Searching for the little things …

Community Highlights Africa & The Middle East Searching for the little things …

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Allamanda flower in the grounds of the Allamanda Hotel

We didn’t need quite such an early start as yesterday, but despite that I was awake and up well before the 6.30 alarm. The air was fresher and the temperature very pleasant, so I took a few photos of fishermen in their traditional boats from our balcony before packing the few things I’d removed from my case overnight.

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Fishing boats

We had breakfast on the restaurant terrace. It consisted of a choice from a menu rather than buffet. We both chose the ‘continental’ option which was, like the curate's egg, good in parts. There was a plate of fresh fruit (melon, banana, pineapple and mango), a basket with a croissant, bread roll and slice of toast, oddly watered down mango juice, watery poached eggs and decent coffee.

I took a few photos of flowers in the grounds including beautiful frangipanis and the bright yellow allamandas for which the hotel is named.

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In the hotel grounds

We checked out a little before 8.00 and were picked up by Laurent and Said for the drive to Joffreville. We headed out of the city on a decent road by Madagascar standards, national road 6. However once we turned off this the road condition deteriorated somewhat, and progress was fairly slow. But we didn’t mind as there was lots to see along the way, both in terms of landscape and local activity. And as we climbed the air became fresher and the temperature dropped. It felt so much more comfortable.

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On the road to Joffreville

A little before reaching Joffreville Laurent asked Said to stop. He had spotted a chameleon on a tree by the roadside. Amazing – I would never have noticed it! Laurent told us it was a Panther chameleon.

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Panther chameleon

We arrived in Joffreville about 9.30. We dropped our bags off at our hotel, the Litchi Tree, and I was able to use their loo. I could see immediately that I was going to like it far more than the Allamanda in Diego! The decor was beautiful, with both African and Oriental influences.

A walk in the Montagne d’Ambre national park

But there was no time to hang around at the hotel. We drove a little further along a very rough road to the entrance to the Montagne d'Ambre national park. This was Madagascar’s first national park. It lies in the far north of the island on a volcanic massif which ensures that the climate is a little cooler and fresher than the surrounding area. That suited me well and I found our walk here especially enjoyable as a result.

At the park entrance Said sorted our permit while Laurent showed us some of the main features on the map and noticeboard. There was a picture of a tiny chameleon on a fingertip, and I was excited when Laurent said he was confident of us finding one.

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Sign at the entrance

We drove a little way into the park, then Said dropped us off. We started our walk along the road, where Laurent pointed out some introduced tree species such the monkey puzzle. A tree whose leaves were turning red and dropping he said was a quinine tree. It hadn’t occurred to me that quinine would come from a tree!

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Araucaria (monkey puzzle tree), and quinine leaf

Soon after this we turned off on to a path, flat for the most part but with lots of tree roots. I was still nursing my bruised shin, but I managed it OK. We saw a weaver’s nest and had a brief glimpse of the male weaverbird before he flew off, too quickly for me to get a decent photo.

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The path through the park

Soon after this Laurent stopped and challenged us to find an animal on a nearby branch. We couldn’t see it until he pointed out the eye of a very well-camouflaged leaf-tailed gecko.

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Leaf-tailed gecko

As we walked Laurent made frequent stops to search the leaves and mulch gathered at the base of tree trunks, hunting for the tiny brookesia minima chameleons I was so keen to see. But for much of the walk he had no luck.

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Laurent looking for brookesia minima chameleons

However there was plenty to see without them.

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Coleotrype madagascarica (Commelinaceae), and epiphytes

The path led us to a beautiful waterfall, Cascade Antakarana. Laurent told us the Malagasy would wash here before visiting the nearby Cascade Sacrée, but that visitors weren’t allowed in the water because it would be corrupted by insect repellent, sunblock etc.

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Cascade Antakarana

Unlike the weaverbird, a red-eyed blue pigeon posed rather nicely for us a little further along the path.

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Red-eyed blue pigeon

A bit further still and we were passing a sunlit patch with busy lizzie flowers (impatiens). Two other tourists were there with a park guide who mentioned having seen lemurs on the far side. Rather than stay in that spot Laurent led us a little further where we could get closer to the edge of the glade with a great view of the bushes where they were feeding. These, he told us, were Sanford’s brown lemurs.

