The South Reviews

'Hi Derek.

Thanks for making post tour contact.

We had an absolutely brilliant time in Madagascar [on the Madagascar Wildlife Extravaganza Small Group tour]  thanks to Rainbow Tour's tour itinerary & bookings, as well is to the expertise of both Lucienne & local guide Gerscia.
We enjoyed the company of our other tour members as well as the fellowship of both Lucienne & Gerscia.

I will consider other tours provided by Rainbow Tours and will highly recommend Rainbow Tours for its expertise in this location.

Kind regards,
Rick Lowen'

 

Dr and Mrs Lowen
December 8, 2016

'This (Madagascar Wildlife Extravaganza small group tour) is the best holiday/expedition we have had in a long time. Congratulations to Rainbow Tours. 

Our guyides deserve a big accolade. Gersica is a gem you need to treasure - always smiling and cheerful with seamless organisational abilities - and Lucienne is so knowledgeable and enthusiastic - they made a perfect partnership which contributed greatly to the success of this holiday. 

The quality of the food we had in Madagascar was excellent and way above expectations'. 

 

Mr and Mrs Bennett
December 7, 2016

'Dear Derek

We chose Madagascar as a joint destination with ourselves and the Keens and it was Chrissy who did the research on which might be the best travel company to use. She found Rainbow Tours, and in fact they used the company some years ago for a trip in Africa.  To our minds her choice has been excellent and we finish the trip with a high regard for the company.  

All the arrangements have worked wonderfully well.  We have been very pleased indeed with our guides and drivers and the hotel accommodation has been right on the button with one exception.   More specific comments are below.  We have rated each hotel out of 10 and allocated the rating recognising the type of hotel we were in (e.g. Setam Lodge and Relais de la Reine are in different categories and marked accordingly)

Arrival and first night: The flight from Paris was fine and we were safely greeted by Vola and Mamy on arrival and installed with no trouble at the Relais des Plateaux - the ideal close to airport location. It provided exactly the service that was needed.  8/10

Day one and Couleur Cafe.  This is an excellent choice of hotel. Charming style and ambience, beautiful well maintained gardens and a high standard of service from the staff.  The decor was wonderfully amusing and the whole style of the place suited all four of us admirably.  We got our first taste of Ti Punch here and continued with them for a good part of the trip.  10/10

Days 2 - 4 Setam Lodge. The drive from Antananarivo through Antsirabe to Setam provided us with the most wonderful scenery despite the distressing poverty which is such a feature of Malagasy life. We were struck by people's industriousness as they went about the business of keeping body and soul together and by the smiles and friendliness we encountered.
Setam Lodge was good forest accommodation although the food was pretty unexciting. We suspect that it was probably the best available anywhere in the area, so no complaints from us. And they managed to put a comet moth just outside the dining room for us to admire and wonder at!  8/10


We enjoyed our first proper rainforest walks and were rewarded with some good lemur sightings.  The second of the two days was particularly enjoyable as there were very few other people in our area of the forest and so we were not fighting for viewing vantage points.  Chantal, the local guide, and her spotter did a great job of finding us some wonderful sights including a beautiful painted frog and the giraffe "bug". It was fascinating to observe how they listened and watched in order to show us the range of forest wildlife.

Day 5    Anja Park and Varangue de Betsileo.  Needless to say the ring tail lemurs of Anja Parc  stole our hearts, with lots of "Ooohs' and "Aaaahs" as they leapt around us.  With respect to the accommodation here we suspect you are in a bit of a bind with little else available within easy driving distance.  

To be honest while the location was very attractive and the rooms spacious and clean, our hosts were clearly doing everything on the cheap.    The only bedroom chairs masquerading as bedside tables, no water glasses (or water for that matter) and a measly bit of soap in the bathroom, two wire hangers, no curtains on the glass paned doors so that to have any privacy it was necessary to close the door and window shutters, leaving the room in the dark. In response to  the question "do you have a hairdryer?",  our hostess said that as she had short hair she did not see the need for one!  Dinner was a poor affair and the only wine available virtually undrinkable.  The final straw was that they charged for water at breakfast and left the offer of eggs until the last minute when we were rising from the table. We turned them down politely.

Recognising that there is probably not a lot of choice as to hotels, we wonder if Rainbow Tours were to have a discussion with them they might up their game.   Even if they were to charge 10 euros more a night that would be a reasonable trade off to get some of the amenities which ought to be standard. Rating 3/10


Days 6 - 10  Relais de la Reine.  Well,  what a wonderful contrast! A beautiful hotel, the most glorious gardens, charming staff, great food, Ti Punches some of the best.  The only thing to spoil it all was the news that Trump had won!!  Rating 10/10
Here too our walks were splendid and the Black Pool that we found at the top of the ravine was paradise. A great stay.   And then on to the Zombitse Transition Forest which too was wonderful.  The sifakas performed magnificently for us.  The Arboretum visit which followed was also very interesting and much enjoyed especially by the Keens who are much more plantsmen than we are.  

The overnight stop in Tulear was fine (Rating 8/10) and we were very sorry to say farewell to Vola and Mamy (sp?). They were a splendid team and really took trouble to make sure that we were well looked after.  Mamy drove superbly and at no time did we have the slightest sense that he was not in full control of our safety. It was also touching to see that he quite clearly looked out for Vola as well!  She demonstrated liveliness, humour, a strong sense of responsibility for our well-being and good knowledge in responding to our questions. In particular she was very good in controlling things on the occasions that we stopped and left the car, making sure the begging children did not crowd us and that each got his fair share of sweets or bread.  

Days 11 - 14 Vakhona Lodge After the somewhat hair-raising drive from Tana to Vakhona (one of us felt really quite uncomfortable with this) we actually had the most magnificent stay here. Our new guide Stephan and driver Nyna were again charming and the local guide we had here (Sacha?) was very knowledgeable indeed. We really enjoyed him and his little twists of gentle humour. They went to a great deal of trouble to make sure we were not in crowded spots and yet still managed to get some wonderful lemur, indri and bird sightings for us.  

The lodge itself was very well appointed, beautifully set in the forest, and the food was good - and of course the Ti Punches!  We left with great reluctance, but at least we had the up close and personal experience of the lemurs just before we left!  Rating 9/10

So finally on to the last week at the Ravintsara.  Once more a really wonderful hotel, charming staff whose only wish is to make sure we had a fully relaxed and comfortable stay.  The massage and spa treatments were of excellent quality, food was good and varied and the view from our bungalow over the channel was peaceful.  The gardens were absolutely beautiful. A perfect end to our stay  so we go back to London and France with great reluctance but feeling well set up for the winter.  Rating 10/10

Thank you for your help in arranging this trip for us.  We will remember it with pleasure for many years to come.

If you would like to contact us regarding any of these comments please don't hesitate to do so.  In the meantime our very good wishes to you

Hilary and Kazia' (part of Keen party)

 

Ms Smith and Ms Kantor (Keen party)
December 6, 2016

'We undoubtedly feel we made the right choice of tour operator, paricularly in respect of accommodation, guides and logistics. Local knowledge shone through. Quality of all these factors added greatly to the enjoyment of the holiday. Very good to have included Tsimanampetsotsa National Park (also Herilala's favourite). We felt things got steadily better the further south-west we got. Where else do you offer good holidays? 

No question - we will definitely strongly recommend Rainbow Tours if anyone asks us about Madagascar. Thank you for being the very helpful and informative details and for the copy of the Bradt Guide'

Mr and Mrs Bush
December 5, 2016

'We enjoyed this holiday greatly. The itinerary was good but it was the local guide Mike who did a fantastic job on the ground to make the tour work seamlessly. Some of our fellow travellers were very experienced world travellers but we found their expectations to be very high to the point of being ridiculous eg complaining that beer was 'not cold enough'. Overall a fantastic holiday - Thanks!'

