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Journey to Madagascar 2009 

October 8, 2009

Nosy Mangabe

It’s mid-afternoon at the Relais du Maosola where we are staying. The relais is a collection of thatched huts not far from the water and clustered about the main building where meals are served. All in all it’s very comfortable. The beds have mosquito netting and the huts are open to the world with big windows. There is electricity but not all the time. The breeze at night is lovely as are the night sounds. Morning comes when the local roosters proclaim it. Actually, there is one rooster somewhere about who clearly is an over achiever. He starts in a couple of hours earlier than the others when the world is still dark. Think “rooster who has dreams of a career on Wall Street.” What I thought about each morning when I heard him launch into his call was more like the recipe for chicken soup. It begins with “Take one chicken” and I knew just the chicken…

On the beach…where we landed on Nosy Mangabe


Speaking of food, we negotiated a slightly later start today with our guide Vy and so had breakfast at 7:30 and then left for Nosy Mangabe (“Big Blue Island” where ‘nosy” is “island”) in a small, but fast, power boat from the beach nearby. The ride to Nosy took just 20 minutes and we landed on an absolutely pristine and gorgeous beach. Coarse brown tan sand and aqua water deepening to indigo with palm trees a few feet in. Think Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in “On the Beach.” It was just like that, but without Lancaster and Kerr.

Nosy Mangabe has provision for overnight stays (sleeping huts, wooden tables and chairs and even toilets) and there also is area where researchers can work. The vegetation was definitely tropical and the day was hot and sunny. Paradise to be sure but also a lot hotter than yesterday. To our surprise and relief, there were no mosquitos! Evidently we are not juicy enough, which is fine with me.

Leaf-tailed Gecko

Koster’s Curse

Hibiscus tiliaceus

Escaped Pineapple


I should mention that traveling with Frank Almeda is a joy since he knows almost every plant and could give us a commentary either on what it’s used for medicinally (this morning at breakfast it was the leaves of plant (Koster’s Curse) used locally to treat diarrhea), or what a particular flower is like (a yellow hibiscus on the tree which later turns to a reddish color with veins of yellow as it matures), which family it belongs to, and who its American relatives are! The other day we saw a cinnamon bush and today we were introduced to the pineapple with its rosy red flower, the pencil cactus, and the flower of the clove tree–green and slightly hard, but you can break it apart and get the wonderfully enchanting aroma of cloves. As a bonus Frank also knows a lot about the insects and the herps (frogs and snakes). We looked at a Leaf-tailed gecko that was perfectly camoflaged against the brown of the tree trunk and so flat that many of us missed it. At the end of the trip, a young man had a Tenrecs, a cute little black four-legged mammal with porcupine-like quills, a small face with a long pointed snout capped off with a yellow tuft the color of a dandelion. It’s an insect eater we were told, though this one looked a bit bewildered since we don’t look like insects.


White-ruffed Lemur


Serafin (Angel I), our other local guide, led this hike (he also was a guide yesterday) and gave us some history of the area and pointed out particular plants and was ever on the lookout for centipedes and other creatures. The rainforest was relatively dry so we didn’t see many animals crawling about. But, we heard and then saw the brown and black and white ruffed lemurs high in the trees. They were leaping and cavorting, and with our binoculars we were able to watch them for quite awhile, or at least until “lemur neck” set in.

Today’s hike was a bit steeper than yesterday’s but the trail was in better condition. After going up a fair way, we reversed and came down, crossing several small streams. We then continued on another flat trail inland, running parallel to the beach. Serafin made a point of showing us a nest with young in it of Madagascar’s equivalent of the hummingbird. Hummingbirds are only found in the Americas, but this bird has the same kind of long narrow beak that allows it to feed on nectar.

Lunch alfresco


We returned to the beach – still no Burt or Deborah – but even more idyllic, or so it seemed. A picnic lunch was waiting and we enjoyed it in the shade at a wooden table. There was a delightful breeze off the water. I was dreaming of a cheese course and maybe just a drop of port, but then it was time to get back on the boat and return to the mainland. Bye bye paradise island.

Trudging back to the relais…


The return trip took only 15 minutes and we got a bit of an occasional splash as the boat rode the waves. Since it was high tide, we had to go to the town boat dock. Our familiar blue boat was waiting for us, rust still intact. We and the lunch coolers glided down the canal, around the collapsed bridge, and again under the low wooden pedestrian bridge (prayer again) and back to the familiar little area on the shore from which we’ve set off and returned to before. From there, was about a 10 minute walk along a sandy road back to the hotel.

Nosy Mangabe is an exceptionally beautiful island paradise with many unusual and unique plants and animals. It was good to see that although people can come and enjoy the island, it remains largely unspoiled. We encountered only two other people – both visitors like us. There was very little trash anywhere, so there must not be too many visitors. We sure hope that if Madagascar becomes more popular as a tourist destination these forests and beaches remain as lovely and pristine and peaceful as they are today.

Filed under: Uncategorized — greg @ 11:35 am


  1. I appreciated the natural, manner in which your described the entire journey. It was something I could relate to and felt the photos enhanced the words. Thank you so much.
    Well done.
    One comment. Before you get into the dialogue you give the Answer to the question Up front as later in the article is some what unethical in this world where everyone wants our time,
    Just being honest and up front.

    Comment by Jacqueline Kazarian — November 1, 2009 @ 10:40 am

  2. Wonderful story; great adventure. Loved the tenrec. But I believe you were thinking of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in “From Here to Eternity” (filmed in Hawaii, where they were most assuredly on a beach); “On the Beach” starred Gregory Peck and Ava Gardener. I bring this tidbit to you, needless to say, in the spirit of seeking scientific accuracy. Thanks again for the great story.

    Comment by Dan Weiler — November 1, 2009 @ 2:33 pm

  3. it was great to read and look at all the travel news you send to me . thank you

    robert prochnik

    Comment by robert prochnik — November 1, 2009 @ 6:35 pm

  4. Very interesting and fun…like taking a trip…thanks PS Your admission fees are too high though!!

    Comment by arlene horan — November 1, 2009 @ 7:20 pm

  5. what a lucky man! that’s all i can say.
    this is the first time i know there’s animal called ‘tenrec’.
    perhaps the Academy should adopt one.
    thanks for sharing!

    Comment by lunardi — November 1, 2009 @ 9:47 pm

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The Chief Penguin


Greg Farrington

Greg Farrington, Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences, is visiting the island of Madagascar. He is joined by his wife, and Academy researchers, who are surveying and assessing this biodiversity hotspot.

Visit the Farringtons' personal blog, Madagascar Adventure, for in-depth details of this Academy expedition.

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