Project Description

COASTAL

WILDLIFE

NATURE

SERVICE

Highlights: Natural & human history of Madagascar / Colonial history & architecture of Antananarivo / Merina & Benzanozano tribes / Lemurs / Andabe-Mantadia National Park / Betsileo tribe farming & crafts / Antsirabe Town / Crater lake geology / Village homestay / Tree nursery service project / Gold panning / Coastal ecology / Kirindy research station / Vezo tribe

The Weird & Wonderful World of Madagascar – 8 Days

Madagascar is a land like no other. The fourth largest island in the world also happens to be the oldest. Over 167 million years ago Madagascar was a land-locked plateau in the middle of Gondwana, the mega landmass from which all the world’s continents eventually broke away. Originally splitting away from the African continent still attached to India, Madagascar broke from the India subcontinent 65 million years ago to become the first island.

With more time in isolation than any other land mass on earth, Madagascar evolved over 200,000 unique species of plants and animals including 8 entire plant families, over 1,000 species of orchids, 350 species of frogs, 370 reptiles, 5 families of birds and 200 mammal species unique in the world. There is simply no other place like it.

The island’s 104 species of lemurs scientifically referred to as “prosimians” (before monkeys), represent an entire branch of our human evolutionary tree that survived nowhere else but here. They are believed to have arrived on floating rafts of vegetation across the Madagascar Channel from Africa. The first humans did not arrive on the island until a mere 2,000-years ago, but their impact on the land has been massive.

Students on this trip will not only delve deep into the nature of this extraordinary isle, but will be immersed in the daily lives of some of the many different tribes. They say you come to Madagascar for the wildlife, but return because of the people. Students privileged to take this trip will certainly understand that sentiment.

Study Focus: natural & human history of Madagascar

  • Students arriving in Antananarivo on international flights will be met at the airport and transferred to a charming hotel in the heart of the historic quarter with stunning vistas overlooking the city.
  • After a welcome meal and trip orientation session, students will be given an overview of the natural and human history of Madagascar – the world’s fourth largest and oldest island.

Overnight: Belvedere, Hotel de Charm, Antananarivo

Study Focus: colonial history & architecture of Antananarivo / Merina & Bezanozano tribes / lemurs & night walk

  • After enjoying breakfast at our hotel, we will take a stroll through the cobblestone streets of the old city, learning about the many ethnic mixes of people and foreign influences reflected in the architecture of this historic city.
  • After lunch, we will board air con mini vans and drive east for 3-hours through the beautiful countryside of rice fields, mountains and small farming villages of the Merina and Bezanozano tribes people.
  • Our destination is Madagascar’s most popular national park – Anabe-Mantadia. This moist montane forest at 1,000m elevation supports rainforest flora and fauna including the world’s largest lemur – Indri indri. There are 11 species of lemurs at Andabe-Mantadia as well as a wealth of birds and reptiles.
  • Arriving at our lodge at 4:00 pm, we will have time to visit a nearby lemur island where students can have close encounters with several species of lemurs they may not get to view close in the wild.
  • Nearby is a lake supporting Nile crocodile and interesting cultural artifacts of the Bezanozano tribe, one of the first peoples to establish in Madagascar 2,000 years ago.
  • Our lodge for the night is named “Fean’ny aha” – “voice of the forest” because the melodic calls of the world’s largest lemurs can be heard from our bungalows perched out over a creek ravine that forms the boundary of the national park. We may even see these cute teddy-bear-like lemurs feeding in trees across the ravine while we enjoy our dinner.
  • At 7:30 pm we will set off on a 1-hour Night Walk through a forest reserve protected by villagers as part of a conservation & eco-tourism venture.
  • Walking with our expert Bezanozano guides, students should see several species of dwarf and mouse lemurs, colorful chameleons, tree frogs, ground and tree boas, tenrecs and mongoose.
  • One animal our guides will not want to see are the 1-meter high spirit people that the Bezanozano believe inhabit this forest living on honey, grubs and roots.

