Africa 2017- Madagascar- Day 9: Vakona Forest

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Today’s trek was going to be in the Vakona Forest (named after the large Vakona plant= Bryan standing in front of one), which is a mere 10 miles away, but takes nearly 2 hours to get to- again, the crappy roads.

In this instance however it makes sense, because if the road were nicer, the park might be too busy and actually end up ruining it. So only the 4×4 vehicles can get back in there- not the large tour buses (which are the size of an extended van here). Our vehicle is 4×4 so we can do it.

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Along the way people are going off to work or the town, I am not sure which. There are always a large number of people walking here and there, even when you’re WAY out there and think no one lives nearby. There are kids about 7 or 8, carrying bags on their heads with scythes and really old people who it seems surprising can walk, let alone that far!

It’s a long ride, but we arrive and some of the other drivers are there playing dominoes- Lima joins them. We take off into the forest eager to see some black and white ruffed lemurs, more indri and who knows what else!

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First off, we saw a black and white ruffed lemur with a baby! We had no idea it was baby lemur season here but obviously we came at the right time!! Shortly after, we came upon some Indri- 3 of them. We thought they were grooming each other until we realized we stumbled upon some kind of threesome, which Armand said was odd because they are monogamous. Sure looked like all 3 were equally as involved, but this was definitely something to laugh about.

Besides their weird orgy, they started calling out and howling- although they had climbed high enough up we couldn’t get their faces on cam doing the howling, just the video of the sounds. It is REALLY loud! I am sure if you see the video, your dogs will be barking- or maybe be quiet, because honestly, some of the calls sound like air horns, which we sometime use at the daycare if the dogs get way too rambunctious and loud.

Next we saw a different kind of sifaka, the diademed (Berenty had Verreaux’s). We come upon some other guides and photographers who are all kind of standing around, somewhat far off- but Etien, says “Please, follow” and he runs off into the bushes, so we follow. We get super close, like maybe less than 10 feet, and the other guides and photographers follow. After a while the sifakas get a little bit claustrophobic and move up the tree…we find out one of the photographers is Nick Garbutt, a pretty famous guy who is known for his images of Madagascar.

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Of course we were so lucky to see yet ANOTHER baby?! The babies are so cute it hurts me physically when I see them. Literally, I am pained by the adorable cuteness and my heart wants to explode! This one mom was not very far from us and while the baby was still young enough it was clinging to it’s mom, we got to see a ton of cuteness!

Eventually the sifakas moved on and we kept going. We ended up near a stream and Etien really wanted to catch this cool frog- and spent at least the next 30 minutes trying. I was tired anyway so sat down on a log…and right about the time my butt was getting really tired of sitting I was about to get up, but there was a rustling to our right. Out popped a blue coua who had the “oh shit, you scared me” look- as did we! I went to move to get it’s pic because it was only about 10 ft away but it was quickly off. They are kind of like pheasants only pretty and blue like a peacock. After much hunting, Etien came back and we moved along. It was time for lunch and I was starving.

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The hotel had packed a picnic lunch which we were allowed to choose, but naturally the normal choices had meat. We told the server to nix the mayo and meat…but for sure, he didn’t get the no meat part. This is the first time in more than a week where there was an issue…but we were fine to just peel the meat off (since we’d actually caught it early, right after they were made).

During the time we were on the hike, either ants got into the car to pick at the meat, or Lima had our food out with him playing dominoes, but either way, mine (and really, only mine) was covered in ants. Not terribly, but I had to brush a few off and then I took a bite.

Then I realized the ants were having a party in my bread and every few bites and ant would crawl out. I brushed off as many as I could, but what are you going to do? They won’t kill you, I couldn’t taste them and I was hungry…so I probably ate a couple and lived to tell 😉

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The picnic spot was beautiful however as we walked a little ways from the car to this pond. It had real lily pads and flowers, which is so stereotypical in like cartoons and such but when do you ever really see lily pads? I have seen a lot of ponds but very few lily pads- especially blooming ones.

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There were a bunch of pretty dragonflies zooming about- some were mating. Then we see broad billed rollers (another kind of bird) in the tree tops, also mating…then some grebes on the water, trying to court- although the one yelled at the other and then they just ended up swimming together…today was a busy day in the forest!

The ride home was pretty painful. I was so exhausted and could hardly keep my head up- but the road was so bumpy and such that I couldn’t fall asleep because I was subconsciously trying to stay balanced. I did not last long before I just had to lay down on Bryan’s leg. I realize I didn’t take the motion sickness med that morning either. I don’t get super sick but I can sometimes feel queasy- thankfully it was mor exhaustion than anything and laying down really helped.

When we got back to the hotel we rested for about an hour. I had to lay down again because I felt like my body was buzzing. I just wanted to lay all limbs down on a non-moving surface and let all the muscles relax. I woke up much more refreshed and we were ready to go into the town and walk around a bit.

