Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Andasibe-Mantadia

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We flew back to Tana from Morandava, where we met Dorique, who would be our driver for the rest of our trip.  We’d be driving south and east, and would not fly again until we flew out of Madagascar.  The scenery was beautiful, and reminded us a little of a Miyazaki film; vivid rice fields surrounded by rolling hills, and villages with European architecture.  Also, this little gas powered rail car seemed like it had driven right out of one of his films.
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On our way to Andasibe, where we’d spend the night, we stopped at the Mandraka Reptile Farm.
Normally reptile farms aren’t really our thing, but this one had a fantastic collection of chameleons and geckoes in large enclosures, similar to aviaries.  We were able to see a number of species that we had missed in the areas we’d been to, and many more in areas we simply didn’t have time to reach.  One of the few mammals there was the common, or tailless tenrec, which looks a bit like opossum or shrew, but is not related even remotely (it’s closer to the elephant, actually).  It was one of the few native mammals we saw in Madagascar that wasn’t a lemur.
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Crocodile or alligator?  The 4th tooth of a crocodile rises from the lower jaw prominently over the upper.
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What we were really fascinated by was the variety of chameleons we could find here.
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Our local guide caught a grasshopper, speared it on a twig, and then held it carefully about 10 inches from this chameleon.  We could see its eyes pivot and lock onto it.  Above, you can see it’s tongue just starting to unreel.  Then, zingo! its tongue flew out to snag the grasshopper, and it was gone in a couple of crunchy chews.
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At first glance, we thought this leaf-patterned guy was a gecko, but he has the articulated, independent eyes of a chameleon.
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We did find lots of geckos though.  There were some vividly colored ones, and a number of weirdly camouflaged varieties.
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Also tomato frogs, and some snakes.
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We’re ambivalent about snakes, but the sharp-nosed snake below was more interesting to us than the boa.
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We drove on again, and passed through a larger town that was travelled almost exclusively by bicycles.  Dorique mentioned that Moromanga is known as a bike town, and most of the side streets were open only to bicycle and pedestrian traffic.  Instead of taxis, bike-shaws predominated, and there were bike shops scattered along the main street.
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Not long after Moromanga, we reached Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. After meeting our host Henriette and dropping our bags at Grace Lodge, we headed out for another night walk.   There was a light mist, which was cool and refreshing, but we were spending more time keeping our eyes and lights on the muddy path than watching for night life.
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Our local guide, however, had no trouble spotting frogs and butterflies.
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He wasn’t satisfied with just that, however. After returning to the car, Dorique drove us a short distance, where we walked alongside a section of road that our guide picked, and he pointed out a chameleon.  Then David--who could now walk without watching his step--spotted a dwarf lemur quite close to the road.  It was the best view we ever had of a nocturnal lemur.  It seemed quite unconcerned by us, and we were able to spot the eyeshine of several others further from the road.
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If that wasn’t good enough, the entire area was bathed in an intensely spicy, floral scent.  When our guide heard us remarking on it he stepped into the brush a little ways, plucked a huge white flower, and handed it to us.  It was wild ginger, and as waved our headlamps around we realized we were surrounded by the blossoms.  By now, the mist had stopped--it had become a cool, beautiful night.  It was the first time we’d been cool since arriving in Madagascar.  We walked slowly back to the car, savoring the smells.  It had been a long day of driving—not that we are strangers to that by now—and we’d seen a lot for one day.