Overnight: “Fean’ny aha” Lodge, Andabe-Mantadia National Park

Study Focus: flora & fauna of Andabe-Mantadia National Park / Betsileo tribe farming & crafts / Antsirabe town

  • We wake at first light this morning to a riot of bird song and the haunting calls of Indri lemurs proclaiming their territory.
  • After an early breakfast we travel a short distance to the entrance of Andabe-Mantadia National Park and commence a 4-hour trek to discover the park’s amazing flora and fauna.
  • Sightings should include several species of bamboo lemurs; brown lemurs as well as the spectacular Indri that can leap 10 meters performing a 180-degree turn in mid-air, before landing gently on a distant tree. Watching these panda-like mothers bounding with their babies has a wow factor that’s off the charts.
  • At 11:30 am, we end our hike and return to our lodge to shower and enjoy a good lunch before continuing on our trans-Madagascar journey.
  • In the late afternoon, we enter the territory of the Betsileo tribe that inhabits this central region of the island. The Betsileo are known for their two-storey, hand-made brick houses, superb rice terraces and ingenious crafts.
  • We will make several stops along the way to see cleverly made musical instruments fashioned from car brakes and wooden miniature replicas of the trucks and buses that ply the roadway.
  • At 6:00 pm we arrive at the colonial city of Antsirabe, established by a Norwegian missionary in 1872 because of its cool climate at 1,500 meters.
  • At sunset time, students can explore Antsirabe’s quiet streets by bicycle or riding in the iconic “pousse pousse” – Malagasy rickshaws that race passengers about town with human runners. Students may even want to give their runner a ride; practicing pulling a “pousse pousse” along a quiet lane.
  • Our hotel this night will be small bungalows set in a lush courtyard garden around a series of fishponds. This quiet oasis in the center of the city is not only close to all major attractions; it also boasts one of the finest restaurants in town where we will enjoy a delicious dinner baked in a wood-fired oven.

Overnight: Green Park Hotel, Antsirabe

Study Focus: Madagascar’s indigenous tribes / local crafts / Crater Lake geology / hiking & village home stay

  • After a light breakfast in the garden this morning, we visit two local craft shops where Malagasy people recycle aluminum cans and cable into clever bicycles and miniature toys. At a neighboring shop, craftsmen fashion beautiful cooking utensils from the horns of Madagascar cattle called “zebu”.
  • Departing Antsirabe with a picnic lunch, we will stop at a beautiful crater lake for our midday meal and a talk on Madagascar’s geological history.
  • We now have a 3-hour drive through gorgeous countryside before reaching the Betsileo village of AmbaTomanga, set in a grassland setting of green mountains.
  • Here we will enjoy a late afternoon hike with the village children before sharing a communal dinner and bedding down for the night in the village school.

Overnight: Village Home Stay, AmbaTomanga

Study Focus: village life & tree nursery service project / gold panning / coastal ecology

  • Students will wake up in a traditional village this morning and immerse themselves in the morning routine of bathing by bucket, lighting charcoal fires and pounding rice for breakfast, just like the locals.
  • Our morning service project will center on starting a school tree nursery to help arrest the massive erosion that is degrading the agricultural and water retention ability of this region.
  • International students will work along side village students to initiate this project, and, hopefully, will help raise funds to support the expansion of the nursery and tree planting project once they return to their home school.
  • At midday we will drive 1.5-hours to Miandrivazo where we will take our lunch at a restaurant before driving another 3.5-hours through the desert-like landscape of West Madagascar to Morondava on the west coast of the island.
  • We will break up the drive at a river crossing where local Sakalava tribal people crush rock and pan for gold. Students too can try their hand at striking it rich.
  • Reaching the coast near sunset, we will check in to the beautiful Renala Beach Resort set on an expansive beach of powder white sand and swaying coconut palms – our home for 2-nights!
  • Students can enjoy games on the beach and a beautiful sunset over the Madagascar Channel before sitting down to a delicious seafood dinner.
  • A campfire on the beach will provide an opportunity for students to share highlights of their trip thus far.

