Saturday, 26 September 2009 12:00 AM
Sara LeHoullier is going exploring both on and off the beaten path on the world’s fourth-largest island for three months. She shares her experiences in Madagascar with travelbite.co.uk in her third blog entry:
I learned something about myself today. I am not in shape. After hiking, climbing, slipping, falling (only once), and walking for six hours straight, I can barely type this post.
My legs are shaking, my head hurts, and I’m incredibly thirsty. However, and this is a big however, the park was breathtaking, the lemurs didn’t disappoint, and my guide, Dauphin, was just delightful.
During my trip through the park, we didn’t see as many species of things as Dauphin would have liked, but I was certainly satisfied.
My favorite moment of the day was when I looked down, and noticed a weird green thing clinging to my shorts. Thinking it was a leaf, I went to brush it away, but then discovered it was a GIANT praying mantis.
It must have thought that the leg of my oversized, incredibly ugly linen cargo shorts was the trunk of a tree or maybe a big stinky rock. Dauphin calmly picked it up and put it on an actual tree, and it seemed very happy there.
He also picked up a snake towards the end of our trip through the forest; it was moving very fast so I’m not quite sure how he caught it. Like I said, he’s a great guide.
I didn’t think there were many tourists until we saw the first lemurs of the morning, bamboo lemurs, which are incredibly endangered.
Somehow, through the guides’ tried and true method of yelling and whistling (and sometimes calling or texting), the other cargo-shorted and back-packed people started showing up, carrying very nice cameras and speaking many languages.
My average camera couldn’t quite catch the lemurs, which were sort of far away, but I did my best, and they were very fun to watch.
I also got to lay eyes on the rare double-horned chameleon, some beautiful orchids, butterflies, a mongoose, several types of birds, one other type of lemur (there were four of them!) and that snake I mentioned earlier. It’s a fantastic park and one that I really recommend.
While we were standing around at one point, I started talking to a couple from England who had just gotten married. They are here on their honeymoon, which I find very romantic.
They arranged their tour through an operator, Rainbow Tours, which I have heard is a good one. It made me realise how different my journey through Madagascar has been and will be, as I ride around in taxibrousses instead of private 4X4s.
I stay in wonderful little Malagasy hotels like this one, La Palmeraie (only 15,000 AR per night – less than Â£5 – while theirs is about 150,000 – nearly Â£50 – I’m just guessing), and I bargain with my guide to get a lower price because I can speak Malagasy.
I think all-inclusive, organised trips are great, as long as there’s some sort of cultural aspect where interacting with Malagasy people is required, and they’re much easier if you can’t speak the language here. I would miss the spontaneity of being able to choose my hotel, my route, my food, etc. Also I would be very broke (I mean, more broke than I am now).
Here’s an example of something you would miss if you were on a tour organised by a company. Yesterday when I got here, I had no reservations because the hotel telephone numbers listed in the 2009 guidebook I have are out of order or wrong (ahem, not telling which one – but I will say that my future book will be accurate because I will have stayed at/seen/eaten in every place I recommend).
I asked around while milling about town with my backpack, which had become very heavy at that point, and ended up meeting Jeannot, who runs a library here in town and lives here with his beautiful wife and three children.
He walked me to this good, clean, cheap hotel, and invited me to eat dinner with him and his family when I expressed dismay at not knowing which restaurant to choose.
I talked with Jeannot and his family for a couple of hours and in that time I think we exchanged most of our histories and a lot of funny anecdotes.
We ate Malagasy food – rice and crawfish fresh out of the river (I have to say I had no idea how to eat them, I kind of just crunched the shell with my teeth.tried to avoid the head and the organs).
Then we looked at pictures of their wedding. The generosity of the people here is staggering sometimes. By the way, Jeannot speaks English very well, as does my guide, Dauphin, and the woman who runs this hotel, La Palmeraie. I still speak Malagasy with them though, mostly. It’s nice to understand and be understood.
All information about contacts, hotels, guides, etc., will be included in my future travel guide, by Other Places Publishing. It will be finished in early 2010.