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THE SPIDER LATIN WOMAN, THE PARTY CRASHERS AND MEETING THE REAL “KING JULIEN”

Written by DanielaZavala. Posted in Blog

Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Published on July 10, 2011 with 2 Comments

Anja Park

“This is nasty!” I woke up and looked at a disgusting injury in my leg. A simple bite (from God knows what) in the forest had turned into an infected hole.

Before going to bed last night, I drained the wound. A white and sticky liquid came out of it instantly. I was hoping it would be dried today, but it wasn’t.

“Mami, I need to get some needles to do a little surgery,” I put my leg in the truck of the car so he could have a look at it.

“Uy! Are you OK? Does it hurt?” Mami asked concerned.

“Nop. It doesn’t hurt. It is not itchy. The initial redness is gone, but it is still infected. I need to go deeper and clean it,” I said. “No fever, so it is not serious. Don’t worry, Mami,” I smiled trying to ease him. Mami looked worried.

I had no time to worry or go to the doctor. My vacation time is limited so I cannot waste any minute.
We jumped into the car for a short drive.


Seven kilometers from Ambalavao is the Anja Reserve, a small private park that was created to promote tourism and benefit the people who live in a nearby village. They understand and are pretty much involved in conservation.

As we drove away from the Ambalavao, huge and imposing granite mountains raised from the dried plains. A few green rice paddies contributed with the decoration of the outlandish landscape.

Soon after, we saw the sign of the Anja Reserve’s entrance. We parked and went to reception. Mami paid the park’s fee which was hardly US$5, however, the guide’s fee which is obligatory cost about US$30 plus tip.

“Which trek you want to do? One hour? Two hours? Six?” Mami asked.

“We don’t have anything else for today. Do we? I would like to do the longest. Six hours,” I responded.
Mami and I walked outside where we were approached by a thin tiny man with dreads in his hair and a ring pierced on his right ear.

Victor, Anja guide

“Welcome to Anja. My name is Victor!” said the young local guide.

Victor was accompanied by another young man whose name was Mami, who would help him spot the animals.

Mami –which means “Sweat” in Malagasy- seems to be a popular name!

Victor, my driver Mami, Mami #2 and I walked a few meters into the park and we ran into dozens of energetic ring-tailed lemurs. We were in front of the real King Julien XIII of the famous movie Madagascar!

When they stood up in their two legs, looking around, they looked just like the lemurs of the animated film. I wished my little niece Isabella –a natural animal lover who at age 8 called already herself “an explorer”- were there with me.

Although the ring tailed lemurs are not an endangered species, they were by far the cutest and funniest looking lemurs so far.

They were everywhere around us. They were so energetic, I didn’t know where to look at!

Conspiracy Look!

Ring tailed lemurs of all sizes moved quickly in the ground (checking what it seemed to be a lettuce field) and jumped from tree to tree. They didn’t seem afraid of us. They were “too busy” on their morning business. Their long curl tail with white and black stripes, their fury bodies and their shinning orange eyes made them irresistible. They have this funny way of staring, sort of a conspiracy look, I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Let me tell you about these lemurs. There are about 700 ring-tailed lemurs in this park alone. They are diurnal and they sleep in caves to protect themselves from their predators,” explained Victor.

We walked into the forest and went into one of the over 40 large caves that serve as refugee for the lemurs.

“Do you know that we have never found the body of a dead lemur? It seems that they have a ceremony burial and that’s why we have never seen a corpse!” said Victor as he was telling a big mystery that has never been resolved.

“You see, they can dance and also carry out burial ceremonies,” I joked.

“Maybe!” Victor smiled.

Mami and Victor spotted some small and large chameleons, hanging out in the leaves of trees and hiding in their perfect camouflage. They moved slooooowly.

“You can do it darling. Go, go, go for it! Move that little leg,” I said as I watched a chameleon making a huge effort to move forward.

While their bodies are motionless, their rounded eyes popped up and moved quickly. These bad looking creatures were becoming my favorites because of their rarity.

“Let’s go,” said Mami.

We came face to face with a sheer rock.

“Please tell me if you need help to climb,” said Victor.

Spider woman!

