Saturday, July 4, 2015

In Search of Lemurs. Andasibe-Mantadia National Park.

Waiting for breakfast.

Today was our first full day in Madagascar and we kicked it off bright and early!   There really is no rest for the weary traveler.  Luckily, neither George suffer from jetlag!

It was cool when I woke up and when I opened the front door of our bungalow, I could see it that it was raining but it was so gentle that it was more of a mist.

We had a quick breakfast in the hotel restaurant.  The usual tourist fare as I would call it - some sort of bread/pastry things with a serving of eggs, cooked whatever way you prefer.  George washed down his meal with a cup of coffee and as usual, I had tea.  Our meal started with two glasses of milky colored liquid.  Both George and I had the same reaction when we saw the waiter bringing it to us - we don't want milk.  The waiter replied that it wasn't milk; that it was juice.  Hmmm.....I don't know of too many juices, except for coconut milk, that are white in color so I was definitely intrigued.  I took a sip and I was pleasantly surprised.  I took a second sip to be sure and indeed, it was custard apple juice that I was tasting.  There is no mistaking the flavor or custard apple as it is one of my favorite fruits and it is grown in Madagascar.


Unfortunately, it's one tropical fruit that I cannot get in the US so I substitute its cousin, the cherimoya, when I have a deep craving for the fruit.  I enjoyed every sip of this juice and had we had time, I would have treated myself to a second glass.

After breakfast, we made a quick stop back at the room to use the facilities before meeting with Beeo in the hotel parking lot.  He looked rested.

We got in the car and drove a very short distance down the road.  We had arrived at the Visitors Center at the park.  There only a few other visitors in the park.  I'm glad as it means we won't be bumping into too many other folks on our walk.

Andasibe-Mantadia National Park encompasses a cluster of protected areas located around the village of Andasibe.  The most accessible of these areas is the 1,500 hectare (3706 acre) forest of Analamazaotra which is managed by the Madagascar National Park Association as a special reserve.  The Analamazaotra reserve is amalgamated with the much larger Mantadia forest.  The park was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007 as part of the Rainforests of the Atsinanana.

The park holds the reputation as Madagascar's premier rainforest destination, offering visitors the opportunity for close encounters with various lemurs - it is THE place to see and hear the indri., the largest of the lemurs.


Beeo went inside to get our entry tickets.  In the meantime, I broke out the rain poncho that I had brought along.  It was still a misty rain but with the sky as gray as it was, it looked like it could pour at any moment.

While we waited for Beeo, we took a look at the walk options.  Rija had told us that we would be paying for the services of the local park guide so we had to pick which circuit we wanted to take.  Beeo suggested we do the 4 hour long Analamazaotra Adventure Circuit.  Despite the word *adventure*, he assured us the walk was not a difficult one so we took his word and went for it.



We met our guide and although we exchanged names, I cannot remember his name.  We followed him inside the Visitors Center and pretty much just glanced at the exhibits as we walked passed them on our way to the back door.


From there, we took a path that led us into the rainforest.  If I remember correctly, this was George's first visit to a rainforest so everything was new to him. 


For me, the rainforest is a familiar sight though the many of the trees and plants here were ones that I had never seen before.  One foot in and  I knew I would enjoy the walk - there's a peace and tranquility in these woods that relaxes me.  My face was kissed by the mist and my nose was taking in the smell of damp ground.  As usual, I took up the rear position so I could take photos without holding up the line.


Of course, we were on a quest to see some of the amazing animals that call Madagascar home - in particular, lemurs.  I had already set my own expectation that spotting a lemur, in the dense foliage of the trees, was going to be a challenge so I tried not to get my hopes up.


The first *animal* we encountered came in the form of a VERY large spider web.  As we crossed a small footbridge, we stopped to admire the web.  I still marvel at how this time animal can actually produce something like this.  A spider can't fly so how does it actually manage to string up the web from left to right?