Mr Stevenson and Ms Dewberry
December 1, 2016

'The [Daniel Austin 2016 Madagascar Wildlife Discovery] Tour exceeded our expectations.

Overall holiday satisfaction: excellent. 

Both tour guides - Daniel Austin and Harry, were EXCELLENT. The walking took us close to our physical limits but was well worth the effort, given the range of wildlife which we saw. Accommodation in Marojejy is truly primitive but again, we felt that the discomfort was well worthwhile. This is a superb tour, but anyone looking for a restful holiday should look elsewhere!'

Mr and Mrs Bentley
November 29, 2016

'Hi Derek,

A short email just to say how delighted we were with our whole trip and how enjoyable Mickael and Lionel have made it. 

This country is mindblowing. Your planning of our trip has been amazing. We've loved everybit of it and couldn't have dreamt of a better honeymoon. 

Thank you to everyone at Rainbow Tours,  and you.

Clemence and Gabriel'.

Mr and Mrs Devaux
November 24, 2016

'Hi Derek,

Ref; Madagascar Adventure 2016.

We returned home safely on Wednesday 16th November from our Madagascar adventure; our can we thank you for organising such a wonderful trip for us. From the start to finish we did not experience an issue with the itinerary you had organised for our needs. 

Our guide and driver were superb, throughout the trip, our guide La-la and driver Dude. Dudes driving was superb considering the condition of the roads at times, I will never complain again about the pot holes of the UK roads. Our driver was very careful never took his eyes off the road, and we never experienced a back jarring moment no matter what the condition on the road was in. Our guide was superb, and his knowledge of wild life was most helpful. On many occasions, I would borrow the wildlife books he had in his position to study the creatures we saw daily.  It was also a pleasure that La-la had an avid interest in insects as well has the larger creatures we would encounter. This pleased him, he told us most of his clients are only interested in seeing Lemurs, reptiles or birds. At times we would both be on our knees photographing the smallest creatures we could find. We would then cross references them in the text books for accurate ID. We could not fault the accommodation you had booked us apart from minor teething troubles, we were warned of before leaving,  missing  sink plugs dodgy electrics. It was quite a blessing to  be shut off from the outside world with hardly any Mobile or Internet connections at times.

Relais des Plateaux 1night and day room was most convenient for the airport. Staff helpful our rooms and the food in the restaurant were good.

Vakona Forest Lodge was a nice setting food plentiful and enjoyable a nice start for our incredible journey through Madagascar. Our lodge was elevated. Iit was nice to sit outside and admire the scenery and many birds and other creatures in the vicinity after our day's trip out in the National park. We also enjoyed the night walks at this location and the many strange nocturnal creatures we would encounter. Friday 4th November, it poured of rain all day and the only day we experienced rain on our trip. However, the rain did not stop us from getting out and seeing some amazing wildlife.

Couleur Café 1 night, what a stunning setting looking over the plains and mountains, in the distance, and too be able to relax in the swimming pool after our journey. The French couple who owns the hotel  are most helpful and try their best to make you welcome. The food is ok but limited, but this did not spoil our stay here. It was nice wondering around the grounds taking photos of the many different types of birds and butterflies around the grounds. The electricity here is limited for use only at evenings. The hot water is from Solar thermal and appears to fluctuate in temperature at times. However, we were not disappointed and enjoyed our one-night  stay.

Setam Lodge, 3 nights

The lodge is set in an elevated position looking out over the forest area with good views. All the staff here are more than helpful, and the food was good. Our guide seemed to know nearly everybody at each destination. He often became our translator with the non-English speaking staff. With his advice, we would most times try the local delicacies on the menu. At each national park or reserve we visited, our guide had handpicked and booked in advance his favourite park guide and scout. Not once were we disappointed with his choice their local knowledge and knowing exactly where to find each creature are amazing.

Varangue du Betsileo 1 night,

After many hours on the road, we arrived at our destination around 5pm. Our bungalow for the stay was huge and comfortable. Like most of the places we have stayed at the bathroom sink did not hold water, this fell into minor comparison with the way some of the Madagascar people have to live. Some of the conditions their people live are truly third world. We have been to many countries around the world in our time. However, some of the living conditions we encountered along the way were an eye-opening experience in its self. No one should have to live under these conditions in the 21st century. Madagascar as something so unique from the rest of the world it should be a top destination to visit. The country appears to have the wealth beneath its feet and not capitalising on it. We found most of the Madagascar people warm, friendly and helpful.

Relais de la Reine 2 nights,

What a delight it was to stay at this marvellous French owned hotel it was a dream, the accommodation is splendid, the food great. A nice place to relax for a couple of days after a long day’s journey. The view of the surrounding area from the lounge is magnificent. The hotel seems to be cut into the actual rock face. There were many steep steps, so a torch with you after dark was essential. The pre-dinner-free  bar snacks with your drinks was a nice touch. My only fault would be the steps down to the lower dining area are open with no hand rail. The lodge we stayed in was stunning and the ground surrounding the hotel with its own abundant wildlife was a delight. I and our guide ventured out for a night walk around the grounds with the intentions of spotting the Eastern Scopes Owl. We were not disappointed with the guide’s scopes owl call recording, within a short time, the Scopes owl swooped in within a few feet from us. An amazing experience the owl is so tiny even in comparison to the UK’s Little Owl.

Le Paradisier 2 nights,

We have arrived in heaven for 2 nights; Individual bungalows were lovely. You had your own veranda and own outdoor chairs and hammock overlooking the sea only a few meters away. We missed the sunset at Relais de la Reine due to cloudy weather conditions. Sitting on the veranda the first night watching the sun go down was truly stunning. Our bungalow was large and comfortable, although we did feel a little vulnerable to nature. No worries the bungalow was sprayed at evenings with insect iced and mosquito net also standard for the bed. Main area, including restaurant/reception/pool area all of high standard. Helpful staff, although English speaking limited. The restaurant and a terrace overlooking the sea were a delight it made you wish you'd like to stay on forever. Our guide recommended we depart for Zombitse National Park at 5am 12th November to avoid the heat during the day and other tourists. And the best opportunity to see as many birds has been possible before it got too hot. This turned out to be good advice we had a fantastic morning bird watching and seeing other creatures. By the time we returned to the hotel at around 10. 30am the temperature was getting unbearable. It was nice to relax for the rest of the day before we joined up with our driver and guide in the evening for a farewell dinner together.

Everything about this trip has been memorable from our visit to the destination show at Earls Court and visiting Rainbow Tours stand and speaking to your friendly helpful staff.

Having Derek Schuurman with is extensive knowledge of Madagascar organising our trip for us. The trip has been tiring at times trekking through the undergrowth and up the steep slopes. However, the rewards out way the disadvantages thousand times. I will be the rest of 2016 categorising the many different species of wildlife and fauna we encountered on our journey into Madagascar.

We cannot praise Rainbow Tours and all their staff at home and abroad that have truly made this a holiday of a lifetime, an experience we will never forget.

If you wish to use any part of this article, you have our permission to do so.

We look forward to travelling with Rainbow Tours again.

Kindest regards Steve & Pat Garten' 

Mr and Mrs Garten
November 21, 2016

'Hi Derek

We had a great time in Madagascar [on the Daniel Austin 2016 Madagascar Wildlife Discovery Tour] and we did learn much about the country and enjoyed the people, wildlife (especially the lemurs), flora and landscape. Both Daniel and Harry were helpful at their different tasks. Harry could speak Malagasy and did everything to ensure that the tour ran smoothly and group were taken care of. He was pretty good at hearing distant lemur calls.

