In preparation for my trip I read numerous articles, nature journals and watched several documentaries describing what I should expect to see during my time in Madagascar. I have now been here for three days and nothing I read or saw could have prepared me for this incredible adventure. We are traveling on Route Nationale 2 (RN2), one of the only paved roads in the country. The vast landscape is incredibly diverse and ever-changing. We’ve passed fertile hills cascading with terraced rice paddies, wetlands covered in freely floating water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) (a beautiful but highly invasive plant species), and large cleared plots where families make bricks by hand and then bake them in the sun.
Our first stop is in Marozevo where we experience our first taste of wild Madagascar! We are here to visit the Réserve Peyrieras Madagascar Exotic, a small, privately run, reserve. Ludo, our guide, explains the importance of this stop; “Throughout the next week I will need you all to be aware of your surroundings. We will be in rainforests, often at night. I will need you all to stay together, listen quietly and watch for my hand signals, and when you see them be prepared to move quickly.” He spends the next few minutes explaining hand gestures and whistling sounds that we should be able to identify. Looking back to our group, he watches as the students replicate his movements. Once satisfied, Ludo leads us up a trail into the forest.
Climbing uphill, we are quickly engulfed in a canopy of green. Huge yucca trees scatter the forest floor and the sounds of nature surround us. After about 15 minutes, we begin hearing loud, strange, almost meowing-like calls, and everyone looks towards Ludo. He’s giving the signal – it’s them! We’re directed to turn around and head back the way we just came. How can that be? Wouldn’t we have seen them? Suddenly Ludo is off trail and he’s taken a sharp right. As quickly and quietly as possible, I follow him. I’m focused on keeping pace with Ludo and pushing limbs out of my way and before I know it I’m looking face to face with a Coquerel’s sifaka (Propithecus coquereli)! A real, live Madagascar lemur! I’m in awe!
This day could not get any better – at least that’s what I thought! Back at the reserve, Ludo tells us he wants to show us some of the animals we’ll be looking for during our night hike tomorrow. He explains, “They can be very good at camouflage. Seeing them now during the day will help you know what you’re looking for.” We spent the next hour learning about some of the most unusual and beautiful reptiles I have ever seen, including chameleons, iguanas, geckos, and frogs.
I can hardly believe we have ten more days to explore this Island.
Education Manager, Cook Museum of Natural Science