All the time that we were walking, I could see our guide was on the alert for the sight and sounds of animals.  He also took the opportunity to point out some of the more common plants inhabiting the forest here.  The first one we saw was a Pandanus plant aka screwpine.  When he said pandanus, I immediately thought of the pandan leaves that we use as a food flavoring agent in Malaysia.  I touched the blade and it was incredibly stiff with spikes only both edges.  I broke off a piece of the blade and sniffed it.  There was none of the fragrant scent of the pandan leaf I'm familiar with.  So, this plant is a relative of the species we have in Malaysia.  It's a big screw pine- growing several meters tall!



A damp forest floor, filled with rich organic matter, is the perfect environment for fungi.


Moss grows thick and heavy here.

We also took a stop to admire a very large Bird's Nest Fern.  Everything grows large here!  This one specimen had wrapped itself around a tree!



For the most part, we were on a nice walkway but as you might expect, the familiar sound of an animal would take our guide and us in off the beaten path directions.  I just kept faith that our guide knew this park like the back of his hand and so there would be no chance we would get lost.  We shall not get lost!


Where there was no wooden path, tree roots broke through the surface of the ground.  I had to pay careful attention to walking lest I stumble over them and take a fall.  That would not be good.



I could see our guide's head moving in all directions as he was constantly surveying the landscape for animals.  At one point, he darted off on his own...instructing us to stay where we were standing.  A few seconds later, he appeared in view and waved us towards him.  He had spotted a lemur.....high up in the tree canopy.  He pointed it out and I had no idea what I was looking for until I saw the large body of black and white fur.  It was a single indri.

Can you spot the indri?

He was sitting on a tree limb but he was so high up on the tree that I had to use my zoom lens to see him.  It took a few seconds to make him out and figure which way his head and body were facing.  When we first saw him, he had his back to us.  Our guide made a few sounds that caused the indri to turn his head back towards us.  That's when I fired off a few shots.  I had to strain my neck to look up at him and after a while, my neck was beginning to hurt so I had to take frequent breaks to rest it.


This is the first time I've ever seen a lemur and I was surprised at just how large it was.  If I could venture a guess, it was larger than a chimpanzee.

A fuzzy blob of black and white fur!

If only it had decided to come down the tree....we could've gotten a closer look at it.

A small snout and round ears.  So cute!


According to our guide, there is a family of about 6-8 indri living in the part of the forest that we were in.  I had hoped we would see more than one but that was not to be.  But we did get treated to hearing the call of the indri.  The indri is well known for its vocalization which is obviously their means of communication.  I managed to capture a video of at least two indri calling out.  They are loud, apparently loud enough that they can be heard from long distances away!


Incredibly, Madagascar is home to 258 species of birds!  We saw quite a few on our walk but I only managed to capture a photo of one....the only one who stayed still long enough for me to take its photo :-)


Our guide also pointed out trees that had trunks that looked like corkscrews.  We had to take a closer look to realize that what we actually looking at was the woody stem of a vine that had coiled its way up the trunk of a tree. 


At one point, our *walk* turned more into an obstacle course of trees, twigs, vines, and roots.  I found myself stepping over fallen logs and pushing foliage out of my face as I pushed onwards.  Was this the *adventure* part of our walk?



Again, our guide stopped us in our tracks as he went off in search of something.  He came back and told us he had spotted some lemurs and that we had to walk towards them as quietly as we could so as to not scare them away.

Resting comfortably, high up in the limbs of the trees, were several of what he referred to as *golden lemurs*.  Actually, they are diademed sifakas which are endemic to this forest.  Their distinctive golden brown/gray and white colored fur and black face made them a little easier to spot among the tree leaves than the indri.  Compared to the indri, they are slightly smaller in size but most certainly give the indri a run for the money in the cuteness department.




I love the way they hang on to the trees.