Daniel is very knowledgeable about his reptiles and the fauna in general and his perspective regarding the country, as a non-native, was appreciated. His temperament is well suited to the country, no displays of impatience etc. Harry always knew how to get things done. So the two made a good team. In summary, much appreciation and thanks to the two.

Eric runs a very efficient group of guides and cooks.

I do appreciate your quick responses to all my queries. Thank you.

Regards,

Pak'

 

 

Mr and Mrs Wong
November 16, 2016

'Hi Derek 

We're all now safely back from Madagascar and just wanted to send our thanks for all you did to organise such an amazing adventure.  The lodges, guides and Marc  were all outstanding. As you warned us, we were affected quite a bit by Air Madagascar's unreliability but Marc and the office staff worked hard to make the changes as smooth and as comfortable as possible.

I do so hope that Air Madagascar sorts out its unreliable schedules before they manage to kill of the majority of tourism. 

We will definitely recommend Madagascar to all our travelling friends and will do all we can to help the great conservation work and tourism industry there.  It's an extraordinary country with the most wonderful wildlife and people.  We were made to feel very welcome and given the very best service people could offer. 

 Best wishes,

 JP'

 

 

Prowse Private Group
November 7, 2016

'Excellent holiday.  We had out own 4x4, guide and driver and all were excellent. There is mention in this form of car and guide but no mention of driver: our lives were in his hands for 10 days and he was excellent, both in driving, handling our luggage, always opening the doors for us. Drivers are an integral and important part of all holidays; please give them recognition. The holiday was excellent in all respects. The changes we made to the advertised tour because of our ages (79 and 70) worked out very well. Would recommend your company to anyone - and we saw loads of lemurs!!!'

 

 

Mr and Mrs Linwood
November 1, 2016

'Jessica was absolutely excellent. She always made sure everyone got the most out of the trip, according to their abilities. Setam Lodge had lovely food - the best on the trip! Another day in the park (Ranomafana) would have been good'. 

Mr and Mrs Brooks
October 26, 2016

Hi Derek

Some feedback for you....

First of all, another fabulous trip for so many different reasons....

The flight out - what a lovely surprise to travel Premium Economy, what a difference that made, not just in the comfort and service aspects but ultimately getting through Tana airport in 30 minutes rather than over 2 hours - thank you so much.

The Relais des Plateau is such a refreshing first and last stop with no worries about getting to and from the airport and so comfortable.

All accommodation was great - hard to choose a favourite, very good choices.

To our delight plenty of lemurs and birds and absolutely fascinating travelling through such varied landscapes, villages and townships. Thought provoking to compare their world to ours, humbling to see how they manage their lives, always with a smile on their face. It has left us with much to think about.

The itinerary was great and the whole trip went very smoothly. we are always singing your praises to our friends and family and I am sure we will have other trips with Rainbow Tours.

So once again, thank you very much for a great experience.

Chris & June

 

 

 

Ms Elgar and Ms Lawrence
October 24, 2016

'Gersica was superb and success of the holiday was all down to her. She is a treasure! Air Madagascar were for once very reliable. The pace of the tour and some distances travelled seemed unrelenting towards the end but we would not have missed any of it!.

We loved Les Dunes (Ifaty). Chilled out in bungalow overlooking beach. The Malagasy traditional meal at Setam Lodge was the food highlight of the tour. 

Gersica could not have been better organised, more considerate or more attentive. She is one of the best tour leaders we have experienced in over 30 years of travel on small group holidays'. 

Mr and Mrs Johnson
October 20, 2016

'We loved the country and the people. This has been a fantastic trip. Our itinerary couldn't have been better. I really liked the pacing. Mora mora......  I wish that we could help this country protect their precious natural resources and improve the quality of life for the people. There is so much potential here.

Thank you again for making this a trip of a lifetime.

All my best,

LP'

Ms Parnell and Mr Blaise
October 18, 2016

'Overall satisfaction: Excellent. Relais des Plateaux is a very good hotel.

Gite d'Ampijoroa (Ankarafantsika National Park) has excellent location, good service, food and facilities; average comfort.
(Basic)

Royal Palissandre Hotel & Spa excellent food and service. Too posh for us.

Vakona Forest Lodge: excellent location, meals and facilities. Lovely setting but felt a bit damp and cold.

Thermal Hotel Ranomafana: excellent comfort, good service, location and meals. Beautiful hotel but electricity kept running out.

La Varangue de Betsileo: excellent in all respects. Very nice people, looked after us very well.

Relais la Reine: Very nice, lovely area.

La Mira: excellent in all respects. Very nice and relaxing.

The guides were excellent especially Bel-Aviv and his driver Doudou, who were with us for most of the trip. All were very helpful, knowledgeable and friendly'.

Mr and Mrs Smeaton
October 13, 2016

'We had a wonderful holiday - thank you. Our guide Gersica was fantastic - one of the best we have ever had and we have been travelling for years! She went out of her way to ensure each individual's needs were met and is so knowledgeable, too'. 

Ms Pearson & Ms Chippendale
October 12, 2016

'We had a great holiday - your itinerary was super - thanks!.Highlights: Relais de la Reine Hotel + Isalo National Park. Sheer variety of terrain and habitats. Quality of the guides, in particular Djato and the driver Barry. Exceptional passion and dedication. Local guides at Andasibe-Mantadia, Isalo and the Ifaty Spiny Forest'

Mr and Mrs Lacey
October 6, 2016

'Herilala was a SUPERB guide - he even went to Berenty with us!. Excellent holiday. Met all our expectations and exceeded on wildlife spotting. Very satisfied with Relais des Plateaux. Food was surprisingly good at Andasibe Hotel. Berenty is stunning for wildlife. La Croix du Sud had the best decorated bedroom and bathroom outside of Anjajavy: the photo in the itinerary does not do it justice.

Mantadia was excellent and order was reversed, which was the right thing to do because of the poor state of the road to the park and the long drive back to Tana.

The road to Berenty was very picturesque but 'deteriorating road' does not describe it......the driver was excellent and managed the jouney in 3 hours thanks to some superb rally driving!'

Mr Alderman and Ms Frost
October 6, 2016

'We had such an amazing time in Madagascar. We were in awe of the beautiful scenery and abundant wildlife. We found the people to be friendly and welcoming.

Maison Gallieni: we had a wonderful first night here. Lovely dinner.

Couleur Cafe: excellent comfort, service, location and facilites. The evening meal was goog, breakfast buffet was not as good.

Setam Lodge: Service, location, meals and faciliities excellent. Comfortable rooms, could do with an update/ renovation but pleased that they were dry and not damp. It was also cold in Ranomafana and they had a heater which was useful.

Relais la Reine d'Isalo: It was a special hotel set in a beautiful landscape. The lady owner of the hotel was very friendly and appreciative.

Anakao Ocean Lodge: surpassed our expectations. Beautiful lodge on a very secluded beach. Wonderful meals created from whatever fish/seafood was caught fresh each day - we really liked this ethos especially as it helps the local fishermen in the nearby village. The speedboat transfers there/back added to the experience.

Vakona Forest Lodge: main building was lovely. A great setting for breakfast and dinner. It was a disappointment that the rooms were not of the same stanard and that the staff could not understand why why we were not happy with a damp room.

We really appeciated Derek getting in touch with us and our guide Njiva when we were having difficulties with or internal flights and for checking that we were OK and that we were still happy with the service from our guide. We were also grateful to Njiva fror staying in Tulear another night and making sure we were on the flight back to Antananarivo the next day. He was wonderful at the airport and and organised everything for us there so that we did not have to worry. We could not have asked for better service from our guide at the airport. We feel that we may not have made it onto the flight from Tulear if it were not for him! '

 

 

 
Mr and Mrs Cunningham
October 3, 2016

'Njiva was a fantastic guide - thoroughly recommend him. Driver, Dodo, was also very good. Overall holiday satisfaction (Classic Madagascar overland: the RN7 route): excellent. 