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Sanford's lemur

We enjoyed watching and photographing them for a while until Chris couldn’t hold in a sneeze and they all scattered!

Our path emerged by a parking area with picnic tables and barbecue spots. Finally at the foot of one of the trees edging this area Laurent found what he'd been looking for on and off throughout the walk, the minute brookesia minima chameleons. There were two together in one spot, each about the same length as my thumbnail! It was amazing to see such a perfectly formed miniature animal. And yes, this is their full-grown size. Chris happened to have a euro coin in his pocket (a relic of a previous trip) so we used that to illustrate the scale.

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Brookesia minima chameleons

Laurent then encouraged us to hunt for them and sure enough, Chris uncovered one at the base of another tree while I looked on and took photos.

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Laurent and Chris hunting for more brookesia minima chameleons

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Another brookesia minima chameleon

Before returning to the car we made a short detour to walk to the Cascade Sacrée which the Malagasy hold sacred and make offerings to as part of their animist beliefs. The waterfall is like a fine mist, hard to see except where it hits the pool below.

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The Cascade Sacrée

Near it we had our final wildlife sighting, a blue-nosed chameleon, so-called because its long nose turns blue when hunting.

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Blue-nosed chameleon

The Litchi Tree

Said picked us up when we returned to the parking area, and we drove back to the hotel.

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Main building of the Litchi Tree

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Gardens with the path to our room

The French owner, Hervé, showed us to our spacious room in a block in the grounds behind the main building. He explained about electricity, solar generated and only available between 5.30 pm to 10.30. And he told us our lunch would be served as soon as we were ready, so we didn’t waste time unpacking but hurried over to the house. We had a delicious pasta dish served on the porch, where one other couple were just finishing their meal. This was followed by fresh mangoes, brownies and coffee.

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View from the terrace

We then had time to rest before a night walk with Laurent. My only criticism of the hotel was that there was nowhere really to sit in the grounds, so we spent most of the time in our admittedly very pleasant room, sorting photos and catching up with notes as there was no internet without electricity of course.

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Our room

Laurent and Said picked us up again at six, after we’d spent a pleasant half hour chatting with the only other two guests, Cathy and Robert, also from England. We compared notes on itineraries here and on past trips to Africa and elsewhere. Like everyone, they were fascinated to hear we'd visited North Korea!

Night walk

We drove just a short distance to another lodge, Domain de Fontenay, on the outskirts of Joffreville, this one much more rundown looking than ours. Laurent told us it had belonged to a German man who divorced his also German wife to marry one of the local women who worked in the hotel. When he died a few years ago she inherited it, but had little idea how to run a hotel, hence its poor condition.

We set off along the lodge’s nature trail, stopping to see a rather sad-looking giant tortoise in a stone walked enclosure. Laurent didn’t explain what it’s doing there. The path followed the side of a hill, surrounded by trees and clumps of bamboo. Our first sighting was a very large spider, a golden web spider.

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Golden web spider

We saw several chameleons, one of them quite young. Laurent said they were phontus chameleons but I haven’t been able to track that name so I may have misheard. Going down the internet search rabbit hole I’ve concluded they were possibly Petter’s Chameleons, but I could well be wrong!

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Petter's chameleon?

Laurent also pointed out a brooksia tuberculata, otherwise known as an Amber Mountain leaf chameleon. It was somewhat larger than the brooksia minima we had seen earlier in the day, but still tiny.

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Amber Mountain leaf chameleon

Towards the end we found a boophis frog, also known as a bright-eyed or skeleton frog, and a zebu spider, named for its horns. Zebu are the ubiquitous horned cattle of Madagascar.

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Boophis frog

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Zebu spider

We got back to the lodge just in time for dinner but as I tucked into my vegetable soup I started to feel very off colour. I struggled manfully to eat it and the zebu stew and clafouti that followed, but could only manage a few mouthfuls of each. Back in the room the traveller’s tummy that had been slightly threatening for some days now hit me with a vengeance and I spent much of the night in and out of the bathroom. By morning I was still rough and resorted to Imodium ... but that’s tomorrow’s story

This featured blog entry was written by ToonSarah from the blog Travel with me ....
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By ToonSarah

Posted Mon, Dec 18, 2023 | Madagascar | Comments