Real Madagascar by Karen Molyneux

Karen Molyneux

03 Oct 2012

A Madagascar Safari Review

It has been an absolute pleasure dealing with World Primate Safaris [Natural World Safaris]!

From planning the itinerary with Shaun (and Will), to all the help from Louise with stuff for the insurance company when things went wrong last year, to finally experiencing our truly magical & memorable dream trip to Madagascar.
We saw 17 different types of Lemur, including 4 out of 5 on the original "wish list" that was the basis for the itinerary which worked so perfectly for us.

We saw over 50 species of bird, 5 different types of Chameleon. Leaf Tailed Gecko's, Green Day Gecko's large and small. Enormous spiders and big hairy caterpillars and numerous other critters of all kinds. And then, on the last afternoon, the one we'd given up on came looking for us! A tiny little Lowland Streaked Terec stumbled its way right to the steps of our lodge at Vakona, and I spent an ecstatic couple of hours following it as it wobbled (and rolled!) around near our lodge, at one point meeting up with another little Tenrec just to add to the delight.

We fell in love with Masoala. Everything about the area is our idea of paradise. No Cars, no TV, no noise, just wildlife and nature all around. And plenty of other things for Mick to do as well as the wildlife watching. He enjoyed the snorkeling & kayaking too.

From getting off the boat it felt like something from Robinson Crusoe. The idylic beach with the forest all around. Smiling faces greeted us with a glass of lovely cold fruit juice and then Maria led us to the dining room to explain more about the lodge & the area. She then showed us to our "room" and I thought we'd died & gone to heaven!

They gave us number 1 Lodge, which has just been refurbished and is now a "treehouse"set high up on stilts, right on the beach with the forest all around you. They had thought of everything! There were umberallas, beach mats, water canteens, lockable cupboards for valuables, and the nicest touch of all - little bundles of vanilla pods on your pillows, which made them smell amazing!

The view from the veranda (complete with chairs and a hammock!) was absolutely stunning, looking out across Antongil Bay to Nosy Mangabe and the forested hills of Masoala - talk about a room with a view! This took the biscuit and dunked it in Baileys!

So much to see, so much to do, that in the end we were very pleased that our stay had been extended to six nights, instead of the 4 originally scheduled. And when rain of biblical proportions came down on what would have been our first night camping on Nosy Mangabe, we were doubly relieved to still be at the Forest Lodge instead!

The staff were fantastic. Always smiling & friendly, and although sometimes a little shy, a thank you in Malagasy would bring a beaming smile, and, much to our delight, in one case a "Yay" which had us giggling every time she said it.

Our Guide for the week, Elysee was also fantastic. So knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and with excellent English we were really able to learn so much from him. When he took us up to the primary forest for our first visit to see the red Ruffed Lemurs they were very high up in the canopy & not such great views. Elysee declared that it wasn't good enough, and that we would come back again another day for a better view. Which is exactly what we did. The second time he took us right up to the top of the ridge, where we were much closer to the canopy tops, and we got far better views of my beloved "rufties". We nicknamed him Mr Chameleon, because he was always spotting them and said they "sang" to him. 

We spent one morning looking for the White Fronted Brown Lemurs, with no luck (although we saw an awful lot of other things, including the very rare Berniers Vanga & Pygmy Kingfisher, as well as the Helmet Vanga, Crested Coua and some more of the tiny Brookesia Chameleons) and then lo and behold, on the night walk we saw the White Fronted Browns going to bed! Elysee even apologised for not being able to find us a Tenrec - little did we know then that one would come to find us!

On the nights it wasn't raining we had campfires on the beach & sat around chatting with a Three Horse Beer under a sky so alive with stars I've never seen anything like it. We could even see the milky way very clearly. No light pollution makes it an amazing place on a starry night!

And then chatting into the night, with more beers, with Nico, a young German on a trainee management placement at the lodge. He & Mick shared the same weird sense of humour and we made an instant friend. I knew it was going to be hard to leave Masoala and was trying hard not to cry, but when Nico said that even the sky was crying because we were leaving, that was it, I cried my eyes out!!

If I left my head in Lemurland I left my heart in Masoala! We made friendships with Elysee & Nico that I think will be longlasting and have already been in touch with them both.

We had a very wet ride back to Maroansetra and said our goodbyes to Elysee & Pierre before heading to the airport. Where we discovered that the bag of wet laundry they had done for us after our wet & muddy walk on the last day had been left in Pierre's boathouse. The lady who had taken us to the airport rang Pierre, but he was already on his way with our forgotten clothing!!!

We loved everything about the Forest Lodge! They were friendly but very professional, and best of all eco-friendly too.

Next stop was Toamasina, where we were met by Stephane, our guide for the second week. They dropped us off at the Hotel Sharon & said they would pick us up next morning. We dumped our stuff in our room (which was much nicer than I expected) and went for a walk, but after being accompanied for all of it by a rikshaw driver we couldn't shake off, we gave up & went back to the hotel, where we had a few beers, and a nice chat with a Malagasy barman called Patrick! Mick had the Carpaccio of Zebu which he said was excellent, and I had a seriously good Pizza - sad I know, but I now have a habit of trying a Pizza in whichever country I go too - they generally tend to be better than most in the UK!

