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krisek Isalo - A travel report by Krys
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Isalo,  Madagascar - flag Madagascar -  Toliara
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krisek's travel reports

Lemurs of the Isalo National Park. Madagascar.

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Madagascar's Isalo National Park, often referred as the Jurassic Park, is arguably the best place to see ring-tailed lemurs and white sifakas dancing and jumping. It is one of the country's most dramatic and pleasant national parks.


Ring-tailed lemur
Ring-tailed lemur
Road between Fianarantsoa and Ihosy was new and in a very good condition, however narrow mostly, and particularly on bridges. The track after Ihosy lost the asphalt and the twice as slower journey on dark red sand began. I guess one could call it a gravel road, but I am not entirely sure, as it was more sandy.

It was albeit a great fun as the base, hard sand or gravel, was good enough so one could still drive 50-60 km/h with a regular 2WD vehicle leaving the cloud of dust behind.

The landscape changed again into a very flat dry semi-desert plateau and all the clouds in the sky disappeared leaving the sky very blue contrasting fantastically with the red dusty road and dry yellow-brown grass on the plateau. Unforgettable in every way! This was right up to the Isalo National Park, my next stop for couple of days.

This place should really be called 'National Isalo Jurassic Park' since the massive plateau and rocks were from the Jurassic era. The entry fee was like to all other national parks: £5 but the guides were extremely expensive. It was not difficult to imagine that when paying £12.50 per day, the guide must have been very well off since an average Malagasy person made £7 a month at that time!

The park itself was very impressive – some say that it was a sort of Malagasy Colorado. The scenery nicely resembled the photography from 'Bonanza', the American TV series. It's been a pleasant recollection from my trip to the USA. It did not however resemble Colorado almost at all but rather Utah. All those people who said it was the Malagasy Colorado must have never been to Utah, where the Zion National Park, Natural Bridges and the Canyonland were amongst the best places I have visited.

Anyway, Isalo was a large place and one could easily spend a week or more trekking and hiking around and in the canyons, contemplating the scenery and trying to spot snakes, chameleons and lemurs. Lemurs were best spotted early in the morning, jumping on the trees and eating fruit.

Favourite spots:
Jurassic Park of Madagascar
Jurassic Park of Madagascar
The problem was however that the guides, available and obligatory for the park, were very lazy and they did not want to walk too much. They just wanted to do half a day and earn the full day fare. They would even try to lie saying that the route you wanted was not possible because it was too far, too far or too far. They did not realise that there was never too far for me. I can walk all day, and I do not want to make too many stops for the breath catching on the way either. If the distance was exceeding the range of 10km they claimed that they could not do it, because… or because… or because.

The majority of the guides claimed that to do Piscine Naturelle, Canyon des Makis, Canyon des Rats and maybe Canyon Namaza which in kilometres is: 6+9+12=27km cannot be done when you arrive at 9 a.m. What!? One cannot do 27km between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m? This is 8 hours! In 8 hours it is possible to do 40kms so there is plenty of time to contemplate the landscape and take three films of photographs!

What's really great:
Rocky plains
Rocky plains
During my fist day in the park, I was fortunate to spot and photograph two Ring- tailed Lemurs, four small snakes and a pink chameleon. It's a pity I could not take the picture of the tranquillity and absolute silence, which were so overwhelming and the size of the open space was impressive as well.

Then, I also realised that Isalo was not only sand stones from Jurassic era, but also some interesting pools and waterfalls. They were hidden in valleys, smaller canyons and simply behind the rocks. After seeing numerous ‘typical’ pictures from rocky Isalo, one was usually very surprised to see the extent of vegetation there. Most of the visible species of plants were actually known for growing only in close vicinity of fresh water, an actual scarce resource in this area of Madagascar.

On the second half of the first day, I went to see L’Oasis, which was kind of recommended by one of the guide books I was dragging along with me across the entire country. It was a disappointment.

Sights:
Fenetre de l'Isalo
Fenetre de l'Isalo
Fenetre de L’Isalo, a hole in a rock – another attraction of the park, was heavily advertised almost everywhere and this actual place was even signposted, like very few things on Madagascar. When I got there, I found that it was actually nothing special, as I had seen a lot better and nicer holes in the rocks in my life before.

I went to see this hole at sunset. Unfortunately, the sun was not setting yet and it was a bit too harsh for viewing and taking pictures. The sun did not really set in the window but disappeared behind the distant park’s Jurassic massif, so there was hardly a chance for a good photograph anyway. The surrounding area however was captivating with vastness and tranquility, screaming silence!! As I was waiting for the sun to go down, I actually lied down for good half an hour on the ground under the Fenetre and thought of life, the universe and everything…

Isalo officially also had the following sights on the map: Grotte des Portugais and Lac Dore.