Victor and Mami #2 were like spider men. I was doing my best effort to keep up their pace, trying to show them that I could be the spider Latin woman! I wondered what would happen to my chubby Mami! He was an excellent driver, but he got out of breath with a simple walk up to some stairs, so how would he do rock climbing? And on a sheer rock to make it worse! But Mami surprised me and climbed at good pace along us.
Looking down (or up) was not a good idea. So I concentrated in the rock in front of me, searching for the best irregularity on the granite to put my feet and hands, pushing up!

Victor spotted some part of the rock where we could take a rest. The views were extraordinary. It got better and better the higher we climbed. Large rice paddies contrasted with the large granite peaks that rose from the ground all over the place. I could see the village from where Victor and Mami #2 came from.
The climb became tougher with height. The effort was rewarded with more amazing panoramic views of the valley and the other peaks.

“Look at this grasshopper,” Victor pointed out at a “blue thing”.

“Wow. That is weird,” I was in shocked.

Mami had spotted what it looked like a grasshopper in a carnival costume! It was bright blue with yellow and red dots. I was sure it wasn’t a camouflage because it stood out in that arid environment, which quite frankly, I didn’t think it could sustain any form of life.

We continued the climb until we made it to the summit; took some rest and started descending through a different route.

“Sorry, you are the first one to come this way. Not many people come here because they are not fit,” said Victor.

We walked through some serious grown up grass, which sometimes turned slippery and other times covered some deep holes.

“Please be careful,” Victor held my hand.

We managed to pass through the thick pasture and made to an area covered of sharp chucks of granite rock. Going down wasn’t less challenging than going up!

“Let’s go to a view point,” said Victor alias “Mr. Malagasy Spiderman” as he started to run up into a sheer rock. I followed.

It was a place of another stunning view.

After a break, we continued our trek and ran into the ring tailed lemurs, but at this current time they were taking a nap. They were hidden high in the canopies, resembling balls of fur among the leaves.

Victor, Mami #2, Mami and I walked to the entrance of the park, and on the way we ran into a clean and large camping site within the park.

“So no camping in Madagascar except in Isalo?” I said to Mami.

Poor Mami!

Mami laughed, and I don’t know if out of embarrassment or because he thought it was indeed funny that Rija –his boss and the owner of the tour agency- would tell me such an absurd thing.

I was so upset with that man. I couldn’t believe two travelers from the forum of the Lonely Planet –a website I trust- would recommend his services! This guy was not only a rip off (because my tour was DEFINITELY overpriced!), but also a liar!

I could have camped in Anja Park instead of staying at a budget hotel in Ambalavao!

At least, Mami was a good driver, a good guide and a fun Malagasy to travel with…

We returned to where we started the trek six hours ago.

“Thank you Victor,” I gave him and Mami #2 a tip.

“Do you have a paper? I can give you my email and you send me the photos?” asked Victor.

“Of course!” I wrote down his email in my notebook.

Anja park was small but intimate and beautiful… beautiful because of its landscapes, but beautiful as well because of the opportunity that gives the visitor to get close to the lemurs and to experience its forests and sheer rocks.

Enjoying Anja Park

“I want to take you to the window for the sunset. It is very nice,” said Mami as we drove to our next destination: Isalo National Park.

All the villages we passed were in celebration mode: today was the 51st. anniversary of Madagascar’s independency.

The island was conquered by the French in 1896, gaining independence in 1960. Since then, the country has undergone several periods of governance. Today people celebrate but the political future of their country is uncertain. After an uprising in 2009 instigated by then-mayor of Antananarivo Andry Rajoelina, Madagascar continues to be governed by the High Transitional Authority led by him.

“That is a colorful outfit,” I said to Mami, referring to a group of lively men wearing some sort of multicolor Hawaiian skirts.

“They are musicians and they are probably performing for the town,” explained Mami.

While walking to the town’s center, they played drums and a flute. They invited us to join the celebration.

“Do you want to stop?” asked Mami.

“But OF COURSE!” I smiled.

Mami and I parked the car and walked towards where the villagers were gathered. We were the party crashers!

The locals looked at us with curiosity as if we were celebrities.

People stood up in a circle to give enough space for the different performers.

A woman was dancing solo, but soon “our friends” in the sort of Hawaiian skirts stole the show.

They were performing what is known as the “Zebu dance”. Under the beat of the drums and the sound of the flute, one of the band’s members pretended to be a Zebu, doing a dance in which he imitated the kick of the animal and its moves. He would go down on his knees and put dirt in his face as if he was one, making the kids and adults laugh.