Overnight: Renala Beach Resort, Morondava

Study Focus: Vezo tribal culture / outrigger fishing / Baobab tree ecology & conservation / Kirindy Research Station / night walk & Madagascar endemic species

  • Students will wake at first light this morning to board traditional Verzo fishing vessels made from dugout canoes fitted with one outrigger and small rectangular sails.
  • The coast of Morondava is afloat with hundreds of these little vessels each morning in pursuit of fish. Vezo (“fishing people”) have been mastering their techniques for centuries and students will gain keen insights into the lives of these fishermen of the Mozambique Channel.
  • Returning to shore with our catch, we will enjoy a big brunch.
  • After lunch and a refreshing swim in the sea, we board 4×4 jeeps and drive 1-hour to one of Madagascars most famous sites – the “Avenue of the Baobabs”.
  • Madagascar is considered the “motherland of the baobab” as 6 of the world’s 8 species are found here. The African and Australian baobab tree species are considered descended from Madagascar when seeds were swept to sea over ten million years ago.
  • Apart from Madagascar’s lemurs, there may be no more iconic image of this mysterious island than the world’s largest baobab trees rising here over 30 meters in height, with 75m diameters and well over 500 years old!
  • Students will learn how this species, called “renala reniala” (“mother of the forest”) in Malagasy, once formed the emergent trees in the dry deciduous forests of Western Madagascar, but are now endangered throughout their range.
  • Students will also learn about the many uses the people have for this tree from edible and medicinal fruits and leaves to bark used for rope and roofing.
  • Before moving on students will plant a commemorative baobab tree along the road and build a crib around it to protect it from grazing animals.
  • In the late afternoon we complete our 4×4 jeep drive 1.5-hours to Kirindy Nature Reserve – an important research station in Madagascar since 1993.
  • Kirindy has been called “a superlative within a superlative” by biologists, because not only is this dry deciduous forest rich in Madagascar species, it supports several species found here and nowhere else.
  • The world’s smallest primate (Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur) weighing a mere 30 grams is unique to Kirindy as is the giant jumping rat resembling a miniature kangaroo. This is also one of the best places to view the largest carnivore on Madagascar – the powerful “fosa” looking like a cross between an otter/leopard and hyena.
  • Arriving at Kirindy in time for a sunset dinner, we will immediately set off on a 2-3-hour night walk in small groups with local guides. Our task will be to get GPS coordinates on all lemur sightings as part of an on-going research study.
  • In addition to the six species of nocturnal lemurs we hope to spot, there will be many magical sightings, like bigheaded geckos in the leaf litter, birds nesting in low tree branches, Madagascar’s largest predator – the fosa, colorful chameleons, frogs and nocturnal insects that make Madagascar such a naturalists paradise.
  • Returning to camp around 9:30 pm, everyone will bunk down for the night in simple units set up for researchers.

Overnight: Kirindy Research Station Camp

Study Focus: Kirindy Reserve diurnal species / local market shopping & Malagasy cooking class / Verzo music & dancing

  • We’re up early this morning heading back into more remote parts of the Kirindy Reserve in search of diurnal lemurs, endemic birds, unique snakes and dazzling chameleons and iguanas.
  • A staggering 96% of Madagascar’s reptiles are endemic and the island is home to nearly half the world’s species of chameleons. We’ll see lots!
  • Returning to the research camp at 10:30 am, students can shower and enjoy lunch before driving 2.5-hours back to Morondava in 4×4 jeeps.
  • Stopping at a local market, students will have a chance to shop for ingredients for our final feast. Students will learn how to select the best produce, barter for a fair price and interact with market vendors as they purchase everything needed for a great Malagasy meal
  • Under the guidance of an expert cook, students will then prepare their own seafood dinner featuring local specialties.
  • After dinner, we will join with local children in a celebration of tribal music and dance around a beach fire – a fitting end to our trip.

Overnight: Renala Beach Resort, Morondava

Departure

  • Students can enjoy sleeping in and a relaxing morning on the beach, taking breakfast any time they choose.
  • At 11:00 am, we check out of our lodge and drive 15-minutes to Morondavo Airport to catch the 12:35 flight back to Antananarivo and connecting flights home 3-hours later.
  • Banking out of Antananarivo Airport; students can have one last glimpse of the weird and wonderful island that is Madagascar; a museum of living fossils and home to heart-warming people they will never forget.
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