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9/4-19/4 2006   DIARY  4

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 Diary 1 2 3 4 5

 From Diary 3 we find even more wild nature
21. The hotel lives up to its name; there is a great view of the bay. After breakfast, we find our way down to our tour operator; King de la Piste, and starts today's excursion to the Parc National de Montagne D'Ambre.
It was supposed to be the most touristy, something that would discourage us, but in Madagascar it's probably a good thing. There are seven species of lemurs, ring-tailed leprechauns and blue nose- and stump-tailed chameleon, among others. Waterfalls, crater lakes, orchids, bromeliads and much more. It can't go wrong ...

We walk down through the city and our guide shows up. Very charming, and with excellent English. He has learned it from Joda - hmmmm - but it is easily understandable. We drive for a short hour and then come to the park. On the way out, he talks about nature, geology, the population and that it can be cold. The park is at the top of a mountain, and we will move to a height of 1000 meters. It's down to twenty degrees, so we're fine in shorts.

Already on the way up we see the first chameleons crossing the road. These are the same ones we saw on Nosy Be: Panther chameleons that have a white stripe down the side. The guy surprises me: not only do he know the Latin names of animals and plants, he knows the families too! Not only that, he is also totally superior to spotting animals, I have never tried that. It turns out, he has worked eight years in the park, some with scientists and BBC.

Before we reach the park, we drive across a highland of grass and small eucalyptus trees. The grass is burned to get fresh grass spruce, and the trees prevent it from falling into the valley if a proper shower comes.
A snake abandons its sun spot on the road. It is a Leohypetodon modesticia that can grow up to two meters and is only surpassed by the Madagascar buoy in size. There are no really dangerous snakes in Madagascar, so we follow it through the dense grass, unsuccessfully.

A big chameleon, biggest around here: Ostalits, do not go unnoticed across the road. They are actually damn fast, when you want to photograph them, just like turtles that reach under the bushes, as you get down to your knees.
On a dark trunk sits a screaming green day gecko: Phelsuma madagascariensis grandis, which does not get get away without being photographed. The mountain we came up by was sacred to the locals, but the French thought the climate was really good for habitation.

There is a boom for the road, and we have to go into a small office with big posters, and pay entrance: 75 kroner, which certainly goes to a good cause. It is the first real national park in Madagascar, from about 1958. Just inside the entrance is a large black snake, the same as we saw before, but somewhat more photogenic. It's only when Jesper hits it with the lens, it calmly snakes away. Over our heads come some scary red parrots. There are also some black ones in the park, but at present I do not know what species they are.

Here are relatively dense primeval forests with huge bird-coloured ferns, tall fern trees, huge "agaves on stems": Pantanysa, various ferns, epiphytes, orchids, Draceneae, Balsamines and Peperomias in x-large, Africa's only cactus Rhypsalis and many other exciting plant species over 1000 metres.

High above our heads are rosewood trees with tiny little leaves, and many other giant trees. Some of them have an amber resin used in incense. They have been a big industry and given the area name: D'Ambre. I recognize some Cussonias with rounded crowns.

Our guide spotted some blue-nose chameleons. Not only are they only seven to eight centimetres long, they live down in the lowest scrub, in the middle of the dark forest. Then he points to a stem. It takes me an awfully long time to discover the great leaf-tail gecko that sits right in front of me. No better camouflage exists!

We reach the large waterfall, it is 82 meters high, a few meters wide, and in fantastic surroundings. Here, three to four meters of rain fall, so there is plenty to take off.
Some of the orchids that have been "laughing at me" from far up, but here they reveal themselves at photo-friendly height. Big red millipedes, dark brown centipedes, bright colours with and without hair, scolopendras, long thin snails, giant big and small ones with bulges. There are brightly stag horn beetles, metal green flies, mosquitoes, horse flies, leeches, many different butterflies, giant spiders, crab spiders and much much more invertebrates.

In a murky forest floor, we find the world's smallest chameleon: Brokesia minima, which is really small! Up to four centimetres with tiny little legs. Unlike its larger species cousins, who stay around seven years old, this one gram big guy gets up to 30 years. High up in some fruit-bearing trees, we glimpse some pale brown lemurs. They are the park's largest, but also among the most difficult to get close to. Here are several different types of orchids, but unfortunately only flowers in one.

We are sent out on our own to find a new waterfall. It is not so loud, but also in fantastic surroundings. The guide has gone back to the car and driven over to the lunch area. There is lit up under the grill with rice with finely chopped vegetables, avocado salad and grilled zebu, followed by fresh fruit, we are ready for more adventures.