Vakona Forest Lodge is a lovely place but they wanted us to leave the bar/seating area by around 9pm. 

Setam Lodge: good in all respects. Location excellent.

La Varangue de Betsileo: Service and comfort: excellent. Location, meals and facilities all good. 

Relais la Reine d'Isalo: excellent.

Moringa Hotel: good in all respects; excellent meals.

Princesse Bora Lodge: Comfort, meals and facilities good; service and location excellent.'

 

Ms Godfrey and Mr Naylor
January 25, 2016

'We really enjoyed the trip.  Madagascar certainly lived up to expectations, we saw most everything we wanted to (and in many cases, much more).  I would say we were very well looked after.  Hard to pick a highlight, but I might go with Marojejy.  Thanks for a great experience!'

Dr and Mrs Nunnally
January 4, 2016

'The Madagascar trip (Daniel Austin's 2015 Wildlife Discovery Tour) was, in a word, AMAZING.  What a fascinating country.  Actually seeing the city of Antananarivo and the faded grandeur of the old homes, situated next to wooden shacks or brick "melt-downs" and all set among the rice paddies was astonishing.  Those old buildings must have been very elegant in their day.  What stories they could tell!  I had never considered that Madagascar was a prosperous and populated country.  We don't usually hear of such things, or appreciate the changes in fortune that cause civilizations or countries to rise and/or fail.

The wildlife walks with guides were amazingl.  How the local guides were able to see so many insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds and (of course) lemurs, was beyond my comprehension.  And they were enthusiastic about showing us those treasures!   Those people could see a stick insect on a branch 40 ft. away from a moving car!  They're superhuman!

Daniel and Harry were exemplary.   Pleasant travel companions, yet so much more!  Harry is an extraordinary problem-solver / ramrod (that's the term for the "fix-it" guy on cattle drives.) Hang on to that man!  He will get your clients through any eventuality!  Daniel's thoughtfulness toward his flock and his generosity in sharing his wealth of knowledge was impressive and appreciated. 

The itinerary was really ambitious.  I didn't realize that... looking at it in print.  The realities of moving around Madagascar present challenges that could never have crossed my mind.  I know that NOW.  The itinerary packed in a very nearly punishing schedule of getting from one far-flung location to another.   The destinations were merely abstract points on a rudimentary map and the reality of getting from one point to another is lost in the black and white print on a page where we are warned that travel times may vary according to road conditions.  I had to see it to believe it. 

It was wonderful to watch how Daniel and Harry dealt with the momentary "glitch" with Air Madagascar.  I know Daniel was on the phone to you, you were on the phone to Air Madagascar (so that's what you do with your days!) and Harry was on the phone to someone... maybe Za Tours... and there was quite a bit of uncertainty for a little while. It was interesting watching the mutiny going on, on board the aircraft as we watched our luggage being carted back into the terminal...  local people shouting, people wondering what to do... and we were all looking at Daniel to find out how we were expected to react.....  Talk about pressure...  I'm sure Daniel could have used a Xanex at that point.  It all worked out in the end, and the decision to get us to Sambava and worry about the luggage later was a stroke of genius.  Za Tours (Harry and Mark) worked diligently to reunite us with our luggage  I understand that in the rush to get Mark on the airplane with our luggage, his own luggage got left behind, with no chance of getting it back for five or more days.  He was gracious about it... seeming to just be glad to have us comfortable.  He needed a bigger tip! 

Later, it was impressive to see the level of personal service we received from Air Madagascar in the airports after that little situation. 

The way Orchidea Beach hotel managed to accommodate us at the last minute was impressive.  Lovely property.  Very comfortable and friendly.  The food was excellent.  Staff went out of their way to make us comfortable.  I was assigned a very pleasant room at the back.. very private and comfortable.

Our driver to Daraina was skilled and professional.  What a grueling stretch of road!  And the drivers did it all without a wince!  At one point, we were faced with a lorrie in one section of what amounted to a dry riverbed, and a zebu cart in another section, with a narrow swath down the middle, with a tangle of brush in the center of it.  Our driver got out and went to the zebu cart, consulted with the driver, extracted machete from the cart, and he chopped out a section of brush to create a lane to drive through...  problem solved.

Camp Tattersali must be a "work in progress" since their recent move.  They may need a little guidance and help with their sanitation practices.  A basic latrine would be an improvement.  But I can't fault my tent (with the hole in the roof.)  I slept with the rain fly open so I could open my eyes in the night to see the dazzling spectacle of stars.  What a treat! 

And I SWEAR I DID see an aye aye...  on our night walk, in the dark, with nothing to prove it...  Harry had us all turn off our infernal headlamps and torches and wait quietly near the aye aye nests and I'm quite sure I saw the silhouette of the creature as it leapt from one thicket to another, outlined against the night sky, before the sound of its passing prompted everyone to turn on torches and headlamps and frighten it back into the darkness.

Baie d'Iharana was a delight.  Kind of a "period piece."  And the food there was also exceptional.  I don't think anyone expected that the water and electricity would be turned off at night and not back on until 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning.  Some folks had planned to shower in the morning and were surprised to discover that was not possible. 

Do you remember that I asked you just how rugged the "walk" up to Mantella and Marojejy might be?  I'll answer that myself now...  It was pretty darned rugged.  Perhaps I had an over-inflated sense of my own fitness level, since I can usually run circles around many of my acquaintances who are half my age....   But that was a serious hike.  I would not have made it without the help of the porters and guides who were ever ready with an outstretched hand.  They were a tremendous help!  Even with their help, I was occasionally reduced to crab crawling on my bottom over some of the rough spots. 

 We were fortunate that the rain didn't start until we were actually down off the mountain.  I shudder to think what it might have been like with the trail slippery and muddy with rain.  

That said, Marojejy was an extraordinary experience.  The park is a treasure and worth every bump and scrape and twisted ankle it took to get up to the camps (and back down.)   And all gratitude to Moses and Jean-Louis, the guide/porters, who hauled my sorry behind over the rough spots.

Did I mention that the food up in the camps was exceptional?  Who can manage to cook such delicious, intricate meals in a camp setting??  That was startlingly wonderful. 

Flavien's Farm was a welcome respite after the 10+ km hike down the mountain.  My knees and ankles were absolutely spent and to be treated to refreshment and rest at that lovely little outpost was delightful. 

Then again a very happy return to Orchidea in Sambava... Again, the staff made every effort to make us comfortable and welcome. On this second visit, I was assigned to one of the beach bungalows with the surf pounding.  That's a lullaby for me.  It was wonderful.  Later, I awoke to the sound of rain on the roof.   It was delicious!  I might have sat up all night to listen to it had I not been so tired from the Marojejy adventure.  That is such a very nice property and the staff and management were extraordinarily kind and responsive.

Too soon, we were back on the move and off to Tana and Le Colbert.  The drive through Tana to reach the hotel was fascinating. We might have been better situated at Relais de Plateaux for the drive to the airport the next morning, but I have to admit that Le Colbert was a very pleasing and comfortable place to stay.  

Off again the next morning to get to the airport and the flight to Tulear.  WE thought our VIP status had the flight on time and moving efficiently, especially with our dedicated escort of Air Madagascar representatives moving us through the airport.  Little did we know that there was a REAL VIP on board the flight.  Certainly the crowds of celebratory locals at Tulear airport, with their bands and banners, were not for us.  Quite a treat to see how the locals welcome their dignitaries!

The arboretum for lunch was lovely, and then there was the dash to get to Zombitse in time for some wildlife spotting before it got dark.  Again, those abstract points on the map aren't a match for the reality of the distances involved...  But we DID get to see some outstanding birds and lemurs at Zombitse before the big flies chased us out of the forest.

