Tag Archives: Masoala Forest Lodge

Still there – Masoala Forest Lodge Day 3

Tuesday 4 June 2024 – The day started the same way that the preceding days had – having rained all night, it rained on us as we headed to breakfast, which, by the way, was taken every day on the “sea deck”, virtually the only clearly visible building to indicate to passing boats that there is actually a lodge here.

The photo above was taken a couple of days before; this morning, the conditions were much less benign, with a cold wind and some rain.  This made the prospect of going out anywhere much less attractive; the original plan A had been for everyone to go for a serene outing on a canoe along a nearby river, and I didn’t much fancy the idea of floating along getting wet, which in any case makes wielding a large, heavy and expensive camera setup inadvisable.

Also, I was getting all behind with writing this blog.

I therefore decided that a morning at leisure, or at least at the laptop, was my plan.  Jane and Tom decided eventually that the canoe thing did appeal, and so made ready to go for the short walk down to the river.  As they were doing that, Jessie came by to tell us that there was a good snake photo opportunity nearby.  She led us through the lodge buildings Out Back (where all the hard work takes place – see later) to this scene.

It was a little difficult to make out what was going on, but it became clear that there were actually two snakes, tree boas, and they were making out.

There’s a snake at the top of the photo, and another one at the bottom. Careful examination revealed its head

and where the action was happening.

Apparently, they would be At It all day, and, while we were careful not to disturb them, they certainly seemed to have their minds on other things.

So whilst I sat in the beach house doing my blogging thing, Jane and Tom departed, in fairly gloomy weather but bright spirits, to their canoe ride.  I will let Jane take up the narrative.

A short forest walk (no wildlife of note to report) brought us to the bank of a river and a largeish dugout canoe – the locals make these dugouts from the buttress-rooted trees in the forest, but this one had been treated with an extra skin of fibreglass to make it slightly more robust and smoother for the softie tourist! The boatman and our guide Pascal shared the paddling fore and aft while Tom, Ursula and I perched on the cushioned seats amidships.

The rain held off until the very end of our trip; the vegetation was lush and dripping from the previous showers, and it was very quiet and peaceful.

Of course the air of peace and tranquility is completely misleading, since what is going on here is a silent and almost motionless fight for survival, as the various trees compete for light, air and water; either by being the tallest, or having the biggest leaves, or growing the longest aerial roots:

I say motionless, but in fact trees here can “walk” – a phenomenon we also saw in Costa Rica; aerial roots are thrown out in the direction of improved conditions, be that more air, light, or water, and the tree is therefore gradually supported further and further in that particular direction.

There are no crocodiles or water living predators; we saw a pair of dimorphous herons

and several of the tiny jewel-like kingfishers.


We saw evidence of the presence of the Aye-Aye, a lemur we are very keen to see – they demolish rotting tree trunks to reach the tasty grubs and larvae inside – but no sign of the (nocturnal) beast itself.

Our boatmen managed the river very smoothly, avoiding the many sunken boulders in the rather shallow water

and we were back unscathed and relaxed at the Lodge in time for lunch.

The Masoala Forest Lodge operation is superbly well-run, and yet is a distant outpost of civilisation – Maroantsetra is a 75-minute 40km boat ride away.  Ever since we arrived we were wondering how the team dealt with this remoteness such that everything fitted together to give such excellent service to their guests.  Jessie had told us that there were, all told, some 57 employees, once you take in the kitchen staff, the hotel service staff and the grounds maintenance staff, all marshalled with great efficiency by the administrative team.  Going to look at the tree boas in the morning showed us that there were quite a few buildings behind the scenes, and after lunch Alban offered to show us around. It was really interesting to see how things fitted together so that the guests were properly looked after. We had, for example, wondered where the solar panels were that powered the lodge, and they were part of what was behind the scenes,

and fed into a battery room

where there are a couple of freezers to keep essential supplies. These are used alternately so one can be cleaned whilst the other is in use.

The site also uses another ingenious idea to keep some fruit and vegetables fresh – a charcoal ‘refrigerator’ – the charcoal acts as a dessicant enabling the contents to remain fresh for longer.

For storing other dry goods there’s a building which looks not unlike the horreos we saw in such profusion across Galicia in Spain.

Note the “mushrooms” atop the legs, which serve to keep the rats out (and, yes, they take the steps away at night!).  The roof thatching for these types of buildings is made from traveller palm leaves and lasts about four years before needing to be replaced.

