Days 3-5 The Tsingy

Day 3    10/11    Our introduction to dusty Malagasy country roads

We left our Baobab Hotel early and proceeded to the turn-off.  The road again passed through the Baobab Alley, where we took some more photos before proceeding.

This was to be a long day on dirt roads with few stops.  Two ferry crossings added to the novelty of the trip with the waiting, boarding, getting the cars in and out, getting off, local vendors, local people and other tourists.  Ferry crossings were very busy places and this was a confluence point for locals and tourists alike.


10.24  Everyone waited at the ferry crossings.


10.25  Cars, people, motorcycles, were all loaded on the ferry.


10.26  Passing another ferry heading in the opposite direction.


10.27  Our vehicles starting to leave the ferry on the other side.

At the largest town on the route, Belo Tsiribihina, we enjoyed a very good lunch at a restaurant called Mad Zebu (Zebu are cattle in Madagascar and other tropical areas with a large hump – Brahman cattle).


10.28  Excellent smoked shrimp and vegetables at the Mad Zebu restaurant.

After lunch we continued on the dirt road passing near the Kirindy Reserve, a nice area where the trees were still standing.    Along the way we saw interesting lizards a Cynanchum? and Aloe vaombe.  As we continued on we encountered locals either on foot or on their zebu-drawn carriages.  In spite of my stubborn migraine headache the sights and landscapes observed up to this point were novel and interesting.

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10.29  Even on these roads we ran into people and their carriages.


10.30  Rosario on a side road near the Kirindy Reserve.  This is probably relatively undisturbed dry forest at the end of the dry season.


10.31  Vanilla sp. growing near the road.


10.32  Aloe vaombe growing near a tomb next to the road.

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10.33  Madagascar Spiny-tailed Iguana (Genus Oplurus) resting on the tomb.

By the time we arrived at our hotel we were all fairly dusty and ready for a break.  The hotel consisted on individual bungalows and there was a swimming pool and a restaurant.  After a swim we joined the group for dinner.  On the way to our rooms after dinner Mike spotted a chameleon on a shrub near the restaurant.  They appear white in a flashlight’s beam.  It had a been a long day but anticipation was in the air for the next day we would visit another landmark, the Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve.


Day 4    10/12    A silver lining day

By early morning, the stomach pain that had started the previous night before dinner, had evolved into a very bad case of diarrhea and vomiting.  In spite of this, I decided to go with the group in the hope that I would make it.  I did not know that we were an hour away (about 8 miles as the crow flies) from the park entrance at the Tsingy.  If the road the day before was bad, the road from our hotel to the Tsingy of Bemaraha park entrance was even worse.  Upon arrival to the park we met our guide TV  (we would later learn that he was to be our botanical guide and would travel with us for the rest of our Madagascar tour) and he proceeded to explain the “circuit” as guides in Madagascar like to refer to the various routes/trails one can walk in Madagascar national parks.

The Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park is home to a number plants and animals and it is an interesting area from a geological standpoint.  Bats are an important component of the Tsingy faunal diversity given the extensive cave system found in this area.


10.34  The circuit or trail at the Tsingy.

By then, I realized that I had made a mistake in coming to the park and I asked our tour operator if our driver could take me back to the hotel.  His response was a loud and short “out of the question”.   I tried to start the trail but very soon it became clear that I was too sick to go on so I returned to the car and resigned myself to wait for the rest of the group to return.  Before turning around I convinced Mike to go on with the group.  After about an hour waiting in the car I must have looked pretty awful because at this point our driver spoke to me for the first time.  He said to me in French that he felt sorry for me and could not let me wait for hours in the car given my condition.   He offered to take me back to the hotel, but I hesitated at first – remembering the “out of the question” comment.  He persisted, and in the end I accepted so we started the long way back.

I survived the ride back, but as soon as I got out of the car I experienced a violent bout of vomiting.  After getting to my room with the kind help of the driver I was able to get some badly needed rest while waiting to get better.   Other members had issues with food related health problems through out the trip, yet I am not sure if anyone else got sick enough to have to skip an outing as was my case.

Sometime by mid-afternoon Michael came back from the Tsingy and he appeared exhausted.  His first words were:  “you are lucky you were sick and did not go on the hike to the Tsingy”.  Thus even though I regretted missing the Tsingy, there may have been a silver lining to my story since the hike turned out to be no picnic for people with short legs and or knee problems like me.

Mike’s comments:  The hike through the Tsingy, though only something like 4 km total distance, took 4 hours and involved climbs up and down limestone cliffs via wire ropes where the participants wore their harnesses. In fairness, the harnesses probably weren’t necessary for many people – just a safety precaution in case you slipped (and then fell and died).


10.35  Google Earth imagery of area of our Tsingy hike.  White arrow shows parking area/start of hike, with red pins being some GPS photo locations.  Black areas are the Tsingy limestone formations, dark green are forested areas in Tsingy canyons.  This appears to be only easily accessible Tsingy – despite the formation extending for many miles north and south of this location. Most of the succulents were seen near the two pins closest to the parking area.


10.36  TV explaining about the limestone.


10.37 TV showing the very sharp Tsingy limestone edges produced by rainwater erosion.


10.38  Our group looking around before the hike got a bit tougher.  This site is where we saw most succulents.


10.39  Pachypodium lamerei growing on the limestone.

Click on the link to seea good article about the genus Pachypodium.


10.40  Photographing Pachypodium lamerei.


10.41  Pachypodium lamerei


10.42  Closer view of the Pachypodium leaves.

Some of the other succulents we saw before the trail became more difficult were: Euphorbia opuntioides, an Adenia, Euphorbia millii and another Euphorbia and a terrestrial orchid.