Relais de la Reine is the type of place that I, for one, might have benefitted from a half-day of "down time" to enjoy their lovely views, well-kept grounds, and reportedly extensive facilities.  There is more to that property than we had time to explore.  I don't know for sure, since we got in late, got up early and out for wildlife viewing elsewhere, and back in time for dinner and repack to get on the road early the next morning.   Their laundry service was outstanding.

Since I am an early riser, the late evenings were a bit challenging for me, but I did get some respectable hoopoe photos from the patio outside my room early in the morning before our outing for more adventures.  And that was a prolific day of wildlife!  The stick insects, ring-tailed lemurs, paradise flycatchers, white-throated rail, snakes, and the "camp robbers" (red front lemurs?) with their silly little piggy grunts and greedy, gregarious behavior.  I skipped the second climb up to the pools in order to relax and regroup at the picnic area, so I missed the long-eared owl and probably any number of other wonders...  but I just can't do everything all the time and the time to relax at the picnic area and watch the ring-tailed lemurs and the red front lemurs was pleasant.

OK...  so you didn't really expect an essay, did you?  But it was really an exceptional experience!  How can I distill it down into Yes/No answers??  

Back to the last day at Relais de la Reine... I forgot to mention that we stopped at a school on our way out to the hike and Kate organized us into a performing group to sing "The Wheels on the Bus" to and with the children.  What a large classroom full of little people!  The teacher(s) must have their hands full working with so many little ones.  There were a few of the children who were bright-eyed and eager to welcome us, and assertive enough to stand up and speak to us.  Others were quite shy.  And most of them seemed to enjoy joining in for the singing.

After performing, hiking, playing with the wildlife, we dropped off a sub-group who wanted to scale yet another massif to a scenic overview and the rest of us toodled on back to Relais de la Reine.  That was such a lovely property!  Eileen, Maureen and I had scheduled massage sessions at the spa for 6:00 p.m. and the sunset cocktails and entertainment were scheduled to begin at 5:00 or 5:30.  The secondary hiking troupe was a smidge late returning...  that seemed to be a theme of the trip...  just expect to be a bit behind schedule. 

Some of the staff arrived in costume and performed traditional dances for us.  They hadn't finished by 6:00 and I went scurrying out to my massage appointment.  Daniel advised that I could stay longer, the massage therapist would wait for me... I just can't get my head around that concept.  In any event, the massage was just what I needed and I stumbled out of  the spa an hour later, feeling like a noodle. 

At dinner, Harry announced our itinerary for the next day...  Must be on the road by 5:30 a.m. to catch the boat to Anakao.  Since the hotel's kitchen didn't open that early, the hotel sent breakfasts to our rooms that night for the following morning.  The hot water for my tea didn't fare too well overnight, but tepid tea beats no tea, and the hotel staff were doing an admirable job of taking care of us.  Some of us had sent in laundry, which showed up in our rooms by 6:00 p.m., clean, and so neatly pressed and folded that when I popped mine in my duffle, there was all kinds of room left that I hadn't had before!

So, a bunch of sleepy-headed travelers met at the bus by 5:30 a.m. (and I didn't hear the drivers/guides complaining.)  Off to Tulear, with a couple of brief "pull-overs" on the way to allow us to photograph some magnificent trees.  The guides wouldn't let us out of the bus because the children along that stretch tended to be rather aggressive in their quest for treats.

The rest of the way to the boat is a bit of a blur, but the boat ride across the bay was glorious.  The weather was perfect, the fishing folk out in their boats made for a scenic crossing.  We stopped at Nosy Ve to get a look at the red tailed tropic birds and to allow those who wanted to swim a chance to do so.  Some of us just napped in the shade, because we were sleepy and it was really hot!  Harry and Daniel were everywhere at once, checking on everyone's welfare and comfort, leading bird-seekers in the thickets, watching out for the snorklers and nappers and traipsers. 

Eventually, we waded out to the boat again and arrived at Anakao to be assigned rooms and served lunch.  Daniel and Harry had the duty of explaining to the waiter about the vegetarians among us. Not the easiest task. 

The next day, Daniel and Harry had organized a lorrie (The Beast) to take most of us to Lake Tsimanampetsotsa.  The serious birders of the bunch were birding up a storm on the way and at the park the weather was perfect and the iguanas were making a spectacle of themselves.  The Vasa parrots at the banyan grove were also making a spectacle of themselves, noisily mating in the tree above us, while a pair of harrier hawks rode the air currents.  I got a few shots of the parrots in action, but they are partially obscured by a branch that was between me and the amorous pair.  One of the harriers graciously posed on a treetop (just for us, no doubt.)

The baobobs were impressive, a radiated tortoise made an appearance, and the spiny trees and plants provided a completely different side of Madagascar's character.

My personal big score on that excursion came when I decided not to hike up to the lookout point, but rather to stay with the lorrie.  Joshua, the guide from the Anakao Lodge, pointed out a magpie robin on guard near a tree with a knot-hole.  We watched for a bit and then saw the female magpie robin come streaking out of the knot hole, off on an errand.   Joshua and the lorrie driver tried to pile up enough junk for me to climb up high enough to look into the knot hole, but I'm just too short, and they were too short on junk...  so Joshua took my camera up and got several photographs of the four perfect little blue eggs with dark speckles.

We retreated back to the lorrie and the female came back to the nest, while the male remained on guard, looking just a bit indignant.

That excursion also provided shore-birds, flamingos, lots of bee-eaters, the blind fish in the cave (I assume that cave is connected to the ones around the Lake where they have recently discovered the fossils of many of Madagascar's extinct species of large lemurs, pygmy hippos and other animals.)  Inchworms, praying mantis....  what else?  Daniel was naming and cataloging species of bugs, bushes, birds and trees as we went along.  The man is an encyclopedia!

On the drive back to the lodge, Mark finally got to see the lovebirds he had requested, and Dave spotted a little tortoise on the side of the road and we halted for more photographs.

Maureen and Martin, Maxine and Eileen had chosen to stay at the lodge and relax for the day and they all looked more rested and refreshed when we returned.

A rare storm rolled in that night, with thunder and lightning.  My FAVORITE!!  There's nothing quite like the sound of rain on the roof to put me into a happy slumber...  until the sound of rain coming in THROUGH the roof woke me up.  Nothing serious.  Just one little leak producing a steady drip onto the table and chair by the front window.  It wasn't dripping on the bed, so I just enjoyed it and went back to sleep.

The next morning, we had to take our leave of Anakao.  It was still just misting a bit of rain on and off, so the fact that Daniel and Harry had arranged for the covered boat was some pretty fine footwork on their part!   The Italian group leaving at the same time had to take the open boat.  I'm sure they didn't get very wet.  It wasn't raining much.

Back in Tulear, Harry parked us at the Victory Hotel while he took our luggage on to the airport and arranged for our boarding passes.  We didn't have to lift a finger.  Daniel ran through the list of species we had encountered to date while we waited, and we all relaxed with tea, beers, soda... whatever.  Victory Hotel is a very pretty oasis. 

Presently, Harry phoned Daniel to say the bus was on the way to pick us up and Air Madagascar wanted to take off early.  We were shuttled off to the airport and Harry handed out our passports, boarding passes and some boxed lunches the Victory Hotel had prepared.  The plane was boarding almost immediately.  At that point Security personnel didn't want to let us through with the lunches.  Harry wasn't having any of that.  A few pointed sentences in Malagasy and the two Security Officers stepped aside and motioned us through, lunch boxes and all. 

So, here we come to the part where I "eat some crow."  THAT was the flight that I had complained to you was a "bad seat." 

My apologies. 