A smaller bunch of crowned lemurs come very close. They eat fruits in some low bushes, and we get very close. Takes a few hundred photos, so there must be one that can be used!
A speckled gecko almost reaches for a sneak of, but get its portrait taken. The dining area is on the grounds of the old French countryside. Here, like some other places in the park, there are various cedar trees, the terror of the monkeys and the like, and large size!

On the way to the last waterfall, we see a Chamaeleo cameloanensis ambraensis, which is only found here in the park. It is about 25 centimetres and has a distinctive head. The waterfall is considered sacred, by both locals and Catholics are baptize in it. In a huge Pantanysa we find a group of small deciduous frogs. Around grows enormous Peperomia and some enormous Impatiens, with a stem of five centimetres and several meters high, with red flowers.

We meet the same two groups of whites, but count under ten in total. The touristed, yes; but according to Madagascar conditions. Just before we are out again, we see a new, little chameleon. It is not much larger than the smallest, but has larger legs and a large head.

Just outside the park are two Frenchmen, we have met a few times. They have taken a taxi up here, hired the mandatory guide, and asked for a six hour hike. They've been trotting for six hours without seeing anything special. Like the icing on the cake, their taxi has forgotten them. We feel sorry for them, and tip our guide well.
He has been absolutely fantastic, and joins the top three, along with the priest Johannes Møllehave and the biologist Hanne Lindemann.

Is back in Diego at five o'clock. Trying to book a tour with this amazing guide over the next few days, but he's busy. Then it can be the same, as we can ourselves. Coffee at Hotel Grand - without cake - seven crowns for two. The Indians are the wealthy in this country. They own the shops, which are otherwise special.

When we walk through the same street at different times, it looks different. The shops are reminiscent of hermit crab. When they close, the large amount of goods outside disappears and metal shutters without text are hermetically closed. Have seen some of the locals with the wildest hamster cheeks. The minibus driver stopped once and get back with some green twigs with leaves on. It turns out that they, like guessed, chew Khat; Catha edulis. An Arabic plant that has a mild invigorating effect, which thrives well here.

Home and write a diary and see Jesper's photos. We took 500 photos - today -  each. Jesper gets his boils down to 100 at the first review, and ends up with 20, which is really good. Food at a new Italian, take a classic; spaghetti carbanera, which is good. Coffee and a Limociella on the house. Home to more diary and an almost superfluous laundry. I could take the clean set out of the bag, but the other one has to be washed once.

22. Rain during the night, but perfect sunshine as we get up. Today's plan is to take a taxi to the French High. Here should be fantastic views and excellent scenery along a several hour long walk. We just have to go to the centre to refuel cash. Most times we can only raise DKK 650 at a time, but it is fine to raise three times in a row. Then they also get three times 30 kroner in fee.

Pointing a taxi with customer who gets dropped off at the other end of town. Then of course we have to think that is seven kilometres. A walk in the office, the signpost off, and then across the city, off the worst roads imaginable. A good way out of town, across a large flat dried out lake, and then we are on the French mountain. The five thousand Ariary's turn into 50 thousand, which turns 15. I don't think he's angry, just disappointed.

Out in the huge natural harbour lies the Sugar Hill, a steep, round mountain that is sacred. We must not get there at all. The area consists of limestone, covered with shrubs and grass in hills. There are some zebu and grasses, and we see a few lizards. I find some fun fruits that presumably belong to a member of the Apocynaceae family. I find some ripe for the Botanical Garden.

Another plant looks exciting, does it have tuber? High above us grows some large baobab trees. They have round fruits, but they are not ripe. Scout in vain for a flower.
The heat is raising, and Jesper did not give the taxi driver tips, only drinks: He forgot his newly bought water bottle in the taxi. Fortunately, Kings Lodge is in the middle of the bay and we return to buy water. And coffee and beer for the sake of courtesy.

We walk the other way, along the water. Quickly finds three panther chameleons, and later two, of a different species. They have more distinctive helmets, and are slightly longer but slimmer. Jesper spots a large, screaming green gecko on a trunk.

Here is exciting nature, but very little shade, and we are about to be roasted. Drink break at Kings Lodge, then look up into the hills of the baobab trees. Unfortunately, no mature seeds, and even a throbbing stunt does not bring me up to a single flower.

