We’re along the channel between the mainland and the peninsula that sports Masoala National Park. It was a two hour boat ride from the town with the airport, Maroantsetra. As Anita describes it, the town is in the armpit of the peninsula.
The airport was tiny. Big enough to have a building; big enough to handle a Dash 8; not big enough to have computers at the check in counter. The luggage system is effective: the handlers pick up a piece and call out the last four digits on the tag. You have to produce your tag to prove it’s yours. We didn’t know this, and had trouble understanding our guide’s persistent request for Anita’s luggage tag.
The road from the airport and all the roads not in the centre of town resembles a straight dirt bike track. The roads are dirt and undulate. Funnily enough, the dirt bikes drive on the side of the road, avoiding the peaks and valleys.
The woman who own Hippocampe Lodge also owns Hippocampe Hotel. The latter is spacious, a couple of storeys high and features a large fish tank. The Lodge is two hours down the channel and is equally airy. Anita and I seem to be the only guests right now. In the 10 metre fibreglass boat we took to get here, there was the boatman, our guide and two young women who are, we guessed, our cooks and cleaners.
From a distance, the landscape looks familiar. There are treed mountains coming down to the sea. Everything blues out with the distance. Up close, it’s very very lush and green. I’m sitting in the thatched common room, smelling prawns grilling and listening to the persistent rumble of thunder. The sky is mostly blue overhead. I’m hoping it stays that way.
After lunch, we’ll go into the forest, in search of lemurs and chameleon.
In afternoon we went on a walk through the forest. The path was rough — tree roots and leaves, rocks at unexpected places. We would veer off the obvious trail onto the equivalent of a deer track going up and down to stream beds. The tree canopy was high, keeping us shaded, though the path was rough enough that we needed to watch every step.
The path was a far cry from the paths in Amber Mountain or Ankarana Parks. Those were groomed and walking was easy.
Our guide would call lemurs in a weird cry. The lemurs we heard on YouTube videos sounded more like someone was blowing into a blade of grass stretched between their thumbs. This cry was more active, and nothing like the maki-maki call of Lemurialand.
We saw some red ruffed lemurs, one of the two diurnal species in this park, and on the endangered list. Their bodies are 15 to 18 inches long, and their ears have ruffle hair by them. One was doing his best sloth impersonation, hanging upside down while grabbing for some leaves.
The lemurs were high in a tree. Rule number one when lemur watching — close your mouth. They don’t have sphincters, so the drop their load whenever the mood strikes them.
Also being high in the tree meant stretching up. And given the heat and exertion level, that made me dizzy.
Anita lost energy as time went on. By dinner time, she was nauseated from the sun and exercise. She didn’t have dinner. I ate a third of mine.
The path to our bungalow, in the Hippocampo Lodge, by Masoala National Park.
A crab in the rainforest, held by our guide Alden.