I couldn't imagine that Business Class was any part of the tour, or that Business Class could be in the rear of the plane.  Those of us in Business Class (Maureen and Martin, Gillian and Hugh, and I think David and Maxine) were treated by a most solicitous flight attendant with lunch, snacks and chocolates.   And the views out the window were stunning.

That's it for me for tonight.   Tomorrow, I'll try to wrap up (yeah...  you've heard that "I'll wrap up..." statement before, haven't you?) with Le Colbert (OMIGOSH, you should have seen my face when I stepped into Room 801 and realized it was a suite!   Just how many bathrooms does one traveler need?) and the exquisite dinner at La Varangue (did I spell that right?) at which Serge and Patricia came to speak to us...  and then the visit to the Rova at Ambohimanga and the drive to Andasibe and the adventures there.

I'm afraid there's no way to be brief after such an extraordinary experience that the tour turned out to be!

Let's see...  Return from Tulear to Antananarivo... Let me see if I can wrap this up in a few thousand words or less...  NOT!!

Our last arrival into Antananarivo was seamless.  Off the plane, into the baggage area, grab baggage...  Harry marshalled a team of porters to cart our luggage...  Some of us scurried over to the main terminal area to the post office and the shops and rejoined the parade carrying our luggage as it made its way to the bus.

Once again, the traffic in Tana was surprising...  The crawl from the airport to Le Colbert gave an opportunity to gawk at the different styles and eras of buildings, and the crumbling infrastructure of the drainage system.  And stare at all the different types of "traffic" -- cars, busses, lorries, zebu carts, man-pulled carts, pedestrians crossing streets willy-nilly.  When we were approximately 2-3 blocks from Le Colbert, Harry or Daniel, I forget who, said we would get to the hotel more quickly if we walked, so we all climbed out of the bus and walked to the hotel.  I'm guessing it took the driver another half hour or more to get to the parking area with our luggage.

Efficient check in, an admonition to meet for dinner later...  and here is where I open the door to my room to find a suite!  I didn't know what to do first...  bathe, shower, have a cup of tea....  so I picked two of the above and had a bath and a cup of tea.  There was no bottled water in the room, so I treated some tap water with my Steri-Pen and brewed a cup of tea, then called Reception, which sent up a large bottle of water and some extra tea bags with a very nice bellman who stopped to explain that there was some Malagasy tea in the mix.  The Malagasy tea was already on my list as a favorite.

An hour or so to relax, check out BBC on the television in the sitting room, sip some tea, photograph the sunset from the 8th floor, and then it was time to meet the group to walk around the corner to La Varangue.

What an absolute treat!  I could spend hours in there looking at all the antiquities, artifacts, brass lamps, sextants, telephones, cameras, musical instruments....  and we didn't even see half of the décor that was packed into that wonderful place!

There was a small army of serving staff looking after us.  Very attentive...  and then Serge and Patricia arrived to talk with us.  Serge brought us the gift of the lemur identification pamphlets.  The one I brought home is my most treasured souvenir from Madagascar!    What a special surprise! 

It was interesting hearing from them about some of the challenges they are facing in the country, and their optimism for positive changes.  Patricia had another obligation and had to leave, but Serge graciously stayed for a good while, talking to us, answering our questions, and providing an overview of what their NGO is working with. 

And then the "starters" began to appear in front of us!  I don't even remember what all those little tasties were, but they were delicious, and I ate everything they put in front of me!  Some kind of fruit salad "tartare", some fois gras on toast, scewers of zebu steak...  other lovely stuff that I didn't write down and can't remember.  I really didn't save sufficient room for the main or dessert, but I showed my gluttony and ate that, too...  it was all so delicious and beautifully presented.

What a very exceptional evening!  And Harry's nightly announcement of the next day's itinerary left us not needing to be at breakfast until the obscenely late hour of 7:45 a.m.!

Slept in until 5:00 a.m., then a leisurely repacking, with lots of Malagasy tea to fuel me along, and down to breakfast early.  Le Colbert provides a very nice breakfast selection.  Lots of delicious little pastries, fruit, cereals, broiled tomatoes (LOVE those broiled tomatoes)...  cheese and ham and sausages... and an omelet bar.  I didn't sample everything, but it all looked good.

As we were leaving the hotel, a street vendor who had sold me a map of Madagascar on our previous visit was hawking a copy of The Bradt Guide to Madagascar!  I didn't have the presence of mind to ask him how much he  was asking for it, but he was apparently quite proud to have it on offer!

Off to Ambohimanga and our tour of the Royal Quarters.  I'm so very pleased that Ambohimanga was added to the itinerary.  I love to see historic places and get a sense of how people occupied their space in a time gone by.  Especially interesting were the separate pools outside for the king's and queen's "annual bath."  The "sun room/conference room" in the queen's quarters must have seen some high intrigue in its day!  Our guide for the tour of the grounds gave a very interesting account of what life was like for the King and Queen in their time.  I'm so pleased to have had the opportunity to see that landmark.

And then it was off again, on the way to Banana Rova for lunch at the arboretum, while enjoying the garden and grounds and the music and dance.

And then it was off for the drive to Andasibe.  It really doesn't look so far on the map, does it?   The countryside was continuously surprising, with cities and towns, rice paddies, churches (I noted Latter Day Saints, 7th Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, an odd Lutheran, and lots of Catholic churches), and then I started seeing actual dairy cattle...  a Holstein here and there, a Guernsey or Jersey tucked into a quiet meadow... more Holsteins...  less and less Zebu... more and more European dairy types. I couldn't help but think that was a good sign for those of our party who preferred milk for their tea and coffee!

Andasibe!  FINALLY Andasibe!  We drove in as dusk was upon us and there were parties of "night walkers" out with their headlamps and torches.  We knew we were getting close!

The room I was assigned was at the very end of the complex. Room 21. I could not have had a more perfectly situated room!  With a view out the front to the water, a view out the side to a pleasant little meadow.  The room was beautiful, with lots of wood, lots of space, airy, clean and very comfortable.  Step up to a vanity room, toilet closet and a huge shower room, where the hot water could get absolutely volcanic!  I could have roller skated in the bedroom, it was so spacious! 

Up early the next morning and the hot pot in my room didn't work.  I took it to Reception and traded it for one that allegedly would work.  After all this time in Madagascar, how is it possible that it never crossed my mind that electricity might be the issue?  If there is a pill to cure "stupid" maybe I can get Eileen to write a prescription for me...

So, the "new" hot pot didn't work and I went about getting ready for the day... when the hot pot suddenly started hissing and within minutes I had tea.

We were off to the forest by 8:00 a.m., with our local guides, Patrice and Mari.  You must have spared no expense to obtain the most effective guides available.  Spot a flea on the rump of a beetle under a leaf on the opposite side of the road?  No Problem...  Patrice and Mari have telescopic vision!  They must have lasers for eyes!

And even when they had found a treasure for us, I often found myself looking beyond it, or around it, or just not seeing it.  Mari was formidable.  She's the Mother who will absolutely make sure her children see and understand... and we were her children.  "Madame!  Come HERE...  Stand HERE!"   and in some cases, taking my shoulders to position me properly to see what was there...   OH!!  THERE it is!!!   I can see it NOW!  She was amazing and absolutely committed to helping her clients see what we were there to see.... even if some of us (OK, that would be me) didn't have the eyes to see the wonders hiding in plain sight in the forest!

They showed us the brown lemurs, black and white ruffed lemurs, short legged roller, the nesting Paradise flycatcher...  countless birds and beetles and tumblebugs... and then...  Diadem lemurs!  Diadem lemurs all over the place!   At first, I couldn't see them.  Mari got me pointed in the right direction...  Once my eyes were primed, the creatures were visible ALL OVER THE PLACE!  And Mari was calling, "Madame!  Come here!!" and I found myself crashing through the underbrush with seeds in my teeth and twigs in my hair....  "No Madame!  HERE!!  COME HERE!!!" and I'm crashing through the forest undergrowth with not a trail in sight, and more twigs in my teeth and seeds in my hair....

