Today’s port of call began with a good geography lesson. I didn’t realize that Nosy Be was not part of the mainland of Madagascar. Instead, it is a small volcanic island (area of 120 sq. miles) just 5 miles off the northwest coast of Madagascar. In the Malagasy language it means “big island.” On a map it sure doesn’t look that big!
The island of Madagascar separated from Africa about 160 million years ago. This isolation from neighboring continents resulted in a unique mix of plants and animals, many found nowhere else in the world. One of these is the lemur which is a primate and similar to a monkey. There are 60 species of these on Madagascar. Also, there are a great variety of reptiles found here – especially different species of chameleons and geckos [You’d love it here, Chris and Cindy!]
I woke up early this morning, and as I looked out our window, I saw that the almost full moon was still in the sky as the sun was rising. It was too beautiful not to go out on deck and take some pictures. You have to look carefully to see the white spot near the top of the picture – that is the moon!
This was a tender port, and we tendered in to the town of Andoany, aka Hell-Ville, whose name comes from a French mariner Admiral de Hell. As soon as we had anchored, many small local wooden boats came up along side us – some just interested is our ship’s size, others wanting to sell us their handicrafts or fruit. In one of these little boats, they were using buckets to take out the water. It was an amazing site.
There were only three ship tours offered today because it is a small island without much infrastructure, very basic transportation (forget anything with air conditioning) and inexperienced guides, etc. We were all warned about this before we arrived. We chose the tour to Lokobe National Park where we would hike through the forest to look for plants and animals unique to this area. The local tour company was Tropic Tours and Travel – and they were excellent! We began with a small boat ride that would skirt the beautiful green island until we reached the site where we would begin our hike. No one knew we would start with a “wet” take off – and would arrive at a sandy beach where we would again have to take off our shoes for a “wet” landing. While some people complained, most of us knew this was just part of the travel experience. This picture is not our boat, but the one that took off ahead of us – just to show what we did. It took about 30-40 min. to get to our stop, and we passed beautiful scenery along the way. This is what the coastline of Nosy Be looked like.
Here is Doug at our arrival spot – a “wet” landing for sure. This also shows the little boat we took to get here. And here is the beach from which we started. There is a little break in the forest near the middle of this picture – that is where we began. We had an excellent guide – Angelo, who spoke perfect English and really knew about the area. What was amazing was that he did the whole trek barefoot!
What we didn’t realize was that this was a truly authentic hike – nothing paved, etc. The “trails” were minimal at best so you had to really follow our guide. The trees were dense, so little sun came through. Sometimes the ground was damp and slippery and we had to hold on to tree branches to keep from falling. Here was our first sighting – a chameleon. You have to look carefully to see him – he’s on the left. His bulging eyes helped us see him. [We wouldn’t have been able to spot most of what we saw without our guide!]
And then our guide had us look up into the trees to see what we really came to see – lemurs. It was difficult to see him because of the leaves, but here are three pictures – two of the whole lemur, and then his cute little face up close! [I was so glad Doug brought his good camera on this hike – you can see the difference in our pictures. The one lying on the branch is my camera shot.] This was the more common brown lemur. Not long after seeing this lemur, our guide pointed out the nocturnal lemur which was hard to see without it being pointed out since it blended so well with the tree. [I never did understand why he was awake here on this tree in the middle of the day if he was nocturnal – another Google when I get home!] And a bit further along the “path’ we looked up and got a better view of another brown lemur – only this one was not as well hidden by the leaves. Because of Doug’s camera, this looks like he was fairly close to us. But, he was so high up in the tree, we would have missed him without our guide and good telephoto camera!
While the lemurs were the large animals we saw, there were many reptiles that were equally as interesting . . but some very small. For instance, our guide told us to be careful to not walk off the “path” because we might step on the smaller reptiles. I’m including this picture because it shows the scope of some of the smaller reptiles he was describing. For instance, this little guy is not quite the size of our guide’s finger. I could really only make him out because of his tail. Since he was so hard to see even with the guide pointing him out, I’m sure many of us probably stepped on some other little things along the way.
