Madagascar’s passenger train service has been defunct for a while according to all the reliable sources – indeed our Bradt guide book definitively states “no trains run at the time of writing”. But Madarail has opened a very limited service to passengers with money to spend on comfortable travel. The train we took, dubbed the Micheline, runs on tires specially adapted to railroad tracks. A very soothing – if not odd – ride. While we continue to try to find the balance of authentic Malagasy life versus catering to our limited capacity for severe discomfort, we opted for the high life this weekend. The other option, the taxi brousse (bush taxi), can take a day to make the trip we made in four hours because unfortunately you have to wait for: (i) the taxi brousse to fill up; (ii) random stops along the way to pick up who knows who or what from where; (iii) break downs; and/or (iv) the risk of not finding a ride for the final 25 km of the journey from the brousse station in Moramonga (the end point of the line originating in Tana). Even if we had the time, being crammed into a 15-passenger van with 30 other people for hours, careening down curvy, rain-slicked roads somehow lost out to the luxury train, despite being 5% of the ticket price. “There is plenty of time for bush taxis,” we told ourselves. We’ll see. (K: I REALLY liked the train!!!!)
The blast-from-another-past train experience brought us to the center of Andasibe, a small village in the eastern lowlands (900 m altitude or so). We visited the smaller of two national parks (Andasibe - 800 hectares) as well as a reserve managed by a local NGO (Mitsinjo - 700 ha), leaving the 10,000 hectares of Mantadia for a trip when we have more than just a weekend. The parks are covered by rainforest criss-crossed by rough paths. Jumping off the train, we walked the 3 km to the park entrance, bought our tickets, and arranged for the mandatory local guide. We checked into a hotel with thatched-roof bungalows, grabbed some vary sy tsaramaso (rice n beans, baby!), and trekked for the next day-and-a-half.
We leave it to the photos and videos to help give you an impression of the wondrous natural richness we saw, smelled, heard, and felt (including jumping leeches and vicious mosquitoes!). (See the link to our Picasa on the right for more!) In short, we were some lucky trekkers: 6 of 10 local lemur species, 4 of 6 local chameleon species, an amazingly difficult to see leaf-tailed gecko, endemic boa, endemic birds, loads of endemic flora/mushrooms (sorry botanist and mycologist friends, K groups those all together) and an endemic spider family with reaaaaaaaally long bodies. Wicked cool. And to think, if you come visit, you too could see all of this! (Note that I can't get the videos to load, so they will be forthcoming hopefully!)
Love, Kirsten and Tom
PS Kirsten apologizes for the misspelled scientific names, miscategorizations, lack of reverence to flora and mushrooms, and any other thing at which biologists/ecologists might take offense.
Click on this to go to Picasa:
Leaf-tailed gecko during the night walk
Common brown lemur
Kirsten the Colonial