At 2 o'clock, we decide we have had enough sun. Then we just need a lift home. Begins to tread the right path. The last baobab tree not only has a flower, it also sits at eye level! A lot of cars are coming towards us, but no one is driving our way. We reach the desiccated lake before finally a full taxi arrives. We squeeze into the passenger seat, and with half the upper body out of a small sliding window, we hop off the miserable road towards the city. The others are loaded off here and there, and when we eventually jump out, he will have 60 bucks. Rubbish, even though it is a revelry; we were mature.

It is just over three o'clock as we are set off at the internet shop. It does not work well, but it succeeds in receiving an email from Olaf, my Madagascar connection. I must come and visit him on the last day. On the way out, I spot a five centimetre caudiciform in a large basin. It turns out, it stands alongside many others, the largest 40 centimetres in diameter. Shoot some photos, and then go straight in and ask the white guy if it's his. Close; it's his business partner: Jurgen Spannring, known as Nero. Unfortunately, he will not arrive until next week, he is in the field. He works the University of Michigan and Laurette E.U.R.L., has described several plants, and is a 110% geek!

Home to take a quick shower, and then down town to get hot and cold drinks. Consider what we can entertain tomorrow. A quick look at our roasted limbs gives the result: Rainforest, please!. There is just nothing within reasonable reach. Maybe Winsor Castle, which has ruins, views and more. We ask the operator yesterday: 1000 kroner and then with French guide: No thanks! We can rent a large 4WD for half, and there is no more than 30-40 kilometres.

Going down to a park - or the rest of one. Great views of the bay, with the smell of burnt garbage. They have a bad habit of tilting it over an edge, and then believe it's gone. Otherwise, it is reasonably clean everywhere. The city is decaying faster than they are building new and renovating. After the French moved, nothing was done, no houses, no asphalt work. They just use it decentigrate.

Cake and coffee at Hotel Grand, the only great building in town. The shops have some modern electrical crappy lamps, but also many oil lights, coal-fired irons, hand sewing machines and the like. It doesn't seem like there is power until a little bit at eight every night. If you want power before, you can buy a generator. It also means that we have to spend time till eight o'clock, before we can have dinner. It will be the good Italian again. The selection is not large and the food here is really good. I choose zebu in lemon with pasta. Fantastic good food; tasty, tender, just perfect!

An American couple comes and attacks us. He works at universities, and is a preacher. They've been living here for a year and a half and she can't say a word French! No wonder they assault English speaking people!
It's an amazing starry sky they have here. It's almost a whole fog of stars covering us.

23. The plan is to hire a taxi to take us out to the national park, we were in yesterday. We will miss the guide and lunch, but the price should be another. The price would not scare us anywhere else in the world, but here it is just rough enough.
Hamster water and find taxi for 180 kroner. The driver even knows a little English! Another customer gets a lift out to a factory on the outskirts of town. We also need a couple of errands - while he has gas on the taxi. Same office, maybe they need special "out of town" permission. Then we just have to have a sandwich and deliver something at the airport.

Stops a few times to photograph crossing chameleons. The driver waits until we leave the park, he has the day's paied. New park fee and a (forced?) guide for 60 kroner, when we take a very big trip. He asks if a local girl should join. Of course, there are more eyes. He speaks reasonable English but has no ability to detect animals. This time it's me who spot the vast majority.

I just check a Pantanus, and quite right; there are small deciduous seeds at the bottom of the huge leaves. The girl is about to step on a nice little black snake, but does not notice it. We get some nice photos.
Then I spot a small chameleon in a thorny butterfly bush. It flies around the branch from my camera, but I can push it with the veneers from the other side. Jesper gets some good photos before dropping off the branch. I'm stuck a little too tightly so I can catch it on the ground. The guide says it's a nasutar, but I believe more in a blue-nose female.
The guide sees some lemurs high up, the same place as yesterday. Impossible to photograph. Then I see a bunch sitting on a big branch, down a slope, at eye level. Jesper gets some great photos. My camera wants more light. It is Fulvus lemur, or brown lemur. The large waterfall looks like itself, and the same place, we finds the guide find micro chameleon, this time a youngster! It is not much over an centimetre.

Here are several different brightly coloured beetles. Large ticks, stag horn beetles, beetles and scarab beetles. A very budded snouted frog in beautiful brown shades, which is actually a young tomato frog, can reluctantly photograph. The girl spots a cream and brown variegated deciduous frog on a green leaf, which it thinks is invisible.

Some places have porous lava, mostly gravel, but most of the soil is covered with the finest clay. Jesper is just saying: Here just gets slippery when it rains, just before it start raining. He is absolutely right. Here is incredibly slippery, almost slimy. I fall as the first, on my bud. The second time I suddenly notice both my feet at eye level before slamming my back into the ground. Third time I do a split!

