Norden 2019

Miniature wonders and showers with Huntsman

Phelsuma kochi
Phelsuma kochi

When the first cock crows, it’s still pitch-black. Rooster two, three and four follow him and crow through the darkness. But this still does not make light. When it finally dawns, I get up. I grab my toilet bag and a towel and walk in flip-flops to the toilet house. To the right of it, something jumps through the trees, the Coquerel sifakas are apparently already awake.

After brushing my teeth and the like I bring my stuff back to the tent and then look under the roof next door to see what there is to eat. Andry made Crepes in the temporary kitchen, a small open stone hut. And a sweet dough from which he forms balls and fries them. To go with it, there is Nutella, honey from the neighboring village and a Coka kely from the restaurant next to the campground.

Ankarafantsika
Honey, oranges (the green ones) and mango salad in the neighboring village

After breakfast I put on the thick trekking shoes, lace them up and put the photo backpack on my back. But apparently nobody else wants to leave yet. Markus would be finished, but Marco and José are still sleeping or at least not ready to go. Corinne, our guide for today, also just arrived from the kitchen, where we had Malagasy rice portions.

At some point, we set off, across the gravel parking lot and follow the asphalt road to the right. The high trees on the right and left of the road still offer a lot of shade. It is already really warm now. Christian follows us for a while. After only a few minutes we discover the first young Furcifer oustaleti male in the bushes, and a few meters further on a full-grown, astonishingly large male. After five or six outletis, still, nobody has unpacked the camera. Surprisingly, up to now, there have been no day geckos – you can often see them here on the large trees right by the roadside. A few older men drag huge wooden poles past us – from a distance, it looks like strange giraffes are walking along the road.

Phelsuma kochi
Phelsuma kochi

Finally, we turn off on a sand path towards the forest. Directly in a big tree, we discover more Furcifer oustaleti, perfectly camouflaged in the dense foliage. The wooden footbridge over the rice fields is still broken. In two places it is completely broken to the ground, in all other places the footbridge has a lot of holes. I wiggle sideways over the holes. But the steel bridge directly behind it is still stable, even if someone seems to have mended it with wire mesh.

We walk leisurely through the forest to the two huge baobabs. On the way suddenly a young Phelsuma kochi sits at a tree. Time to unpack the camera! When José tries to carefully shoo the gecko down a few centimeters with a branch, the Phelsuma kochi jumps onto José’s branch. Also good. It’s even more practical for taking pictures. On the same tree, there are many, small, strange bugs that are so well camouflaged that you can actually only see them in motion.

Leioheterodon madagascariensis
Leioheterodon madagascariensis

We continue along the narrow path through the dry forest. More Furcifer oustaleti can be seen and a dark red millipede. As I carefully lift the centipede, it suddenly smells of cleaning agent. The little animal has apparently sprayed a weir secretion, which immediately turns my fingers a brownish-purple color, the paint is not washable. Then finally the first little Furcifer rhinoceratus appears, a female in shades of purple and orange. Not far from the lakeshore it sits in dense bushes and wanders completely undisturbed, calmly imitating a leaf in the wind, over a narrow branch. It aims at a rather large ant, which is sitting right in front of it – bang! The ant already disappears in the mouth of the chameleon. At the small slope where we found the animal, we take a break. Not only to take pictures. José discovers a hognose snake, which slowly tries to sneak past us down on the bank. Skilfully he takes a few steps towards it, walks slowly beside it and grabs it at a favorable moment. Leioheterodon madagascariensis are not known for their all too friendly nature, but they do not have much stamina either. Furthermore, José has an impressive, extremely calm hand for snakes, even if they are decoys and have small fangs. In any case, the hognose snake can be photographed very patiently.

Eventually, we walk on. I shoulder my backpack and continue to follow the path. Somehow the trail feels much longer than the six kilometers that are marked on the Malagasy sign at the beginning of the round trip. Probably it’s Malagasy kilometers, which are known to be longer. The lake lies there completely calm. Only a little bit of wind is blowing through the grass on the shore. Water lilies lie on the edge of the shore and in the reeds opposite there are some herons. Crocodiles are not to be seen so far. Admittedly, you wouldn’t see any of the big lizards in most places because of the many water plants and the shallow shore if they were three meters long and slumbering in the mud.

Ankarafantsika
Lake Ravelobe

Another Furcifer rhinoceratus runs on a narrow liana parallel to the path. The female is rather pale, we let her pass almost unphotographed. The ubiquitous plated lizards are everywhere on the ground and on fallen tree trunks like every year. Most of the time I don’t see them at all before they scurry away right in front of my feet. Somewhere the path makes a small curve away from the shore and briefly through denser undergrowth until it comes back to the shore. On a thick tree trunk, Corinne has discovered a small green insect. When I unpack the camera, it, unfortunately, flies away. But where one sits, there are usually more. After a few minutes of searching, there are some more of the strange insects. And directly opposite there is another colorful, tiny orb weaver in its rather messy woven web.

About halfway along the trail, the circular trail around the lake begins to stretch quite a bit. We later find out by means of a smartphone app that the alleged six kilometers are definitely more like nine kilometers. On two-thirds of the round trip of the Ravelobe, we meet the second group with Tanala, Dimby, Andrea, Martin, and Philipp. They too have already discovered several chameleons and Philipp has already started a list of species he has seen. He wants to get to more than a hundred in three weeks – shouldn’t be a problem if you travel with us. Shortly after our meeting, we discover a small crocodile in the water, only the eyes are looking out. But it can only be observed for a short moment. At the first shadow that falls on the water, the small Nile crocodile disappears immediately.