It was hilarious....  it was exhilarating...  it was marvelous.

And then, crashing through the forest after yet another cry of "MADAME!  (or was that "Madman?") COME HERE!!"  I put my foot on a slippery rock hopping across a steam and would have landed on my butt in the water, but Daniel was right behind me and grabbed my arm in time  to tilt me up onto the opposite shore and save me from a drenching and a sore tailbone.  (I haven't mentioned lately that Daniel and Harry were just everywhere at once.  I don't know how they had the stamina!)

So, after we had been out there for hours, Patrice and Mari decided to wait until morning to go after the Indri Indri.  We were all pretty much exhausted and it was getting late.  Patrice said there would be a better chance to find the Indri in the morning.  

Late lunch in the forest, and then we were taken to Lemur Island.

As much as most of us hate to see animals in captivity...  these little creatures had The Life!   I understand that circumstances have rendered them unable to fend for themselves in the wild, and they are still in a natural habitat, but protected... and to have these beautiful little animals hopping on our shoulders, heads, backs... I'm sure you've seen photos of all the sappy grins while we got to touch them and see them so close and unafraid.

Now I forget the sequence of events...  was it the night walk first and then dinner?  or was it dinner and then the night walk?  They divided us into two groups. The more athletic went with Patrice. We "lighter" hikers followed Mari.  HAH!  Mari after dark is no less focused than Mari in the daytime!  More twigs in my hair and seeds in my ears...  Mouse lemurs under every leaf! Chameleons on every twig!  After awhile, part of our group followed Mari into the thicket and were rewarded with a dwarf lemur.

By the time we got back to the hotel, I had decided that I was finished.  I knew that there as an excellent chance of seeing the Indri the next morning, and it didn't matter.  I had seen so much already. And we did glimpse a couple of Indri, high up in the tree tops after seeing the Diadem lemurs.  I wanted to spend a leisurely morning repacking and taking a long deep breath.  I told Daniel and Harry not to expect me for breakfast and slept in until 7:00 a.m.

Hot pot didn't work again, so I wandered down to Reception and asked for some tea and a croissant.  Harry must have given them their marching orders ahead of me...  Staff showed up with a fruit cup, bread, tea, juice, an offer of eggs (no... no eggs this morning) and I sat on the deck and relaxed.  Later, I wandered the hotel grounds and watched staff repairing, maintaining, clearing paths, tidying up.

Repacked and relaxed, I asked for my luggage to be transferred to Reception and presently the group returned with wonderful photos and tales of the very special Indri encounter.  Everyone was so enchanted by that experience! That must have been absolutely incredible!  One little voice in my head says I was a dunce for skipping that forest walk.  Another voice tells me I had gone as far as I needed to go and the time for solitude and reflection at the Andasibe Hotel was right for me.

Off again for the long drive back to Tana. It REALLY doesn't look that far on the map!!  But it is.

Again, watching the landscape going past, the towns, the traffic... the really big lorrie loaded with bananas was a spectacle... as was the fellow on the bicycle hitching a tow from a lorrie going up the hills...  it was all very special and beautiful!  It is the stuff that will visit my very best dreams.

Back to Tana and again at the very welcoming Relais de Plateaux, we had a couple of hours to relax and reflect before we were off to a nice dinner and farewell speeches, and then off to the airport.

Derek...  an adventure in a new and different country never turns out to be exactly what we expect it to be.  Invariably, it is always far more special than we could ever have imagined.  Thank you so much for helping to steer me toward this tour.  It was amazing.

Thank you.

I'm done. (Maybe... until I remember something else..)

Best regards,

Carol

 

Ms Carol Snyder
December 10, 2015


'Holiday of a lifetime! Michel in Tana and Ernest at Manafiafy were excellent ambassadors for Madagascar - well educated, informative, personable.

Luxury Camping Safari: Excellent in all respects. Couldn't have been better looked after; very comfortable. Enjoyable camping experience.

Manafiafy Beach & Rainforest Lodge: excellent. Elene is an excellent hostess and superb manager. The lodge runs like clockwork; her staff are well trained, enthusiastic and polite. She and they deserve continued success'

Mr & Mrs McClelland
December 10, 2015

'Service from tour operator: Excellent. Overall holiday satisfaction: Excellent. Mandrare River Camp: Excellent in all respects. Same for Manafiafy and Constance Lodge Tsarabanjina. Maison Gallieni (Antananarivo): comfort, service and meals excellent; location and faciltities good.

We had the most AMAZING tme. Thank you for all your help - it was a very, very special trip'.

Mr & Mrs Parsloe
December 9, 2015

'Gersica was very helpful (on the 15 October 2015 Madagascar Discovery Tour) and gave everybody lots of attention. All tours were well organised and guided by her. Overall holiday satisfaction: Excellent. Great experience to see all these animals. Excellent accommodation, delicuous food and perfectly guided.

Eulophiella Lodge is beautifully lotedwit all he plants and flowers.

Berenty Lodge: excellent in all respects. Nice to see all these animals up close.

Les Dunes d'Ifaty: well located at the coast. Beautiful room and excellent service. Nice pool.

Isalo Rock Lodge: beautiful bungalows well located in the area.

The tour was great. We enjoyed every day. Every day and every walk was really special. Thanks (to) Gersica we got a perfect impression and a good experience of Madagascar'.

Mr and Mrs Mears
December 9, 2015

'The trip was great, an adventure! We saw all of the wildlife that we expected to see and enjoyed watching the lemurs and indri up close. The walk to Camp 1 was harder than I thought because we had to do it in the dark, but it was unavoidable due to Air Madagascar. We knew what we wanteed to see was in some of the remote places and access was going to take time and be difficult. Not sure some of the group anticipated this so much, as they were visiting Madagascar for the first time. Harry and Marc were fantastic. I can't praise them enough. They were efficient and kind and went the extra mile always'.

Mr and Mrs Taplin
December 7, 2015

'Overall holiday satisfaction: Excellent.  Local guides and representatives: Excellent, particularly Harry and Mark. This holiday was really made by Harry. We were really impressed by his knowledge of different languages, (including Latin!) and of the wildlilfe, not to mention the ease at which he sorted out different problems. Camp Mantella (Marojejy): 'comfort, service, location and meals good. Facilities unsatisfactory'. Camp Marojejia: 'Everything first class: comfort, service, location and meals excellent. Facilities: unsatisfactory'. Relais la Reine d'Isalo: Excellent in all respects. Anakao Ocean Lodge: good location, meals and faciltiies. Could do with more outdoor shaded areas. Andasibe Hotel excellent in all respects; comfort good'.

Mr and Mrs Cowen
December 7, 2015

'The overall organisation from both Rainbow Tours and Za Tours was really excellent - in particular we would like to commend Harry Rakotosalama on his boundless enthusiasm, organisational ability and patience (a lot needed in looking after our party!).

It was also a real pleasure travelling Madagascar with Daniel, learning not just about the wildlife, but also additionally all about the different issues facing Madagascar and the Malagasy people.

Finally, a big 'thank you' to you Derek, for steerin the tour from home base in London. Thank you once again to Rainbow Tours for this really magnificent holiday'  

Mr and Mrs Ingleby
December 1, 2015

'Our guide Gersica was excellent throughout. (15 October 2015 Rainbow Tours Small Group Madagascar Wildlife & Discovery Tour) She was efficient, very knowledgeable, and was particularly helpful in overcoming individual difficulties whether needing to re-arrange accommodation, transport etc or medical needs. Without her energy and constant attention to detail, the holiday would not have gone as well as it did. Gersica was an excellent guide who went the extra mile to make the trip enjoyable for everyone'
 

Mr and Mrs Yates
November 23, 2015

'Wonderful holiday in fantastic country. Most hotels/lodges far better than expected and food very good. Accommodation everywhere was clean and comfortable and could not fault service provided throughout the trip.

