5 thoughts on “Madagascar Updates: Chapter 12

  1. WARNING: Avoid the services of guide Jean Nico Heriniaina at all costs! Nico, advertised as “Nico Tours” on page 315 of the current edition of our guidebook, also goes by “Masoala Nico” and has reportedly recently started using the company name “Madagascar North East Tours”. Until July 2018, he was a much-respected young, dynamic and intelligent local guide with universally high reviews from those who used his services. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, his character changed dramatically in July and he has since defrauded several tourists of large sums of money. On 1 August, Madagascar National Parks stripped him of his ecotourism permit. The Malagasy police have issued a warrant for his arrest, but his former colleagues inform us that, as far as they know, Nico is still on the run.

    • Hôtel et Lodge Hippocampe says:

      Bonjour . Aux dernières nouvelles , Nico aurait été arrêté , mais nous ne savons pas ou ?Nous avons hébergé gratuitement dans notre Hôtel a Maroantsetra et dans le Lodge du Parc Masoala des clients a Nico , ceci avaient payer très cher un circuit a Nico , mais Nico ne nous a pas payer ni les hébergements en pension complète , ni les frais de transfert bateau , port et aéroport . Il faut avertir les touristes de ne passer directement par des guides , mais qu ils contactent directement les hôtels et les Lodges ayant pignon sur rue Cordialement – Max Gantner

  2. I am a Swiss tour leader and private group travel organizer and working together with Jean Emile (based in Maroantsetra) as guide for the Masoala part of my trips since I first met him 15 years ago. I am very happy to see his knowledge, his language skills (german, french, english) and his ability to organize logistic matters by himself highly improving over the past years. I can recommend Jean Emile with my highest trust, and I will be happy to work with him in the upcoming years. Check out his new website for an idea of what he can do for you!

    • Bonjour Brigitte . D organiser des voyages dans le Masoala a partir de guides n est pas pour vous la meilleure solution . Les Hôtels et les Lodges de Maroantsetra et du parc Masoala ,sont la pour ça , c est notre réputation que nous mettons en jeu , ce ne sont pas les guides qui organisent les circuits , les étapes et la logistique , mais les Lodges et les hôtels , les guides se contentent de prendre un fort pourcentage sur les circuits , ne payent pas de taxes et sont rémunérés par par les hôteliers car l hébergement et la nourriture sont gratuits pour eux – Max Gantner – madahippocampe@live.fr

  3. Some fantastic feedback here from Christopher Fielding on his recent overland trip from Tana to Marojejy – not an easy route at the best of times, but made all the more difficult as he and his mother were travelling in the wake of Cyclone Enawo, the strongest cyclone to hit Madagascar in well over a decade. Here is his report:

    Mora Mora, learn it well – it’s a phrase to live by in Madagascar. We were first introduced to it at the airport by our prescient taxi driver, and little did we know it would define our holiday.

    We had planned to do a month long trip through the north eastern parts of Madagascar. Not the usual area for holidays in Madagascar, but I was hell bent on seeing some of the last primary rainforests that the country had to offer.

    We began our trip (as most people do) in Antananarivo, staying at the moonlight hotel. Quite a cosy hotel in an area which would make one think of a cross between the old European towns (think small cobbled alleys through towering buildings built wall to wall) and new age Africa (inundation of sounds, colour and – mostly unpleasant – smells). As we wanted to spend as much time in rural areas we prepped our bags the night before and set off at sunrise. I was determined to save as much cash as possible and so we walked the three or so kilometres from our hotel to the taxi-brousse station. Despite being a capital city, things were very sleepy in the morning and we made it with minimal hassle. The station itself was a different story entirely though – chaos rained down on us the moment we entered and we were glad to make it to the Cotisse station and sit down. We decided to use one of the more upmarket taxis (this would be the theme as my 66 year old mother wasn’t willing to give up on comfort during transport, a wise choice considering the time we would spend on the road). Our trip would only leave at noon and so we decided to explore a bit; we headed across to the waterfront (not much to look at, but a lot calmer than the taxi station next door). Here we tried some of the more exotic fruit available, but alas no famous mangosteens.

    The trip down to the coast was a bit of an adventure, the roads were pretty hectic; enough to make one carsick. At this stage we were very grateful we had opted to pay a little extra for more comfortable seats. Our destination was Toamasina and we arrived near midnight. Unbeknown to us, our luggage was on another taxi coming down which had had an accident (accidents seemed to be a common occurrence and nothing to be alarmed about) and so we were without any of our clothes or other personal possessions. The taxi driver was very accommodating though and after repeated attempts to contact the other vehicle he made a plan to sleep in the taxi for the night and make our bags available at about 4 am the next morning (the company had sent a replacement vehicle along the same route to transport the luggage). This friendliness and generosity was a common thing wherever we went during our trip and was refreshing coming from South Africa. So we settled down at a hotel close by and came through at 4 am to collect our bags, just in time to catch our transfer to the ferry we would take to Ile Saint Marie.