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So here’s where things differ a bit from when we were with Lambert. This is a much smaller town, and while we could still totally encounter someone sick, it was pretty unlikely that we’d be forced to be that close to them and we were outside with enough fresh air. Also, this town is used to the visitors (“vizady”, white people) who walk down from the hotels to venture out. Plus we were with our guide even, not alone- and we felt it was very safe.

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While we received many looks—mostly smiles and giggles from children, as well as smiles from other adults, especially when we said “salama”, it seemed to impress them we were not speaking French and that we were trying to speak Malagasy.

Two little girls asked me my name (in French, which I did understand). I told them and they told me they were Nina and Patricia. They giggled about my tattoos, and asked us what we were buying- they were trying to use French and English words for the fruit. We got a pineapple and mango, which we were going to wash well before eating (well wipe with a hand wipe and then rinse with bottled water). We kept going and found a custard apple, which we bought as well.

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This was one of our favorite fruits when we were in Australia. We had both that and rolinia, which are similar, but custard apple is more widely available (though of course, not for us). The fruit looks a bit like a green hedgehog with black tipped studs and when you cut it open it’s white and gooey with large black seeds about the size of your thumbnail. The taste? Like vanilla banana pudding- and that consistency too. It’s so delicious and sweet it’s very dessert like.

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We saw the town and how the people lived up close now. It was very interesting and a bit sad. Some kids were playing with the tape from a cassette tape. They had tied it around a stick and were throwing it around watching the tape stream out behind it. One boy made a gun with some veggie stalks, maybe leeks and he “tagged” me with it when he went by and giggled. One little girl who was about 3 or so said “salam vizadhy” (hello, white people) and she seemed so excited. There was soccer going on in the field in the middle to town, there was a funeral going on in one corner of it too (like the party afterward).

Lambert had told us when we went by a bus bearing the Malagasy flag, that someone had died. He said when it’s a man who has died, the flag goes on the right side- when a woman, the left. It was interesting now to see how the family gathers there, in their best clothes (which is relative here) and they celebrate. Some of the girls went off and picked flowers which they brought back to the family.

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Walking down the street the gutters are carved out ditches, very dirty and muddy. There was a cat going to the bathroom in one- a pee on the way there, a poop on the way back. I hadn’t seen any cats up close, so this was cool- though it was just your normal calico looking cat, nothing super exotic. There were chickens and chicks and a few dogs.

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The dogs all look pretty much alike here- like small shepherd mixes and unfortunately they are not really well liked at all. This is because rabies is still a pretty big concern here and so they tell you to keep away from them, which sucks for them…especially when you see them following people around. Clearly a few had them as pets but by far and away any you see on the street are just there and they get shooed off a lot. I took a few pics of the different ones…and I tried to talk to one but it got upset and barked at me…so no dog love on this trip!

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One thing we saw which was kind of cool, were laminated signs around saying things like “Please don’t cut down the forest”, “Please don’t litter”. There were also plague related ones which gave a few warnings, including no dogs! Then there was one about washing hands before eating and boiling water before drinking- all of which are really practical things which help people who otherwise might not know, be more sanitary and safe.

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There was a group of kids who had come back from working and one of them was about 7 or so and was carrying a hatchet. The girls had stuff on their heads as well, which is really the way they carry things…a lot of things. Most things. Like I said, even bricks. It really is amazing, I do not know why we never did this, but honestly having your arms free and not really tired is pretty good…it would just be such a challenge for most people!

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We stopped and got very hot banana fritters, which were delicious and were so hot we nearly killed ourselves eating it. We knew this would be safe food to eat. We also stopped at a little craft shop and got a couple things, namely a bracelet for Bryan too. We have no idea if these bracelets are really made by people here, or whether they are made in China, but we don’t really care because we know it is supporting the local people- and that we do care about. It’s been a long time since Bryan had a bracelet but I was glad for him because so often he won’t get anything for himself. It was all of a few bucks and he was pretty happy- and we got a small wood framed image of baobabs for us as a nice memory.

This night we were done after that and went back to the hotel where we downloaded the pics to this tablet I am using and then to a USB drive, so we not only have copies but don’t run out of space. However, the tablet doesn’t have a lot of memory and the only way I can make this work is to download to the computer, then to the thumb drive, then delete from the computer and do the next days’ photos. It is pretty tedious, I really probably should have just brought my laptop, but my concern was plugging it in. Once it ran out of juice if we were on the safari, what then? This tablet is a usb charger and can hook into the little solar/ back up battery things that were hiding Bryan’s phone…and I can keep recharging them using the sun- and therefore keep typing.

The picture thing took a while and I got treally tired so we went ot bed early again for our “half 7” walk.

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