Firstly, we are indebted to you for all your help and advice in putting the itinerary together earlier in the year. I am under no illusion that I must have been one of the more "difficult" customers to deal with, constantly tweaking the arrangements and adding more and more! Working together, I felt you were definitely able to make recommendations based on your own local experience and that gave me confidence. Also, you listened to me re the sort of activities and experiences we hoped to indulge in and that resulted in an itinerary that provided the most amazing variety. I can honestly say that every day was different and just when you thought you'd seen everything, there would be something new, be it wildlife, scenery, flora, cultural aspects, mode of transport, activity etc. It was definitely a trip of superlatives and for me, the realisation of a childhood ambition after reading about the aye-aye in an encyclopaedia! You can understand why it is proving so hard to settle back into routine life back here again. With the health setback I had earlier in the year, it has been a huge relief to have been able to embark on the trip and moreover, complete all that was arranged. It has been a major boost to my self confidence which had been rather dented.
There is really very little negative feedback. It was pretty much a perfect trip and any negatives really seem rather trivial and pale into insignificance. The ground agents were spot on with all the arrangements and of course, Harry (who, poor chap was with us for 26 days on the trot) was excellent. Not only was he very knowledgeable and clearly experienced, but he and the driver were good fun and good company. We kept coming up with things we either wanted to get photographs of or things we wanted to buy or do and Harry somehow made it happen all the time. We asked about giraffe-necked weevils and he found them for us in Ranomafana and we challenged him to find an owl (any species would do) and he (and the local guides) found us a pair of roosting white-browed owls in Zombitse NP in broad daylight!! We saw the aye-aye, as hoped for, at Le Palmarium and some fossas at Kirindy. I could have watched them for hours more, but the same goes for the lemurs, birds, reptiles and invertebrates. You read about the biodiversity in Madagascar but nothing prepares you for the reality of it. Even when it was all quiet in the heat of the day on the wildlife front, just to be immersed in the different forest environments, with all the varying sounds and smells, was an experience in itself. We were also intrigued by the ethnic and cultural diversity. I think, because of the length of the trip and the amount of ground covered, we perhaps had more exposure to local communities than on previous trips. It was sobering to see the degree of poverty and deprivation in some places but the cheerfulness with which it is all borne, the clear importance of family and community and the friendly hospitality extended to us was very humbling and we, in the west, could learn a lot from the Malagasy. Clearly, we are worlds apart but I am always fascinated when one is able to communicate with sign language, gestures and in this instance, a smattering of French and about 5 Malagasy words, as well as drawing in the sand!
Ile St Marie was a great place to start as you predicted. We were very grateful that you had pre-booked the whale watching as I think we might have missed out on at least one of the trips otherwise due to demand. We visited Ile aux Nattes and were driven up the coast to a bay for lunch and snorkelling on another day. It was a very relaxing beginning and enabled us to recover from the journey....
We loved the River trip on the Tsiribihina and I've described in the questionnaire how the crew did, in fact, provide a toilet tent at both camps and a shower tent at the 2nd camp, so, it was more like glamping! We enjoyed the ever changing scenery, the wildlife and the insights into local village life. One query however was that on each full day, the boat was flagged down by groups of armed young men on the river bank (axes and rifles). The crew didn't appear to hesitate to stop and they handed over bowls of rice (? some form of toll for using the river). On the first day, we were asked for Paracetamol for "toothache". We did give some away. The local guide and Harry gave no indication that it wasn't a genuine request and there was no aggression from the men but, we subsequently spoke to some Germans who did the same trip in another boat, and they had a similar experience. At Begidro village, we noticed Paracetamol tablets for sale in the market and that made us think that the men wanted them for re-sale perhaps. The cook on the boat also asked us for Paracetamol as he was "off colour". We gave him a few. He made a very quick recovery! The Germans suggested that the armed men were some sort of local river patrol or militia?? I only mention it for your information. It certainly didn't detract from the trip.
We also loved Masaola. We were extremely lucky to see whales again in the Bay on the way to the Lodge. This was, by now, a month after Ile St Marie and I assumed the whales would all have gone by that time. The boat spent an hour staying close to the whales and we saw more surface activity in that time than in the whole of the 3 trips at Ile St Marie!! We felt hugely privileged once again. The primary forest at Masaola, the remoteness, the beach setting and some of the unique wildlife there made it special but I think you need at least 4 nights, if not more. Of course, one gets greedy! The itinerary was different from that we were expecting as they stopped off at Nosy Mangabe on the first day on the way to the Lodge, rather than on the return boat trip as was described on the website. However, each day was full on and we did a night walk each night as well. We would have opted to kayak and/or snorkel if we'd had an extra day but we certainly can't complain about our programme. There was simply too much on offer. As I've said in the questionnaire, one evening was disrupted by drunken behaviour from some fellow (British) guests who were revelling into the early hours, which kept us awake. The Lodge have (had) an open bar policy and the guys made full use of the copious supplies of local rum. I was surprised that the staff left them to it but the management were hugely embarassed the next morning and profusely apologised. They said it had never happened before and that they would review their bar rules and also, instruct the local staff to come and wake them up if it ever happened again. I'm sure it was a one off and was only a minor irritation. I was embarassed that the perpetrators were British - typical! Essentially, we got what we had gone for and the guys missed out the following day - nursing their hangovers! As Nosy Mangabe was already done, the flight out was earlier than expected and we got back to Tana before noon. However, Andry agreed to take us to the artisan market in Tana and that neatly catered for our free afternoon.
You were quite right that Anjajavy was the perfect place to round off the trip. Again, we loved it. What a slick outfit. The attention to detail with regards to service and facilities was amazing but the array of activities and the diversity of wildlife/forest were the icing on the cake. It was like the whole of Madagascar encompassed in that small place. We trekked, swam, kayaked, snorkelled, sailed, cycled and went fishing and caving. I feel silly now thinking that 7 days there would be too long!
You will no doubt ask what was our favourite part of the trip? We have asked ourselves the same question and can honestly say that we loved every minute of it and cannot truly single out one part. We are blown away by the overall diversity of wildlife and scenery and people. We just hope that it can be preserved in the face of so many adverse pressures/influences. We would not hesitate to return some day. I want to adopt a "mora mora" approach to life back here!
Tsarabe and misaotra!
Yvonne and John'