(Location: Berenty, Madagascar)
We’d been warned about flight delays and general inefficiency in Madagascar. But our flight to Berenty actually departed four hours early ! Our guide found out late the night before, so we were up early for the now 6:45am flight. I guess this is why our travel agent insisted we have him with us the entire time. We were further confused when we could not find our flight to Fort Dauphin listed anywhere on the departure board. We asked our guide, and he explained that Taolagnaro is the Malagasy name for For Dauphin. Another good reason to have the guide with us.
While waiting for the flight, we attempted to chat with the nun seated next to us. She only spoke French, which made it a bit of a challenge. Luckily she had a cute little dog with her, and that’s about the extent of our French vocabulary. She asked Andy to carry a bag on the plane for her. I panicked a little, envisioning us winding up on the show “Locked up Abroad”. I panicked a little more when she didn’t board the plane… but it turns out that they load people who need more time to board last. Phew.
When we landed, we met our driver who would be with us for this part of the journey. After driving for about 30 minutes, we reached a bridge that was under construction. At first we thought that we’d be able to cross, or we just needed to tip the lead guy or something. But no. The bridge was indeed out. Our guide gestured to a ferry a little ways down the river, so we grabbed our bags and headed to the bank of the river. This was likely the most dodgy watercraft on which we’ve traveled. My favourite part was the live chicken bungee-corded to the back of a man’s bicycle.
When we arrived at the other side, there was another car and driver waiting for us. The next three hours was insanely bumpy, and burning hot, so we were relieved when we arrived at Berenty Reserve. Our room was a standalone bungalow on the edge of the forest. Food here left a little bit to be desired, and the number of bugs attracted to the light in the dining area was unbelievable. The most memorable meal was zebu au poive (steak with peppercorn sauce), but the “poives” turned out to be bugs attracted to the candlelight. We went on a bit of a diet after this…
We weren’t there for the food though. We were there for the lemurs. We picked up the local guide (so yes, we were now traveling in an entourage of five – Andy, me, guide, driver, and local guide) for the excursions. We really didn’t need to leave the lodge as there were ring tails and sifakas all over the place. We did a few walks into the gallery forest, and saw sifakas, brown lemurs, an egret colony, ring tail lemurs, sportive lemurs, white faced owls. and a colony of about 400 flying foxes. In the spiny forest we saw mouse lemurs and a scops owl. At the sisal plantation, we saw sand grouse, yellow billed kite, brown lemurs, barn owl, and a paradise flycatcher. We also walked down to the river to see some village life: people bathing and washing clothes in the river, people bathing their cows in the river, and topless teen yelling “vazu give me candy” at us.
The night sky in Berenty was unbelievable. We weren’t really able to roam and get a good vantage point for the Milky Way, but here’s a shot from in front of our hut.
The drive back to Fort Dauphin was a little less horrible, mostly because there was some cloud cover. Our ferry was escorted by a young boy swimming/herding his zebu across the river. Due to the flight schedules, we had a night in Fort Dauphin/Tolagnaro at the Hotel Crois du Sud. It had air conditioning and wifi so we were generally happy. We has lunch next door at La Dauphin (spaghetti and a margarita pizza) and dinner at the Crois du Sud. I had an odd craving for a grilled cheese, and they went out of their way to make it using my pantomime of the process and limited French vocabulary.
The next morning we had a lovely breakfast in the hotel garden, retrieved our laundry, and headed for the airport around 10. Our flight was supposed to be at 12:15, but it was delayed until 3:20. Our guide suggested that we go back to La Dauphin for lunch, and we offered a ride to a couple from the UK who was stuck at the airport (yet another reason to be traveling with our guide). The La Dauphin (yes, that is what it is called) was packed with people from the flight. Luckily there were no further delays and we were back in Tana by 5pm.