Day 5. Our trip south began with a visit to Antsirabe, a colorful and peaceful highland town where the local Malagasy people specialize in raffia weaving. Driving through we stopped to peruse their makeshift markets constructed of split timber with thatched roofs. Next to the structures, women and children sat on the ground with stacks of raffia surrounding them. It was fascinating to watch the women at work, their fingers stripping and bending the blades of grass with such ease. A young girl approached me while lifting the piece she was working on, “Very pretty, cheap price!” “Madame, you buy?”. As I looked the basket over I could feel the stiff, roughness of the unworked section and thought “how in the world do they make this look so easy?” I looked at her hands and then at my own. It was obvious from the wear on her hands that this child had been working the raffia for most of her young life and she was very good. After we made our purchases we loaded the bus and continued our southern route. Driving away, I looked down at my newly acquired, raffia basket and was overwhelmed with a deepened respect for the Malagasy people and their workmanship.
We arrived at Hotel Feon’ny Ala Andasibe at dusk and settled in. After a short respite, we gathered for a night walk along the road leading into the national forest. With headlights on, we followed our guides for a couple of miles. When we reached the location where the small mouse lemur (Microcebus), a very shy nocturnal lemur, was known to frequent, our guide instructed us to turn off all lights. We watched by moonlight as he smeared banana on selected trees up and down the path. Afterwards, he split us into small groups, leaving me with three others. We were told to be silent, listen and watch the trees. He instructed me to take off my headlamp and showed me how to light up the area with short slow motions. He then left us to wait. And we did. We waited for what seemed like forever…
Snap! I immediately looked to the others, and yes!, They heard it too! Nervously, I lifted the headlamp and did a sweep. Eyes! I see eyes! Then, there he was – the smallest little mouse lemur munching on the smeared banana residue. He was so tiny and cute, like a little furry ball. I wanted so badly to reach out and touch him, but just as quickly as he appeared he was gone again. I could have stayed there all night waiting for his return but there was more forest to be explored and I wanted to see it all. Before the night ended, we spotted several species of chameleon, a mouse lemur, two spiders, and a frog. Not bad.
The next morning, we headed west to Vakona Lodge for a traditional Malagasy lunch. Malagasy dishes always, ALWAYS, begin with rice. One traditional dish is ravitoto, which consists of dried, crushed cassava (yucca) leaves boiled and served with pork and, you guessed it, rice. This traditional dish not only represents a national cuisine, but it’s the equivalent of our home-cooked comfort food. With lunch behind us, we eagerly headed to the bus because our next excursion would be a canoe trip to Lemur island! Lemur Island is home to 4 species of lemurs including the Bamboo lemur (Hapalemur), Black & White Ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata), Brown lemur (Eulemur fulvus) and one Diademed Sifaka (Propithecus diadema) that are habituated to humans…really habituated!
We loaded into our canoes and headed out – most of us with guides; however, a few students were in their boats alone. Unfortunately, those few forgot to mention they didn’t know how to canoe!?! You could hear them laughing for miles as they awkwardly made their way to the island. We disembarked and went out on foot over rounded tall mounds of grass just beyond the banks. Before we knew it, lemurs were everywhere. They jumped onto and in our canoes, atop our shoulders and even our heads! It was unbelievably wonderful chaos as we interacted with these charmed creatures.
Toni Bruner, Education Manager
Cook Museum of Natural Science