Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Exploring beautiful and diverse Isalo national park

Although Air Madagascar had dashed our beach-related relaxation days, once we finally arrived south and back on track we were determined to make up for lost time. Luckily, beaches aren't much of a priority for us whilst travelling, and our plans for visiting a range of national parks were still fully intact.

They were certainly worth the wait.

First up was a couple of days in the spectacular Isalo national park. Worth the airfare to Madagascar on its own, the diversity and beauty of the scenery coupled with high chances of wildlife sightings make it a must-see on any itinerary. As always, a guide is compulsory, but there are numerous hiking options available and the opportunity to target particular areas according to your interests.

The incredible thing about Isalo is how, in the space of one day, you can hike up and through vast canyons of grey stone, emerging at viewpoints stretching miles and teetering high above sheer drops, drop down to wander through lush green forest, and even stop off at cascading waterfalls for a dip in the chilly pools below. The landscapes we started and ended up in were a world apart, and completely unexpected.

The hiking itself wasn't particularly tricky, although the presence of my arch-nemesis, steps, combined with the ever-present blazing sun, made it hot work. A lot of the route was exposed, although without this we would not have had half the amazing views. As ever there was plenty of wildlife to keep us occupied if we could tear our eyes away from the landscape - chameleons hung below leaves, snakes slithered past us and birds circled high.

As we arrived at our lunch point, hot, sweaty but welcoming the shade of the thick forest, we were greeted by a whole troop of Ringtail lemurs, bravely edging closer to say hello. Draping the long silky tails that give them their names over low-lying branches, I spent ages quietly observing and photographing them as they carefully groomed each other before leaping to the ground and sitting in rows, tails hanging across their arms like handbags. Beautiful and inquisitive, only the smell of a much needed lunch could drag me away.

As we set out the food, some more visitors popped up, this time in the form of Brown lemurs hoping for a bite. Keeping our lunch out of their grasp turned into a game, as they crept forward slowly, before quickly scurrying away once we'd spotted them. At one point we were surrounded - lemurs perched on the rock next to my head, on the branches barely skimming the tops of our heads, and sitting patiently beside the table. Although cute, it was sad to think that some visitors must feed them to be so confident. Once the food had been cleared away and we were no longer on our guard, they leaped up onto the table, peering at us and sitting merely inches away.

With the sound of lemurs in the background, we scrambled across rocks to a couple of lovely waterfalls, huge spider webs stretched across above us, as we sank into the dark cool water before commencing our afternoon hike. Isalo truly was a wonderful place, and a real highlight of our travels in Madagascar.

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