Madagascar overland expedition
Blanchard Campbell was a volunteer with Blue Ventures in May 2007. This is an account of his overland expedition.
Before embarking on my Blue Ventures expedition I decided to spend a few nights in Antananarivo (‘Tana'), the capital of Madagascar. I decided to stay in a guesthouse recommended by Blue Ventures.
The guesthouse's limited number of rooms allowed for quiet, comfortable relaxation before setting off on the overland trip. It also meant that I had a chance to meet other volunteers before setting off.
Dave Raza, one of Blue Ventures' Malagasy team members, coordinates the overland expedition. He arranged transport for us from the guesthouse to the Sakamanga hotel - a central meeting point in Tana, and the departure point for the trip.
At the Sakamanga Hotel I finally had a chance to meet the other volunteers on the trip. It was good to be able to finally put a face to a name after months of chatting about our expedition via email! We all changed our money in a local bank, making sure we had enough for any impulse purchases, and were off.
On the first day we stopped in a number of small towns - Ambatolampy, Antsirabe, Ambositra - and passed many villages. It was refreshing to see Madagascar's countryside after staying in Tana. The trip down really gives you a good view of Malagasy agriculture and village life. Our first day ended in the town of Fianarantsoa, a town halfway between Tana and Toliara. We arrived in the early evening, Dave arranged a hotel, and we sat down to an evening meal. The evening ended with card games and talk of our expedition.
Our second day began with a quick breakfast, and a stroll around Fianarantsoa. We found ourselves captivated by the local shops and friendliness of the local people. Just before midday we set off in the minivan to our next destination, Isalo National Park.
We often stopped for short breaks and took photographs of our beautiful surroundings. In nearly all of the villages we stopped in we were greeted by local children. They were very interested by the sight of us - it's rare for them to have foreign visitors. As the sun began to set, all of the volunteers brought their cameras out, to take pictures of the magnificent skyline and horizon. The sun had set a beautiful colour in the sky, and as the sun finally disappeared we arrived in Isalo National Park.
That evening, we booked into rooms within Isalo. After resting, we enjoyed our first taste of the famous Malagasy Zebu stake. We were told that the following day was going to be long, so we headed to bed in good time.
The final day of the trip started out very early. We packed our luggage onto the minivan, and started on our journey to Isalo National Park. We were advised to take water, a pair of good walking shoes, cameras and towels, as we were going to embark into Madagascar's ‘outback'.
We had a very friendly tour guide, Momo, to show us around the national park. We started on a route called Canyon des Makis, taking an uphill hike around the canyons that surrounded us, and were told about the rare endemic plants on our trail, as well as sacred burial sites embedded in the canyon walls. After hiking for twenty minutes, we climbed to the top of one of the canyons to rest, and appreciated the view that surrounded us.
From the canyon top, we descended back to the main footpath. On the way, we encountered a number of small reptiles and dragonflies. Approaching an area called Piscine Naturalle, the sound of rushing water began to fill the air around us. After a few minutes we found ourselves at a beautiful waterfall with a small natural pool we waded into, cooling ourselves down after hot trekking.
After cooling off, we trekked to an area resembling a lowland equatorial evergreen rainforest! Momo, our guide, pointed out a native species of aloe, named Aloe Isaloenis, and answered many of our questions about the national park, its history, and heritage.
Soon after, we were greeted by a number of Brown Lemurs (Eulemur fulvus). To see such an animal is a sight in itself! Everyone was amazed by the way they moved. Even the slightest jump had us staring in awe. Just as we were calming down from the sight of the brown lemurs, two of us spotted a group of Ring-tailed Lemurs (Lemur catta) in the trees surrounding us. We eventually managed to eat lunch, and then headed down a a small path towards the exit of the park. During this section, we came a across a rare species of lemur, the Sifaka (Propithecus diadema), which I found the most. It was incredible to see these lemurs in their natural state, jumping from tree-to-tree, gathering food.
At the end of the trek we were all exhausted, but thankful for the extraordinary experience we had encountered.
The final drive to Toliara was very quiet, most of us fell asleep, tired from the trekking. As we approached Toliara, the road ahead began to fill with small market stalls, more and more local people, and bright lights.
Twenty minutes after entering Toliara's environs, we arrived at our hotel, and were greeted by the Blue Ventures Expedition Manager. All were excited and very much ready for the next stage of our trip - our expedition to Andavadoaka!