Als Reiseveranstalter organisieren wir für Sie einzigartige Reisen sowie Projekte – mit ausführlicher Beratung, immer individuell nach Ihren Vorstellungen und nur dorthin, wo wir das «PRIORI-Reiseprinzip verwirklichen können:
Direktkontakte mit der Bevölkerung, Fairness sowie Nachhaltigkeit.
Madagaskar, in unserer Heimat. Hier sind wir seit 20 Jahren aktiv und verwurzelt sowie mit einem Team direkt vor Ort.
Asien – Sri Lanka und Myanmar.
Hier haben wir langjährige Reiseerfahrung sowie zuverlässige Partner.
Afrika – Komoren, La Réunion, Mozambique sowie Äthiopien, Guinea-Bissau und Marokko, denn dieser Kontinent hat so viel zu bieten. Unsere lokalen Kontakte zeigen Ihnen, was.
Reisen wie unsere finden Sie in keinem der üblichen Prospekte.
Sie machen einen Kochkurs und besorgen die Waren morgens frisch auf dem Markt. Sie besuchen die Menschen zu Hause. Sie fahren mit den Einheimischen mit der Eisenbahn. Sie besuchen abgelegene Dörfer, die Sie in keinem Reiseführer finden und verbringen Zeit mit den Einwohnern dort. Sie erkunden die Länder auf Trekking- oder Radtouren, mit Zelt und abseits der Straßen.
„Es war für uns eine tolle, sehr beeindruckende Reise!
Super organisiert – man merkte (auch in Kontakt mit anderen Reisenden) die Profis!“ Edda K.
Parc National Tsingy de Namoroka
Family holidays in Madagascar: the call of the weird
'I’m sorry,” I protest, “but I still can’t see it.” The blotchy forest mosaic swims before my eyes. It feels like I’m failing one of those colour blindness test – the ones where you’re supposed to find hidden numbers in a pattern.
“But it’s right in front of you,” insists our guide Lalaina. “Look.” He draws back a veil of vines to give me a better view. Eyeballs aching, I redouble my efforts. This is getting embarrassing – and my wife is faring no better.
“I see it!” shrieks my wife. “There!” Her urgent finger indicates the very branch at which I’ve been staring for the last minute. And suddenly, as though at the twist of a focus ring, the image sharpens and I can see it too. Head down, and exactly replicating the bark’s mottling of mosses and lichens, is the Turin Shroud-like outline of a lizard.
Evolution surely has few more impressive conjuring tricks than the cryptic camouflage of a leaf-tailed gecko. Imagine fashioning a simple lizard from plasticine, squashing it flat on to a tree trunk and then carefully smudging its outline into the bark – toes, tail and everything – to eliminate any telltale hint of shadow. Then imagine spray-painting the whole thing in one sweep so that branch and gecko blend into a seamless forest canvas. We gape, speechless at nature’s artistry.
We are five days into our family adventure and we are discovering that Madagascar truly is the land of the unique. This extraordinary island, marooned during the break-up of the Gondwana supercontinent some 165 million years ago, carries a cargo of fauna and flora found nowhere else on earth. There are the famous lemurs, of course – at least 100 species of these beguiling primates. But that’s not all: some 80 per cent of Madagascar’s plant species are endemic, Lalaina tells us, as are 90 per cent of its reptiles.
• Madagascar: life after death in the land of the lemur
What these statistics don’t convey, however, is that Madagascar is also the land of the bizarre. When we arrived two days previously in Andasibe National Park, a rainforest reserve in the central highlands, things turned weird before we had even left the car park.
First came an extraordinary little insect, with the body of a mini tomato and the neck of an angle-poise lamp. This was a giraffe-necked weevil; its ludicrous-looking appendage serving, apparently, to roll leaves into tubes for its eggs. The next bush produced a Parson’s chameleon. This prehistoric-looking reptile – the largest among numerous chameleon species here – froze at our approach, one tong-like hand extended and gun-turret eyes swivelling. My daughter’s outstretched phone brought a flush of angry orange down its lime-green flank. We left it to its own devices.
