Madagascar lies about 250 miles from the African coast. In spite of being relatively close, there’s a clear difference between the people who live here and those that live on the continent itself. The prevailing understanding is that most Malagasies are descendants of a group of people that came over on the trade winds from Indonesia. Their language, looks, and customs all have much stronger similarities to other Indian Ocean dwellers than to the African continent. That being said, trade also occurred and continues to happen with the African coast, not to mention the French colonial influence. Most people here describe their country as a mix, a bunch of different groups of people who now share a national identity.
I wasn’t aware that silk was ever made from wild cocoons, but here in Madagascar there are a few workshops that do this. Although they also farm the cocoons, people still collect the cocoons from the forest that are left over after the silkworm metamorphizes into a moth. (This is different from farmed cocoons which are boiled with the silkworms still inside. This is so the cocoon is not disturbed and they can remove one long thread.) After the cocoons are collected, they are layered into balls and cooked in Malagasy soap which is made from zebu (beef) fat and ash. Then the cocoons are dried in the sun, spun into yarn, and then dyed using natural colorants (beet root, passion fruit leaves, etc.). The yarn is then woven into scarves and table runners and other products.
I also had a chance to visit a paper workshop, where the women must first mash up the fibers before spreading the thin pulp out on a screen to dry. The women in this cooperative add floral decorations to their creations which are all different and very creative.
Near to the town is the beautiful private Anja Nature Reserve. My guide Adrian had spent the last 20 years creating the reserve and working with local people to protect the ring-tailed lemurs that live there. Ring-tailed lemurs are very charismatic and King Julien in the animated movie Madagascar made them famous. As with all lemurs, the women run everything in the family. They live in large family groups, so it’s fun to look up at a tree with a bunch of striped tails hanging down. They also like to climb up on the rocks to sleep and sun themselves in the morning when they get up.
They definitely like to move it, move it!
Although the park is famous for its lemurs, we also managed to find some other cool species, including one of the biggest, Furcifur oustaleti, and one of the smallest chameleons, Brookesia brunoi.
The views from the reserve are also just amazing and absolutely spectacular.
Isalo National Park is one the most visited parks in Madagascar. The guidebooks all include photos of gray and red sandstone rocks, created by water long ago. They are nice to look at and make a nice hike in the morning, but the really beautiful parts of the park are the canyons nestled between those rocks.
On the way, we did find some interesting life forms. Stare at the first photo and see how long it takes you to find the walking stick insect. The female is quite large and is actually mating in this photo with a much tinier male. The picture of the far right is of a plant called elephant foot. It looks kind of like a miniature baobab tree but isn’t actually related at all.
After walking down from the canyon plateau, we entered a wonderfully verdant canyon that has two waterfalls that enter into shimmering swimming holes. I spent quite a bit of time splashing around and swimming in the refreshingly cold waters.
On the way out of the park, there’s a campground where ring-tailed lemurs like to hang out. Since there’s a bunch of photos of them above, instead I’m adding a bunch of photos of the Verreaux’s sifaka. This one is actually a solitary lemur who was separated from her family during a fire a few years back. The rest of the family is deeper in the forest and she’s never found them, but instead hangs out near a family of ringtails. Verreaux’s sifaka is one of two lemurs that walks on two legs which has earned them the nickname the “dancing lemurs.”
I only captured a short hop on film, but it’s easy to see the difference between them and the ring-tailed lemurs walking on all fours.
On the drive to Ifaty, the famous Malagasy baobab started to show up. These aren’t nearly as big as some of the baobabs I saw in Zimbabwe, but they are impressive. There are six different native species of baobabs on the island.
We also stopped at the Antosokay Arboretum near the town of Toliara. They had a remarkable array of plants from southwestern Madagascar, and I was absolutely struck by the number of them that had spines as a form of protection.
My driver left me at the beach on the western coast of Madagascar. I spent a lovely two days of hanging out, enjoying the sun and even a bit of snorkeling. Although the reefs aren’t nearly as stunning as other ones I’ve seen, I did manage to get a few good shots of the coral. Parts of the reef look really healthy, while other parts look extremely dead.
I just love the peacefulness of the photo below. It’s my current computer desktop background.