Richard de Gouveia
On the Rocks and Under the Stars
The drive from Ranomafana to Isalo is a long one that takes around 12 hours to complete. The consolation to this though is the diverse number of landscapes, villages and tribes that we go through. Our bus is our home for those hours and every finds a spot and gets rooted in as the exploration begins. Books come out of bags, cameras wait in anticipation on laps and for some, including myself on occasion, the relaxing rocking motion as the bus cuts its way through the mountains and valleys proves too heavy a weight for the eyelids.
Once we have cut through the mountains, we climb onto the plateaux where never ending grasslands flow as far as the eye can see. The thought of what forest was lost here looms large as for the next 3 hours it is only grasslands, some burnt, some being fed on by zebu (the local cattle) and most of it unused. In the distance, the sight of the Isalo Massif raises above the flat grassland like a welcoming beacon. The closer we get the bigger it grows and as we meander into the formations we are greeted by massive sandstone formations carved by millions of years of wind and water erosion. The last rays of sunlight ignite the lichens into spectacular colour as the oranges, yellows, greens pinks and greys hold onto the rock face like paints from an artists brush.
The sight of the hotel brings with it a relief that out home is about to change from what was a bus and now feels like a prison, to beautiful rock buildings discretely placed amount the rock. An early dinner and a good nights rest ahead for all the weary travellers and then it back to the job of finding lemurs the next morning.
As we start into the Namaza canyon, bright blue skies above us and soaring mountains with their summer dresses made from lichen showing beautifully on their sides. The birdlife is spectacular and slows our progress as we ID all the new birds which has even the non birders getting excited. As we carry on down the path at our nonchalant pace we are passed by many an eager tourist who are moving too fast to see the smaller beauties that are abound. From highly camouflaged spiders, to praying mantids and scorpions... the depth of the smaller life in the warmer climes of the South West of Madagascar is noticeable while the rainforest insects wait patiently for the winter to subside and the heat and humidity of summer to breath new life into them.
We cruise along the path all the way to the campsite where ring-tailed lemurs run around looking for food, completely oblivious to our presence there. A shill streak is let out as one of the lemurs surprisingly brushes up against one of the ladies legs. The smiles on the guests faces are contagious and it has made the walk in the heat all the more worth it. Then it is on to the waterfall; a little break before returning to bus and back to the hotel for a lunch and some downtime.
The next day it was time to head to the transitional forest of Zombitse for a search for some sportive lemurs and Verreaux's Sifakas. It was to be another productive morning as the heat had brought out the snakes, the insects and the lemurs. We watched as a family of sifakas moved through the trees feeding and waking a sportive lemur as he poked his head out of his hole in the tree as if tell off the sifakas for waking him. It was another spectacular day filled with new sights and sounds, a different forest and our first sighting of massive baobabs. On that note...did you know that there are 8 species of baobab worldwide, one in Africa, one in Australia and the other 6 all endemic to Madagascar...WOW
The day was capped off by sundowners filled with Malagasy Rum and fruit juice as we watched some local malagasy dancing and singing and the sun setting behind us. It was the perfect way to end a great stay in Isalo and once we had finished dinner we left the lights of the hotel to allow the shower of light from the cosmos above fill our hearts with awe. The Milky Way Galaxy streaming across the sky above us...