Alongside the laundry and kitchen facilities there’s the bread oven

where the bread is baked fresh every day (and the room can be used to dry wet boots as a welcome side effect). The staff sleep in dormitories

and even the lodge’s two dogs have their own traditionally-built kennels.

All of this infrastructure sits behind the beach house, which is where the guests eat lunch and dinner, and, importantly, find the bar.

All of these facilities came together for today’s dinner, which was a traditional Malagasy meal.

The tablecloth is made of traveller palm leaves, and diners also have a spoon made by doing origami with palm leaves.  The final table was well loaded with food.

In the foreground, you can see a pile of rice.  There were four piles of rice to be shared between the 10 diners, but Jessie pointed out that actually each pile of rice would be what a single Malagasy person would eat in a day; as you can see, rice is an important part of the Malagasy diet.  There were kebabs and samosas and kingfish and cassava root and fried sweet potato and beans, and altogether it was a splendid dinner.  The way to eat is simply to use the spoon to take a scoop of rice, add a little bit of whatever takes your fancy and eat it as a single shot. And at the end of the meal, you simply roll up the tablecloth to clear the table – a marvellously sustainable approach.

Staff, guests and guides after an excellent traditional Malagasy meal

The last activity of the day was another night walk, with the hope that finally it might be possible to track down the Aye Aye. Once again, I decided to prioritise writing over squelching around in the rain forest (because I thought the likelihood of spotting an Aye Aye was remote), but it wasn’t long before Jane came back from the walk demanding that I come at once to see something.  I knew better than to demur, and so picked up the Big Camera and followed.  This is what the excitement was about – something that Jane herself had spotted – the guides had missed it!

It’s a Leaf-Tailed Gecko – quite a sizeable beast, probably the better part of a foot from top to bottom. It was not at the best angle for photography, so Pascal chivvied it along a bit so we could get a better view.

It has simply extraordinary eyes,

like the Eye of Sauron in Lord of the Rings. Its other noteworthy feature is the leaf-shaped (shed-able) tail; that, together with its tree-bark-and lichen colour scheme, makes it very difficult to see when perching against a large tree. Since this one was on a thin branch, which allowed its shape and pale underbelly to show, it was less well camouflaged.

After that, it seemed a good idea to join in with the walk, so we all carried on, and, indeed, found a few other creatures.

Tufted Tail Rat

Young Brown Leaf Chameleon

Long-nosed Chameleon

And, among some excitement, Pseudoxyrhopus Tritaeniatus, which any fule kno is the posh name for the Three-striped Ground Snake

This one had lost its left eye somehow – we’re not quite sure how.

That was that for the day’s action.  In some ways I regretted not joining in on the canoe outing, but on the other hand I was happy that I had looked through and processed all the outstanding photos and brought the blog up to only a day behind.

This was our last day at Masoala Forest Lodge. The morrow sees us transferring back to Tana in order to continue our Madagascar adventure.  This will be the reverse of our journey out – boat, car, light aircraft – but maybe we’ll see some things worth writing about. Who knows?

Being there – Masoala Forest Lodge Day 2

Monday 3 June 2024 – As if yesterday weren’t busy enough, today has been something of a day of relentless achievement also. We had a comfortable night, lulled, I suppose by the crashing of the waves on the beach outside our “bungalow”.  As background noise, this was quite loud, and at times supplemented by heavy rain, but it didn’t keep us awake, and I managed to get down the steps to the bathroom during the night without injuring myself or damaging the property.

We had agreed an outline plan to congregate after breakfast to decide whether to proceed with the plan A half-day rainforest hike; and the weather prospects seemed OK, not that it’s easy, or even possible, to predict from one minute to the next whether it will rain or not. So, off we pottered in one of the lodge’s Zodiacs, with Ursula and Pascal.

Ursula had suggested that we use poles to help us on the hike.  I was initially reluctant – I have my manly pride, after all – but when she said that she would be using one, I decided that it might be worth doing; and she provided both Jane and me with suitable sticks. As it turns out, I’m exceedingly glad that I swallowed my pride, as the going was

pretty tricky underfoot and

somewhat up-and-down. It turns out that the first 20 minutes or so was a test to see whether we were up to the rest of the hike. (We passed.) The trail proper started at a noticeboard

whose photo gave a clue as to the main objective of the hike – to see if we could find, view and (of course) photograph the red-ruffed lemur.  The going continued to be quite tough in places; the combination of that, and both guides’ insistence on “mora, mora” (slowly, slowly) – as that way you’re less likely to miss something and also to injure yourself through over-ambitious orienteering – meant that my Garmin watch refused to credit us with moving at all for most of the way up to the top. (I turned off auto-pause for the way down, which is how I know that we climbed about 130 metres during the hike.)

