Friday, July 4, 2014

Day 6: October 11, 2011 (Continued): On the Road

These three videos show life on the side of a road in Madagascar, as passed in our vehicle. I'm not sure how thrilling they are, but I thought that some people might find them interesting.

[To see a video full screen, click on it, then click on the YouTube logo, and then click on the full-screen icon.]

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Andrea's Bug Pictures

Giraffe-Necked Weevil at Perinet
Some Bug in Perinet
Green Pill Millipede at Mantadia
Leaf Bugs at Ampijoroa  (Each of those pieces of white lint is actually a bug about the size of the top of your pinkie. They have tiny little black legs, and when they move they look like they're flowing along rather than walking. The white fluff keeps them safe--any bird going after them would just get a mouthful of fluff.)

Shield Bug at Ampiroroa
Butterfly at Ranamafano
Orange and Black Tree Beetles (Each of those things that look like candy or an odd rock is a little bug. Like the leaf bugs, they seem to flow rather than walk.)
Rainbow Bush Locust at Isalo (This thing is about three inches long and impressive. Truly odd and kinda gorgeous in a tacky way.)
Green Lynx Spider at Berenty
Handsome Beetle at Berenty
Ants That Ate a Snake at Berenty
Madagascar Hissing Cockroach at Berenty (Andrea saw one hiss!)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Day 6: October 11, 2011

Sitting in the Tana airport. Got caught in a mad traffic jam and had only 15 minutes for lunch—three courses, jammed down. Not fun.

The ride here was fascinating. People mostly wore Western clothing, and many were barefoot. Lots of people walking, some on bikes, lots of cars, lots of people with bundles on their heads (mostly women). Towns with shacks and stalls jammed together.

 We stopped for gas and I went into the shop, which had a fairly wide selection but only a few of each item. Lotsa empty space on the shelves. Much of what they sell is familiar—M&Ms, KitKat bars. Little in that particular shop seems particularly Malagasy or African. I bought toothpaste. I’ll be curious to see what it’s like. [That toothpaste, a brand I had never heard of, was kind of gross, thick and chalky. I later got Colgate, which was pretty much what Colgate is in the US.] 

In the more rural areas, people have more space but seem poorer. Shacks, mud homes, few more than one room. Painstaking scratching out of livings. The towns and Tana bustle, with shops cheek by jowl and little in the way of sidewalks. There are phone-recharging booths, lottery merchants, little “groceries” with little by the way of groceries. At one point we saw some selling clothing hung off a stone/cement wall—not like a yard sale or flea market, but like that was his shop.

In rural areas, we frequently saw women washing clothing in rivers, lakes, streams where the water was often far from clean. They drying the clothing by laying the items down on rocks or on the grass. In towns and Tana, clothing is hung from clotheslines on dozens of balconies.


Many of the rural areas have electricity, and some people have what look like TV antennas. Here and there, generally but not always close to towns, are signs of wealth—actual constructed homes with actual roofs and paint and design elements. And many rooms. While the poor house are often right near the road, these are further back, and often on hills—and often gated.

In Tana we passed an actual department store with big signs announcing what it sells, all in French. [The official languages are Malagasy and French. Recently English has been made official, but it’s by the least frequently used.] 

About an hour and a half later: Sitting on the beach in Mahajunga, at the Zahamotel. It’s rather stunning. Only a handful of people on the beach: a blonde tourist baking in the sun, two gorgeous African men lying in the shade wearing only white shorts, an African man with a reflective orange-yello vest (taking a break from work, I assume), and in the distance a small family.

I just moved to a table in front of our room in the shade. When I pulled out the chair to sit on, there was a lovely light-green gecko on it. It stayed for a while and then darted away.

They let me use the office computer at the motel, which has a French keyboard (known as AZERTY versus our QWERTY). It took me forever to get onto Gmail, and all the error messages were in French. I can read some French, but not enough to be helpful in this case.

I knew that my username was coming out okay, because I could see it, but of course I couldn’t see how my password was coming out. So I finally had the bright idea to type my password into the username slot, just to see exactly what I was typing. And what I thought was the number 5 was coming out as close parens. You have to press shift to get the number 5, as though it’s a capital. Who knew?