Accommodations:
Hotel Orchidee d'Isalo
Hotel Orchidee d'Isalo
Hotel Orchidee d'Isalo was a relatively good place with clean rooms and so so bathrooms, with no hot water. The roof was perfect for observing the street life. There was nothing more to write home about this little hotel, apart from its convenient location in the centre. The personnel was ambivalent and almost totally invisible. They charged about £12 per night for a single with bathroom and mosquito net.

I went to see the superbly located Relais de la Reine, some 10 km south of the entry to the park. I was speculating to stay there as I wanted to use my credit card rather than parting with my stashes of cash. They charged about £40 per night in a fabulously built compound blending with the mountains. A tru architectural feast indeed, and their restaurant looked so inviting, too. It was considered Madagascar's best hotel, although at least a couple in Antananarivo and Nosy Be would argue. Yet, I did not stay there as they decided not to accept credit cards due to a broken phone line.

Nightlife:
Chameleon
Chameleon
There was nothing to do in Ranohira during the night. There were no clubs, no pubs, no discos. It was a small little village, whose only entertainment were small cafes and shops selling freshly fried snacks. That was where locals congregated. I walked up and down the main road looking for a place to have a drink and talk to the locals and there were only a couple stands with soft drinks and beer, but they were not open at night.

So, I did not go out. I had an early start for a trek in the part aiming at viewing the lemurs, so I decided to call it a night at about 9 p.m.

Hangouts:
Entries to two of the canyons
Entries to two of the canyons
The park had a number of fabulous viewing points, perfect for contemplating the landscape and picnicking. I tried to capture some of the panoramas on the pictures here, but being there and smelling the air is rather difficult to share over the Internet.

The Piscine Naturelle, a few miles of hiking from the village, along some truly spectacular scenery, was a very popular spot for a wee dip. It might have been the most popular place to relax and escape from the harsh sun. The pool was located amongst lush vegetation giving enough of shade and the water was really delightfully cold. Both local crowd and travellers jumped to the pool from the nearby rocks, often loosing their swimwear, which was really amusing.

Restaurants:
A shopgirl selling produce in Ranohira
A shopgirl selling produce in Ranohira
Due to a lack of enthusiasm from the guides, I only managed to do the Piscine Naturelle and Canyon Namaza. It took me just few hours, and was not happy, because I wanted to trek all day, not just few hours! I started at 9:30 in the morning and I was back by 1:00 in the afternoon! And then what, what was I supposed to do with myself in the middle of land dry as a desert?

I struggled, because it was too hot to eat and there was nothing in the vicinity of Ranohira, the gateway village to the park, that could be done between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. without getting into trouble or that could be done without an official guide from the park. Well, almost nothing, because I managed to do some walking along the road and talk to some people from the nearby villages. I took some pictures of the locals with a serious ‘promise’ to send them back to them. I did.

Hotel Orchidee d'Isalo had a good restaurant. Actually, the only menu-based eateries were at hotels. Street carts were the only alternative.

Other recommendations:
Isalo travelogue picture
About 10 km from the Fenetre de L’Isalo there was Ilakaka, a real Wild West of Madagascar! It was a place where sapphire mines had opened. So nowadays, there were guys, mainly from Sri Lanka and Thailand walking around with big guns and wearing American cowboy style hats and mirrored sunglasses, pretending that they ruled. They were reportedly claimed to do so actually. It was so funny. Who would expect anyone on Madagascar wear American cowboy gear?!

Every second hut in this artificial village had a ‘Something Saphir’ or a ‘Saphir Something’ name, like ‘Max Saphir’, ‘Johnny Saphir’, ‘Saphir Blue’, ‘Saphir Mario’, etc. Weird place. Plenty of bandit stories around as well and people driving flashy BMWs.

A word of warning. Unless you knew anything about gems there was no point in expressing any interest in the shops. It was true that the guys were rather unpleasant and could be aggressive. Plus there was reason to risk one's neck by showing too much money around. If you do, prepare well.

Published on Friday November 14th, 2008


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Thu, Nov 20 2008 - 03:27 PM rating by rangutan

Superb extraordinary report [4.8]

Fri, Nov 14 2008 - 04:23 PM rating by pesu

These guides will never forget about you... ;-)

Fri, Nov 14 2008 - 12:09 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Krys, you are faster writing 5 stars reports than we, Spaniards, cooking churros!

(Thanks for your comment regarding my present profile pic)

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