Given that rainforests are supposed to be a haven for biodiversity, there was very little by way of wildlife to be seen.  Ursula is something of an expert on the plants of the forest, particularly also on their medicinal properties, and so was able to point out some interesting things on the way.  For example, this particular palm tree

is unusual in that dead leaves don’t drop, but stay attached and continue to provide nutrients to the plant itself.  There were some substantial tree ferns

which are a marker that one is actually in proper rainforest.  Ursula pointed out what looked like fungus on another tree,

which is actually the fruit of the tree, which is colloquially called a cauliflower tree. If you look just above the “fungus”, you can see another fruit about to burst open, too. Buttress-rooted trees were not uncommon, and some of them had very substantial root systems

(distinguished academic provided to show scale). Generally the rainforest was quite a spectacular environment.

On a couple of occasions, Ursula and Pascal had to engage in bridge-building

in order to ensure we could safely cross some of the streams that were, erm, streaming down the hill.

By this stage, we had spent some two and a half hours squelching  up and down in search of the elusive varecia rubra, and time was beginning to press if we were to return to our start point punctually.  Ursula and Pascal decided that they would try one last possible location, so off we went and

bingo!  There it was, apparently guarding some fruit to stop other lemurs (typically white-fronted brown lemurs) from stealing it. (I guess that’s how the guides knew there was a good chance it was there.)

By the way, it was bloody miles away up in the treetops. I am frankly astonished, as ever, that they could see anything.  Even through a 560mm telephoto lens (that’s about 10x magnification) what was on view was this.

You can imagine that to mere mortals like Jane, Tom and me that was simply a bit of tree, but the guides could somehow see that this blob was not just a trick of the light but was actually a lemur.

A word on image quality, here.  Both Jane and I were sporting Samsung Galaxy Ultra phones, and it was possible to get a clear image on either of them.

This is an untouched image from one of the phones (left), put beside an enhanced one from my Nikon-Zf-with-hulking-great-lens-attached (right).


On the face of it (and particularly viewed on a phone screen), they look pretty similar. But look at them in detail and a difference is much clearer – phone first, then Nikon.

It’s a great tribute to the imaging power of modern phones that you can get such astonishingly good results; but a large sensor and top-quality lens still trumps that if you’re after the best quality results.

In other words, it was worth lugging that sodding lens all the way up the hill.

Just as bloody well, really – that was the only wildlife we saw during the entire morning. But we were really glad that Ursula and Pascal were able to find the elusive red-ruffed lemur for us.

We returned to the lodge for a well-deserved and, as usual, excellent lunch followed, in my case, by a bit of a siesta until it was time for tea followed by another sundowner cocktail hour. Once again, this was interrupted by calls to go and look at some wildlife, one before dusk

White Chameleon

and one after.

White-fronted Brown Lemur (male)

After dinner, we did another night walk scramble, which turned up a few more images. Our little mouse lemur was there again, and looked very unimpressed with all the lights being shone at him.

I got another chance at a decent image of a woolly lemur, with slightly better results than yesterday.

Woolly Lemur

We saw a big-nosed chameleon, although it’s not, frankly, easy to see why it gets that name from the photo I was able to take.

Big-nosed Chameleon

There were some tree crabs in, erm, trees,

and there were moths and frogs, too, but you’ve seen one Cyligramma Joa Boisduval, you’ve seen ’em all. Oh, you haven’t? OK, then:

Cyligramma Joa Boisduval


They are rather lovely, aren’t they?

Finally, a cricket match.

This night walk was interrupted even more markedly by the rain, so we hastened back to the lounge for a final cup of tea and consideration of the possibilities for the morrow before retiring for the night. The main candidate seemed to be a canoe paddle up a nearby river, but again this is going to be subject to whether the weather permits; the prospect of drifting slowly along whilst getting drenched is not an appealing one.  Who knows what we’ll get up to?

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.