2007-12-09 - 6:30 a.m.
all photos � 2007 by elaine radford
Note: Here's part 2 of my Madagascar trip report, in which we commit various acts of derring-do whilst in search of the rare and endemic raptors. To start with part one, click here. To inspect my bird list, click here. For my lemur list, go here.
November 14, 2007
Onward to Ambihotantely. A rolling grassland area of much interest to the otherwise difficult Madagascar Harrier. Some highlights of the day:
Unfortunately, due to a lack of available motel rooms or cabins, we ended up staying in a highly dubious town -- the kind of place where there's no mosquito net and even the "best" motel in town has free condoms thoughtfully placed on your coffee table for your use. The room was huge and had a full-length mirror, but that's about all I can say in its favor.
So far on the trip, the Canadian and the Netherlander (is that what they're called, Netherlanders?) had been responsible for all communications in French. However, at dinner, I set off with the other two American ladies in search of the restaurant and soon was forced to use my limited French: "Bon soir. Ou est la restaurant?" The amused local took me by the hand and pointed, so I don't think I fooled anyone.
Oh, and the full horror of my room did not become apparent until around 2:30 AM in the morning. Which is when the roosters started crowing. A lot of roosters. A whole lot of roosters. Some people said they weren't bothered. Hm-kay. But my room was at one end of the building -- apparently the end nearest the chicken coop. Yikes.
butterflies doing the dirty at ankarafantsika
November 15, 2007
We had to return to the same restaurant in the morning. Supposedly, it was the only game in town, but after waiting 45 minutes for coffee, my nerve broke and I left in search of my own refreshments. I soon learned that we'd passed at least three espresso stands between motel and restaurant, so grumble and mumble, we could have been on the road much earlier. But what do you do? I'm sure the tour leader was afraid of a rebellion from the others if we had breakfast at an espresso stand, which as the name implies, involves standing. The coffee's already made and the price is right though -- if there was any gringo tax involved, it sure wasn't noticeable. The sometimes leisurely attitude toward meals is OK for lunch or dinner, but for a birder, to be sitting around at breakfast...well, let's just say that I muttered darkly that if I return on my own, I'll bring a supply of caffeine pills and South Beach protein bars to get me started in the morning.
Eventually we did get underway to Parc Ankarafantsika -- also known as Ampijoroa, which is the name of the nearby village and which is at least somewhat easier for non-Malagasy tongues to say than Ankarafantsika.
Along the way we passed over a bridge over a large red river -- the red of clay rather than blood, but still very dramatic. Unfortunately, for reasons I don't understand, my photographs didn't come out.
Anyhoo, Ankarafantsika is truly one of the jewels of the park system.
However, it's as good a place as any to point out that the restaurant -- and here it really did seem to be the only restaurant -- was independently owned. There seemed to be a personality clash between our French-speaking Canadian, a high-powered and highly educated businesswoman, and the local women running the restaurant, who seemed to me to be indulging in a certain amount of passive-aggressiveness against a type of woman they can't understand. Frankly, at times, I was happy to blow off meals and dig into my stash of protein bars, but for those who didn't have any protein bars, it got to be a tense situation. Hint for visitors: If you think you may be in a hurry to get to the birding or the lemur night walk or anything, I cannot stress too highly the value of bringing along some of your own food.
Beer and water were easier, as I just went to the window and asked (and paid) for these separately. The huge glass bottles of THB were way too big for me, but if I couldn't get anyone to share (the Netherlander -- Hollander? -- was my usual victim), I simply emptied some of the beer into a plastic water bottle and carried it along for the entire evening. Wheee!
Today's written notes cover simply pages, so I'll just hit the highlights bullet-style:
Of course some of us clamored for a night walk, and, as I've said before, whenever you have an opportunity to do one of these, DO IT, no matter if you're still a bit stiff from scrambling up the vertical face of several mountains. Hey, if it's in the dark, it will be on a (reasonably) level path, right? Not all of us went for it, but I couldn't resist. And here's the highlights:
grey mouse lemur asnooze
November 16, 2007
A full day at the park. Highlights:
what's an old hollow log without a western scops owl snoozing in it?
November 17, 2007
I somehow managed to crawl out of bed extra early for the bonus early morning bird walk. Here, the guides made a point of finding the White-Breasted Mesite, since the mesites are a group endemic only to Madagascar, and there was no telling if we'd have time to find others. It was a larger bird than I expected, singing a strange almost insect-like hissing spitting song from cover. After some searching, the two of us who actually arose in time for the walk got fantastic views, as the bird turned out to be surprisingly close to the path.
Nearby was a better, daylight showing of Common Tenrec.
Somewhere along the trail, we encountered a Mad. Buzzard considering a humongous hog-nosed snake in the path. Our arrival startled the Buzzard, who took off, so we saved that rather indolent snake's life. The other snakes we'd seen in the area were equally huge but rather bland, beige-colored items, so I was happy to try a few snapshots of this one.
i doubt "clueless" the hognosed snake has any idea that we saved his life from the machinations of hungry madagascar buzzards
After breakfast came the boat trip. Atmospheric Purple Herons on floating purple rafts of water hyacinth. Nile crocodiles. African darters, Allen's Gallinule, Madagascar Jacana, Buzzard nest with adult and young fluffy white baby, confiding Yellow-Billed Kite just begging to be photographed, youngish Madagascar Fish-Eagle who had rather bad light but who also posed patiently. Clouds of hundreds of some black and white swallowtail butterfly species mud-puddling on the shore.
And then the road back to Tana. Along the way, the disturbing picnic spot where the kid ate the raw tomato I dropped on the ground -- it was probably perfectly safe, but I was making a point of avoiding any raw food outside of Tana unless I peeled it myself. I dropped it thinking it was organic, that some bird or animal would eat it, not one of the children bathing in the nearby creek. And the kids were just thrilled, grinning from ear to ear to get handed empty plastic water bottles. When will they get angry about being grateful for what everybody else already has? Passive-aggressive restaurant help aside, I was constantly amazed at the friendliness and good humor of the Malagasy people. If I still lived in a mud hut with thatch roof in 2007, without electricity or clean water, I think I'd be fairly grumpy.
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