I promised to show scenery in my next post and yet I don't know where to begin. It is a sign that either I am not ready or I'm not up to the task. At the moment, I'm on the East Coast of Madagascar and in one of the country's few remaining untouched tropical rainforests. My last two days have been spent with a guide hiking through the lushgreen settings. His name is Leeva and he is like many of the young naturalists I have met on various trips. He is passionate about the environment, knowledgeable, can make amazingly accurate bird calls and animal sounds, spot camouflaged creatures that even with specific directions I barely can see, and best of all, is patient with me. He is a self-educated villager, who has never been out of Madagascar, would eagerly see the world if he had the resources and didn't have an extended family he is required to support.
Our quest, of course, was to find lemurs, a collection of unusual species found only in Madagascar that have not evolved from monkeys but share common ancestry to early primates. It became apparent that even though there are many in the area, they simply don't eagerly seek out noisy camera-toting tourists but prefer to forage for tasty leaves in small family groups in peace and quiet. Certain lemurs, the largest type the indri, make loud hooting calls and are relatively easy to locate. but others only make a low whistling sound or grunt and are more difficult to find.
The lemurs lead a lovely life. They spring from tree to tree with amazing agility using soft clawless hands and are really free from predators with one exception, a strange weasel-like animal related to civets and mongooses, namely the fossa, pronounced in Malagasy as "fusha." There are many of these sleek animals lurking about, but even my guide has only seen one once in the wild. For the less adventuresome traveler, an upscale resort has a private sanctuary open to the public to see all the animals endemic to Madagascar.
I sweated my way up and down and through lush undergrowth and had great fortune to see and photograph a number of terrific lemurs, but a part of my tour itinerary was the obligatory stop at the French-managed five-star lodge. I wanted to see their captive fossa first hand so I had first to go through an initiation of being photographed with a lemur. It may seem like I enjoyed being kissed, licked, and chewed on but you would be wrong. I was totally freaked. Once, several years ago, I tried to throw a banana at a Hanuman, langur monkey in India and was practically attacked by another one, who hidden from my view jumped down on my shoulder and wanted his due. I have learned that wild animals can be totally unpredictable and later learned that one visitor had been accidentally bitten in the past year. In this part of the world, liability concerns seem non existent.
Tomorrow I leave this luxurious area and head back inland. I have a portfolio of photos of mammals, insects, reptiles and birds. I have pictures of giant trees some wrapped by lianas and others wearing broaches of bromeliads. I have made a few friends of local people and have been able to draw some portraits. These are keepsakes which memorialize my visit. They will outlast my memories.