Looking for lemurs in Madagascar

Sharon and Fred Tooley

23 Jul 2015

Planning our madagascar adventure

We are, very active 60+ year-olds fortunate to be blessed with good health. We both are still working and loving every minute of it because it enables us to travel to places we’ve only dreamed about traveling to, throughout our marriage. We love adventure travel best! The thrill of planning and then traveling to distant places is as almost as much fun for us as the actual trips. And, we love proving that adventure travel doesn’t have to end when you are entering your “Bucket List Years”! In 2013, after discovering Natural World Safaris via their website and reviews on-line, we took a “leap of faith” and decided that they would be our safari outfitters for the trip we were planning to Borneo. After two brief emails from Will Bolsover, we knew for certain that we were in good hands and in for a wonderful adventure--and it was the best!

When we decided that Madagascar and Zimbabwe would be our next adventure, we contacted Will and he directed us to Arabella Lakin, NWS Madagascar/Africa expert. It was an instant connection. Arabella was brilliant to work with and we are confident that this is the company norm and not the exception. We know what’s next on our list and we are looking at dates for next year. It seems that “Islands” are trending on our list right now.... Borneo, Madagascar and we’re hoping to visit the Galapagos Islands next. 

However, before we jump ahead - here’s a bit about our incredible trip to Madagascar!

The Journey

Our group of four--all “Bucket List Road Warriors” and life-long friends who have traveled to four continents with us over the past 10 years -- left Houston, Texas on a British Airways direct evening flight to London Heathrow on June 19th. We connected on a direct nonstop BA flight to Johannesburg South Africa and arrived May 21. We checked into a hotel near the airport and caught up on sleep to be ready to start our Madagascar adventure the next morning.

May 22

After a 3 hour SAA direct flight to Madagascar’s capital city, Antananarivo, we arrived in a place like no other that our intrepid group of “Bucket List Road Warriors” had ever seen--Madagascar--world’s fourth largest island and home to the reason for this segment of our adventure: lemurs in the wild!

After the “organised chaos” of immigration, we were met by Marc, our NWS guide and Momy, our driver. After a quick stop for fuel, we started on our journey to Andasibe National Park and our home for the next three days--the Vakona Forest Lodge. Ordinarily, the trip would take 3 hours but our arrival time put us in “Rush Hour Traffic” on a Friday afternoon...good to know that some things are the same all over the world! We arrived 5 hours later after a heart-stopping ride on winding mountain roads in the dark...certainly not the worst our group has ever experienced but very glad that Momy got us there safely and before the lodge had stopped serving dinner. We were taken to our rooms and were very pleased at the lovely cabins that we would be calling home for the next three nights. We had arrived too late for a nocturnal walk but the delicious dinner, wine, and welcoming room provided a wonderful night’s rest in anticipation of our first day’s adventure.

May 23

Early breakfast at the lodge--while waiting on the lodge patio for our guide, we heard our first indri songs...we were ready to start the adventure!

We spent the day at Mantadia National Park, about 20 kms north of Andasibe National Park and the lodge. Everyone who visits the National Parks is assigned a local wildlife guide and we met Desy for the first time. Over the past 10 years or so we have met incredible wildlife guides all over the world--Desy ranked high on that list--he was a walking textbook on not only lemurs but also everything else that ran, leaped, crawled, and sprouted out of the ground. He seemed to have a magical ability to find lemurs. Within 15 minutes of our starting our hike, he had found a large family of black and white ruffed-tailed lemurs. 

We stayed for almost an hour watching and photographing these magical creatures and then Desy took off at a fast pace and signaled us to follow. Within 10 minutes he had led us to another large lemur family...this time, golden diademed sifakas! We couldn’t believe our eyes. Of all the beautiful creatures that inhabit the earth, these were among the most beautiful we have ever seen. And such characters...they didn’t actually come down to introduce themselves but they performed aerial acrobatics for us and didn’t seem to fear our presence--posing for us for another hour. We could have stayed for the rest of the day but our guides suggested that we stop for the picnic lunch that the lodge had provided and then move on.