And then there were the noises. No sooner had we hit the trail than a keening lamentation – for all the world like distant, sad humpback whales – came drifting over the forest. This eerie sound, explained Lalaina, was the territorial song of the indri, Madagascar’s largest lemur. Just as I was wishing we were closer, an answering call of impressive volume struck up right overhead. And there was the singer: a bundle of black and white fur folded into a tree fork. He glared down, showing teddy-bear ears and blazing amber eyes, then unfurled long limbs and sprang away through the forest, trunk to trunk. Above him the female remained in situ, baby peeking at us from below her armpit.
Andasibe, for all its riches, is secondary forest, its larger trees lost to “tavy” (slash-and-burn agriculture) long before the region became a reserve. For true primary forest – and a glimpse of what the whole of eastern Madagascar once looked like – we set out the next morning to Mantadia National Park, its wilder neighbour. This, Lalaiana assured us, was a lemur haven. But we’d have to work for them.
• Making a difference in Madagascar
The dawn mist was still lifting as we filed reverentially into this cathedral of green. And the going soon became tough: an obstacle course of serpentine buttress roots, tripwire vines and crumbling logs.
At first the wildlife came in hints and glimpses: a praying mantis swaying beneath a leaf; a flash of red as a paradise flycatcher flitted away. But, with patience – and the eagle eyes of our ranger – more substantial rewards arrived. We spied nocturnal woolly lemurs peeking sleepily from a bamboo thicket and rare black-and-white ruffed lemurs cavorting in the canopy. Best of all, panting with exertion after a sweaty uphill scramble, we found ourselves among a feeding party of diademed sifakas. These stunning lemurs, decked out in luxuriant white, apricot and charcoal, seemed unfazed by our presence, and we crept close enough to admire their neat fingernails.
The next day, back in the chaotic capital Antananarivo (“Tana”, for the tongue-tied visitor), we discover that Madagascar’s culture is as unique as its nature. In defiance of geography, the city’s teeming street markets and encircling paddy fields suggest south-east Asia rather than Africa. Indeed, most historians believe that Madagascar’s first settlers hailed from Indonesia. Either way, the subsequent stirring in of African, Indian and Arabic influences has created a rich cultural melting pot.
Underlying this culture is a still-thriving belief in the spiritual power of the razana, or ancestors. We learn something of this on a dusty hillside in Alasora suburb where, after purifying our feet in a sacred spring, we visit the nearby shrine of an ancient king. “I hope you haven’t eaten garlic, pork, lemon or onion,” whispers our guide, Jenny. “Those are all fady here.”
• Chasing chickens in Madagascar
Fady is a tricky concept for outsiders to grasp, let alone obey. It describes a system of spiritual taboos that govern traditional life across the island. Some are universal, others regional. Among the Merina people, for instance, it is fady to pass someone an egg directly (you must place it on the ground); among the Tsimihety, it is fady to work the land on Tuesdays.
We also visit some of the city’s many thriving community enterprises. At a local pottery, Jerome, now 80, crouches at his potter’s wheel while his granddaughter lays out soft sausages of clay, ready for working. At the Amabalambahoaka metalworks, we meet a community of disabled artisans fashioning recycled scraps from car parts and oil drums into intricate lampshades and sculpted baobab trees.
Three days later and some 500 miles to the north – courtesy of a domestic flight to Diego Suarez – we find ourselves edging along an underground passage, with only a park ranger’s torch beam to guide us. “Watch for scorpions on the wall,” he warns. With a steep drop to our right, and the world’s only cave-dwelling crocodiles reputedly lurking at the bottom, this is not reassuring. As the passage opens into a cavern, bats flutter around our heads, casting wild torchlit shadows against glistening stalactites. I force a quip to my daughter about Scooby Doo but succeed only in revealing my age.
