Thursday, October 22, 2009

5th and 6th week in Madagascar.

The cross country trip across Madagascar was more than I had ever hoped. Everyday we did something adventurous and fun. Even looking out the window during our long drive at the change from rainforest and mountains to flat rice fields to the dry, spiny desert were entertaining. We started the trip at the Anja Reserve in Ambalavao, South of Ranomafana. There were huge granite boulders and caves where ring-tailed lemurs lived. There were 400 lemurs living here and most of them had month-old babies on their backs. We climbed up to a high cliff to see a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains and rice paddies. It was so beautiful up there we never wanted to leave.

That night we visited the Ambalavao Paper Factory that was behind our hotel. The women working there were making paper out of Avoha tree bark and pressing fresh flowers into it. They made all sorts of beautiful books, cards and decorations and we all spent a fortune at their gift shop.

The next day we drove 10 hours to Ifaty on the West Coast of Madagascar to swim in the Mozambique Channel. We stayed at a beautiful beach resort called the Bamboo Club, which was right on the sandy beach and clear blue water. The stars that night were amazing and we stayed 3 nights in little beach bungalows. We were able to go snorkeling at the coral reefs, which was amazing because I’ve never done anything like it before. The water was so warm and clear and we saw all sorts of tropical fish.

The next day we took a trip on traditional fisherman’s sailboats to another beach where they made lunch for us. It was an amazing ride there, but on the way back it look 4 times as long because the wind was blowing in the wrong direction. It was a rough ride and we all got sunburned but it was a very funny experience that I’ll never forget. My group ended up getting out of the boats and walking back for some of the way because the winds were so strong. The next day we visited the spiny desert to see huge Baobob trees (the one pictures was 1,300 years old!) and other endemic plants. It was sad saying goodbye to the beautiful, warm water, mangrove forests and coral reefs, but we drove to the city of Toliary for a day full of shopping at the market. It was fun to look at all the homemade crafts and bargain for our souvenirs.

The second half of our trip was spent in Isalo National Park. This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been in my life. It is considered the ‘Grand Canyon of Madagascar.’ There are sandstone rock formations jutting out of the Earth and deep canyons filled with natural pools. The rocks were all different colors because of all the different minerals and eroded by wind and water. The surrounding land was mostly savanna with odd fire-resistant plants. The first day we hiked across huge rocks to the Canyon of Rats (pictured; a lot prettier than its name) where we ate lunch and went swimming. The natural pool there was very cold but worth the plunge because we swam to a huge rock that we climbed and took turns jumping off of into the water. The drop was probably only 10-15 feet and scary at first but a lot of fun.

We continued hiking to another pool that was shallower but had beautiful waterfalls. We saw a group of white Verrauxi Sifakas in the trees. The next day was our last day so we started out earlier in order to fit in as much as we could. We hiked through the grassy savanna and saw ring-tailed lemurs hopping around. We hiked up the rock formations to get a beautiful view of the canyons surrounding us. (You can see how large they were by looking at how tiny Collette is in the picture.) It was so gorgeous and you could see forever. Next we went to another pool that was a tropical paradise in the middle of a hot, dry savanna. (pictured) We hiked for while longer before having lunch at a campsite. Sifakas and Ring-Tailed Lemurs have learned that this area always has food, so they were hanging out in the trees above us.

Next we went to the Canyon of Nymphs which was a beautiful hike with waterfalls along the walls and a stream running through. We went swimming in the blue pool and the black pool. They were both very clear and had waterfalls running into them, but the black pool was so deep you couldn’t see the bottom. We had run diving off the rocks and sitting in the caves (pictured). We had to leave this beautiful place so we were able to make the sunset at the ‘window’. The window is a place where all the tourists go because the sun sets right in a hole in the rock and over the canyons and the rocks turn a beautiful orange (pictured).

The next day was filled with more driving North but we stopped in the city of Fianar to go to a pizza place that had real mozzarella cheese and olive oil; it was very delicious. We also went to an ice cream shop that had the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted. It’s good to be back home at Centre ValBio but we all miss the hot, dry weather. We took our exam for the comparative ecosystems course today, which was easy, since we all had just lived it. 9 credits down! We start our independent projects tomorrow.