Madagascar Holiday with JENMAN

Madagascar Holiday with JENMAN

John Maytham is one of Cape Towns’ local celebrities; hosting talk shows on a local radio station named “567 Cape Talk”. John has his own program which features new and exciting topics daily, as well as discussions on current and political affairs. We were thrilled for the opportunity to arrange John’s holiday and let him experience JENMAN Safaris’ passion and knowledge for Madagascar. John recently (July 2009) returned from an exciting Madagascar Holiday; he went on a tailor-made package that consisted of our North Adventure and our ever popular, Madagascar dhow!! Below is what John had to say about his Madagascar Adventure:

Day 1 – Johannesburg to Antananarivo.
All goes well – the flight leaves on time and arrives on time, all our luggage comes off the conveyor belt, and, Germain, our very friendly and helpful guide is there to say hello. Changed euros into ariary and was an instant millionaire – a very thin sheaf of euros turned into more than 1 800 000 ariary – quite a challenge to fit them all into my wallet. Took us about 45 minutes from the airport to our hotel – Tana is in many ways a typical African city – very poor, very run-down with the exception of multinational companies HQ’s, but lots of evidence of people working very hard to scratch a living from making bricks, which are sold at the roadside; or growing rice, or trading goods.

Our hotel, Chalet de Roses, is right next to the US Embassy which means we have to go through a few roadblocks before we get there, but everybody is pleasant enough. The hotel is comfortable with all the mod cons. We go for a walk – weird walking down Independence Avenue with its bustling throng of street traders who energetically but not aggressively offer their wares to the (very) few tourists; weird, because just a few weeks before, more than 100 people were shot dead here in protests against the ouster of President Ravolomanana. Shoprite is everywhere; the cathedral towers over the city, and most of the buildings are run down, although some are being rejuvenated. I wouldn’t want to work on this scaffolding though.

We discover a branch of Hediard, the upmarket French delicatessen chain close to the French embassy and decide to return there for supper. We feel quite comfortable and safe walking there and back in the darkness. The meal is brilliant – on a par with upmarket Cape Town eateries. The millefeuille is especially good. The wine list is superb and contains a 2002 Vin de Constance at the equivalent of R1000. Back to the hotel to sleep – very excited at being in Madagascar.

Day 2 – Tana to Mont Ambre Reserve.
Up at 5.30 to get our lift to the airport – once again Air Madagascar does us proud, depositing us and our luggage in Diego Suarez exactly on time. We meet Zeze and Marshall – our guide and driver for the next few days and they take us to the Toyota 4X4 that is our transport on the mainland. Just more than an hour’s drive is needed to get us to Joffreville, on the outskirts of the reserve.

The road is bumpy and pot-holed, so we drive slowly enough to take in the long-legged chicken  that is characteristic to the area and the Malagasy cow, the zebu, and we start to see some of the chameleon species that the country is famous for. Before going for a walk in the park, we check into our accommodation, the Litchi Tree.

Our host is a young Frenchman, Hervė, who has spent two years refurbishing a run down building. Just as he opens, the political sh*t hits the fan, and the tourists stay away. Such a pity – he’s done the place with such style and ėlan; it’s so comfortable; the food is so good and it’s in such an exotic place, he deserves to be full rather than looking after just us. Then it’s off to the reserve – about 1km from the lodge. We walk for a couple of hours in rainforest heat and humidity, but because it’s mid-winter, it’s bearable.

The flora and fauna are new and thrilling. We see Sanford’s and Crowned Lemur, the leaf-tailed gecko they call the king of camouflage; the world’s smallest chameleon; other chameleons and many, many birds that are lifers for us. An excellent picnic lunch is followed by a strenuous, but enjoyable walk up the mountain and then down to the fresh water lake that supplies Diego Suarez with its water. Back to the hotel for a cold beer, and then when it’s dark, back to the reserve for a night walk where we see more nocturnal reptiles and the impossibly cute Mouse Lemur. Back to the lodge for an excellent three-course meal and a deep and rewarding sleep.

Day 3 and 4 – Mont Ambre to Ankarana.
We leave for Ankarana National Park after a delicious continental breakfast – as you can see, we weren’t living very rough. The drive takes us south-west and is a comfortable meander of just more than three hours, Zeze and Marshall are excellent company and there’s more than enough that’s new and interesting to keep the eye and the mind occupied. It’s a fairly sparsely populated part of Madagascar and the main crop is rice. The Malagasy people eat more rice than any other people on the planet – 143kg’s per person per year – and rice paddies are just about everywhere. Fresh fruit and vegetables are also on offer at the roadside.

Our hosts know we are interested in birds and take great delight in finding new species of bird, and new chameleon species for us to wonder at. We arrive at our destination, Relais d’Ankarana, just before lunch. It’s more basic than the Litchi Tree, but still very comfortable. The beer is cold, the water is hot, the food is fresh and excellent, the bed is comfortable, the mosquito net works – what more could one want? We walk in the reserve that afternoon, and then again the following morning and again after lunch.

The reserve entrance is about a km from our lodging. We look at trees- there are four baobab species represented in the park -and beautiful birds and interesting insects and another lemur species – the Northern Spotted, a nocturnal species that rests in cavities in trees during the day but can’t resist having a curious peep when it hears sounds. There are two main features of the park apart from the flora and fauna. First there are Tsingy – these are limestone formations thrown up by volcanic eruptions about 180 million years ago, and abraded into their current, spiky shapes by rainwater over the millions of years. The Ankarana people who driven away from the Tana region in the early 18th century. Their king at the time had a dream of a cave where they could take refuge. In order to reach the cave, they had to cross this limestone formation – to protect their feet; they had to walk on tip-toe, or in Malagasy, tsingy-tsingy. Hence the name.

