Tag Archives: Ranohira

A scramble in Isalo National Park

Saturday 15 June 2024 – Le Jardin du Roy is very nicely put together. The rooms are spacious and comfortable; my main gripe is that there’s not enough light to see what you’re doing.  I suppose that this is a consequence of running from solar power and/or a generator, but it makes finding things (e.g. a black laptop on a dark surface in an underlit room) very frustrating. The internet availability was pretty poor, too, but the food was good and the service very agreeable.

Its buildings were in very lovely stonework,

and whoever designed or crafted it put several “hidden” things among the stones. At a basic level, you could find things like this star among the stones.

but there were more complicated creations as well.

Two lemurs and a palm tree

A nativity scene in our room

The day dawned, as I imagine is a regular pattern at this time of year (beginning of the Malagasy winter), cool and misty.

Our mission for the day was to explore Isalo National Park, so we headed to town (Ranohira) and Kenny (a) introduced us to our guide, José and (b) got tickets for the National Park , which, at 815 square kilometres, is pretty substantial. It was created in 1962, and is mainly dry, deciduous forest, based on sandstone landscapes, which means there has been plenty of erosion from wind and rain, creating rocky outcrops, plateaux and canyons up to 200m deep.

Our main objective for the day was to walk along one of these canyons.

After a short drive, we started our hike, for it definitely wasn’t a walk in the park, as you’ll see as you read further.

The scenery was quite spectacular with the sandstone cliffs we’d seen elsewhere.


We were headed alongside a river, as one could tell from the aquatic bamboo plants we could see.

The path started off easy enough

and, as happens so often, we started off with José explaining all sorts of non-wildlife stuff, such as: the difference between young Pandanus palms (single stem, thicker leaves, in the foreground) and older Pandanus (branched, leaves thinner, in middle and background);

and the iron pipe leading water to the town, some 6km away.

We did see some of the local fauna:

Darwin’s Bark Spider and its web

Madagascan White-Eye

I was dead chuffed to have nailed the image above, as the birds that we occasionally saw around us were exceedingly skillful at detecting the instant before a camera shutter is pressed and buggering off.

We soon reached a picnic area

where some lads were starting the preparation of a cooked lunch (what is it with men and outdoor cooking?) for those who had booked it (we’d chickened out, or rather cheesed out, and ordered a packed lunch to protect our, but particularly my, digestive systems). Here, we saw a Red-fronted Brown Lemur

who was very cute, but actually had a very sad back story.  She had got separated from her family group during a bush fire, and had failed to find them again; so she was lost and solitary. She hung around the picnic area trying to steal food – of course everyone was told not to feed her – and she must have been very lonely.

José also found us a White-browed Owl

but the real excitement was seeing a Ground Boa crossing the trail just in front of us.

We stayed very still, hardly daring to breathe, so that it carried on its way into the forest. It was about a metre and a half long.

The walk continued alongside the river into the canyon, which was the main objective of the day’s hike.

and we were treated to a succession of great views as we scrambled over the rocks (it was a real scramble in places,

and we were both grateful for the sticks we’d brought with us from Ranomafana).

Some of the trail had been prepared to make it easier for the punters

and José told us about what happens during the rainy season, when the water level rises several metres.  Some evidence of this could be seen in the trees that had been deposited among the boulders in the canyon.

We eventually reached a couple of pools: the Blue Pool

and the Black Pool (which had no illuminations)

where the trail basically ended.  So we took a rest while Jose and Kenny shot the breeze

and then headed back the way we came. There were a couple of encounters with the local fauna:


Water beetles

And the colours of the stone were fascinating.

When we got back to the picnic area, we were lucky enough to see a group of Verreaux’s Sifakas.

They were very athletic, as ever, leaping from bough to bough, rather better than the Monty Python sheep, who, of course, tended not so much to fly as to plummet.

After our packed lunch, eaten amid the haunting scent of delicious food being cooked for the other picnickers,

we headed back to the car.  On the way, we passed a rock on which was perched what I heard Jose describe as a “snot bug”.  Eventually, we understood it was a Snout Bug, for fairly obvious reasons

though I suppose that if it caught a cold, then maybe Jose’s original description might have been the better one. We also saw (among the other, more orangey coloured ones) a butterfly with a beautiful blue hue.

That was it for the hike; the canyon was a lovely, if slightly tense, experience, and I was glad to have caught some video of the sifakas.

On the way back to the hotel, we passed a couple of very colourful local scenes.

We had an evening entertainment laid on – a short walk to watch the sunset. On the way, we were lucky enough to see a Hoopoe,

though I had the wrong lens on the camera for a truly good shot. It was still nice to see it. The hotel had laid on a resting place for us (which we laid on)

and a cocktail service

(with nibbles).  The scenery was striking in the setting sun

and the sunset itself was not bad,

(middle photo from a mobile phone; outer two from my Big Camera; shows that mobile phone cameras these days are pretty damn’good).

Actually, we got more striking colours looking behind us

but it was a nice way to finish off the day. The nibbles had been enough food for us, so we simply retired to our room and took no dinner. Since we were (we were told) the only residents at the hotel for that night, it must have meant an entire kitchen staff on duty for no purpose; but we’re at the start of the tourist season, so I guess the hotel must expect quiet times.

We leave the hotel tomorrow, rather early, as we continue our south-westerly journey to Toliara, on the coast.  We have a Thing To Do en route, which we hope will be interesting.  I’ll of course report, so please stick with these pages to find out what we got up to.

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.