“Daniela, come here. The mayor of the village wants to say hello,” said Tariku.

A tall man wearing an elegant blue suit and fashionable sunglasses came to me and shook my hand.

“Welcome Madam,” said the Mayor.

“Enchante!” (Nice to meet you) I responded.

Then, he said something in Malagasy.

“He says he is happy to have us in his village and is thanking us for coming,” Mami translated.

I was surprised such little town would even have a mayor.

“Merci,” (Thank you) I replied.

Dozens of kids laughed while other guys from the band joined the “zebu’s dance” and made it more hardcore. As I filmed every move of the performance that looked closer to an epilepsy attack or Malagasy break dance than the movements of a zebu, some kids approached me, asking me in French what my name was. They also wanted to get their photos taken and they posed as little “pro-models”, then they would laugh their hearts off looking at themselves from the screen of my digital camera. Suddenly I had about 30 kids around me, laughing and wanting to pose. A man tried to push them away from me.

“It is OK. C’est pas un probleme,” (this is not a problem) I said to the man.

I was happy to bring some joy to these children.

I stood in the crowd, watching the performance of the Zebu dancers. Two girls touched my pale arm and looked up to me, smiling. One of them took my hand and held it with her little hand, putting it in her heart. I was so moved by this little girl. Her hair was messy, her nose was running, some of her teeth were missing, yet she looked so cute to me.

As the celebration continues, the more eclectic the performances were. There was a contest in which men climbed a high pole with bare foot to reach a prized, then a karate demonstration.

Martial arts -being performed in the middle of nowhere is Madagascar- seemed so random, but Malagasy people are very into it.

“Maybe we should go,” said Mami. He didn’t want me to miss the sunset in “the window” (whatever that was!).

“OK Mami, let’s go.”

“Merci, merci,” I thanked the villagers for allowing us to crash their party.

We drove and drove through a zigzagging road until the gigantic granite rocks disappeared and endless plains dominate the landscape. The only thing I could see was a large paved road that vanished in the horizon. The sun was so intense. Spotted with small clouds, the sky was deeply blue. It looked almost unreal. Just like a painting.

I felt as if I was in the middle of nowhere, and I was indeed. Being surrounded by such vastness gave me the same sensation I felt in Mongolia a few years ago: infinitude, isolation, peace, freedom… I look from side to side to find “nothingness”, and it was somehow beautiful.

The sun was slowly weakening and Mami feared we were not going to make it on time, but we actually arrived in Isalo when the last rays of the sun were about to disappear.

“That, that is the window!” Mami sped up and we stopped at a weird rock formation that had a hole in the middle.

It was a gorgeous sunset surrounded by the eerie landscape of sandstone formations in Isalo National Park, the most visited reserve in Madagascar.

The window of Isalo

Mami and I drove to a hotel in Ranohira, the closest town to Isalo National Park.

“I see you tomorrow at 7:30am,” I said to Mami before walking to my room.

I had spent the whole day in the outdoors and the wound wasn’t looking “pretty”, but I had “the tools”. I
took a shower and cleaned the outside of the injury.

The lights of the room were weak. I looked for a candle and a flashlight to help me see better. I took the needles and opened some holes to drain the injury again, and again more white liquid came out of it. When it seemed to be completely dried, I took my swiss army knife and cut the skin, and pushed it deeper. I was surprised it didn’t hurt, but I got all the white out until it was just flesh. I put a prescribed antibiotic cream all over the wound, cut a little piece a non-stick pad and another little piece of Icy-Hot roll (the only thing I had to stick the pad on it) and covered the injury.

“Voila!” I had just performed a little onsite surgery.

Before going to bed, I texted a friend to make a doctor’s appointment at home just in case, but I felt I had “gotten” out whatever it had come under my skin while in the forest.

There was no time to worry, only time to explore and embrace nature even if it comes with a little bite, a bruise or a scratch here and there 🙂

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2 Comments

There are currently 2 Comments on THE SPIDER LATIN WOMAN, THE PARTY CRASHERS AND MEETING THE REAL “KING JULIEN”. Perhaps you would like to add one of your own?

  1. Dani you are insane!! How’s your leg? What an awesome trip so far! Can’t wait to read what happens next! Hope you keep having a fantastic time and there are no more injuries! Lots of love to you mi churra 🙂 xxxx

  2. Much better sweetie. It has headled fortunately 🙂

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