Domicodryas
Dromicodryas quadrilineatus

We keep walking and walking. A pair of paradise flycatchers accompanies us for a few meters. I hear the Madagascan sea eagle, Madagascan Ankoay, once again, but unfortunately, I cannot see him. Our snake whisperer José discovers a harmless four striped snake (Dromicodryas quadrilineatus), which kindly poses for one or two photos. One more curve goes around the lake, one more… and one more. It has long been very, very warm and even more humid than it already is. And accordingly sweaty. We discover a hognose snake in the middle of the path, obviously plundering a nest with eggs. Its head is stuck deep in a hole in the ground, only the back half of its body is still looking out.

Somewhen we have reached the end of the circular trail and finally, step out of the hot dry forest again. In the scorching sun, we follow the red trail along the stone dam towards Ampijoroa. Only at the edge of the village, there is again some shade along with the poor huts. A few children jump around in the village. When they see us, they immediately come running and shout “Vazaaahaaa, les bonboooons!” We didn’t bring any.

Arriving at the campground I let myself fall onto the bench under our community roof. Wow, that wasn’t even that short a hike. I take the thick shoes off my feet, the socks right after, and empty a Fresh bottle that Markus brought from the restaurant. Léon works as a waiter and brings a late lunch from the provisional kitchen. There is carrot salad with raisins (sounds strange, tastes great) and afterwards steak with potato wedges and rice. Super yummy! Right next to us at the tree a small Madagascar iguana sits and watches the events curiously.

Accipiter
Sparrowhawk

Later on, fully motivated, I take a shower. Unfortunately, the showers I usually use are all out of order. The water is not running. And two out of three are unfortunately completely locked. So I go armed with a towel, shampoo and fresh clothes to the back of the house, where there are another three showers. Also here only two showers are accessible. Above the door of number one, a giant huntsman is guarding a cocoon. Creepy. So I’m forced to take shower number two. A smaller Huntsman scurries over the wall but is of a size I can still live with here. So I go in, the door closed, glasses off, clothes off and hanging. The shower consists simply of a hose with cold water rushing out of it. Just as I am turning soaped up to the door, I discover a big stain on the wall next to the door in the semi-darkness. A very big one. Oh my gosh! This won’t be… unfortunately I’m stupid enough to put on my glasses. The huge thing turns out to be a spider the size of a palm. The really, really disgusting kind o spider. Whaaaaah! Now what? I decide that a very quick shower is enough, wrap myself in my towel, throw all my clothes over my arm, tear the door open with my foot and escape from the shower in a hurry. Barefoot. I’m sure I can get dressed outside.

AnkarafantsikaA small, slender Madagascan woman named Kristyna has come over from the village. I had asked Ndrema if anyone here could braid my hair. The hairstyle is extremely practical in the heat here, and it’s super cool on your head. Kristyna doesn’t understand a word of English, but she’s good at braiding hair and I just get translated what she wants to drink. 😉 Only the scrunchies are missing at the end, Ndrema and Dimby will bring some from shopping in Ambondromamy. Whereby they are rather simple kitchen all-purpose rubber bands. So in the end I have a lot of rubber rings in my hair, but I don’t mind.

Shortly before sunset, a sparrowhawk (Accipiter francesiae) arrives at the campground. He remains sitting on a dead, chopped off tree stump. Opposite, some grey-headed love birds are sitting on two other tree trunks. I take the opportunity to try my hand at bird photography once again. It is not really mine, as I realize once again. Birds are simply too fast.

When it gets dark, the small light bulb above the table of the big hut is switched on. Unfortunately, this makes hundreds of small, stinky bugs fly in the direction of the light. A whole swarm of mosquitoes and the little bugs swarm around the bulb. The beetles constantly fall down and as soon as you touch them, they give off a foul-smelling secretion. Phillipedia can explain this: They are shield bugs. Mmmh. I have so many on my head and between my braids that I eventually escape to the kitchen. There the light bulb hangs higher up and there is enough open fire down there that no bugs fly around. The kitchen also houses our dinner for tomorrow, but it is still alive and croaks shyly.

Ankarafantsika
Andry in his kitchen

Today’s dinner consists of grilled chicken and tasty vegetables. Afterward, there will be some chatting on and around the kitchen. Philipp has found a tiny, blind, black snake under leaves at the edge of the campground. It is not even ten centimeters long and has two tiny, round eyes that lie under the skin. But the best thing is that the mini-snake actually flickers – with a tiny white micro-tongue. A real miniature wonder.

blind snake

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Published by Alex

Alex ist 31 Jahre alt, wohnt in der Nähe von Mainz und ist im echten Leben fernab des Urlaubs Tierarzt mit Faible für Reptilien. Sie fotografiert und reist gerne, und so entstand auch dieser Blog. Nebenbei hält sie selbst Chamäleons zu Hause, schreibt an wissenschaftlichen Veröffentlichungen, betreibt ein kostenloses OnlineMagazin und erstellt Malbücher für madagassische Kinder.