August 2, 2015, Andasibe National Park, Madagascar — An ongoing strike canceled my scheduled domestic flight today, so a quick hop to the east side of Madagascar turned into an all-day drive. I left Ankarafantsika National Park at 7:00 a.m. and arrived at Andasibe National Park past dark, which killed any birding plans for the day.
This did at least give me an interesting ground-level perspective of the countryside. The road led through miles of rolling dry savanna with plenty of slow, windy sections to take in the view. At times the pavement disappeared into gravel, and elsewhere it led through markets so crowded that people were pushed up against the car’s bumpers and windows. I didn’t see a speed sign, stop sign, or painted line all day.
Eastern Madagascar is worlds away from its west side. For the past two days I've been hanging out in dry, dusty, semi-desert forest in the country's western rain shadow, but now I'm heading for real rainforest on the wet east slope. Genot, who I met briefly several days ago, was waiting for me in Tana, and we continued on together this evening to Andasibe National Park—Madagascar's most-visited tourist destination and a huge birding hotspot.
On the way, Genot taught me about some interesting local customs. “Do you know about the turning of the bones ceremony?” he asked. “The local animist people here bury their dead in family tombs. Every few years, they open the tombs and re-dress their ancestors in fresh clothes, so that they don’t get too cold in the afterlife. It’s best, for practical reasons, to do this in the winter, so you see it happening around this time of year.”
This stuck in my mind for some reason as we arrived at Andasibe just in time for a night hike. A park guide joined us for an hour and a half of spotlighting, and the three of us encountered wooly lemurs, mouse lemurs, a tree frog, and half a dozen chameleons before calling it a night. Tomorrow, the rainforest awaits.
New birds today: 2
Year list: 3802