    The transfer travelled about 150km up the coast, right next to the canals which were built decades ago for transporting goods in the area, and dropped us off at a cosy little beach. Up until this point we had only been exposed to the cities of Madagascar, so when we hit the beach where our ferry was docked I finally felt like we’d reached the tropical paradise that I’d read all about. While we waited we were served with coconut drinks right out of the husk and delicious Chinese litchis at a beach bar. The ferry we used (el Condor) was by far the fanciest ferry and despite the one engine packing up, I found it a thoroughly enjoyable trip. Others didn’t share my enthusiasm though, as they were too busy throwing up into buckets.

    On Ile Saint Marie we soon realized that the beach we had launched from was merely a taster of tropical paradise, and this was the real thing. The island had been a pirate hideout, pirate cemetery inclusive, and had a bit of that devil may care feel to it still (children, dogs and chickens happily played in the traffic). The island is about 50km long with a road extending the entire length of it. We decided to stay on a mini-island, just off its south point, called Ile Aux Nattes. Ile Aux Nattes is to Ile Saint Marie what Ile Saint Marie is to Madagascar – a little a condensed version of its larger cousin. It was less than a kilometre long, covered in palm trees, a mangrove swamp at its centre and a coral reef surrounding it. It even had a troop of white ruffed lemurs to complete the scene. We spent our days snorkelling, exploring the two islands and generally relaxing. Highlights included lemurs, a parsons chameleon (the biggest chameleon species in the world), the pirate cemetery and meeting the couple (Rob and Ruth) who we would be spending the rest of the trip with.
    One thing which became a point of concern was how we were going to get from our little island to our next port of call – Maroantsetra. Because we were there over Easter the Melissa Express (the only ferry service from Ile Saint Marie to Maroantsetra) was not running for a few days. Thus we had to delay our plans slightly. This meant, of course, that we could relax a few more days on the island, but that we would also be a bit pushed for time later in the holiday. After many trips to the tourism office (the woman working there – Dania – really was a saviour for us) we finally booked seats to our next destination.
    It was by chance that we met Rob and Ruth, the young couple with would join us for the rest of our trip. It really was quite fortuitous that we met, as the itinerary that we had planned was not a popular tourist route and to meet another couple doing the same thing was highly unlikely.
    The trip from Ile Saint Marie to Maroantsetra was an adventure in itself. It involved leaving at 6 in the morning, stopping in Soanierana-Ivongo for a 19 hour layover and then continuing for a 12 hour trip up the coast to Maroantsetra. Soanierana-Ivongo was my least favourite town on the trip – the beaches were used as lavatories, the streets were exceptionally dirty and the docks where we waited left a lot wanting. We waited on the docks until two in the morning, during which I fell asleep on the floor – probably lulled by the sound of rats running around me and cockroaches crawling over me. At exactly 1:30 AM the captain came out of the tavern, mostly recovered from him drinking binge with the rest of the crew the afternoon before, and proceeded to organize luggage and passengers for the trip. It was a surprisingly orderly affair considering his and the crews inebriated state. And thus, at 2:00 AM, we set off from harbour – with one flock of chickens, one gaggle of geese, two motorbikes, entirely too many passenger and a dead body in tow. I had heard stories of the voyage – how everyone was soon neck deep in a bucket vomiting their lungs up – and as I seem to be pretty resistant to seasickness, I decided it would be a more peaceful ride up on deck. I found a free piece of shelf which looked out to sea, wedged myself into it and settled down for a reasonably pleasant night. Little did I know what was in store for me.

    The forests of Madagascar, and its wildlife, are spectacular. And the marine life is an equal match. These were all things which we saw and appreciated, but when people ask me what the most memorable moment for me on the whole trip was, the first thing that springs to mind is waking up at 3 in the morning and watching the waves crash again the hull of the ferry as it ploughed through the water. That feeling of wild openness in front of me was a rare thing for me and it’s something that I think I will be chasing to feel again. I’d give a lot to be lying on that reed mat looking over that moonlit seascape right now.
    A few times I woke up during the voyage and did a quick circuit of the boat, just to see how everyone was doing. Most were looking very sorry for themselves, but my mother had given seasickness tablets to our travelling companions and had taken some herself, so the three of them were snoozing quite peacefully. When sunrise came (about a third of the way through our journey) it brought with it a spectacular vista of the mainland we were passing. The undulating hills and valleys, kissed by the first rays of dawn, made for quite a scene. We had a midway stop at Mananara and then headed onwards, finally reaching the great Antongil Bay around noon. This bay acts as a shelter against storms and houses several small islands, largest of which is called Nosy Mangabe. We had our first taste of Nosy Mangabe as we sailed past – an island park seemingly overflowing with thick tropical vegetation. We would be back.