Another early start saw us at the jetty for the boatride down the Pangalanes Canal. This was really interesting, seeing all the villages at the side of the river, with the pirogues, big & small carrying all kinds of supplies up & down the Canal.We also saw lots of Kingfishers & some beautiful areas festooned with water lillies in far more colours than we have seen before. Stephane started the trip by giving us some information about the Canal. We enjoyed the sights & sounds til we arrived at the Palmerium.

THANK YOU SHAUN! Masoala and Andasibe were already on my wanted list, but I had never heard of this place and for close up sightings it doesn't get any better! 

As we got off the boat and headed for the steps the lemurs appeared. Reds, Blacks, Crowned & Hybrids. They were in the trees all around us, and the Guide with the French Group that came on the same boat as us was giving her group pieces of Banana, and the Lemurs were coming down onto their shoulders to take them. When it became obvious that our Guide didn't have any Banana's for us, the French Guide gave us some of theirs, and so I had my first close up & personal experience with a Crowned Lemur on my shoulder - Yay!!!

Another nice fruit juice, this time with an injection of Rum, greeted us at Reception, and then we were off to our lodge. Basic, yes, but clean and comfortable and with several Day Geeko's large & small living on the fluorescent tube we were hopeful that mozzies wouldn't be a problem. Dumped our bags again & headed off for lunch. Food was really good and the staff were great, Friendly & attentive.

After lunch we went for a long walk. First along the shores of what felt like a beach - the lake is so big, and has sandy beaches that it feels like a sea! Then we discovered what I think may have been "the nest of dreams" a small pond of beautiful green water with lots of birds, pitcher plants and a small shelter made of travellers palms with a fire pit which we think the local reed cutter might have been using. 

On our way back to the lodge we saw what Mick called "a crazy mixed up mess of lemurs". There were Red, Black, Crowned & Hybrid Lemurs all moving through the forest making an amazing array of sounds. Grunts, snorts, squeaks, squeals - the variety was unexpected and amazing! And best of all, this time we were on our own with the Lemurs - no Guides, no other tourists. Just us!

The staff at the Palmerium were good. Mostly friendly & smiley and the food was very good. Our Local Guide was fantastic, even though he had very limited English. Didn't matter! He got us to an Indri where we were the only ones there and it was one of the highlights of the entire trip!

We were told that this particular Indri was now too old to stay with the family group, but because there is only the one group at the Palmerium, he is an outcast, all by himself, But we were so lucky to have him all to ourselves. Our local guide give me Banana's and the young Indri didn't snatch them, like the smaller Lemurs did, he put his hand around mine, and gently, but powerfully, pushed my hand up to his mouth with the Banana. I was then told that I was allowed to touch him! OMG!!! His fur was so thick and so soft. It's heartbreaking to think he will always be alone...

After this we encountered the main family group - but sadly with a whole hoard of day trippers. I had a fantastic encounter with the female Indri - after I fed her a Banana she held my hand for ages, before dropping it as if wondering what it was! And the real icing on the cake - she had a baby!!

After this our local guide tried to find us the Coquerels Sifaka's, but without luck. He said we might see them around the restaurant in the afternoon - we did!! They were amazing!! Fed them Banana's again, but then watched them playing & wrestling in the trees - truly stunning!

The final highlight at the palmarium was the local dance troop. We have seen a few of these on our travels, but this one came with a twist that made it so much more enjoyable!

Another River Trip from the Palmarium to the Road to Andasibe. 

Journeys end (Sadly) and we reached Vakona. The rain came down so we did little on our first afternoon. Had a walk down too see Lemur Island but decided it wasn't for us. 

So Glad we decided to do Mantardia for a "full" day! We heard the Indri, and saw the Back & White Ruffed Lemurs and best of all we saw the Diademed (Golden) Sifaka's.

Last day was Andasibe and another early start. But well worth it to hear the Indri! Initially too much of a scrum to get close to the Indri, so we gave up. And were rewarded with a really good  view of a nest of woolly lemurs instead.

Back to Tana....and the guide did manage to find us a supermarket to buy chocolate...



1/7/2015 2:30 AM

Hey! Two years late, but I figure it still counts! Lemurkat: It's a hybrid of a black lemur and crowned lemur! These are very common in Palmarium -- the females look like the individual in this photo, and the males look almost like an odd red ruffed lemur! I have a few posts about this particular mix on DA! :)

Natural World Safaris

26/4/2013 10:30 AM

Hi Lemurkat, Tricky to say, there are a few cross breeds at Palmarium so always difficult to know for sure.


25/4/2013 1:30 AM

Beautiful experience! We went to Madagascar in 2007 and it was probably the most wonderful experience of my life. Out of curiosity, I find the hybrid very interesting - what two species are crossed? One is black lemur, yes? The other some sort of brown?


23/10/2012 9:01 AM

Gorgeous pics and truely your holiday of a lifetime. xx

Robert & Gill

21/10/2012 10:20 AM

Well done , made it happen at last !!! Wonderful photos and some memories to treasure. Thanks for sharing .

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