Diademed sifakas are diurnal but only come out to feed when the temperatures have warmed up.   When they feed, they are very active, leaping long distances from one tree limb to another.  There were moments when they looked to be as curious about us as we were about them.  George captured some video on his iPhone.



Again, we had to strain our necks to look up at them but it was worth it.  We were in luck as we were able to spot several of them actually feeding!  Unfortunately for me the humid conditions in the forest had caused my camera lens to fog up badly.  The moment I dried it, it was wet again.  So, it was getting increasingly hard for me to focus the lens.  Crap.  I have a bunch of blurry photos but luckily, you can still make out the adorable lemur as he reaches for leaves to munch on.


Ahhhh.....can he get it?

Got it!

It's hard to tell from the photo but the one thing that I found really cute about these lemurs was the relaxed manner in which they perch themselves on the tree limbs.  This guy has his right arm draped over the branch.


I had to snap this one photo to capture an image of the diademed sifaka's curly white tail which they use to hang on to tree limbs with.


Leaving the diademed sifaka's behind, we continued our walk.  We soon learned that even the blades of a pandanus plant holds animal life.


Frogs!  Both were teeny, tiny creatures - smaller than a US penny coin!



Our guide had told us that Andasibe-Mantadia National Park was home to four species of lemurs.  So far, we had seen two.

Hazy view of the forest through my fogged up camera lens :-(

On one part of our walk, we actually left the rainforest and entered into a grove of pine trees.  It was so unexpected to see pine trees.  I suspect these were introduced to Madagascar versus being a native plant.  In any event, I was just walking and taking in the sights when I saw a brown colored creature leaping between trees.  I called out to our guide and with his sharp eyes, he spotted a brown lemur - sitting on a tree limb, far off in the distance.  I couldn't see it until it moved and then I could follow it.  Unfortunately, my camera lens was so badly fogged up that it was a lost cause trying to take any photos.  So, the one's below were all taken by George who managed to capture photos of one brown lemur on the move.

Can you see the brown lemur?



And there he goes!


After we spotted the brown lemur, we were near the end of our walk.  A short distance later and we were back at the Visitors Center.  There, we took a few minutes to check out the displays.  Then, we thanked our guide for his services and gave him his fee as well as a bit of a tip.  Back in the car with Beeo, we headed back towards the hotel.  Believe it or not, it was time for lunch!  Whatever little bit of breakfast we had had long been burned off and we were both hungry.  Situated right outside the entrance to our hotel was another guesthouse and its restaurant.  Beeo had indicated that the restaurant served pretty good food so we decided to check it out.

View of the buildings outside the entrance to our hotel.  The orange colored building is a guesthouse.  The low, green colored building
is a small souvenir shop.


The restaurant was empty.  We sat at a small table next to the window.  The restaurant had free WiFi which we both took advantage of.  While we waited for our meal, George responded to work emails on his laptop while I sent off an *I'm alive and doing well* email to my family.

Best babysitting tool for a man?  A laptop, free WiFi, and beer.  Sure kept him quiet :-)

The menu here definitely caters to tourists.  Both George and I ordered pork chops which came served with French fries.


It was a delicious pork chop.  I left nothing behind.  George helped clear the French fries on my plate.

For dessert, we shared a plate of bananas cooked with local Madagascar spices (ginger, vanilla and ???) flambéed with locally produced rum. It was absolutely delicious!  Give me a plate of dish and a scoop of ice cream flavored with Madagascar vanilla and I would be in heaven!


We had a couple of hours to linger over lunch as we didn't have to meet back up with Beeo until 2:30p.  After we paid our bill, we quickly checked out the small souvenir shop next door.  Nothing of interest so it was back to the room to use the facilities and then reuniting with Beeo and our car.

I'm having so much fun at the moment.  I can't wait to see what this afternoon holds for us!

Oh....and I almost forgot - Happy 4th of July!  No fireworks here but the lemurs are more than making up for that!