We’re back in Farafangana, after a pleasant drive, and settling into the Austral Hotel, where I’m sharing a room with Manora and Jamila! Love. I spent a lovely afternoon wandering around town with Charles, Manora and Jamila, buying fabrics and eating ice cream, culminating in a delightful dinner at Hanitra, during which we watched the all-important women’s Olympic basketball match between New Zealand and Mali. I haven’t seen a TV in over a month, and I can’t say I’ve missed it!
We’ve just arrived in Ranomafana National Park, after like seven hours of driving, and we’re staying in a beautiful little hotel run by a bonne soeur – a nun. It’s dark, so I couldn’t see if it’s actually beautiful outside too, but I’m sharing a gorgeous little bungalow with Charles, and it’s impeccably clean, with a nice little bathroom and seriously cushy little twin beds.
Yesterday, during a guided trek through Manombo Special Reserve, Jamila fell and brutally sprained her ankle, so Sahondra and I helped her walk out to the road (it took about an hour, and was not easy for her at all), and Kosa drove us into Farafangana. We went to the home of a local healer, a woman who was born with special energy-transferring powers. She gave Jamila a painful massage with honey and told her to wrap her foot in honey overnight. It cost 400 Ar, which is like twenty cents or something. Jamila had another massage this morning, and said that it’s actually feeling remarkably better. I totally have faith in traditional medicine, I have to say. Today in the Land Rover, she supported her honey-covered leg on my lap and Charles’, and we had created a great soundtrack for the journey. I’ll miss those moments.
Last night was our cocktail with the Vondrozo agents, which was great fun. Rodin’s wife cooked a smorgasbord of meaty treats (I ate a lot of peanuts), and we drank beer and did karaoke on Marlin’s computer, which he projected onto the wall. It was an absolute riot, and confirmed my theory that “Hotel California” is an internationally adored song. Rodin’s adorable little son (whom we call “mini-Rodin”, because they are identical) ran around, hiding under the table and making faces at me. At the end of the evening, we all held hands in a circle and the agents sang us a Malgache version of Auld Lang Syne, and then all hugged us goodbye and did the three-kisses-on-the-cheek thing. Manora and I absolutely teared up. These guys have been our friends and protectors for three months, and I’ll miss them dearly. They were keen to get our addresses though, and to keep in touch. What a wonderful team. The importance of these experiences is satrting to sink in more and more, as my departure gets closer and closer. Time is passing too quickly.
After having seen this hotel in daylight, I can confirm that it is, in fact, really beautiful! The green mountains shoot out of the ground on every side, and I think that it’s consistently damp here – it’s sort of humid and off-and-on raining today, with mist between the hillsides.
This morning we spent about four hours touring the park with an incredible guide named Emile. He speaks impeccable English (he works with American researchers in the park) and French, and has been working in the park pretty much every day for thirty years, so he is unbelievable knowledgeable. And, of course, he’s Malgache, so he has that mind-boggling talent of being able to spot three-inch geckos from fifty metres away.
He also had a guide-in-training who was running around in the woods looking for lemurs, and she’d sort of hoot when she located a family, and we’d scramble up and down the muddy paths until we found her. The lemurs were great! And they’re used to researchers hanging about, so they’re quite happy to stay right where they’re eating and ignore the excited people below. We saw Golden Bamboo Lemurs, a Sifaka, and a Greater Bamboo Lemur, who came right down to eye level when he heard Emile cracking a stalk of bamboo. Sooo cool! I’m usually not a sucker for this sort of thing – I could have gone home without visiting the park and been ridiculously happy with my experience – but this was a treat.
And, of course, Jamila had to get one last leech, for good measure. It’s funny, we were reading in the Lonely Planet or the Bradt guide (I forget which) that Ranomafana National Park is difficult to walk through, as the paths are steep in places, and there are tons of leeches! This was a total laugh for us. Paths? I haven’t seen a gravel path through the forest since I hiked in Alberta last summer. We’ve driven on roads that were 100x worse than this in the past months! Hilarious.
We went to swim at the hot springs this afternoon, as well. “Ranomafana” means “hot water”, and the springs were full of tourists. They’ve channeled the spring into a big cement pool, so it’s like a gigantic hot tub. It was kind of gross, actually, with hair floating in it and stuff. Ugh. You know how hot tubs are. But it was an experience! Marlin, Charles and Silvia had an intense swimming race, during which Charles played dirty and “unintentionally” kicked Silvia out of the way. Scandal!