In the Ranomafana jungle you can see plants and animals that you won’t find anywhere else. It is a rainforest abundant in the most endemic species in the world. Various species of lemurs, as many as 12 can be found throughout the park. Wild rivers, waterfalls, impenetrable lush greenery and vast hills. It is the third-largest park in Madagascar, extending over a mountainous area of approximately 41,000 hectares. Walking through that jungle filled me up with gratitude and joy beyond measure!
Early in the morning, after breakfast, we go for a 6-hour walk in the jungle. A thick fog floats over the rainforest and you can feel the rain in the air. Our guide’s name is Elize and he is a very happy Malagasy. As you can guess, it’s only possible to enter the national park with a guide. After paying the entrance fee (55,000 AR = approximately 12 GBP) and guide fee (75,000 AR = around 16 GBP). If this amount seems high to you, it is worth noting that a large part of this money is intended to protect the unique flora and fauna in the park. Although in my opinion 28 GBP for one day in paradise is a very small amount.
Already at the beginning of the road, we saw grapefruit, banana trees, coffee trees (Robusta and Arabica), mangoes and ficus. It is very humid and raining, as you would expect in a rainforest. It’s worth remembering to get a rain jacket and covered shoes, also because of leeches. They are very small and fast, you can hardly feel them at first.
We came to a river rich in Tilapia fish and crayfish or so our guide said. For me, it was a landscape that accurately represented my idea of the jungle. Rushing, twisting river, boiling vegetation on both sides, the sounds of birds hovering somewhere in the air. Above all, the intense sound of flowing water and the path leading deep into the forest … We went across the bridge, to the other side of the river in search of lemurs.
We entered the bamboo forest. Firstly, we saw a large size Lemur Sifaka, sitting high on a huge bamboo stump. Going further we saw another species of lemur so-called Red-Bellied, though their fur was brown. They were slightly smaller than the previous one and very lively. Then we came across the Golden Bamboo lemur, can you guess what he munched on for breakfast?
A Bamboo Lemur, the size of a cat, was sitting comfortably on a fallen tree trunk. Passionately munching bamboo, holding it with two paws. We clearly interrupted, so I snapped the picture quickly (to the lemur’s disgust) and went on. Unfortunately, Bamboo Lemurs are threatened with extinction. For one thing, the bamboo habitat is very limited, especially the giant bamboo stands. In addition, bamboo is also quite heavily exploited by local residents for various constructions, furniture, fishing or basket making.
The sound of rain, evenly hitting the densely overgrown rainforest is probably one of the most relaxing sounds. Slowly it began to clear up. As we left the forest to an exposed path, the rain stopped completely and the sun began to come out from behind the clouds.
An incredible landscape appeared to my eyes. Greenery along and across. Overgrown hills and a ribbon of water bursting somewhere between them. Lush, bright green rice fields, looking like stairs covered with the softest carpet. I thought this is how paradise looks like!
As if that wasn’t enough, after a while a breath-taking waterfall emerged from behind the greenery. It formed multi-level cascades of monstrous size. We made a short stop in this fabulous scenery. Surrounded by huge banana trees, packed with brunches of green bananas. Perfect spot for lunch, don’t you think?
Then, alongside a narrow path, we went on, passing pineapples on the way. You will be surprised when I say, that they don’t grow on trees, but in the ground, like cabbage.
The path led us to a Malagasy bush village. Where I saw tiny huts, built on a bamboo construction. Modelled, probably from soil mixed with excrement (for hardening). Half-naked kids, lean out curiously from behind the huts. Inside the mud houses, there is nothing but a few cooking utensils. And outside just a bunch of banana plants leaning into the primitive windows. On the other hand, the surroundings are so beautiful!
At the time, I thought that, despite the lack of any material goods, these people are privileged to live in a place that many of us visit only in dreams. I do not judge what is better. The truth is, that these people have no choice and in most cases, no chance to change their position. However, who knows, maybe they are often much happier than those who take such a chance for granted.
Ranomafana in Malagasy translates as “hot water” because the park has hot springs. After about 6 hours in the jungle, we head towards the Thermal Station, i.e. the famous hot springs. The pools are located about 15 minutes on foot from the centre of Ranomafana village, just behind the hanging pedestrian bridge.
Admission to the swimming pool costs only 5,000 AR = 1,10 GBP. The tank is large and filled with hot water. Maybe jumping into the hot water when the air temperature has 20°C, does not seem exciting, but after a full day of walking, it’s extremely pleasant. Especially with the view of the green mountains rising in the distance.
As if that wasn’t enough, more attractions await us today. We have an appointment with Elize for a night walk in the park to observe the night creatures. We leave when the sky is full of stars. Elize leads us along an asphalt road right at the edge of the forest. It’s completely dark, but after a while, the eyes get used to it and I am able not to trip over my own legs.
Elize has a flashlight, but he doesn’t light it yet. He must know these areas very well and apparently, he also has the seventh sense. That is to say, he suddenly stops, lighting the flashlight and pointing it at the chameleon. How did he know the creature was sitting there? During this walk, he repeated it many times. The forest is abundant in chameleons, which are beautiful and fascinating. I felt like in a documentary, watching the chameleon change from light green to brown. In front of my eyes, in order to resemble the branch he was sitting on, he completely changed colour!
Elize also showed us huge spiders, which were not so fascinating, at least for me. During the day on the river you can see spider webs hung from one end to the other for about 6-7 meters. It is fascinating that spiders build these webs with the help of the wind that carries the spider web to the other end of the river. Finally, we saw lemurs that are active only at night.
This species, Pygmy Mouselemurs, resembles a mouse in size. In fact, it is the smallest primate in the world! It would easily fit into a coffee cup. He has big eyes and looks like an innocent charming creature. It is interesting that the word “lemures” from Latin means “spirit” and Malagasy identify lemurs with ghosts. This is one of the many magical superstitions cultivated by the island’s inhabitants.
Unfortunately, for exactly the same reason, another species of nocturnal lemurs “Aye Aye” is killed by the local population. Due to its ugly appearance, it is identified with evil spirits. “Pygmy Mouselemurs”, on the other hand, are caught and sent to the market with exotic animals. Both ‘Aye Aye’ and ‘Pygmy Mouselemurs’ are protected species, so it is important to let them live in their natural habitat. After an eventful day, it’s time to sleep. Tomorrow morning we set off for a slightly different scenery. Lush vegetation will be replaced by a slightly more rocky terrain.