Day 12 10/20 A visit to Zombitse National Park
After breakfast we departed the hotel, but not before our tour operator gave the group an earful about him having had to pay $80 for water. Apparently that was not acceptable and we were asked to take bottles only while in the field and to take them only from our respective cars. This worked well in theory – until water started running out in one car and then it was on to the other two cars and so on. Later that morning our own experience proved this point when we started looking for water. We did not find any bottles in our car so went to another car only to be scolded by the tour operator who told us to go get water from our car. Given the lack of water in our car, a minor argument ensued and in the end we were allowed to get water from a different car.
As we left the hotel we passed by a Tropic of Capricorn sign- the hotel had been just outside the tropics, and we were now re-entering the tropics for the remainder of the trip.
By noontime we had arrived at Zombitse National Park, an area with short dry forest, which turned out to be a nice place for a walk. We had our lunch at a picnic area while enjoying the resident Giant Coua parading around the picnic tables. After lunch our tour operator hired a local guide at the park headquarters and we started our guided tour.
Next to the main road, as we were starting our walk, we spotted Verreaux Sifakas eating flower buds in the trees. See more about these lemurs here.
As we started our walk our guide saw and pointed out a Spear-nosed Snake (Langaha madagascariensis).
Later on during our walk we saw a Sportive Lemur and a nocturnal gecko. We also spotted a group of Verreaux’s Sifakas near the trail.
Some of the plants we saw during the hike were: Adenia spp, Kalanchoe daigremontiana, several orchids, Adansonia za, Euphorbias, Uncarina decaryi and Aloe vaombe.
Orchids are an interesting component of the vegetation in Madagascar and they occur in many habitats. Although most are found in the humid forests, others grow exposed on rocks and yet others are found in the dry forest.
Madagascar and Reunion are known worldwide as vanilla extract-producing countries and this is an important crop for their economies. The Vanilla extract is obtained from the seed pods of the orchid Vanilla planifolia. Of the 110 species in the genus Vanilla about 10 are found in Madagascar, but the vanilla-producing orchid (Vanilla planifolia) is not originally native to this part of the world. The vanilla-producing orchid is native to Mesoamerica, specifically southern Mexico and Central America. It was taken to Europe by the Spaniards and then to Madagascar and Reunion by the French in the 19th century and for some reason it became a very important crop for this area. Today, although vanilla is still produced in Mexico, it is not as important a crop as it is in Madagascar and it is much less sought after than the now-famous “Madagascar vanilla”. Interestingly, though people took the vanilla orchid to another part of the world, they did not take the pollinators (a species of Melipona bee), thus the orchids that produce vanilla in Reunion and Madagascar have to be hand-pollinated. Perhaps this explains why vanilla from these areas is expensive compared to the inexpensive vanilla you can buy in Mexico. You can read more about vanilla here.
After the Zombitse walk it was time to head for the famous Relais de la Reine hotel near Isalo National Park. On the way we passed a busy town where the main business was the sale of sapphires.
On the way to the hotel we also went through nice examples of Madagascar palm savanna. Scenic hills and grasses mixed in with the beautiful blue palms Bismarckia nobilis. The genus is named after the first chancellor of the German Empire, Otto von Bismarck. This genus is endemic to Madagascar. The palm flora of the island is diverse, with about 170 species of which 165 are endemic. Unfortunately many Madagascar palms are endangered.
We finally made it to the hotel and after waiting to have the hotel and tour operator figure out the details of dealing with the lack of a room for him and TV in the main hotel, we finally got our keys and dispersed. There was only time for a quick trip to the pool and a brief peak at the grounds. The hotel was situated amongst large sandstone hills and the grounds were nice. There were some succulents growing on the rocks.
Dinner at the hotel consisted of a fixed menu where you choose from a couple of options for appetizers, main course etc. In spite of all the expectations (our tour operator had mentioned that this hotel would have the best food in the trip) I was not all that impressed with the food.
Continue to day 13 “Isalo National Park”