We’re in Ankarana National Park, an extraordinary wilderness virtually unknown in the West until the explorations of Frenchman Jean Duflos in the 1960s. And as if the bat/croc/scorpion combo is not unsettling enough, there is also the grisly local history. It was in this cave system, in pre-colonial times, that the locals holed up under siege from the Merina invaders from the south. Most starved to death. Today it remains fady for anybody of Merina stock to enter. Our guide Rija, who hails from Tana, waits outside.
• A lesson in cycling, the Madagascan way
Above Ankarana’s caves and sinkholes stretches a bizarre (again!) landscape of blade-like limestone formations called tsingy, the work of millions of years of erosion. During the rains, fierce torrents rage beneath the fissured pinnacles and crevices. We traverse the hostile-looking terrain by means of a narrow rubble path and the odd rope bridge. It is hot and exposed, and the plant life – spiny succulents and poisonous euphorbias – looks no friendlier than the razor-sharp rock to which it clings. Naturalists have discovered numerous new species lurking down the cracks, Rija tells us. Rather them than me.
After crossing the tsingy – derived from “mitsingi”, meaning “walking on tiptoe” – it’s a relief to regain the surrounding shade. The dry, deciduous forest here is very different from the lush greenery of Andasibe. Kapoks and baobabs tower over the crunchy leaf-litter while local oddities include the bulging Adania olabuensis, or “lady’s buttock tree”, which squats beside the path like a Henry Moore sculpture. Back at the picnic site we find Madagascar bee-eaters darting overhead, a kaleidoscopic panther chameleon creeping up a vine and crowned lemurs – another local special – leaping around in hope of handouts.
Amid the intrigues of nature and culture, it’s easy to forget that Madagascar is a tropical island – albeit one larger than France. But this is, after all, a family holiday. Thus we end our trip on the resort island of Nosy Be – a short speedboat ride off the northwest coast.
Direct flights from Milan, apparently, bring crowds of Italian sun-seekers to the island’s northern coast. At Nosy Be Lodge in the south-west, however, our chalet nestles discreetly beneath the coconut palms overlooking a delightfully quiet beach. With the sea in front, a sparkling pool behind and a restaurant that serves prawn kebabs and barracuda steaks fresh from the ocean, this is the perfect retreat after our jungle exertions.
By day, the beach traffic is endlessly diverting, from women bearing multi-coloured piles of “lamba” sarongs to a fisherman hauling a sailfish longer than himself from his dugout pirogue. After dark, courtesy of my daughter’s smartphone app, we trace the constellations of the crowded southern sky: Scorpio, Sagittarius and, of course, the Southern Cross.
Nosy Be beach, MadagascarNosy Be beach, Madagascar Photo: Fotolia/AP
But in Madagascar there is only so long you can remain inactive. Half an hour by motor launch takes us to the marine reserve of Nosy Tanikely, where we don snorkelling gear to explore the limpid waters. Reef-fish swirl among the corals, while we peer down on giant clams and porcupine-like sea urchins. Further out, a large shadow rises from the seabed. It’s a green turtle. We swim above the great reptile, looking down on to its crazy-paving carapace, before it outpaces us with languid flipper strokes and melts away into the blue.
And we’re not done with lemurs yet. Beyond the mangroves in the island’s south-east we find Ampasipohy village, gateway to the bijou Lokobe Reserve. A trail winds up from the beach into a tangle of moist deciduous forest.
Black lemurs – endemic to this area – watch from the canopy as we creep along the trail below. We also find a tiny dwarf chameleon in the leaf-litter, a roosting Madagascar scops owl tucked inside a thicket and a substantial Madagascar ground boa slithering (despite its name) up a tree trunk.
And then comes the inevitable. Our guide, Olivio, pauses in front of a mossy tree trunk and, with a flourish, pulls back a branch. “Can you see the leaf-tailed gecko?”