After we had finished lunch, we noticed that Desy had disappeared. Marc said that we had to wait just a few minutes more for a surprise. Desy emerged from the forest smiling from ear to ear and holding something carefully in his hands. He handed us a large green leaf and on it was another of Madagascar’s famous inhabitants--a giraffe beetle--a creature that looked like an illustration from a children’s book-- a beetle no larger than a fingertip, metallic red with shiny black legs and a long shiny black thread-like neck that was approximately three times the length of its body. After our watching and photographing it, Desy carefully released him or her back into the forest and we were on the road again. On the trip back to the lodge we spotted brown lemurs and a lesser bamboo lemur. It was a great day! 

After dinner at the lodge we went out on our first nocturnal walk with Marc and Desy. It was an awesome experience -walking along the road in the darkest of nights in the cool, brisk air. We don’t know which was more amazing -just the experience of a clear night with a huge moon and a billion stars or Desy finding amazing pale green chameleons looking more like porcelain collectibles than living creatures, tiny transparent frogs, or our sighting a nose-horned chameleon—one of the world’s smallest reptiles.

May 24

Today is Indri Day! After breakfast we headed for Andasibe National Park. When we arrived the air was full of the indescribable songs of the indris. I won’t even begin to try and explain the “melody”. Some might call it ear-splitting - the sound a balloon makes when it’s inflated and you slowly allow the air to escape by pulling the neck slightly open, but we called it melodic - other-worldly - like nothing we’d ever heard before. Desy walked quickly and told us, as politely as possible, that we had to keep up...indris were on the move. We searched for about 2 hours of what we considered “sometimes difficult” hiking with quite a bit of uphill climbing. We were at a point that we had made peace with the fact that we just may not get to see an indri. The songs had stopped and we appeared to be hiking in a different direction to the rest of the groups in the park. Desy motioned us to stop and then signaled us to follow him.. .he stopped and pointed up. At this point, our attitudes and spirit of the hunt had gone downhill and we were expecting a consolation prize of a bird or insect. We all looked up and were rendered speechless. Above us were two gorgeous black and white beauties...a male and female indri. Suddenly, they serenaded us with a song that the memory of still brings chills. It was the experience of a lifetime. A sight that only a very few, very fortunate travelers see and hear. Desy had circled the entire park, tracking, in the time that it had taken us to reach the “prize” location and we were honored to be the only four to experience those two indris for almost half an hour of song and photo time before any other visitors or guides tracked them.

We stopped for lunch on the way back to the lodge at a small cafe owned by a former park guide who specialized in Malagasy food. We feasted on a delicious stew, drank ice-cold local, Three Horses Beer, and talked nonstop about what we had just experienced. It will always be one of our all-time best adventure experiences.

Back at the lodge we relaxed on the lodge patio and enjoyed the beautiful grounds and the birdsong. After dinner we went on our second nocturnal walk. We had more groups with their guides with us tonight but we still enjoyed every second of another beautiful night of the moon, the stars, a mouse lemur, and our first sighting of an elephant-eared chameleon.

May 25

Breakfast early, a final walk around the lodge property for photos, loading the bags and then off for the journey back to Antananarivo and our flight to Johannesburg SA. This trip was much more enjoyable during the daylight hours. It was a government holiday in Madagascar--everyone was outdoors enjoying family time. We passed through rice fields, roadside plant nurseries, small towns, traveling road side carnivals and a huge laundry area by a river that meandered along beside the road. The roadside fruit stands were busy with excited children and luscious fruit.

This time it did take only three hours and we arrived at the airport with time to spare for a fond farewell to Marc, Momy, the friendly people of this amazing red island and the lemurs. Madagascar--like no other place we’ve traveled -a country so distant that return travel seems doubtful, yet, our memories and photos will take us back there as often as we want to return.

If you would like our destination specialists to plan an extraordinary journey for you, please get in touch now!

Comments

Laura Arteaga

23/7/2015 8:30 PM

Wondeful review. I definitely want to go to Madagascar now. It is back on our bucket list warrior's list.

Arabella

23/7/2015 2:30 PM

A wonderful blog and excellent photos - Bucket List Warriors - thanks for sharing. It was so much fun putting together your safari. Sounds like you had an incredible time! Can't wait to read the Zimbabwe part!

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