An Old Man’s Madagascar

Janusz Grinberg

10 Dec 2019

My 14-day Small Group Madagascar Safari

It was an old dream of mine, to see Madagascar and lemurs. At age 71 I realised that there was not much time left, so I shopped around on the internet and ended up on the NWS site. A small group safari seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. What did I expect? A well planned and organised tour with a good guide, accommodation of at least good tourist class and reasonably good food. What scared me a little was the possibility of being an old single man slowing down three much younger couples. That could have happened, but the actual truth is that we were five singles and a pair of friends. I was neither the oldest nor the weakest part of the group. To answer the obvious question; even in my age it wasn’t too physically demanding. If you can walk for five miles and take the stairs to the fifth floor, you are fit enough. I had with me a pair of collapsible walking sticks, I used one of them once but I would have managed without two. A couple of times our walks were on very uneven terrain in the jungle and I did feel tired at the end but never really exhausted. Usually the day after one could recover in the bus while travelling to our next stop.

So, did the NWS safari meet my expectations? The short answer is YES and in most areas the trip was much better than expected

1. The guide. Probably the most important aspect of that kind of trip. Marc was exceptional. He is a well-educated biologist and he could answer almost any question about animals, plants or Madagascar. He picked me up at the airport on arrival and said goodbye at the same place 14 days later. From day 1 to day 15 he took care of all the practical things and he did it well. At the same time he was a warm and funny person. On our walks he usually was at the tail end checking that nobody got lost and always pointed out good spots for viewing or taking photos. This actually is more important than you would think. When the guide stops and points to an animal up in the trees, usually you don’t see anything to start with. Even when you finally see the lemur or bird, it is enough to take one step left or right to lose the view again.

2. The accommodation. A very good standard over the line and some of them were really high class. Personally, I liked most Mantadia Lodge on a hilltop near Andasibe and Jardin du Roy, close to Isalo. Both places were quiet, well maintained and had incredible views of surrounding mountains.

3. The food was in general very, very good. Three course dinners were sometimes too much for me but they were too tasty to say no to! The quality of cooking surprised me more than anything else. Just to name one dish: the Zebu (local buffalo) carpaccio in Mantadia Lodge, I still remember the taste…

For most visitors Madagascar is all about lemurs. They are incredibly cute and come in more than 100 variations (species). We probably met more than 20 different ones, including the biggest (Indri) and a few of the smallest (nightly mouse lemurs). But personally, there was something else that gave me a lot of pleasure every afternoon we spent on the bus. It was the beautiful countryside of Madagascar in the warm afternoon light. The earthly colours of soil and houses, terraced rice fields, mountains and rivers. What a treat. All the photos here were taken through bus windows, apparently washed clean every day!

I just re-read my report and it almost sounds like an advertisement for NWS. Well, I can’t help it. But there is, actually, something that could be done better. Our bus was a little bit run down. It was of course big enough for all of us but the single seats row on the right side were so narrowly spaced that not even I (171 cm only) had enough room. I’m not really complaining. It was still quite comfortable, transfers with stops every second hour. But with all this classy accommodation and superb meals one would expect something better. OK now it’s done. I can go back to praises again!

I want to end with one piece of advice to people who, just like me, have never done a photographic safari in the jungle before. Animals in the jungle are usually high up in the trees and it is always quite dark, even on sunny days. So, what you need is a camera with a good zoom, at least 20X in my opinion, to take reasonably good quality pics at high ISO values (1600 and more). My camera has only 8X zoom (200 mm equivalent) and I’m not at all happy with most of my pics from the jungle. That’s another reason I prefer to show here pictures of the countryside instead. Luckily we visited places like Palmarium Reserve or Reserve of Anja too. There, animals are still free to move around but not afraid of people anymore. Maybe it is not the most natural habitat to see but it is great for photography.

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