Day 10: Heading South from Amboistra to Ranomafana National Park
Today is another 4 hours by road. We pack up the Nissan and head out after breakfast. Today is a Sunday and most things in Amboistra are closed. This is a town that is very Catholic based. There is an old cloistered monestary that is said to look like 15th Century France. Obviously we can’t stop in so off we go.
The road to Ranomafana turns off the national highway with a big sign announcing the park.
Soon we see the rushing river that runs through the park.
We check into to our lodging and are pleased to find the SETAM Lodge
clean newish and bright. The cabins are spacious with good showers and bathrooms. There are no mosquito nets but it is obvious they spray. No bugs were evident during our stay. We have a nice lunch at the Lodge’s restaurant. Then we go back less than a half mile to the park head quarters to meet with our guide.
Willy has arranged a visit to the park with one of the most senior guides who speaks perfect English. He is a walking text book of fascinating detail about the flora, fauna and ecology of the place. He asks us to join another couple from Belgum for a night walk in the park in the early evening. We have been warned not to expect much from night walks other than glowing eyes in the trees by our friend who lives in Madagascar. Since we are eager to get started looking at lemurs we agree.
Willy drives us to the park/guide headquarters where we begin the night walk. We have our headlamps and flashlights with us. I hiked in tough running shoes and my husband in his low cut Ecco walking shoes. There are lots of other groups in the park with their guides. We are clearly now on the "tourist trail" if can be said to exist. One group of travelers from England is made up of all senior citizens who are tough as nails hiking up the forest trails. Some of them are mighty hot and red looking but they are out there doing it. They are part of a group called SAGA and our paths crossed many times on trip. They said it stood for "Sex And Games for the Aged".
Along the route before dark we see the endangered Golden Bamboo Lemur. We see in total 6 species of lemur, chameleon, frogs and beautiful birds. The light is tricky and my photos are not so great here. My husband’s photos are better. Those will be included later in this report.
The night walk continues up very nicely maintained trails. As opposed to the roads in Madagascar the ANGAP (Madagascar Forest and Park Service) and other NGOs keep the trails very nicely maintained. There are beautiful steps on much of the up hill main trails. The night walk mostly stays on the main route. At the top of the climb I am hot and sweaty. Fortunately at the end of April there are not too many bugs. I do get some mosquito bites even wearing bug stuff. That is why you take anti-malarial drugs right? The reward of the night hike are the nocturnal animals. We were rewarded with the Mouse Lemur and the Fox like Civet creature. There were so many people at the top of the trail it was kind of nuts. It was a good experience…once.
We returned to Setam for dinner shower and fast to sleep. The price of the Setam for us was 100,000 ariary per night. Meals were reasonable. The usual fare was offered of meat chicken or zebu, rice or potatoes, sautéed veggies and salad we didn’t dare eat. Even with all are precautions hand sanitizer, bottled water even for tooth brushing and careful food choices there would be trouble ahead. It did not get in our way of enjoying the trip fortunately.
Day 11 Ranomfana to Fianarantsoa The next morning we pack up and prepare to leave but first we are going on a 4 hour hiking trip with our guide through the park. The kind people at SETAM allow us to keep the room until 11 am so we can shower after our hike and have lunch before moving on. This was essential.
The hiking through Ranomafana was beautiful. You begin with a hike down to the river then proceed up the drainage and down and up into a beautiful lush forest. The guide has his “assistant scouts” who let him know where the lemurs are hiding. This young men hike ahead of us and let our guide know by whistles and other means where in this huge park to lead us. We get close to the lemurs and begin going off trail overland to find the lemur. I am thinking “how does he know where we are?” but he does. We spend some close personal time just watching the lemurs eat. The lemurs have no preditors. They don’t even compete among themselves for food since every different type eats a different food source or have a different day/night cycle. They are only found on the island of Madagascar. They are adorable and pretty friendly coming down from their trees. The guide points to a variety of plants locals have used for centuries to cure everything that ails a person. He remarks that some plants are now being used in clinical trials for cancer in France. They had been used in Madagascar for ages for that purpose. Seeing the scarcity of modern western medicine here makes one realize that these people had to use something for their health care. The life expectancy in the country is less than 60 yrs of age and there is high infant mortality rate as well.
After the hike a shower is very welcome. After a leisurely lunch we head off back down the road to our next stop Fianarantsoa. This is known as the town of higher learning. There are many schools in this town. It is also known as a little Antananarivo. That is because the old town is built on a very high hill. Originally there was a walled city with the king’s palace at the top of the hill. The palace is gone but many of the early buildings still exist and many of them still house people. Unfortunately the tile roofs on the buildings are collapsing. A friend our Tana wants us to meet a American woman who has single handedly saved the old town. She and her NGO are doing amazing work in Finar. They are building composting toilets for the dwellers in the old town so sewage no longer runs down the hill.
She is also saving these beautiful old homes by raising money and rebuilding the tile roofs.
Their work is impressive and efficient. There is no waste and total town buy in. This town is a far better place to live thanks to Karen. Anyone visiting Finar can see the benefits of a little TLC. This town was selected by a one of the 10 world heritage sites worth saving. We agreed. We eagerly donate to the cause.
If you are interested in helping to save the old town of Finar please send me a PM and I will connect you to this worthwhile cause. Don't miss the view from the top of the old town:
Tonight our lodging is at the Tsara Guest House a darling restored old mansion. It is done with style and panache. The hotel was recognized by Conde Nast Traveller magazine as one of their top value recommendations.
We agree. The room is as nice as any in the US. The view from the hotel courtyard looks out at the old city and surrounding hills.
The hotel restaurant is also lovely and elegant. There are pretty French doors on all the room that look out to a courtyard. We are delighted with Finar. The price of the room was 40 Euros/room and NO they don't really take VISA card. "The machine is broken".
We took the opportunity to see the home of our new American friend in Finar. She, her husband, and two school aged girls live in an old converted winery. Their home is gorgeous complete with granite kitchen countertops from local Madagascar granite. The renovation is tasteful yet simple just like all of the town. Unfortunately they will be leaving to return to the US and will no doubt miss their home in Fianarantsoa. In the morning from our bathroom I hear amazing sweet voices singing in Malagash. The harmony is beautiful. I later found out that Fianarantsoa is famous for acappela singing. It was magical.
Before leaving we make an important stop at the photography studio of Pierrot Men the lengendary photographer of Madagscar. We buy two of his classic photos. My husband is disappointed we didn't purchase more. Here are some samples of his work:
Now we must press ever southward next stop Camp Catta in the Andringtra National Park
to be continued