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.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Days 1 and 2: October 6 and 7, 2011

[I want to begin each entry with a video, but I didn't take any video the first couple of days. So here's some footage of a giraffe-necked weevil at Perinet National Park, taken October 8th. The insect flew away a couple of times but the guide gently and gracefully caught it and put it back on the leaf. This is a male; females have smaller necks.]

[If you click on the YouTube logo, it will take you to YouTube and allow you to watch it full screen.]

And here the edited journal begins:

October 6: Six and a half hours into an over-14-hour plane ride to South Africa. After a 90-minute layover, we will take a 3.5-hour flight to Madagascar. 

It is incomprehensible to me that we are actually in the air in this 80-row tin can, "somewhere over the Atlantic." (I believe in plane flight the same way I believe in molecules, Jupiter, bits and bytes, and the existence of places I'm not at. I believe, but I don't believe.)

October 7:
Got through the first trip by rewatching Enchanted and five episodes of The Good Wife, and watching-for-the-first-time two episodes of Doctor Who; doing crossword puzzles; reading; and eating junk food. No one was sitting next to me, which was great luck. (Andrea and I didn't sit together because we both like aisle seats. She was across the aisle and a row or two back.)

The airport at Jo'burg was familiar-looking, with lots of stores and glass and lights. For me, it was notable mostly for a very yummy croissant.

The airport at Tana (short for Antananarivo), Madagascar, had few stores and no AC. It was  uninteresting and badly organized. Ads for VISA cards conflicted with signs for actual visas. People were fairly friendly. A young girl tried to get up the nerve to ask for money--her eyes were sad, yearning. The porter was friendly and distinctly not shy about letting us know we were to give him a tip. He was charming and even though we paid all of our tips in advance, we tipped him some more. I'm feeling rich, since I have 660,000 ariary. It only equals $300 dollars but it's a big wad of $10G bills.

We drove directly from the airport to a lake to begin birding. We rode past poverty, poverty, and more poverty on a road barely wide enough for vehicles to pass in two directions by pulling over as far as possible. We saw many one- and two-story buildings made of corrogated tin, wood, brick, and concrete in seemingly random combinations, with planned, well-kept buildings quite rare.

Vendors on the side of the road were selling tiny amounts of one or two items. One woman was selling maybe a dozen tomatoes, which looked nice and fresh. People also sold carrots and other produce. Meat hung unrefrigerated and uncovered in unpainted wooden stalls; no ice, no glass, just red meat and sausages practically right on the road. The occasional lottery vendors had nicer buildings,  brightly painted and in better shape than most surrounding buildings.

The road was crowded with people dressed in all sorts of western and African clothing. Women passed by with large bundle on their heads. People didn't smile a lot, possibly because of the rich white tourists staring at them.

The lake was lovely. A rich family owns it and the nearby land and put it all aside as a reserve. We saw ducks for days, black herons, gorgeous kingfishers, kites, etc.

The ride from the lake to the hotel went through a wealthier neighborhood with taller buildings, some glass and steel, a billboard with an iPhone advertisement, a mosque set back from the street. 

The vehicles we saw range all over the place in type and year, but all seem to be stick shifts. There are ancient adorable Citroens, newer Asian cars, Mercedes trucks. The buses are small and jammed; they make American rush hour look roomy. (We learned that the buses, which are known as taxi brousses, don't leave until they are full--very, very full. You can drive around for hours in one before actually going anywhere as the driver tries to find more passengers.)
The sky seemed endless. Today you could see layers of clouds going up into the stratosphere. The lower ones were Renoir-y, the next layer was more naturalistic, and the highest clouds were as sharp as digital photos.

I am sincerely, deeply tired.