possibly to the pub, I don’t know) and so were dressed in their finery.

The boatport was rudimentary

but it had a decent loo (something we had been warned was not available at the airport) and, importantly, a boat.

It was also a chance for us to meet Ursula, who was our guide from the Masoala Forest Lodge. Accompanied by Pascal, the other guide from the lodge, she shepherded Tom, Jane and me aboard and we set off for what was a long, bumpy and really not very interesting hour’s ride to get to the lodge. There were a few other small boats out on the water, powered either by hand or by sail

but otherwise precious little of interest to distract us. So we were glad to get to the Forest Lodge, and were made warmly welcome by Jessie and Alban with a drink and a short presentation about How Things Worked Here, which seemed both content-rich and relaxed at the same time – no mean feat of organisation. There are many possible activities on offer – wildlife walks, kayaks, snorkeling, canoeing – all in a lovely rainforest setting, and executed with as much attention paid to sustainability as possible; built in local materials, powered by solar power, serving locally-sourced produce at mealtimes and so forth. It’s an effortlessly friendly place, superbly organised and a great place for what we were primarily interested in, which is to see some of the wildlife for which Madagascar is justly famed.

Alban showed us to our accommodation

which was the point at which I realised that Jane had snared me into something that was dangerously approximate to glamping – nice and comfortable, yes, but imposing a need to get dressed and to tackle a flight of stairs should one need to visit the loo during the night.


Having dropped off our bags, we went to the lounge area where we were once again made welcome and offered cocktails and lunch, which was very good.  After just seven hours’ sleep over the last two nights, a siesta then beckoned before tea and a short excursion on an outrigger sailing boat which was parked in front of the bar.

The enjoyment of the day continued relentlessly thereafter, with sundowner cocktails

and dinner, which was, again, a very good meal. Much was made of the fact that the sun had been shining, which apparently is a departure from previous days.

After dinner,  we had our first chance to see some of that wildlife, on a night walk.  Similar to our time in Costa Rica, night time is the right time to see some animals, particularly the nocturnal ones, and so Ursula and Pascal took the three of us for a short walk around the local trails. As was the case in Costa Rica, I was astonished at the skill of both guides at spotting animals that I would have simply walked by, and with their knowledge about them.  The walk was a good introduction to the local wildlife.  There are 10 species of Lemur in the Masoala forest, and we found several within walking (or, in my case, stumbling) distance of the lodge.

Masoala Sportive Lemur

We also caught sight of a bamboo lemur, but it was photographically uncooperative.  As well  as lemurs, we saw some of the other denizens of the forest.

Cyligramma joa Boisduval

Cyligramma joa Boisduval

Erebus Walkeri

Erebus Walkeri

At this point it started to become apparent why what we were walking around in was called a rainforest, so we retired swiftly to the lounge area and thence to bed for the night.

Before we retired, we discussed plans for the morrow and decided that, weather permitting, we’d go for a morning hike a short way up the coast.  This thing, “weather permitting”, is a feature of staying at the lodge.  The Masoala rainforest is the largest area of rainforest on Madagascar and the Masoala National Park is the largest protected area on the island. I have been to things that called themselves rainforests before, but never one as wet as this.  All the people we talked to seemed to be overjoyed that the sun had actually shone today, and equally uncertain as to what tomorrow’s weather would be like. So we’ll take a check on the rain and perhaps the hike will be a reasonable plan.  Stay tuned to find out.