“Erm … sort of,” I fib. And, hoping he won’t call my bluff, I snap a few photos. There are some things in Madagascar, it seems, that you are just not meant to see.
www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/africa/madagascar/articles/Family-holidays-in-Madagascar-... ... See MoreSee Less
Magic eye: discovering the unstoppable wildlife of north Madagascar
Many travellers dismiss Madagascar’s far north as one big beach resort, but look a little closer and you’ll find lemurs, geckos and limestone tsingy. Phoebe Smith takes in the sights and sounds of this magical island, meeting some enchanting locals along the way
The air was thick and humid. Somewhere behind me a twig snapped, its break amplified by the silence. I whizzed around hoping to see something, anything, a mammal, a bird, an insect even, but there was nothing.
Arriving in Madagascar, after so many years of watching wildlife TV shows, I had been expecting to see ring-tailed lemur at every turn, but I was soon discovering that here – much like anywhere in the world – if you want to see animals in the wild, you need patience and, crucially, someone who can help you actually spot them.
Enter Lilovic, my guide. We’d met just a couple of hours earlier on the shores of a tiny fishing hamlet on the island of Nosy Be, an hour from capital Hell-Ville (known by its old colonial name, rather than its official title of Andoany). Flung out into the ocean, off Madagascar’s north-western tip, most intrepid visitors to Africa’s famous Red Island skip this area, as it has a reputation for being more ‘beach resort’ than ‘wildlife heaven’.
Instead, they usually rush around the country at breakneck speed, cramming in a plethora of internal flights (many of which get cancelled or alter their departure time at a second’s notice) into just two weeks. So, while they see a lot, how much they can take the time to enjoy it is another matter. But I had opted to take it slowly, to linger in the far north and, hopefully, make each wildlife encounter memorable.
My trip started at a gentle pace, as Lilovic led me from the shore down to the sea, his pirogue (dugout canoe) bobbing on the waves. Getting to Lokobe Nature Reserve was possible only by water, and paddling there, as Madagascar’s first settlers might have done some 2,000 years ago, seemed fitting. After all, it was the comparatively late settlement of the island that helped cultivate its huge array of endemic plant and animal species.
With the sun high and conditions calm, the effort seemed worth it. As we pulled our boat onto the sand, a cackle of excited children ran to greet our arrival and followed us past the wooden huts that dotted the edge of the forest. Soon, however, they lagged behind, their excited screams replaced with the calm stillness of the trees, only the odd rustle of mine and Lilovic’s boots disturbing the peace.
I kept my eyes on high alert, turning at every sound to try and spy some of the reserve’s famous wild residents. After around half an hour of pacing through leaves in the heat, I was starting to think there was nothing here but us, then Lilovic stopped dead in his tracks. “Come, come,” he gestured, and pointed with his machete to the branches above. There, staring down at me, were the two wide eyes of a sportive lemur. I felt my stomach tingle like I’d just shot off a huge drop on a rollercoaster, and this was only the beginning.
From that moment on, the forest seemed to teem with life. Every time I looked and saw nothing, Lilovic’s magic eyes would spot something. I’d pass a stack of dead leaves only to have him pick one up and show me a minute Brookesia chameleon, thought to be one of the smallest reptiles in the world, its little eyes peering up at me from under high-set brows.
I’d duck under a tree branch only for Lilovic to call me back to show me a boa constrictor tightly furled around it. Then there was the birdlife – from the longtailed paradise flycatcher to the jet-black drongo, sporting a distinctive beak feather – not to mention tiny brown mantella frogs, luminescent-green giant day geckos and yet more lemurs, this time black one asleep in the trees in an indistinguishable cluster of arms, legs and clumps of fluff.
