Friday, October 5, 2007
Back From Madagascar
I managed to avoid the terrestrial leeches, I am pleased to report! I was careful to wear long pants, tuck my pants into my socks, and wear long sleeves while in the rainforest. I think it depends on where you go though, as EVERYONE who went to Ranomafana, further south than I went on the east coast, came back with leeches. Where I went, I was able to avoid them because there are fewer of them.
I did have two huge hissing cockroaches in my room one night, but they don't bite, they are just disgusting. I was able to escort them out without incident. I only saw one small snake and it didn't bother me. While there were ENORMOUS spiders and lots of bugs, they were all very interesting and left me alone.
I stayed healthy throughout, other than some very minor incidents, none of which could not be handled with the first aid kit I brought. Overall, I was well prepared in what I brought and after going through the places and animals on the trip, I'll include some suggested packing tips if you are planning a trip to Madagascar with a similar itinerary.
None of the things I was worried about turned out to be big problems, though I did run into some issues I did not anticipate, which made the trip less than totally enjoyable. The main issue was that I did not like my guide. He was not professional, drank or got drunk often, did not provide information or made things up, and was just generally someone I would not want to spend three hours with, let alone three weeks. That said, I tried to make the best of it, and the local guides I had in each park were all fairly enjoyable and much nicer to work with.
Overall, it was a harder trip in many ways than my other travels to Africa and I don't think I will want to go back to Madagascar. I'm not sorry I went to see the lemurs - but it is very sad, because since people do not seem to respect the forest or the lemurs much, if at all, I am not optimistic about their survival. The "protected" areas were far from protected by any standards, and the general attitude of the people is far from conservation minded. Unless that changes radically and quickly, I doubt that two generations from now there will be lemurs to visit.
The hardest part was seeing how animals are treated in Madagascar. The zebus, similar to oxen, pull carts and perform a lot of functions for the local people, yet are treated horribly. I saw them beaten, kicked, whipped, tied, nearly starved, and it was sickening. There are starving dogs, including puppies, everywhere and they are ignored. In the entire three weeks I was there I saw three examples of people being kind to animals - and that is all. There were some truly heartbreaking things that I will never forget, though I'd like to.
While the accommodations were generally better than I expected and there were even some flush toilets many places, the food was generally worse than I expected. I ended up losing ten pounds, which is not a bad thing, but I was *very* hungry most of the trip. I will do a whole post on food later but for now suffice it to say, as I did not want to eat any meat or fish there, there was only cold, sticky, low quality rice and maybe a few carrots and beans here and there. The best possible thing was finding spaghetti - even though it was generally sauce-less. Had I not packed a few energy bars I would have been in trouble some days just getting a minimum 600 calories.
The photography was really tough. Lemurs move fast, it is hard to get a good photo when they are up in the trees as the light is wrong, the camera can fog over in the rainforest, there is often not appropriate light, and I found that the camera can have a hard time focusing when there is an animal which is very well camouflaged. So, I don't have the stunning photos I would like, but overall I think I managed to get some decent shots I will try and share with you over the next few weeks.
So, enough overview, let's get to the interesting part, and my reason for travel: the wildlife. My trip began by flying into Antananarivo and driving east a few hours to the rainforest park of Andasibe. Here I saw chameleons, frogs, brown lemurs, indri, sifaka, bamboo lemurs, sportive lemurs and spiders. The frogs were very cool because they vary in size from really, really, really small (smaller than the fingernail on your little finger) to a few inches. Above is a little green one peeking around a vacona plant (huge leaves with spikes on the edges). This one was probably about an inch, maybe a bit less. I will continue with more from Andasibe tomorrow.
For now, I am *very* glad to be back home, and to find all the pets safe and sound. The extra cat is still with us also, though hopefully I have found a new home for him. (His owner, when I called her back, agreed that she can't really take care of him so I told her I would take him and find him a new home).