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Madagascar: Masoala Jungle Walk

Madagascar: Land of Chameleons. This is a short-horn female in Andasibe.

It must be the dream of every biophile to visit a tropical rain forest. The abundance of life, the diversity of species, the colours, and bizarre shapes we know from Attenborough films makes us expect tigers, snakes and butterflies behind every leaf and tree. The very first visit can therefore come with a little shock of revelation that the rainforest is primarily just that: a forest. And all you see at first – are plants.

But then again, some plants aren't plants after all. Leaf-tail Uroplatus taking flight from intruding tourists.

We are walking single file through the undergrowth, the path just a narrow strip of crunchy leaves. It is the dry season in Masoala, a good time to visit if you are scared of leeches. It is surprisingly quiet, I would have imagined more sounds, but maybe it is just that ten people pushing through vines and scrub is not exactly a stealthy approach to the secrets of the forest. From time to time Sarafein, our Malagasy field guide, stops to listen. He then smiles good-naturedly, and occasionally asks: „You see something?“ to which I shake my head, inducing and even broader good-naturedly smile.

A pair of giraffe-necked weevils romanticising in the shade under a leaf.

Insects are the first animals that attract attention and camera flashes, bizarre creatures flaunting their extravagance, or, for the birders, it is the flutter of a brown spec in the bush a few meters away, followed by a muted call. A millipede crosses our path, unfazed by the threatening twenty feet of that human horde snaking along. A couple of giraffe-necked weevils romance in a leafy hide away, and – there! Somebody points, you strain to see, but there are just leaves, leaves, and then the shape of a small frog suddenly becomes a defined entity your brain can pick from the chaos of shades and lines on the ground. A golden eye watches you unblinking, until a camera or a foot breach the invisible comfort zone of the little amphibian and with a quick jump it's gone.

A Mantella frog flaunts its colours. Shot in Andasibe.

Sarafein has heard something. He looks up the tree trunks, with its bird nest ferns and other epiphytes, scanning the canopy. „Wait here,“ he says, and departs like a forest spirit. He needn't have said it, even if we tried, we couldn't follow that agile, light-footed forest hunter with our clumsy Western physiques. We each find a patch to rest, on a moss-covered stone, a fallen log sprouting a colony of mushrooms, or against a tree. Our breathing is heavy, our clothing stained dark with sweat.

A Madagsacar groudn boa relaxes in the sunshine. Shot also in Andasibe.

As silence falls on the group, the forest regains its voice, cicadas are the first to start, then other insects follow suit, then a bird calls, another answers, frogs start their concert. And then, there is a dark, racous, grouchy call from somewhere high in the canopy, a bellow that speaks of aggression and territorialism.

Our guide resting while the tourists are shootintg away at isnects and egkkos like maniacs.

Sarafein reappears, pointing to somewhere up in the trees. A rustle of branches, a flash of red. Then a crash and another flash of red, and then – a jump. A full-grown red-ruffed lemur leaps across a blue hole of sky in the green cover, for a breadth of a second extended to full length, easily clearing an unbelievable distance between two trees, then another, and another, before he comes to a stop on a swinging branch. More calls can be heard, and a group of five or six other lemurs settle in noisefully. Clumps of seedpods and bits of fruit start raining on us, the lemurs are here for breakfast, and they are messy eaters.

Tourists scrambling to get a better look at the world's smallest chameleon, the Stump-nosed Brookesia.
Can you see it?

Our own group of primates scuffles about on the forest floor, straining their necks to get a better look, or a better angle. Shutters click, in hushed voices we remark on the spectacle above us. The lemurs stay with us for quite some time. After a while, the feeding frenzy abates, and the forest regains that quiet of before, as one after other, the lemurs curl and cuddle up for a round of chillaxing in the lofty heights.

We sit and watch, transfixed, removed from the world, dreamy, until Sarafein gently reminds us that is is time to go.

This is home in the Masoala Forest Lodge. A good place to relax after seven hot hours in the jungle.


Die Humrichs said...

Moin Ulfi!
Sounds like the right field trip for one of Darwin's heirs. Tried to get back to you at Christmas but couldn't get through. Kisses from the girls and a BLESSED New Year from me!

Ulf Iskender Kaschl said...

@ die Humrichs.
Ela! Yes, Darwin would have shat himself for joy. A good New Year to you too, blessings I do not feel entitled to give, but hey, I'll pray for you, okay? :-P

Anonymous said...

Our guide resting while the tourists are shootintg away at isnects and egkkos like maniacs.
You were distracted for a second by your memories, weren't you?

It sounds undescribable - although you did a really good job of describing it nonetheless, I believe.

Greetings, Sammy

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