Then came Lilovic’s pièce de résistance. Just as we were strolling out of the forest, he stopped and urged me to look at what appeared to be a stick. “Here, here,” he insisted, as I nodded and started to walk away. I couldn’t see anything but he kept pointing.
Then it happened, like one of those Magic Eye pictures from the early 1990s, where after minutes of staring blankly at a sheet of coloured dots, a three dimensional object suddenly appears. The stick wasn’t a stick after all. It was a leaf-tailed gecko, merging seamlessly with the wood it sat on. I was instantly awestruck. Every detail on it seemed to blend in perfectly, right down to the little white spots that resembled pockets of lichen.
If my eyes had been trained by Lilovic at Lokobe, then my other senses were set for a workout on the mainland. Taking a speedboat from Nosy Be, I headed next to Ankify with my guide, Mihaja.
We turned north in our 4WD, rattling through the pothole-filled land and bound for the edge of Ankarana Ouest National Park, a destination made famous by its spiny rock formations, known as tsingy. I had looked at pictures of these razor-sharp pinnacles in books before I’d left and longed to know how they felt under my fingers. But before I could test my grip, there was a different treat in store: a stop at the Millot Plantation.
“Ylang-ylang,” said Axel, the plantation guide, as we strolled through an avenue of wizened-looking trees all hunched over like little old men with walking sticks. The sweet scent permeated my nostrils, overwhelming me with its fragrance as he crushed a leaf between his fingers and held it under my nose. Axel explained that thousands of kilograms of these plants are harvested each year to produce essential oils, which are shipped all over the world.
As we walked, he collected yet more flowers and foliage and handed them to me. I inhaled their scents greedily, from combava – the leaves of which had a distinct citrus smell – to vanilla pods, which have to be pollinated by hand here because no insects endemic to Madagascar can do the job.
The fragrances kept coming: pine fruit, jasmine, the four spices tree with its musky aroma of pepper, nutmeg, clover and cardamom. Lastly, he handed me a clutch of ravintsara, known locally as “the good leaf" that is used to make an ointment similar to Vicks VapoRub, to help with bad colds.
But it wasn’t just the smell making me smile, the ethos of the place was just as pleasing. “All plants are grown here without any chemicals and checked every day by hand,” explained Axel. “And we try to encourage and teach the local people how to grow them, too. That way we can buy the raw products off them and keep the money within the local community.”
It’s not only oils and spices that are found at Millot, though. The main product here is cacao, the raw ingredient of chocolate. Axel led us through a field of trees with giant pods the size of beer cans. Some were yellow, others green or blushing pink – the premium grade.
Taking out a knife, Axel cut off the top of one and pulled out a string of pearl-like beans, gesturing for me to take one. I felt the slimy innards between my fingers, its tangy smell sweeter than any mango. As I chewed on it, a rich flavour exploded in my mouth. “Theobroma cacao, it’s an aphrodisiac – and good for your health,” he explained.
We continued on to a hut where women sorted through the nuggets of cacao – now dried out and resembling large coffee beans – before tipping them into hessian sacks. Here they undergo a process of fermentation over a period of several days, then are dried in the sun before being sorted and exported abroad to make some of the most expensive French chocolate that you can buy.
As we left Millot and made our way further north, we drove by other plantations. This time, however, I could recognise the odd waft of ylang-ylang or the subtle tones of ravintsasa seeping through the window.
We finally reach Iharana Bush Camp later that evening – a cluster of mud and stick houses perched around a lake, just outside the national park. Here, and continuing into the park itself, the landscape formed a flat and sprawling savannah, every so often punctuated with clusters of rocky peaks.
But on closer inspection the rises were not single mounds at all, but rather collections of karstic limestone formations known as tsingy – either from the Malagasy word for ‘cannot walk on barefoot’ or ‘pointed peaks’, depending on which guide you speak to.