    We arrived in Maroantsetra, a small village which acts as the gateway to Nosy Mangabe and the whole western section of Masoala peninsula. Here we would pay for park entrance, buy provisions and hire a guide for the next two weeks. The guide we ended up with was Aldin, one of the most experienced in the region. He had been guiding for over a decade and had spent many trips with researchers on their data collection trips into Masoala. We were to find out over the next few days that his knowledge on the plants and animals in the region was vast. This was especially important to me, as being a qualified zoologist and currently studying veterinary science, I had a basic knowledge of wildlife and was looking for more specialized information on animals of the area.

    Our plan was to travel back to Nosy Mangabe via boat and spend two days there, and then after that travel back to Maroantsetra, gather porters (I have done plenty of hiking in South Africa and have never used a porter before, but my mother was set on getting one and I wanted to have my hands free for wildlife photography so we decided to each get one – it also gives the local people a form of income directly related to the park and so improves the chances they look favourably on its conservation) and set off on the six day hike across Masoala peninsula.

    Nosy Mangabe lived up to the promise it made when we first saw it – massive trees covered in vines shaded the paths, crabs littered the ground and lemurs peered at us from all corners of the forest. We were dropped off on a deserted beach and shown to our camping spots (less than 4 metres from the above mentioned deserted beach). Our days were filled with hiking around the island looking for chameleons, frogs, birds, and other critters and my nights (others had the decency to sleep) were filled with crawling around camp looking for some of the more unusual insects found there. My highlight would probably be seeing the smallest chameleon on earth – Brookesia micra – among the leaf litter on one of our hikes.

    As intended, after Nosy Mangabe we headed back, collected the rest of our stuff and headed off on our next adventure – the massive Masoala peninsula was calling! This hike stretched about 150km and involved many, many river crossings, insane tropical rain forests, rural villages (some of the overnight spots were in these villages), cyclone damaged paths, pirogue trips, enough wildlife to fill two SD cards with and the friendliest people I have ever come across. There is something quite special about camping in a makeshift clearing in the middle of the forest with no form of civilization anywhere nearby. The Masoala peninsula hike ended with us taking a six-hour trip in a pirogue (complete with rapids, excellent birding and crocodiles) and a further six hour trip in a sixty-odd year old Peugeot bakkie which broke down more than once along the way. Finally – tired, sore and deeply satisfied – we arrived in Sambava.

    Our last adventure was to Mount Marojejy – I was keen to see some of the higher altitude forest while my mum was dead set on finding the silky sifaka. Ruth and Rob (our traveling partners) were also keen to do “Madagascar’s longest climb”. Mount Marojejy is set in the park named after it. It houses multiple ecological zones, all the way from primary and secondary forest at its base to a heath like vegetation on the summit. This is conducive to an extraordinarily rich biodiversity in a relatively small area. The summit hike has three lovely camps and can be done in as many as six days, but due to time constraints we decided to do it in four days. Our first stop would be camp one, which we arrived at in the dark as we were running very late that day. The going wasn’t easy in the dark and the recent rain meant leeches were on the prowl – no one was safe, not even our guide. The next day was a lot more enjoyable (mainly due to doing in the light) – but much more strenuous. We found ourselves climbing up muddy slopes, crawling through tree roots and basically getting entirely too wet for our liking. This day brought one of the other highlight experiences of the trip for me. We were walking of what seemed like solid ground, rocks and sandy path included, when we noticed that the ground seemed to shake with every step. We soon realized we were about two metres above the ground and the path was formed by roots and debris which had gathered on them to form a pseudo-solid ground. This “sky path” was a persistent theme throughout the day. The next day our companions and I summited while my mother went back to look for sifakas. We unfortunately reached the top in the mist and so didn’t get to appreciate the spectacular view, but we were rewarded with a helmeted vanga on the way down. This was a bird species I had been keen to see the whole trip and up to that point had been disappointed, so I was adequately satisfied with the day. We finished the hike the next day and headed back to Sambava to catch a plane to Antananarivo. My mother developed septicaemia from a cut on her a shin and it was only the fact that we brought some potent antibiotics with us that saved us having to go to a hospital. As it was, she remained in bed for the entire day before we left for South Africa.

    Although the route we did wasn’t amazingly kitted out for tourists, we thoroughly enjoyed it. It lends itself to the rough and ready traveller, but considering my 66-year-old mother was able to do it I feel most reasonably fit young people with a penchant for the outdoors wouldn’t find it too strenuous.

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