Saturday, October 20, 2007

Sifaka of Beza Mafaly

After a night in Ifaty, we made the long trip to Beza Mafaly, a park often used by researchers. There are no hotels at the park or nearby, so we were camping out. However, at the park there is a "research station" with a cookhouse and an outhouse and a small building used for "showers" (with a bucket). I hate campgrounds to begin with; I like to set up camp in the woods where there are no facilities other than possibly a fire pit made with rocks by campers before me. So, staying at Beza Mafaly was not appealing in the sense that there were lots of other people there, some researchers, some guides, some tourists (all students). Not once was I able to escape the sound of human voices or activity in camp - highly annoying. Particularly so because there was singing, yelling, chanting, etc. until about 4am. Also, the outhouse is by far the most repulsive facility imaginable and the only purpose it is good for is providing cover while you pee behind it. Yuk, yuk and yuk. The cookhouse is full of flies (I counted 30 on the table at once during a meal). And, my driver and cook told me they had trouble sleeping in the quarters provided because of the rats and ticks.

If you are getting the sense this is a dirty, not well maintained campsite you are getting part of the picture down. Now add in a dead rodent laying in a walking path (clearly no one bothered to dispose of it for some time), and a lot of dust and grime since the area is very dry. There are zillions of flies and HUGE wasps (1-2 inches big). The tents provided were too hot to use as they had zero ventilation other than a 4 inch hole with netting in the very top. They were also so small I could only fit me and my bag in them by hugging the bag all night. You couldn't use them before 8pm as it was so hot you would bake to death. (Changing clothes, laying down, for 5 minutes caused me to almost pass out from heat exhaustion the tents were so stiflingly hot inside during the day). You go for an early morning and an early evening walk - the rest of the day it is too hot and the guide won't go out (at least, mine wouldn't) so you sit there, outside the tent, sweating and fending off huge ants, wasps and flies all day.

To make things worse, I asked my guide to tell the cook to bring NO MEAT. I was served sausage and chicken - which I declined to eat, leaving me with nothing but some rice, which was cold and gross. I could only gag down a few bites. I had been hungry all trip but here I had to struggle to get even 600 calories per day and my hunger had been so bad it sort of went away, replaced by a strong desire NOT to eat at all. (Anything made me feel a little ill). This was the trip low point for me on all levels.

Now, aside from the fact the place was hell in terms of living conditions, there was good wildlife viewing. The trees and vegetation all looked dead, but wasn't. There were a few new leaves here and there and lots of dormancy waiting for the rains. Sifaka, the dancing lemurs who jump sideways when on the ground and leap horizontally through the trees, were everywhere. I saw at least 8 groups of them. There were also many ringtails, sportive lemurs, and mouse lemurs here. Due to the researchers, some groups have radio collared individuals, but not all. Also, there are metal mouse lemur traps (live traps) around, which was not nice to think about. But - the animals were plentiful.

Above are photos of an adult sifaka and a baby sifaka. These creatures have hugely intense eyes and I love watching them move. They are really, really cool to see. I had seen footage on television of their sideways jumps, but it was even better in person, plus I thought "How the HECK did they photograph it??" It was so fast! These largish, gentle, vegetarian lemurs travel in medium sized family groups and often stared down at me while I craned up at them in the trees. I spent several hours watching them and regretted having to leave them to return to camp - the pit.

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