Monday 16 May 2011

Madagascar Honeymoon, Post #2: 11 to 13 April 2011

11 April

After our first visit to the forest had us scramble through foliage for lemur sightings, it was now time to let the lemurs come to us! Our hotel, the Vakona Forest Lodge, owns an island. This is where rescue lemurs get to move after they have been taken off people who were keeping them as pets.

Apparently it is quite common for people to want a soft, furry baby lemur in the home, but the fun mostly ends when those babies grow up and become unruly adults. By this time it is usually too late to release them back into the wild, as they are so used to being fed and have lost some of their natural instincts. There are quite a few sanctuaries like this, making sure that these animals are being cared for in a suitable environment.

We set over on to the island in a canoe and were greeted by a Diademed Sifaka and a Black-And-White Ruffed Lemur.

These were soon joined by a family of Bamboo Lemurs.

The secret of our popularity?

We took them some bananas! This little Bamboo Lemur made sure to hold on to my hand until he could be certain that there was really no trace of banana left on my fingers.

The Brown Lemurs took the longest to emerge from the forest, but then were the friendliest - and the boldest! I think Marco had five of them sitting on him at one time!


Here is the Sifaka, doing the characteristic dancing moves along the fence.

Even though it is sad when lemurs are being kept in captivity, I do so get why somebody might unthinkingly want one. These guys were soft and super-cute and so funny!

Even though it was wrong for the lemurs to be there, going to Lemur Island was an amazing experience. Seeing them so close by and having them hop all over us was exhilarating. But Marco and I both agreed that we were glad we had seen some in the wild before. That had felt more natural and impressive to see family groups doing what they naturally do, eat leaves, jump, groom, all with a certain shyness, with their curious eyes watching us from high up a tree.

After saying goodbye to the tame lemurs, we drove a little ways through the eucalyptus forest to go to another private reserve, which was more like a traditional zoo.

There, we saw crocodiles, who also occur in the wild in Madagascar, only further up North than we were. We also had to walk across some very narrow suspension bridges. A task I would normally like to avoid, but which I was happy to have accomplished.

This is a Fossa, the only predatory mammal in Madagascar. The guide told us that the three that were kept in the cages had been saved from villagers who had planned to kill them, as they are known to steal chickens. I do hope this is true, because these animals are rare and I did not like to see them in captivity. It was good to get an idea of what they look like (a cross between a martin and a cat) and of their size (about a strong cat and a half). You would be very lucky to see one in the wild. They are nocturnal and live on lemurs, rodents, birds and other small animals and reptiles.

More eucalyptus, some of the trunks are looking silvery grey because as the trees are growing, they shed their bark and grow it new from time to time.

Back at the lodge, Marco, Eric and I had a few matches of table tennis. Eric smashed us both completely into the ground.

We go on a night walk that night and see a mouse lemur, quite a few tiny chameleons and millions of very, very bright stars. You will have to take my word for this, I did not want to blind the critters with my camera flash.

12 April

The restaurant at Vakona Forest Lodge.

We're now on our way to Antsirabe. I am not sure you can see it very well in these photos, but we were passing some areas were eucalyptus was being cut for charcoal making. There is some smoke from a charcoal pit visible in the picture on the left.

Eucalyptus grows very quickly and consequently is a good resource, but it is not indigenous to Madagascar and can make the soil infertile with the essential oils that are contained in its sap. Because of this, it can be hard for any traditional trees to find a foothold in a eucalyptus forest.

Traditional clay houses of the area around Antananarivo. The ground floor is used for storage, the first floor is the living area, and the kitchen is under the roof. All the smoke from cooking is supposed to waterproof the thatched roofs.

At around lunch time, we stop in a town called Ambatolampy to visit a pot factory and to have lunch.

The pots are made from recycled aluminium, which is melted in brick ovens and then poured into moulds. The whole process is manual, done by just a few workers, in a small, very hot shed. These kinds of pots are used all over  Madagascar.

The moulds are set in wooden frames which are padded out with ash.

We have lunch afterwards, at a restaurant called Au Rendez-vous des Pecheurs. We eat vanilla duck and prawn curry and try two new beers.

Then we continue driving through rural landscape, passing rice fields and small villages.