The next morning I discovered that both descriptions were pretty apt. These needle-like protrusions, formed by water undercutting the limestone and gradually eroding fissures and caves, felt almost forest-like as I climbed between them. They were regarded as sacred by early settlers of Madagascar, who would perform spiritual services among these otherworldly formations.
Locals like Joe, my guide, would only gesture to them with a bent index finger as a sign of respect. Through a thick French accent he described what he could see in the shapes of the rocks, from people’s faces to crocodiles, and like the wooden forests of Lokobe before them, the stones began to come to life before my eyes.
After teetering on some rope bridges that had been precariously slung between peaks, I followed Joe down into one of the caves. Interspersed with tree roots that steadfastly pushed their way through the ground, we felt our way slowly through the tunnels, stopping to gasp every few metres as the quartz in the calcium glistened in the sharp beam of our head torches.
Later in the afternoon we headed to another set of tsingy, to descend into a cave that was a full kilometre in length. It was here that some of Madagascar’s early settlers actually lived, and Joe showed me fragments of ancient pottery that were accompanied by scorch marks from fires.
Before I even saw them I knew what was coming next. The scent of the guano was more pungent than anything I’d smelt before. Then came the siren-like squeals. We emerged into a cavernous room, large enough to fit in several houses, and looked up.
There, on the roof, were thousands of bats, readying to go out and hunt for the evening. They swarmed and swooped around us, effortlessly graceful. I was so distracted by them that I nearly missed the snake slunk at my feet, its scales glowing electric blue in our torchlight.
Further on, we found a small rock pool where blind fish lay in wait, having evolved underground without the need for sight. “Some other caves here even have crocodiles,”explained Joe, as he gestured to a lone bat trembling on the wall by my head, a giant spider sitting just centimetres from it.
We emerged back into the daylight just as the sun was starting to slump towards the horizon. For the first time in the trip we hurried, heading up to reach a viewpoint on the top of the tsingy, just in time to see the sky turn crimson in the sunset. It was slightly surreal to be back on the surface, knowing now exactly what lay beneath.
My last stop saw me head back to Ankify, then on to the north-west region of Sambirano Domain by boat. Here at Eden Lodge, beside the water, lay a handful of tented rooms surrounded by Madagascar’s ubiquitous and friendly looking baobab trees. It was there that I met Philippe, who took me on a stroll over the headland.
We set off early, before sunrise proper, and within half an hour we had already seen more birds than I ever thought possible, from sunbirds to sickle-billed vanga and more. Philippe could identify each one from their call alone, mimicking their chirps as he heard them.
Later, as the sun set, we met by the trees for a night walk around the forest. Now, after several days of learning to use all my senses, I could recognise the call of the black lemurs through the darkness, their screeches gurgling and grunting like a cross between a pig squeal and a power tool struggling to start.
I watched as these silhouetted creatures leapt from branch to branch, gorging on mangos before hurling them to the ground – often just centimetres from where we stood – with cries of devilish glee. We ended on the beach, where Philippe told me to turn on my torch. As I did, I gasped as hundreds of crabs scuttled all around me, their bodies white and ghost-like in the beam.
On the final day, I took to the water with a snorkel, keen to see what life lay beneath the waves. Philippe had hoped to show me the turtles that come here to feed, but I only saw what I imagined was the back of one of their shells as it darted off into the coral.
Back on land, he apologised for the lack of activity in the sea, but I was unconcerned. As I sat on my hammock in the afternoon sun, I began to hear the chirps of the birds. While I couldn’t identify them, I could now at least tell that there were three different species there. As the breeze swung me from side to side, I could smell the vague scent of lemongrass and smiled.
This trip had not only taught me to see more, but also to look closely at places and things that I may not have otherwise bothered with before. Facing the waves, I relaxed and suddenly noticed something in the water. Just for a second, the head of a turtle popped up, took one look at me, then dived back under the surface. One turned into two, into three, then four. In just a few days, with a little bit of patience, I could now see the unseeable. Lilovic would have been proud.
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