ChamEO Madagascar Expedition 2017 | Part III

Monday, March 6, 2017

Day 4: Ranomafana National Park and Arboretum

By now I was feeling much better; the fever was essentially gone, all that remained was a cough and some fatigue. Nothing that was going to keep me from participating in as many of the day's activities as possible! This was going to be our first serious hike through jungle so we loaded the bus early in the morning after breakfast and headed up towards the Ranomafana National Park, only a handful of miles from our hotel. 

A quick note here about the coffee in Madagascar... I don't ask for much, I really don't. I think I'm an easy traveler. However, the coffee everywhere in this country was really, honestly, pretty terrible. I certainly don't profess to know why, but after four days of drinking just the minimum amount of dark brown liquid that passed itself as coffee in order to function, I was really craving a good Cuban cafe con leche pick-me-up. So consider yourself, warned; it's not the mosquitoes and diseases that you should be worried about, it's the abysmal coffee. 

Along the road, a major highway (believe it or not), we saw drives of zebu cattle making their way in from the coast. It's a 40-day walk, and the herders make the entire journey on foot beside their animals. We didn't have a single steak or piece of beef all trip that wasn't zebu meat, and clearly it's the livestock of choice across the country. 

We arrived at the entrance to the park, where our guides from the night before, Emile and son, gave us a little background on the park. We prepared ourselves mentally for the onslaught of leeches we had been warned about, and dove right into the jungle. It was not a terrible hike by any means, not particularly steep nor perilous. However, my sickly lungs did leave me embarrassingly winded several times, but I still made it through the roughly 4-hour trek.

By the end of the trek I had my first leech bite! Thankfully the only one throughout the entire trip, but I was relieved to not be the only member of the group that wouldn't get to experience the thrill of a leech.

As we got deeper into the jungle the thicker the canopy became and the darker the forest. It became very difficult to photograph the lemurs at distances, even if I'd used a flash, so forgive the graininess of the photos that follow. 

Bamboo lemurs. 

Pygmy leaf chameleon.

Cameron with a leaftail gecko

Day gecko back at our hotel for lunch.

After lunch we set out towards the Ranomafana Arboretum, which is a collection of trees traditional organized by family or clade. We were told that within the Arboretum they had three Parson's chameleons (C. parsonii parsonii), two males and one female, that they had brought in from further north, where they are naturally found. Surprised that they could survive in this heat (because it was hot), we set off to go find them. It took all of two minutes to find the female, which was hanging out towards the entrance of the Arboretum and following that we located one of the two males up in a tree.

Back at the hotel restaurant we found a female Furcifer balteatus, which we did the courtesy of removing from a small palm in the parking lot and leaving at the entrance of the Ranomafana National Park on our way in front of it again. There, Emile told us, was a male that would appreciate the presence of a healthy female. 

That night we did a night hike along the road, with the help of a little rum and coke, and had an amazing 4-5 hour walk in the cool darkness. We saw a ton of mouse lemurs, geckos, frogs, and chameleons but I did not photograph any of them at night.

Female F. balteatus 

The only chameleons I brought back from Madagascar! Craig was very upset that I bought up the best ones. 


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