This trip was scheduled to last around 3 hours but slow going through some major potholes in the road resulted in an extension to almost 4 hours. The road was windy and mountainous and 2 out of the 3 of us felt decidedly green around the gills. We arrived at Chez Gaspard B&B a bit wobbly with bladders fully extended. Mami had offered to pull over to the side of the road for Shannon, but she point blank refused to commute with nature saying,” no ways am I going to pee on somebody’s dinner!” She did have a point there…the land along the roadside is very well utilised with all varieties of crops growing in the fertile soil. There always seem to be plenty of people wandering around and a botanical encounter with a local while in such a vulnerable stance would not be unheard of. As is always the way, we were now seeing plenty of humans relieving themselves against trees and lamp poles along the road. Madagascar was mocking us!! Feeling thirsty but not drinking water in the hope that our bladder walls would absorb fluid in order to keep our blood liquid was futile.
We are now in true rainforest area. The air is heavy with moisture and the hills around us are shrouded in misty rain. The native bush around our bungalow is alive with the chirping of frogs and birds and the high-pitched buzz of cicadas. And it is hot. Big spiders build big webs spanning between the fronds of Jurassic ferns and we quickly fall asleep to the rush of a nearby river, the hum of a pedestal fan and the vista of bright green geckos chasing bugs across our ceiling. We are wrapped up in huge mosquito nets – reminiscent of Shelob’s pantry in a scene from “Lord of the Rings”.
An early rise is followed by a quick breakfast and a drive to the neighbouring National Park. Mami has organised a local, English-speaking guide to take us on a four hour walk through the rain forest. Fortunately, we have paid entrance fees in advance, unfortunately guide fees have increased from the scheduled AR 25,000 to AR 75,000 for a group of up to 4 people! Inflation?
In saying that, our guide Bertie (?), was knowledgeable and introduced us to a number of plants, insects and lemurs. Although we had smothered ourselves with repellent, we soon became magnets for black leeches about 2cm long, that lurk about on overhanging leaves in the dark, primary forest and we were flicking and yanking them off our ankles, boots and legs. They attach to our skin with one bunch of suckers…and wave the other end around in the air, sensing a blood source and the next attachment site. Erin discovered a big, fat one on my ear that a guide had to help remove. The one I removed from my hand had obviously been feeding for a while as blood flowed freely for quite some time after removal due to anti-coagulant injected into me. The bite is not particularly painful..just mildly irritating….with a fair amount of ‘ew!’ Factor according to my daughters.
The ground was muddy and slippery and a fine rain was falling continuously. Grabbing on to a sapling to brace yourself, meant a shower of water on your head as the tree sprung back into position. A relatively high level of fitness is required in the mountainous terrain and I quietly thanked the treadmill and stairmaster at the gym I attend. Our guide had an assistant who walked ahead scanning for lemurs. Our first encounter was with a Golden lemur with babe on back feeding on bamboo. Feeding was interrupted by hooting sounds to a neighbouring lemur. The second encounter took a while and we had to hike off the beaten track..stopping regularly to pick leeches off ourselves and each other. The Sifaka is black and white and one of the largest lemur species. They are also known as dancing lemurs and they bound acrobatically through the tree tops with long arms raised. Our final viewing was of a troop of golden lemurs feeding and playing in the trees above our track.
Another amazing madagasi critter is the giraffe bug aptly named for its very long neck. This crazy-cool, tiny creature somehow rolls up huge leaves into cigar shapes and deposits a single golden egg inside. Our guide unrolled one such bundle to show us the well-crafted nursery bearing its little pearl of DNA.
A quick break under a grenadilla/ passion fruit vine for a rainforest snack (yum!) and a lookout break with a few other groups of trampers to rest up and remove straggling leeches. The mist cleared long enough for us to get a view over the canopy. We then wound our way back through leech-free secondary forest to the park entrance. Back to the bungalow for hot showers and a change of clothing. We had worked up our appetites and a warm lunch at a local restaurant was the perfect end to a satisfying day.