10.43 Impressive rocky landscapes.


10.44  Euphorbia opuntioides

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10.45  Adenia sp.

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10.46  Euphorbia viquieri.


10.47  Euphorbia sp. forming a small tree


10.48  Terrestrial orchids

Some of the animals encountered during the hike included  Decken’s Sifaka, Brown Lemur, Madagascar Iguanas, a chameleon and a mongoose.

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10.49  Madagascar iguana (Oplurus cyclurus)

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10.50  Two fighting Oplurus.  They were oblivious to me (Mike) while I photographed them.

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10.51  Decken’s Sifaka (Propithecus deckenii).

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10.52  A Brown Lemur. Both this and the previous photo were long telephoto shots – we could not get that close.

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10.53  A chameleon.

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10.54  Closer view.

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10.55  A Ring-Tailed Mongoose  The photo is terrible, but my flash didn’t work well and I couldn’t compose well in the near-darkness.  This image has been greatly brightened – the only interesting thing is the Mongoose’s canines!

After about an hour and a half our guide mentioned that we were at a point where the trail would get steep and people fearing heights or the steep hike could wait.  Two people decided to wait.  The rest of the group then proceeded and eventually, after considerable scrambling, we climbed up steep steps, perhaps 50-100 ft, with the aid of the harnesses.  Here we reached a wooden platform where we had a panoramic view of the Tsingy.  From this platform we could take photos safely and with “slightly less rush” than during the hike.  I say slightly less rush because the platform was not large enough to hold more than 4 or 5 people and as other groups were coming there was not unlimited time.

Many of the following photos taken in the Tsingy are less than idea images.  Many were taken by our Olympus TG-4 camera – a pocket camera designed for rough conditions and underwater use.  Because it fit in my shirt pocket I could quickly take photos as we scrambled and climbed.  My better cameras were in my backpack – I didn’t want to risk damaging them on the limestone – except when we stopped for a few minutes and I could pull them out.


10.57  Ladders were necessary.


10.58  Heading up.


10.59  The hike continues.


10.60  More ladders.

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10.61  Nice limestone formations.

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10.62  Pachypodium lamerei.


10.63  This was a small platform.


10.64  The bridge you see in many books about Madagascar.


10.65  The rocks can be sharp.


10.67  The group making slow but steady progress.

Then we descended to the bottom of a Tsingy “canyon” where we had lunch.  It was much cooler (about 75F in the canyon bottom, where sunlight barely reached.  However, some of us had run out of water by that time.  Then there was scrambling on all 4’s to go through short cave passages to continue on the trail.  The final stretch was through fairly uninteresting grassland/deciduous forest devoid of many succulents.


10.68  Now it is time to head down.


10.69  A narrow trail.


10.70  The canyon bottom provided a cooler, shadier area.


10.71  Lunch was eaten in near silence – we were all quite tired by this point.

By the time we were well into the Tsingy the temperature was about 90˚F (32˚C) at the top of the limestone, so we ended up being quite thirsty, despite us all carrying 1 liter water bottles. The real disappointment of this hike was that the interesting succulents (Pachypodium lamerei being the main one) were seen before getting to the difficult part of the hike, and that they were not seen on the return part of the trail.

In other words, most of the difficult hike wasn’t necessary – if you just wanted to see the succulents.  We weren’t given a choice or informed of this possibility.  Of course, most tourists come to the Tsingy not to see the succulents, but to experience the steep climbs and rough limestone landscapes.  Thus, our tour guide (TV) did what he thought most tourists expected to do – rather than what our group was supposed to focus on.


10.72  Our exit from the difficult part of the Tsingy trail was through a nice forest patch surrounded by Tsingy.

We all assembled for dinner that evening.  Most likely everyone was looking forward to getting some rest that evening.


10.73  A colorful Madagascar giant day gecko (Phelsuma madagascariensis grandis) emerges near our dinner table, back at the hotel.

 Day 5    10/13    Gear shifting problems

On this day we returned to Morondava.  So we were very quickly back on the dusty road, repeated the ferry crossings, the good lunch at Mad Zebu and again experienced a fresh set of car problems.


10.74  Ferry crossing on the way  back to Morondava.

Except for our lunch stop at Mad Zebu, most stops were short.   Some of these stops included a 23 minute stop near the Kirindy Reserve when our car’s problems became too serious to ignore.   Another stop was in an area where Baobabs began appearing.


10.75  A very good restaurant in an out-of-the-way location.


10.76  Our driver trying to get the clutch to work-despite leaking clutch fluid. It eventually failed – the driver could not shift.


10.77  Car trouble stop near the Kirindy Reserve.


10.78  The road and young baobabs. Note that these baobabs are only visible because the surrounding forest has been cut down.

Along the way we saw locals traveling in zebu- drawn carriages and in some areas we ran into small fires.


10.79  Children riding a zebu-drawn cart.   Also, more baobabs standing exposed.


10.80  Fire.  There were many birds attracted presumably to insects escaping the flames.

Nice examples of baobabs appeared as we got closer to the Avenue of Baobabs, but at this point our vehicle had developed a leaking clutch fluid line and the clutch stopped working – making stops very undesirable.


10.81  Adansonia grandidieri on the road as we get closer to the Avenue of the Baobabs.

Eventually our driver could not change gears without stalling the car so not only did we miss a stop that the other two cars made to see the two “embracing baobabs” just off our route, but we were also unable to stop when we drove through the Avenue of the Baobabs at a time in the afternoon when the light was better for photography.  We could not communicate with the other two vehicles to let them know we were not stopping since cell phones did not work in that area and we did not have walkie-talkies.

We returned to the same Baobab Café Hotel in Morondava and dinner was again a slow 2-hour affair.

Continue to days 6-7  “Morondava to Manja”