The second feature is the cave where they first took shelter. It’s now known as the cave of the bats, and is 164 steps down (and then, painfully, up again) from the tsingy. One arm of the system is famous for the tens of thousands of bats that spend the daylight hours tucked away in the darkness. The other arm leads to a series of caves with stunning stalactite and stalagmite formations – with none of the commercial glitz of the Cango Caves. An hour in these caves is an awesome experience.

Day 5 – Ankarana to Hellville.
A three hour drive from Ankarana took us to Ankify on the coast of the mainland. Again, a slow drive stopping to look at birds and the coffee, vanilla and ylang-ylang (the plant that gives perfumes like Chanel their distinctive odour).

We saw for the first time the cashew nut plant, which looks nothing like we imagined. Sadly, we also saw an aye-aye – the world’s largest nocturnal primate and one of the world’s most endangered mammals – displayed on a killing post at the roadside. It is a local superstition that these creatures bring bad luck, so when one is captured, its corpse is displayed in public to show that the village has got rid of the bad luck. At Ankify, we said goodbye to Zeze and Marshall, and took  a fast motor boat ride to Madagascar’s largest satellite island, Nosy Be, from where we were to depart on the next part of our trip. We spent the afternoon walking the rather unattractive streets of the capital, Hellville, before another good meal and another comfortable night in another very pleasant hotel.

Days 6 – 12: aboard the Salama Tsara on the Indian Ocean.
A week of absolute bliss – total and complete relaxation in wonderfully tranquil and beautiful surroundings. My words can’t do the experience justice – I hope the photos will go some way to achieving that. But some brief notes on the dhow week.

The Salama Tsara and her sister dhow, the Salama Djema, have their origins in a decision by Kommetjie businessman, Ross Murray, to take a couple of years off work and sail the Indian Ocean looking for perfect waves to surf. Ross wasn’t an experienced sailor, so he asked a yachtie friend to recommend someone who could teach him the ropes. The friend recommended a Nosy Be resident called Mohamed Bakari, the two connected, and the sailing commenced. When Ross returned to fulltime labours, he and Mohamed concocted the idea of building a traditional dhow to take tourists around the beautiful islands of north-western Madagascar. That’s how it began. They now have the two dhows and permanent base camps at Lokobie, a natural preserve on Nosy Be, and at Russian Bay and Mahalina on the mainland. These are basic, but very comfortable. Ross set up and ran the River Rafters operation for several years, during which time he perfected the art of making people happy without their having to spend a fortune on luxuries.

Lokobie has full size tents on wooden platforms, and the other two bases have basic wooden and palm thatch A-frame huts. Each place has a thatched and open-sided entertainment/dining area. There is a flush loo and basic shower facilities. Each guest gets a large bucket of fresh water, and a smaller scoop to pour the water over one’s body. The food is simple, fresh and delicious with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and fish just caught from the sea. The wonderful Malagasy beer, Three Horse Pilsener comes in quarts and is always ice-cold, and Mohamed makes a mean caparina – a rum-based cocktail with lots of ice and lemon. Every guest gets 1,5 litres of bottled water a day free, with plenty more to buy if needed.

The days start will an early morning cup of coffee or tea then perhaps a swim or some kayaking or maybe some fishing – or bird watching in my case. After breakfast, the dhow sails somewhere where the sand is white, the water is clear and warm and where there is a reef that will provide superb snorkeling. I haven’t done much snorkeling, so I don’t have much in the way of reference, but I was absolutely gob-smacked by the variety and extraordinary colour patterns of the fish we saw. It’s difficult to keep exact count when one is underwater marveling at the glory of the fish and the hawksbill turtles that one can swim right up to and the coral and the sea anemones and the sea cucumbers and the moray eels and the absolute clarity of the water, but I reckon we saw upwards of 75 different species of tropical fish in our week underwater.

The dhow has a shaded area forrard where we lazed away the sailing sections of the day – reading or sleeping or just watching – watching the traditional fisherman in their outrigger pirogues, or the three masted dhows transporting goods between the islands or the white-tailed tropic birds and greater frigate birds and common boobies and other birds of the Indian Ocean that quarter the skies looking for fish. If you feel like a swim, ask the skipper to slow the boat and jump off the side. If you spot dolphins, which we did on several occasions, slow the boat, jump off the side and swim with the dolphins. If you want to fish, you fish – if you want to trail your legs off the side of the dhow and think about nothing, that’s what you do.

Birding Safaris Madagascar

The dhow arrives back at base with time for a late afternoon swim or kayak and then it’s sundowner time, a really lekker supper and in bed by 8 o’ clock.  While based at Lokobie we also went for a walk in the Reserve where we saw Macaco Lemur and bush baby and more chameleons and more new birds. We spent some time on Nosy Komba where a group of lemurs has been habituated and will jump on tourists’ shoulders to grab at an offered banana. There is also a well-established craft route on Komba where some good-natured bargaining could buy you a memento to take home.

When we sailed into Hellville harbour at the end of the trip, I was sun-tanned, I was well-fed, I was well rested, I had more than 500 memorable photographs and I had uncountable glorious memories. I can’t remember the last time I was as care-free. What a wonderful, wonderful trip.

We spent another two nights at a resort on Nosy Be called Ambelatakoa, where we woke late, walked on the beach, ate fresh seafood at tables overlooking the sea, napped before an afternoon walk on the beach, and then an early supper at one of the many inexpensive and enjoyable restaurants on the tourist mile before going to bed early and happy.

The trip back to Tana and from there to Johannesburg was as smooth and problem-free as everything had been during our wonderful two-week sojourn on the world’s fourth-largest island. We can’t wait to go back.

Source: John Maytham

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