Isalo 19/01/16

The trip today took from 7.30 am to 6.30 pm, including many stops along the way. Our first stop was a paper factory. Here, the bark of an indigenious tree is boiled, mashed up and then spread out on frames to dry. The finished product is decorated with dried flowers or bound with Raffia and made into greeting cards, note books and numerous other papery delights.

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Mamie then took us to a silk factory. Wild and domestic cocoons are stripped of their silk to make scarves and clothing. The extraction of silk from the home-raised cocoon is a quick process, but the wild cocoons need to be boiled and washed with zebu/ ash soap, laid out to dry, and then spun by rolling thin strands against a thigh adorned with….denim! The silk is then dyed using mostly colour extracted from plants, spices (eg cumin) and vegetables like beetroot. Fabrics are then woven using looms.

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What was a slightly chillier, drizzly rainforest scene in the morning, became a beautiful , warm African landscape by mid morning. Green rolling hills and the most amazing granite rock formations looming above us. Majestic mountains and boulders strewn everywhere like some giant beings’ forgotten lolly scramble. The houses also became simpler and single-storied but still made with clay and thatch.

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After lunch at a local restaurant, we went to the Anja Park. Here again, the guide fees were a fair amount higher than expected, but we did get a good, English -speaking guide plus assistant who helped haul us up and down steep, rocky climbs and descents. When passing some guys herding some zebu, I was apparently asked if I wanted to trade my daughters for some zebu. We encountered chameleons almost immediately and soon after that we got to see many ring-tailed lemurs in family groups, up close and personal and springing through the tree tops.

Heading up onto rockier ground, our guides found a small brown chameleon in the leaf litter and then a 2.7 meter boa constrictor. We were able to touch its scales and feel the immense strength in the coils…needed for preying on lemurs. It was amazing and we were apparently very lucky to chance upon one. We then did a slightly treacherous climb up and onto some huge boulders in order to get a look at the views below. Jandals do not make good rock-climbing shoes so we resorted to bare feet which was easier but in the midday sun, hot on our feet. We arrived back to the car hot, exhausted but very, very excited by our fruitful tour.

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Back on the road and the landscape was changing again. This time, flat grasslands dotted with trees stretching out to the horizon. It was hotter, dryer and empty aside from scattered signs of human habitation. One almost expected to see herds of giraffe..or a pride of lions panting under a tree. Mami stopped the car to remove a chameleon off the road….with a long stick…and got a round of applause from us as he climbed back in behind the wheel.

The rock formations became more exquisite and with the setting sun turning their faces orange and pink, we arrived at our haven for the next two nights..”Relais de la Reine”. We thought we’d arrived in heaven. A stone ‘castle’ ,complete with beautiful gardens, a pool, 4 poster beds and fluffy bath robes. We immediately regretted booking a full day tour for the next day as we wanted to indulge in everything this wondrous place had to offer – Horse-riding, massages, chatting to the tortoises and sunning ourselves by the pool. The service is extraordinarily professional, the setting is off the chart beautiful and both my daughters decided that this is where they would have their honeymoons! The restaurant did not disappoint. The kitchen had prepared a special menu, typed up and dated just for us to cater to our vegan/ vegetarian needs. After the long day’s drive, the exhilarating walk in the park, and our arrival at this little wonderland, we promptly and inappropriately got the giggles. Score!! We ate a delicious and satisfying meal and then headed regretfully to our rooms, too tired to enjoy the night swim we had promised ourselves earlier.

A whole day at Isalo National Park tomorrow. A few hours walking, swims in some rock pools, lunch cooked for us at the campground, sunset against the beautiful rock formations and then the return for our second night…and maybe a swim…at this Malagasy delight.