Before I tell you about the adventure of today I must apologise, as I have so far failed to mention my two exceptional travel companions. Firstly there is Miahy my extremely knowledgeable, passionate and forever smiling guide. Secondly Mparany my patient and reliable driver, without him who knows where I may have ended up!
Those that know me, will know that I am not the most pro-active person for exercise, I have always got some kind of an excuse for not joining the gym and for the last few weeks it has been this trip, not sure what it will be when I get back! Anyway having said this I do like a good walk and that’s just what I got today. Setting off early we went and met our guide for the day, Rowland. What this guy doesn’t know about the flora and fauna of the park isn’t worth knowing!
The walk started with a short ascent to the top of the escarpment and some fantastic views out over the plains below. Rowland is a member of the Bara tribe who live in this area of Madagascar, some of their customs are very similar to those practiced by many African tribes. Here your wealth is shown by the number of cattle (Zebu) you have and young men have to prove their worth to marry by stealing someone else’s Zebu, so proving to the family of his wife-to-be, that he can provide for her. Although Rowland assured me that so far this has only happened in his dreams.
The Bara use the natural caves in these sandstone hills to bury their dead and each family will have two burial resting sites. One being a temporary one where they will lay the body to rest for a few years. After this time they will open up the tomb and remove the bones and take them back to their village to clean them and have a big party to celebrate that person’s life once more. How long this party lasts depends on the family’s wealth but they have been known to go on for a week or more! At the end of the party they will take the newly cleaned and wrapped bones back up into the hills and to the final resting place which is higher up than the temporary tomb and can involve some pretty demanding rock climbing; in some cases without ropes.
We continued our walk stopping to take in some of the spectacular views at every turn of the track. The scenery gave me the feeling that I had travelled far back into the age of the dinosaurs, when these rocks were being formed, but maybe this was just an influence of watching too much Jurassic park as a child.
The temperature was soaring quickly and there was the promise of cooling off in a naturally formed swimming pool to look forward to, so on we went. However upon reaching said pool I felt like it was mirage as it was less of a pool and more of a beach. It had been filled with sand washed down by the recent rains, Rowland informed me that this never used to happen but unfortunately there was a huge bush fire several years ago that ripped through a lot of the park and destroyed the plant life and as a result of this the level of soil erosion has increased dramatically causing this sand build up. Not to be defeated we carried on our walk with the promise of two other pools to cool off in. This part of the walk took us across some open plains and up onto the crest and then to the top of the gorge we were to descend down into.
Here the walk got a bit tough and the knees took the brunt of it as we descended, the promise of lunch spurring me on. With a sense of relief we reached the bottom and there laid before us was our picnic lunch table, including table cloth, and an ice cold bottle of coke, that lasted mere seconds as I thirstily drained it. What was to follow was a lovely picnic lunch of the Malagasy staple of rice and Zebu and it tasted heavenly. I was also briefly paid a visit by a ring tailed lemur that could obviously see that it had no chance of getting any of my lunch and soon scarpered before I had the chance of snapping a picture. Rowland didn’t stop for long as he was constantly pointing out different things to me including a tree boa and ground boa; what a pleasure to see snakes when you know they are not venomous.
From here we walked up the gorge a short distance to the two other natural swimming pools, the black and blue pools. It was absolute bliss to finally sink into the cooling water of the blue pool and afterwards relax on the sun baked rocks.
However this wasn’t the end of our walk so we set off again to see what wildlife we could spot and not too far along we encountered two male Oustalet chameleons having a fight for dominance. Although it may be hard to believe from these generally sedate creatures, the fight was very vicious. We also got our bird spotting hats on and were successful with the endemic Benson’s rock thrush, also two males fighting to impress a female (there must have been something in the air up there today), Madagascan Kestrel, Crested Drongo and many others.
We finished our walk in time to pay a visit to ’The Window of Isalo’ for some sunset pictures, which were quite dramatic as a storm was brewing in the distance. However with some sore legs and just a little bit of a sunburnt neck it was time to get back to the hotel, the Jardin Du Roy, and reflect on a thoroughly informative, spectacular and enjoyable day.