Everything was slow, slow, slow, and I felt bad about using the guy’s computer for so long. And the keyboard made me crazy—there were enough letters in the same places I was used to, so I would start typing quickly but then stumble on misplaced As and Ms.

About the weather on the trip so far: it’s mostly been mild and even chilly. It’s rained frequently, though never for long. I saw a rainbow over the lagoon at Vakona. Here, though—across the country and closer to the equator—it has been very hot at times. But the breeze off the ocean is lovely.

Bedtime: Talk about being out of one’s comfort zone. I just went to the bathroom and showered in a room in which I had just seen a GIANT cockroach. No romantic Madagascar hissing cockroach, either. Just a plain, old-fashioned, disgusting, scurrying roach/water bug/palmetto bug. It ran to the wall, and I sure hope it found its way out!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Day 5: October 10, 2011

Didn’t go to Mantadia National Park today with the group, which is sad. It may mean that I don’t get to see diademed sifakas. But it’s one and a half hours each way by bus and includes steep, slippery slopes, and I am sore. I want to keep my feet up, ice my knees, and let my body un-shock itself from yesterday's fall. I had weird leg cramps last night, and I’m still a little freaked out. 

[I was able to go to Mantadia at the end of the trip and saw many diademeds, so it worked out okay. I also saw them at Lemur Island, also toward the end of the trip. I took this photo there.]

Diademed Sifaka at Lemur Island, Madagascar

It’s not shabby spending the day at the lodge. I’m sitting on the porch and it’s a gorgeous mild spring day (in October!), and I’ve got a lovely view. There is a bottlebrush tree right in front of me, and birds keep stopping by. 

Vakona Lodge
The first part is early afternoon with a light rain;
the second is just before dinner.

I may be the only guest at the lodge not out and about and having adventures. I can hear noises of people maintaining the place—cleaning, trimming trees, moving tables in the restaurant.

I could not begin to imagine the lives of the people who work here. Well, maybe I could begin to, but not much past that. The people who work here are well-off, I guess, by Malagasy standards, just by having jobs. Ninety percent of people in Madagascar live on less that $2/day (and many a lot less than that), and I believe that's what $2 would buy in the US, not here.

We have passed so much poverty on our drives. We saw one man clearing a rice paddy patch. He was up to his waist in water, and he was carrying mud out of the main area (maybe 20 feet by 40 feet) and making a wall of it around the perimeter. And he was doing this handful by persistent handful. Gather the mud here, carry it there. Gather the mud here, carry it there. Gather the mud here, carry it there. A million times. Sisyphus had nothing on him!

What a difference an accident of birth makes. I travel, see shows, have a nice home, eat well, and generally have a comfortable standard of living. Yes, I’ve worked hard—but not as hard as the guy in the rice paddy!

I wonder how many gay people there are in Madagascar. Math would suggest that there are hundreds of thousands, possibly millions. How many get to love who they want to love? How do they find each other? How dangerous are their lives?

Yes, I was very lucky to be born when and where I was.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Andrea's Reptile Photos

Short-horned chameleon at Perinet Reserve.

Parson's chameleon at Perinet Reserve.

Tree boa at Perinet Reserve
For some reason, Madagascar tree boas are rarely found in trees. I guess no one told them their name.

Will's chamelon at Perinet Reserve.
Sikora leaf-tailed gecko at Perinet Reserve.  
Can you see it?

Our bathroom gecko at Mahajanga.We didn't take any pictures of our bathroom cockroach.
Cuvier's iguanid at Ampijoroa.
Broad-tailed girdled lizard.
Nile crocodile at Ampijoroa. This isn't behind a fence. Andrea was in a small boat, not at all far away, when she took this picture.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Day 4: October 9, 2011

Eastern Gray Bamboo Lemur
Quite the eventful day. Two trips to Perinet Reserve plus a thrilling night walk—during which I nearly killed myself.

To start with the drama—there was a very small wooden bridge with crossed slats, with some slats missing. I was trying to figure out if my headlamp was brighter in its second or third setting and if I was using it correctly. I was paying no attention to where I was going. I didn’t even realize I was on the bridge.

