A curious Ring-Tailed Lemur © Emily Koopman
On May 24th, we made our way to Setam Lodge in the midst of the country’s most famous National Park. The hotel was nice, but not quite as nice as Vakona. There were also a lot more bugs — especially in the bathroom. Ants and moths galore! I was starting to get sick; sneezing, congested, and had very little energy. I still went on a hike that morning, determined to see more lemurs. Our guide was very sweet, though I didn’t catch her name. This trek included “a spotter”, whose job it was to go ahead of us and keep an eye out for wildlife. Grandma figured she would give the walk a go, and Andry said he would come with us in case she had had enough and wanted to turn around. They did eventually head back early, so it was just me, the guide, and the spotter.
This forest was even more remarkable than the one in Andasibe, but the trails were much steeper — meaning enormously more difficult when you feel like death warmed over.
We crossed bridges, jumped from stone to stone across rivers and creeks, and pushed past branches and bushes in search of wildlife. I tried not to think of how many spiders I had probably come into contact with. The spotter was just as great as the guide, and eventually, we came across some Greater Bamboo Lemurs, one of which came down from the tree, grabbed a stick of bamboo, and ate it about a foot in front of us. The guide said this was a very rare occurrence, as this particular species generally stay as far away as possible. They’re also one of the world’s most endangered primates, and were actually thought to be extinct until 1986… only around 500 exist today. It was an honor to see. Sadly, we cut the hike a little short due to my increasing sickness. I was so disappointed — there were still several lemur species I hadn’t seen that called the area home. My body just wasn’t having it though.
Later, after resting up for a while, I went on another night walk with the guide from earlier. We saw the cutest little mouse lemur, a frog (which it wasn’t yet the season for), and lots of chameleons.
The next day I wasn’t feeling any better. We headed to a much drier part of the country, which I prayed would be better for my flu. We made a few stops along the way, including a traditional silk factory. I didn’t think it would be as fascinating as it was. I didn’t end up purchasing anything, but it was clear that the women put a ton of effort into their work, as it’s all a very tedious process.
Once we finished up there, we drove to a paper factory, where two women were working even though it was a local holiday. Andry showed us around before we settled in for lunch at the little restaurant next door. I only had fruit, water, and some medicine that Andry had managed to track down for me. Bless his heart.
Next, we went to a small private park that the village had put together, to see the famed Ring-Tailed Lemur. I really wasn’t feeling good, and Grandma didn’t want to walk far, so we did a short 45-minute circuit. Our guide and spotter were two young men (probably around my age), with no shoes. Both were exceedingly knowledgeable and, in true Malagasy fashion, extraordinarily friendly. We saw tons of Ring-Tails and even the indigenous Flatid Leaf Bug, which I had been hoping to come across at some point. Once we returned to Andry and the vehicle, it was off to Isalo for the night.
I spent the subsequent day in bed, upset that I had to opt out of a hike through the desert canyon. The hotel could have almost been considered luxurious, and was truthfully the ideal place to take a day off. I was even brought all of my meals in bed, despite not having a large appetite. Most of the day was split between sleeping and wallowing in self-pity due to the fact that I was missing out on what had promised to be another once in a lifetime hike.
After a good night’s sleep, we continued to Tuléar; traveling through dry forests and the spiny desert. I was feeling a little bit better, but still not entirely up to snuff. We drove by plenty of striking tombs, which are hoped by the people to be built with great care and expense. It became clear as we passed each monument which families were better off than others.