Thursday, September 16, 2010
Andringitra National Park, Fianarantsoa, Madagascar
*** UPDATE – PICTURES ARE LOST 🙁 I will update from Pat when I get home in two weeks ***
Well we left Raminofana in the same misty, rainy foggy condition as we found it yesterday but it is still a beautiful climb out of the park to the sunshine.
It is a bit disheartening to leave a forest only to be hit in the face buy the reality of the deforestation in this country. Their need for basic building supplies and as well an entire nation of 22 million cooking with homemade charcoal has resulted in a mass leveling of every tree for as far as the eye can see in many parts of the country we have driven through. But it still amazing scenery.
At lunch we stop at the town know for its wood working crafts to eat and then wander through the markets. It is absolutely amazing to craftsmanship these people have with wood. One of the very amazing things to me is that, while the people are living in every hand me down second hand set of clothes from the western world (I have seen Pistons jerseys, Gross Pointe South T-shirts, I *heart* NY shirts and hats .. Africa is truly where old t-shirts go to die!) Their yards are clean (albeit nothing but dirt patches). They have taken the time to put beautiful decorative and architectural detail into the woodwork of doors, decks, railings and soffets, not to mention the masonry of the bricks. Their are bricks everywhere in this country and they make them on every road in every village. Harvesting the clay from their terraced rice paddies between plantings the form them and bake them all on their own.
So it was no wonder I was completely enamored with the most beautiful inlaid wood chest I have ever seen. Unfortunately they wanted 3 Million Ar ($1500 USD) for it and given my money woes there was no bargaining for this one..I have the memory though!
So upon arriving in Ambilivo, we discover that our hired car will not make the trip to the park entrance, it requires a truck with massive ground clearance … Well that’s not too surprising as we’ve seen the devastated roads that look as though earthquakes have hit them. So on we go to negotiate for that. Well the first place Dasy our driver takes us wants something like 170,000 Ar ($85 USD) ONE WAY for the trip. Out of the question. So while I am telling this driver politely where he can go stick that price, Pat finds in his guidebook a lodge that will do transports as well. So I whip out the trusty local SIM phone and make the call. After some hasty negotiations we worked out round trip car transport for 130,000 ($65 USD) and room for 60,000 Ar ($30 USD). Basically we got our room for two nights and transport for less than the round trip the other Jack-O was going to charge.
So after a long conversation over lunch with Bank of America on how absolutely unhelpful they have been to a loyal customer stranded overseas needing a new PIN (I’m firing them the instant I get home BTW) we are picked up by our Land Rover Discovery.
This ride was STUNNING in both its beauty and the abhorrent nature of the so called path they call a road. But it WAS fun! We clearly saw why our drivers little Puegot sedan was not going to make this trip. Dasy proves himself again!
The mountain hills, with staggering amounts of terraced rice paddies, the brick houses dotting the landscape and the Zebu carts hauling and farming, really give a surreal quality to the setting as the sun sets over this journey. It is almost a bizarre combination of Swiss, Nepalese, Thai and Colonial America all rolled into one creating something so very unique to Madagascar.
Finally when we arrive at camp after picking up a hitchhiking park guide who spoke good english, we find the lodge is completely empty. We are the only guests! The views are breathtaking and words and photos cannot describe the vast and verigated scenery laid out in front of us know as Parc National Andringitra.
So after a short walk down the country road where we can here singing rolling down the mountains from the west and a sky so inky black that the faintest of stars appears as bright as the moon, we head back to camp for our dinner. I have to say we ate well! Three course meal starting with pastry wrapped fried peppers stuffed with ground zebu. The main course was some of the best pork sausage with gravy and rice I’ve ever had! Desert was an skillfully diced cocktail of painfully fresh mango, banana, and pineapple.
The next morning upon awakening from a night that required fleece and socks in bed we find that the sun is up and that the guide we picked up yesterday is back to take us on our hike, which is just fine as he speaks english and is very friendly (as are ALL Malagasy so far!)
Our 3Km hike from the hotel to the park entrance was beautiful but couldn’t touch what was to come. The beginning of the hike started with crossing the river which is the park boundary. A massive affair with boulders and trickling waterfalls that hint at what the power of this river would be during the rainy season.
The firs 2Km of our hike sees 600M of elevation gain and suffice it to say it was HOT by this time and I was soaked with sweat and ready for a break. How lucky we were that there just so happened to be a small stream with a swimming hole right at this point. So stripping down to my skivvies I jumped in only to find SHRINKAGE! Mamma jamma that water was cold! After finding I had a second set of tonsils, it was time. To get out of the water .. And well.. Have lunch on the sunny rocks and dry off. Our packed lunch was as good as dinner with rice noodles, veggies and ground zebu along with a sandwich of tomato and cheese on fresh baguette.
After a 25mintue nap in the sun listening to the wind and the babbling brook it was time to move before I became rooted in my spot for good!
From there we were on a fairly flat trail on the plateau with a lovely alpine meadow with towering granite cliffs to one side and the wide expanse of the valley on the other. Then suddenly, Houston…tranquility base here .. The Eagle has landed. We seem to be on the moon after climbing a ridge and finding ourselves on the barren boulder strewn, water and weather worn granite of the park. Our third ecosystem thus far.
Finally we head down.. Much to my chagrin I find that all 600M of elevation gain we will loose in the last 1.5Km. My left knee which I hurt in the car accident was aching nicely and my out of shape quads were quaking like a child on a roller coaster. But down I made it and back to the hotel we went. Only to find we have no running water. Our hot shower is a bucket of scalding hot water and a bucket of ice cold stream water and a scoop..but it was welcome.
We of course followed this buy breaking out the speaker and MP3 player and listening to Ray Charles and Jimmy Buffet as the sun sets over our 3rd Grande THB. Needless to say dinner was grand and the hangover the next morning was lovely!
The next morning after our early morning ride out of the park again, we find ourselves in Ambilivo on market day. It so happens we are in the town with the largest Zebu market in the country. Pat and I just must partake. I thought about actually buying a zebu and donating to a needy local but then decided against it .. I didn’t have a spare 300K Ar ($150 USD). But we walked through the market anyway weaving in between clusters of Zebu being held together by their owners with long sticks of bamboo they use to whack the Zebu back into place should it decide to move. It was about this time that we realized we were the ONLY people of age in the market that DIDN’T have a stick to control a zebu..but they are pretty tame so it wasn’t a problem.
Finally back into the car and on our way to Park Anja, a private lemur reserve a few minutes out of town. We got very close to the ring tailed lemurs here and had a short but interesting rock scramble up to a great view of the valley here. This was followed by a lovely spaghetti bolognaise meal made with of course ground Zebu. Then we are on our way to Parc Nationale de I’Isalo.