Gersica, our main guide throughout the trp was excellent. Extremely knowledgeable, very good English and managed the group efficiently. There were a few problems with people feeling unwell but Gersica was extremely helpful and supportive. She accommodated any requests made by individuals and was attentive to our needs as a group at all times. I was particularly impressed by how well organised Gersica wasdujrin transfers at airports and her efficency in checking in bags and processing documentation. Could not have asked for a more experienced and professional tour leader. She is an excellent representative for Rainbow Tours'   (15 October 2015 Madagascar Small Group Wildlife Discovery Small Group Tour).

Ms McBrien
November 9, 2015

'Overall holiday satisfaction: Excellent.  (26 September 2015 Madagascar Wildlife Small Group set departure).  Vegetarian food was excellent everywhere. This is partly due to Gersica's diligence in ringing ahead to each hotel. Thanks again for a most memorable trip'

 

Mr Jackson and Mr Bates
October 29, 2015

'I have just returned from your (26 September 2015 Small Group Wildlife/Discovery) tour to Madagascar and I am writing to express my satisfaction with how the tour was organised and run.... I cannot speak too highly of Gersica for the care and enthusiasm she manifested. She also has a fantastic knowledge of the area and animals together with telescopic vision!!'

David Cooper
October 23, 2015

"Our impression is very positive. We hit most target species of bird and saw plenty of lemurs and a few frogs and snakes and even a swimming bat! Literally, a mass of photos. Perhaps the biggest shock is the loss of local habitat to the rapidly growing population. An enormous amount of work for the government to do on conservation before it is too late. The country would lose a vital incentive for tourism and much-needed income. It is worthy to note that the overall adventure was successful and we thank you for drawing up the itinerary. One is very much dependent on a good guide in Madagascar. There is no doubt that our guides Lala and Fen, 'knew their stuff'. Above all they were good company. Its a nice touch despite the early flight departure times, the guides waited until we cleared departures. They have been well selected. The best local guide was the last guide called Stephan who knew Ranomafana like the back of his hand. He explained that he helped Ian Sinclair with the habitat detail for the current bird guide on Madagascar and its surrounding islands. So, quite an adventure for all of us. Many thanks."

Cowlrick Birding Party
October 12, 2015

Dear Derek

More than six weeks later but we still wanted to let you know we had a beautiful birding tour through Madagascar. Of course it was not the best time of the year (August) but I estimate we still saw 80%+ of the endemic birds we could have expected to see in Sep/Nov. The people from Za Tours were wonderful; (the guide) Mia was very nice, interesting and cheerful guy. We had a great holiday.

Regards, Edial & Fransje, Amsterdam

Mr Dekker and Ms Haakman
September 28, 2015

'Thanks for a really great holiday. (20 August 2015 Small Group Wildlife Discovery Tour). We covered a lot of ground but saw just a glimpse of the diversity that is Madagascar. The coach driver (for most of our time) was really outstanding with his concentration and sympathetic driving. But the Silver Challenge Cup must go to Gersica, whose knowledge, patience, sensitivity, sense of humour and capacity for hard work knows no bounds. She is tops!'

Mr and Mrs West
September 23, 2015

Thank you for some excellent itinerary planning.  We had a fantastic time – amazing landscapes, unique flora and fauna, great guides and drivers and lovely Malagasy people.

Our guide, Stefan, for the Andasibe/Perinet trip knew his birds and pointed out a Hammerkop in flight on the road out from Tana.  Saw a lovely pair of Collared nightjar in Mantadia with the local guide, Jack. 

Had some laughs with guide Michel on the way to Camp Amoureux. Michel didn’t know the western birds, our driver didn’t know the birds and we had no knowledge whatsoever of the birds, so we stopped in the middle of the road with a whole flock of weavers in front of the vehicle and had no idea what we were looking at. 

Weaver

By the time we’d left Camp Amoureux though, with the help of the Sinclair field guide, we’d identified several couas, the hoopoe (knew that one already) and a few other species that were confirmed for us later.  We’re having the Sinclair and Langrand book sent to Michel.  He was a lot of fun anyway and the local guides mostly filled in any missing gaps for him.

And we saw our Fosa – yay!  She was hunting Verreaux’s sifakas in the trees in Kirindy Forest. Tony had remained behind on the track to photograph some interesting bark and the fosa ran up a nearby tree chasing the sifakas we’d just left.  Peter took a few pics on the run.  We were sooo excited!

Fosa

Isalo NP was breathtaking and Isalo Rock Lodge quite luxurious accommodation in a simply stunning location.

Spiny forests in the south-west were fascinating and Elior ensured that our local guide found us the most sought-after birds in Reniala and Ifaty NP’s.  It was almost as exciting finding the Long-tailed ground-roller as it was seeing the fosa.  A pair was nesting and we have pics of the nest hollow.  We were fortunate also to see the Sub-desert mesite in Reniala and the Madagascar plover in the saltpans.

Although we prefer to see wildlife in its natural habitat, it was just magic feeling the tiny velvety hands of the lemurs at Lemur Island and experiencing the lightness with which they land (not like our possums – they’re elephants by comparison!).  We didn’t wish to see the caged fosas, so remained on the front section of the island with the lemurs.

Lemurs on Peter & Tony

There was a beautiful view of the city from Lokanga and the hotel has been lovingly maintained, but it’s probably not as suitable for a family as Relais des Plateaux.  The stairs are definitely a challenge for someone with dicky knees, which Jim has (not your fault – we didn’t think to mention it).

We found the extent of the poverty throughout the country both confronting and heartbreaking, but are planning to directly sponsor two little boys from Soavimbahoaka orphanage.

Africa is on our bucket list and we’ll incorporate another visit to Madagascar with that one when we get around to it.

J & I Whyte family party
October 14, 2014

Our trip to Madagascar quickly evolved from a birding/wildlife trip to so much more, thanks to Rija. I couldn't ask for a better guide. His knowledge of  and, more important, love of Madagascar culture and wildlife enriched our trip so much. He is just an excellent ambassador for his country. He was also extremely sensitive and responsive to our needs and occasional changes in itinerary and schedules. Andy, our driver, was also extremely competent and continually cheerful. All other connections and arrangements through Za tours went perfectly without any hitches. It was a very moving journey,  which I am still processing. I have just finished editing our 2600 photos (after a major mishap with the first 40 hours of editing) and will post them soon through my facebook page. We learned so much, and I've been inspired to read and learn even more since coming home. I have also been considering opportunities here for supporting conservation efforts in Madagascar. One possibility might be working with NGOs or California government to promote carbon projects for Madagascar, an area I was doing a little work on before I retired. Thanks to you, Rija and the ground operators for a very special trip.

Cathy Bleier
December 15, 2013

Wonderful, strange, welcoming, beautiful. Meals fantastic 

Y Campbell
October 20, 2013
Review items: Berenty Lodge    

Wow – what a view! Sadly, I couldn’t bring myself to use the enormous bath – it would have wasted too much water! Amazing food

S Melville
September 13, 2013

What a special place! Real Luxury and service in the middle of nowhere. Fantastic food served beautifully on the beach/river bank. Really good birthday cake – what a place to celebrate an 18th birthday. 

P Wright
August 18, 2013

Awesome – wish we could have stayed longer. The food was outstanding – otherwise everywhere else would have got 5 stars – but nowhere else was as good

Dr Hobson
June 3, 2013

The Food at Ishalo Lodge was quite amazing the Michelin star type! Rooms are incredible. 

Malcomson
November 20, 2011
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