Madagascar Part 8 of 8: Isalo National Park.
It was an eventful start to the day as my driver had accidentally locked his keys in the car! Luckily we did not have any long drive today so he organised a local vehicle to take me to the entrance of the park which was not far. In the meantime he had requested the office to send a duplicate key which was to make its journey on a flight to Tulear and then a driver coming from there was to drop it off on arrival later that evening! My local guide was a young guy called Roxy who spoke excellent English and was passionate about tourism and Isalo National Park in particular. Given the park is greater than 800 sq km in size he told me that there were various hiking options in the park, those with more time could do a 5-6 day hike, but I was going to do a 5-6 hour walk taking in some of the best vistas of the park and surrounding countryside, as well as a walk to some natural swimming pools.
Although it was warm, it was slightly cloudy which actually made it quite comfortable for walking. Roxy explained more background about the park and then stopped to pick up a bush snake that had wandered in front of us. ‘They’re not venomous,’ he said as it wriggled to get free from his grip. He let it go and in a flash it had disappeared into the shrubs. We continued on and he stopped to hold a small dry plant. ‘Do you see it?’ asked Roxy … I didn’t even know what I was supposed to be looking for, so clearly I could not … ‘look again’ … and then he placed his hand behind the ‘twigs’ which started to move. It was a stick insect that was incredibly well camouflaged, I could not understand how on earth he saw it in the first place. He explained that the stick insect often sits at a different angle to the other branches/twigs so they are able to spot them. Pied crows hovered around the cliff edges using the thermals to rise and drop at great speeds. Mami, my driver/guide, was also with us and he pointed out something he’d noticed amongst the large rocks to the side. A troop of 7-8 ring-tailed lemurs, the first I’d seen, came out of a hole and descended to feast on the vegetation. They were beautiful animals and as I approached them to take photos they continued eating, occasionally lifting their heads and making direct eye contact checking that I didn’t pose a threat. They had the most mesmerising stare. When I got too close they made a particular clicking sound warning the rest of the troop. It was a real privilege to see this species of lemur in this environment.
We eventually reached a lunch spot which was full of brown lemurs used to seeing visitors stop here as they eyed our food, with one lemur even sitting on the table next to me. I had brought some sandwiches as a quick snack but there were some people having more hearty meals cooked on site by local people. A few ring-tailed lemurs slumbered in the branches above me and the guide then spotted a bright green chameleon sitting in one of the trees, it was so expertly camouflaged that it had also adopted yellow blotches on its back matching those on the bright green leaves around it. After a short break here we continued on to the natural swimming pools which involved step-stoning across streams and passing small waterfalls. We were surrounded by greenery and it almost felt like were in a rainforest. The path was quite slippery in places but so long as one is careful and wearing adequate walking shoes there is no reason why most people could not do this walk. The pools were about 25-30 minutes from the lunch spot. Some people braved the cold water and were swimming. I decided to give it a miss. We made our way back via the same lunch spot again but then took a different route to exit the park where some kids were selling souvenirs of lemurs. I had been advised not to buy these as it discourages children from going to school. This was a constant dilemma I struggled with so far during the trip but I took his advice on this occasion. We were picked up by the car and taken back to the hotel to round off what had been another fabulous and very different day.