24/01/2016 St Augustine – Tulear
Last night at dinner ( Eden Ecolodge ) we were offered an extra dessert ( like we needed it!). Then 9 of the local staff came out with guitars, drums and maracas and sang us some beautiful village farewell songs which was very sweet and emotional. Three of the men then slowly left the band as the others played and presented us each with a little woven basket containing 2 shells as gifts. Of all the places we have left, Eden was the hardest to depart from. Not only because everybody made us feel so at home and part of the family, but because we had also bonded with an incredibly sweet dog that had wondered up to the lodge and decided to stay. She followed us everywhere and even swam in the ocean with us and slept outside our rooms. The other dogs ( the existing pack) were chasing her away at feeding time so we asked the staff and owner to make sure she received food. Hopefully she’ll soon be accepted by the pack. If it were possible, I would have taken her home with me.
This morning we were driven into Tulear, stopped at a police check-point again, and met the 4×4 company who hired us a car and driver for the day. We were then driven towards the sand dunes and coast and Reniala Park. Our guide, Clovis, was very entertaining and knowledgeable about the fauna and flora of the region. The park was established to protect the baobab trees which are incredibly slow growing due to the drought-like conditions of the region. The largest baobab we saw was over 1,500 years old and as Clovis said, it would take 7 of us to link arms around it, 8 Islanders and 9 Chinese. (:
The reserve is also used to rehabilitate ring-tailed lemurs. The villages raise them as pets ( food?) and they tend to become aggressive once dependent on humans for food. These domesticated animals are taken from the villagers and are kept in an enclosure at Reniala for a year to acclimatise to more natural conditions and then released back into areas where there is sufficient fresh wild fruit/leaves for them to fend for themselves.
Clovis also showed us how to age tortoises by counting the rings on one side of the chest and multiplying by two. Again, the tortoises at Reniala are protected as numbers have been substantially reduced by them being on the local menu. Some trivia for that extra boring cocktail party…Male tortoises have a concave chest ( for ease of mating) while females have a more level chest plate.
Baby baobab trees are raised in a nursery and replanted into the natural bush when they are old enough to survive the conditions. It will probably take a few decades before they resemble their water-retaining giant ancestors. The size of the baobab tree’s root is the same size as the trunk, meter for meter so it is an incredibly strong tree, resistant to intense weather conditions. Some of the older trees still have foot-hold scarring from before the area became a reserve. The locals dug holes into their bark so they could scale the trees for their fruit which is now forbidden. The ancient old trees are slowly repairing themselves. A number of other trees were also pointed out to us. The compass tree which always leans to the South in order to collect the wind-borne moisture and other trees with very light wood which are used for boat-building, various poisonous trees and their corresponding antidote varieties and other trees and bushes with various medicinal and healing properties….for ear ache, tooth ache etc. It was very hot walking amongst these majestic giants and after commending Clovis in the visitor’s book and then reading the entry aloud to his big smiling face, we purchased a few trinkets and set off to the recommended Princess of the Lagoon for lunch.
A lovely restaurant under thatch with beach sand for carpeting, and a friendly resident cat (that happened to knock a few bottles over while creeping around the pub) right on the lagoon. There was plenty of activity on the beach; hunters and gatherers, kids sailing their home-made boats, other tourists and pedlars selling their wares.
We are now sitting poolside at Auberge de la Table hotel. We were very excited to see the pool after a blistering hot and sweaty day. A family of effervescent green, long-beaked birds with white and orange necks ( similar to kingfishers) has collected along a shade tarp wire overhanging the pool. Their beaks are open, no doubt to keep cool, and every now and again one will dive into the pool and then fly back to the perch for a shake, some clicking sounds and a preen. They emit a very sweet trilling sound and warble to each other across the water.
Our flight to Tana has been changed to 7.45am tomorrow morning ( from midday). We have to be at the airport 2 hours before so it will be a very early start. We fly from Toliara to Morondava and then on to Tana where we will spend our final 4 days.