My swearing is only surpassed by Jesper's: His camera is tucked away in a waterproof bag (and he fail to get a photo of me). He also has plenty to look after. The gentle rain brings forth the leeches. I remove about 20, and Jesper has more than twice as many. Fortunately, they are really small. Some sticky seeds get stuck on the wet skin and need to be scratched off with the nails. I drop the flip-flops. It is hard enough to stand firm, but with mud in them, there are two layers of smooth lead.

We get past several amazing views, we didn't see last time. We have to go down and see a crater lake. It leads down steeply for a good half a mile of unusually slimy ground.
Looking once out over the lake; it could also have been a thickening on the creek. You did not really sense the crater. The effort taken into account, a bit of a flop.

Around us sit giant deciduous frogs and croak. They are impossible to locate, but I sure would like to. At the holy waterfall, I finally managed to grab some Impatience seeds for the Botanical Garden. Hear a funny sound road-side. Have an idea and it sticks. A small black snake has caught a frog. The snake eats the frog while I photograph merrily. It got it from the back, and the frog cries for help.

We are finally out, it has taken seven hours and not the expected four and a half, but the guide and taxi driver take it without pulling a mine. The worst mud is washed away, and the guide get a lift to the city. We had an excellent trip - until the rain came, but it was a clearly less exelent guide. We can comfort ourselves, it was not that expensive. We met the guide from last, he had a single customer in tow - dumb guy! How to take our guide ...

I'm a little excited as I have to pay the taxi, but he just settles for the agreed price. He could have used something more. There is no way around: Shower and laundry. I find the bag of unused clothing and then I have earned the cake and coffee at Hotel Grand. Decided yesterday, the Italian restaurant should not be wasted today, but it has closed! In fact, there is a lot of the city that has closed on Sunday. Then it must be the Hotel Grand. Fantastically beautiful; four, maybe five star, but the prices are extremely reasonable; about 30 kroner for a main dish. I get some well-seasoned minced meat, wrapped in pancakes and ribbon spaghetti.
It's not that late, but the internet cafe has also closed and there just aren't something to do. Walk home and write today's diary, and clean out the photos a bit. It is passed ten anyway, and we are up early and getting busy a lot.

24. Official sleep-late-day. It is seven o'clock before I shower and pack. We must first be at the airport at one, and we have just seen the long but lonely commercial street of the city. The city may be a little over 100,000 inhabitants, but it doesn't work that way - most may live way out in the surroundings. There are some fields on the outskirts, but they only have onions, tomatoes, garlic, cassava, rice, mango, bananas and an incredible amount of citrus.

Checks out of the hotel and has to pay 200 DKK for four days with breakfast. Must spend the time with something, and a sure thing is at the internet cafe, even though they have the country's only (!) satellite connection. Quite right, one can easily spend an hour on absolutely nothing. Even is more than ten minutes to give up.

The same owners have a cafe out to the street and it actually works. Cold and hot drinks and some photo review. We are in one of the two central squares, located on the main street, and you rarely see a zebu. However, the street is no more congested than you can stand and wash your car in one of its two tracks.

The street scene is dominated by old French Reneault4, yellow taxis. Some are reasonably ravaged, but the age and the roads taken into account, they are in good condition. They drive politely, and the few times the horn is used is to draw attention to a vacant car, or get pedestrians away from the middle of the road.

On the outskirts of the city we see some single pousse pousse, but they are old and ravaged, and are only used for goods. There are ongoing merchants passing by: DVDs, vanilla and fruits. You just have to say No and they move on. We see some couples "grandfather with his dark grandson", but not many. At most, a quarter of the white men, which is about five to six.

Lunch time, and we head down to the Hotel Grand, where I get a very large plate of ham, cheese and bread cheesings and fries ?! Taxi to the airport; starting at 60,000, but that's probably MGf's. Ends at 7,000 Ariary, around 20 kroner. Humps out where the check-in has begun. A Sprite at the bar and then we fly down to Tana and central Madagascar. After 20 minutes we land on Nosy Be - that was the stretch we spent nine hours on, in the minibus! Short stop in 20 minutes and then an hour flight to the capital.

We leave northern Madagascar and fly to Tana. We must see the city, its zoo and botanical garden, the old royal palace and out into the primeval forest to the east coast. The last day I'm going to visit Olaf, who has a nursery. Read about it in Diary 5



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