Imagine my surprise when I took a step into nothingness and ended up with my right leg down one of the holes. Glen (our main guide) and Andrea got me up almost immediately. I looked down into the hole, and it was pitch black. I guess I have actually looked into the abyss! [I found out later that there was a platform about four feet below the hole I stepped in but that the next hole went straight down to the water.]

I got pretty bruised and scraped up. I landed on my left knee, which got the worst of it [six weeks later, it’s not totally healed]. My right knee and thigh were also scraped and bruised. I took a small chunk out of my right elbow. [And it wasn’t until a few days later that I noticed the big bump a few inches above my ankle on the right leg.]

Andrea and I went back to our room to take care of my various wounds. After we had schlepped up the 65 steps, we realized that the room key was down at the reception desk. Andrea, despite her bum knee, went uncomplainingly all the way back down and all the way back up. Then it was washing the scrapes and antibiotic spray and all that. Andrea said that, with my skinned knees, I looked like an eight-year-old.

I was rattled, but I knew I was very very lucky. I didn’t kill myself. I didn’t even break a bone! Lucky indeed.

Enough of that--on to the animals!

This shows an eastern gray bamboo lemur, a Will's chameleon,
and a Madagascar Tree Boa

Today was rich with lemurs—common brown lemur, woolly lemur, Goodman’s mouse lemur, greater dwarf lemur, and indri. We got a particularly good look at the greater dwarf lemur (great name, that!), but they were all splendid.

In no order at all:
  • A mouse lemur scurried right by me, not a foot away.
  • At one point, before we had seen any indri, a troop started hollering and hooting, and it was as if a jolt of electricity went through our group.
  • The nocturnal lemurs’ eyes are so bright and reflective that I initially thought a greater dwarf lemur was just an airplane in the distance or some such. Then Andrea spotted it, luckily, and we ended up with some long and wonderful looks at a few of them. Eerie and wonderful.

    [One of my favorite memories of the whole trip, looking back, is the reflective eyes of the nocturnal creatures. Every single time I spotted a lemur in the dark, the intensity of the eyes was thrilling all over again. And if you looked down, you’d see dozens of tiny pairs of shining dots—spiders!]

  • Saw some amazing chameleons and geckos—ranging in size and color quite a bit, all quite cool.
  • At times during the night walk, it was really pretty spooky, particularly when Kaye (very nice co-traveler, Australian, enthusiastic, chatty) and I walked a bit in the wrong direction. Just the two of us into dark, thick, and mysterious rain forest. It was wonderful—a real sense of being in MADAGASCAR—and eerie and fun and a tad scary. I kept thinking, Holly would hate this!
And so much more, but I’m tired and tomorrow is a long day that starts quite early.

This shows some of the scenery at Perinet, which
was one of the most accessible places we went. It
also shows the people I was traveling with.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Day 3: October 8, 2011

Common Brown Lemur
25 seconds
[To see it full screen, click on it, then click on the
YouTube logo, and then click on the full-screen icon.]

October 8
Went to Perinet today. Saw Common Brown Lemurs, an immense translucent dragonfly, tiny and large chameleons, some gorgeous birds, some lovely plants, etc.

Being "in nature" was odd today, since 
  • Various guides at Perinet kept putting chameleons in easy-to-see locations for us
  • When we walked on a road outside the park, the exhaust fumes were horrible
  • Malagasy people's cell phones kept going off
  • We met a guy walking his pig a long way to slaughter, whipping it with branches to keep it moving
This shows a gecko and them some chameleons.
[To see it full screen, click on it, then click on the
YouTube logo, and then click on the full-screen icon.]

We're staying at the Vakona Lodge. Our room is about five flights of stairs up the side of a hill/mountain. [Later counting revealed it to be 65 steps.] It's pretty--actually two rooms, one up a spiral staircase. I'm on the porch now. I can hear a generator, what I guess is a tree frog, and people washing dishes in the lodge restaurant. A bird is whistling.

I'm falling asleep writing this! The pace was more intense than I had anticipated, plus I guess I have jet lag.