This was a regular sight, people would do their laundry in rivers or lakes and then leave it out to dry in the sun on grass or rocks. We had some of our clothes washed in one of the fancy places we stayed, and even that came back with little prickly grass seeds stuck to it, smelling of hay.

After we check into the Couleur Café in Antsirabe, Eric takes us out to visit some craft work shops. The first is Miniature Mamy (Sweet Miniatures), where we are shown how little tiny bikes, rikshas and cars are made from tin cans, medical tubes and fishing line.

The designs are all hand-drawn, unique and extraordinarily detailed. In the little cars, the door handles can be pushed down and there is a tiny steering wheel on the inside that actually controls the axes.

Afterwards, we continue on to Broderie Gina, where this guy draws scenes of everyday Malagasy life...

... and these ladies embroider them onto tablecloths, blouses, caps and napkins in the most vibrant colours and minute detail.

On we go, to Corne Et Raphia, where we watch stuff being made out of zebu horns. The horn is cut and heated and can then be pressed into the shape of spoons, combs, bowls, earings, what have you...

This whole apparatus that the guy was using to make and polish the horn was built out of junk yard items. The motor came from an old washing machine, the belt from a car and the saw blades had been cut out of the lid of an oil drum. To polish, they were using circles cut from old jeans and clothes. It did amaze me again and again in Madagascar how nothing would go to waste, so many things were resources instead of junk, and people were truly recycling anything.

Antsirabe Rush Hour

13 April

After another early breakfast in the garden (with colourful birds in the bushes), we leave to go to Fianarantsoa, where we are to catch a train to the East coast tomorrow.

We stop at another workshop, this time for gemstones.

And then we go to Tritriva crater lake. To get there, it's a few kilometres along a dirt road, so very slow going. Anyone we encounter in the villages along the road waves, and the children shout "vazaha", which means 'white person', and is our number one word during this vacation.

As soon as we get out of the car by the lake, we have a guide and an entourage of teenagers, trying to sell us polished gem stones and handmade jewellery. We are also offered to keep the little dog that accompanies the group, a tempting proposition, which we decline nevertheless. The kids are very friendly and follow us on the short tour, chatting all the while in French and pretty good English. Marco is surrounded by the boys, I by the girls. Oh, and the lake and scenery were pretty nice, too.

Did I mention the dirt road, several kilometres long? Yes? That kind of road is  not so good to drive on when your gas pump gives out, which is exactly what happens to our car. As long as the hood is lower than the rear, we're fine, but as it's such a slow drive and there are so many pot holes, the engine stops every few metres. Eric seems quite embarrased, but we (and the roadside audience) think it's pretty entertaining. Eric says it should not be a problem, and we drive back into town to get the pump fixed.

So while we wait at the garage, I take the opportunity to get a few shots of the patient, our Hyundai Galloper.

And of the sky...

We get the pump fixed. And then exchanged when the car still keeps playing up on the second try of getting out of town. When we finally leave Antsirabe, we're about 2 1/2 hours behind schedule but happy that this happened near civilisation and not miles away from the next town. Anyway, it's all stories we can tell!

We've got another stop scheduled, this time in Ambalavao, which is famous for its woodcarving and marquetry businesses.

Example of coloured wood for inlays.

After a long day, which ends with us having to drive in the dark and Eric mentioning highjackings, which makes me nervous every time we have to stop at a police checkpoint after that, we arrive at Zomatel in Fianarantsoa have a bite to eat and go to sleep quickly, because we have a train to catch in the early morning. I will post photos from that train journey tomorrow.

If you would like to see if we bought anything at any of the work shops, have a look here.

And there are more pictures of the first leg of the trip here.

And the rest is here:

© Annika - All The Live Long Day (unless otherwise stated)


  1. Those bamboo lemurs are so cute! What a great experience :)

  2. WOW and DOUBLE WOW!!! Fantastic pics and so much work you're putting into these posts! Not that I'm complaining - keep them coming ;-)

  3. Another set of gorgeous photos.
    The sky really is a lovely shade of blue in that part of the world.

    P.s. the vanilla pods turned up. I meant to tell you the other day but forgot. I will be scouring my cookery books for inspiration.

  4. your trip is amazing! i never really thought of Madagascar before -now it is near the top of my list!!


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