Here are a few pictures of the forest and vegetation. The one with Doug and our group gives an idea of the density of the forest . . and how you need to always look up! The 2nd picture shows an interesting “curly” branch. The 3rd is the white tree that the natives used to treat “crazy” people. They would scrape off the bark, mix it with something and make it into medicine. You can see Angelo here describing this! There were also palm trees called “traveller palms” because they could be used for liquid if no water was available while walking through the forest. The palm leaves were big and wide and held the water inside. (not pictured)
On one of the trees we saw this unusual platypus reptile. He was really flat up against the tree. He was about 8-10 inches long. Almost all the creatures we saw really camouflaged with their background – especially the reptiles. The last reptile we saw was this boa constrictor. He was just a few feet off our walking path and was next to a tree. He was about 5-6 feet long, but our guide said he was a baby. I guess that is because he wasn’t that large in diameter. The sunlight was on him in such a way, you could see his beautiful markings – although in this picture, you don’t see his head.
It was really hot during this hike which lasted for about 1 1/2 hours. About halfway through we stopped for some icy cold water that the tour provided for us. Part of this walk reminded me of the movie “Crocodile Dundee” where the native Aborigines would just appear out of nowhere. On our hike, as we turned came around a corner there were other “helpers” who just seemed to appear – never heard them or saw them until we were face to face with them. It was a bit eerie! But we were delighted with “the water man” because everyone was drenched in sweat. It was not so much because of the heat, but more due to the humidity and no air flow through the dense forest.
It was a great hike, but it also felt good to be out of the forest and back on the sand with some fresh air and a bit of a breeze. Here is Doug (and our group) trudging back to our boat – shoes in hand! And here is a lovely view from this wide open beach. Back in our boat, we went about another 15-20 minutes up the coast line to the beach where we would have lunch and local entertainment. We could have snorkeled while we waited for lunch, but no one from the ship knew this was a possibility so no one brought their gear. That was a shame because the water was so clear and looked so inviting!
We sat at a table with some friends (Bill, Lucille, Bob, and Barbara) and enjoyed a local beer (Three Horses Beer) while we waited for our lunch to be grilled. It was a huge feast served buffet style. We were supposed to be in the Lokobe Lodge’s restaurant, but that was changed at the last minute and everyone was so glad it worked out that way because our view was stunning and being outdoors fit the theme of the day. There were three different kinds of fishes and the huge crayfish were amazing. And then the huge crabs were cooked and made into a hot crab salad served in the crab shell. Everything was prepared by hand either over the open grill or cooked in big pots over a fire. Here is the man taking the crab meat out of the shells (we just hoped he had washed his hands, but no one wanted to really know ) While we waited for lunch and during the entire lunch, these women in their colorful and flowing dresses performed for us. They had white painted designs on their face to enhance the costume.
After lunch we headed back to our ship the same way we had come. Along the way we saw a variety of other small boats. The first one is a good example of their typical sail. The second one shows a larger wooden boat with the wind in its sail. All of these smaller boats were an amazing contrast to our ship. No wonder the locals came out to see our huge ship. Not many of the larger cruise ships come into this port as yet – partly because there is no dock and also because the poverty of the island makes it more difficult since in most places there is no electricity or flushing toilets.
We had less than an hour when we got back to the pier before we had to be on our ship, and so it made shopping for something from Madagascar difficult. We had missed real shopping time in the big craft market, but we did find lots of ladies along the roadside selling their wares. And that is where we were able to buy some t-shirts for our grandchildren who wanted something from Madagascar. Most of them had a lemur on it, but one had the saying our guide used over and over – “mora mora” which basically means to take it slowly. Here are some “street scene” pictures to give a slight flavor to the island. The fourth one is a picture of the ladies we bought the t-shirts from. The last one is a little boy who tagged along after us for the entire time wanting us to buy his straw turtle. His little face was so sad that I couldn’t help but give in and buy a turtle I didn’t really want, but he was all smiles with the $3 he had in hand after his big sale! And I’ve grown to really like my yellow turtle. It is sits in our cabin window looking out to sea!
We hurried to get the last tender back to the ship – still dripping with sweat. It was really, really hot here. There were people who were fainting in line from the heat. [There was one lady in our group who had to be taken down the hillside from our hike due to the heat. We think it may have been due to her outfit which was all long sleeved and long pants and her top half was covered in a netting including her face, etc. She was with her daughter who was dressed the same – they really had a phobia about the insects here, which makes one wonder why this was the tour they chose!]
We really enjoyed our day here. Like every port day, you have to make choices because there are more things to see than there are hours in which to see them. We chose to enjoy the natural beauty of this island, but others were able to see how the people really lived in their little villages here. So everyone had good experiences learning more about this little island off the coast of Madagascar.
We opted for long cold showers back on ship and a quick dinner in the Lido. It was too warm to go to the sail away, and we had seen some of it coming in. Another early to bed after a great day. We want to be rested and ready for our trip to Kruger Park in a couple of days.