Indian Ocean - Andasibe to Tamatave

With a fortnight left to travel in Madagascar, we had chosen to spend all of the time in the area north-east of Tana. Gaps introduced us to Harry, who would be our driver as far as Manambato, and we set out in a rather dodgy Mercedes salon car for Andasibe. We had to stop in Moramanga to have the car's alternator fixed - Harry couldn't sound the horn properly with the battery not charging.

We had all day to get to Andasibe, so we stopped at Pereira reptile park, where we first walked in the forest, seeing sifaka and nocturnal brown lemurs. The sifaka were very friendly, and came down from the high trees to take banana from our hands. Once back from the forest walk we had a look at the various caged animals. The park is home to crocodiles, snakes, millipedes, tenrec, butterflies, moths, guinea pigs, bats, geckos and chameleons. I generally dislike zoos where animals are caged, but this wasn't too bad. Many animals, such as the butterflies and chameleons, were in large walk-in cages, where the animals had quite a big area to range over, and even the animals in smaller cages weren't as bad as some I have seen. The butterflies and moths were spectacular, and even the millipedes, including the giant pill millipede, were quite fascinating. I handled one of the large pythons and the millipedes; the snake was deliciously cool against my skin.

Once settled in at Hôtel Feon'ny Ala (song of the forest) in Andasibe, we had time for a cold drink and a bit of a look around before heading off on a night walk with William, our guide for the area. We were lucky; William was a very good guide, spotting two mouse lemurs as well as geckos, chameleons, crickets and a frog.

In the morning we had a four-hour walk in the forest, mainly to see and hear indri, but of course there were lots of other things to see. We found nocturnal brown lemurs and sifaka there as well.

I wouldn't normally put a movie into my travel stories,
but I've included this one so that you can hear the indri calling in the forest:
the song of the forest.

In the afternoon we drove over to Vakona Forest Lodge to visit Lemur Island. It is largely a zoo, with lemurs captive on a series of man-made islands. The pirogue trip to the island takes approximately ten seconds - a long-jumper could leap over the gap. As soon as you land you are greeted by lemurs - we had a sifaka jumping from Carmel to me, looking for bananas. As we walked around the island the brown lemurs took over - at one stage I had three of them on board, one on each shoulder and one on my head. The island also had red-fronted brown lemurs and grey bamboo lemurs, all of which were very habituated to people. Our visit to Lemur Island only took a short while, so we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around near the national park, and even did our own night walk, managing to find several animals, but no lemurs.

We went to the community-run VOI park in the morning with William, who took us bush-bashing in search of lemurs. After a minor "lost passport" panic for Carmel we set off for Manombato. Once again the Mercedes needed some running repairs, so Carmel and I walked along the road for a few kilometres between villages while Harry sorted out the car. People in the little village we stopped at were very surprised to have a couple of tourists wander in, but I explained why we were on foot to one curious girl, and she informed the rest of the village that we were just waiting for our driver, so everyone relaxed. The final 7km into Manombato was pretty rough - Harry made us get out and walk when we had to cross a particularly dodgy bridge. The place we stayed was really lovely, right on the beach, but the late afternoon howling gale and rain was a bit off-putting.

We went by boat to Palmerium, along the Pangalanes Canal. Another great place to stay. We spent the afternoon taking a walk around the island, up to the viewing point on the hill and through the forest, and were entertained by the local kids doing folk dances before dinner.

Breakfast at Palmerium is interested - the lemurs come out in force. We had a friendly sifaka at our table, but a German couple suffered a commando raid by one of the loutish hybrid males - a quick jump into the middle of their table, and the bananas had gone! We had a walk around the plants, then toured the reserve in the morning, seeing lemurs, sifaka, indri and carnivorous plants. Carmel and I took another walk back through the same area in the afternoon, just by ourselves, without seeing lemurs, but we did have one visit us at our bungalow in the evening. After another lemur-filled breakfast, with another successful commando raid, we took a boat up to Tamatave (Toamasina).

That afternoon in Tamatave we had a look around the town and arranged to go to Ivoloina park and to Île St. Marie. In the morning we went to the park with a taxi driver, but although the setting is very pretty the place really is a zoo with cages, and not to our taste at all. We had a full day more to spend in Tamatave, so consulted with the park guide and the taxi driver, both of whom suggested a trip to Foulpointe, with a guide, of course. We agreed, and ended up effectively taking the taxi driver and guide two-and-a-half hours drive up the coast for lunch. To be fair, we had a great day, snorkelling out of a pirogue out on the coral-fringed lagoon, then sitting down with the two guys to have a very long chat about Madagascar, Australia and life in general over lunch at one of the beach resorts.

When we got back to Tamatave we caught the tail-end of a fair in the main part of town, then had a quiet night and early to bed, knowing we were being picked up at 5:30 in the morning for the trip to Île St. Marie.

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