mother nature doesn’t care about your annual leave dates

One of the most famous wildlife events in the world is the Serengeti-Masai Mara Wildebeest Migration. It traditionally happens every year sometime in June-July.

While the migration pattern itself is fairly predictable, the actual timing of this phenomenon is becoming less so. Last year it started in early June and this year it was late May, earlier than ever.

The Migration is a weather-dependent occurrence and I think we can mostly agree world weather patterns are currently changing. As the rains arrive earlier the migration in turn starts earlier and becomes even less predictable than usual.

Africa is a region I’m really passionate about and, truth be told, it’s the region I get the most excited about sending my clients to. It has the wonderful diversity of dramatic landscapes, unique wildlife and a fascinating ix of different cultures. The one thing constantly requested though is to ravel at the time of Migration.

This is a really difficult experience to plan. I could toot my own horn and list some things I think I’m quite good at but predicting African weather patterns is not one of them. Unfortunately, I can’t offer my clients any guarantees they will see migration; indeed, I try to tell them it’s more than likely they will not. Why? Because it’s my arse on the line if they expect something they don’t get and they complain.

But here’s where I think I’m going to say something prospective clients of mine may find controversial: personally, I’m not sure I would bother. Sure, it’s an incredible sight to behold but or the average Joe, who has to take leave from work and fork out thousands upon thousands of dollars to get to Africa, I don’t  think it’s particularly reasonable to expect or to plan to see migration.

For many people, Africa is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. They come for the safari experience; particularly to see the Big Five. The Serengeti and Masai Mara are two of the best places to see this and at any time of the year the chances are much higher than many other places. The joys of heading out on Safari cannot be fully described and, while the animals are obviously the main focus, the experience is heightened by a good tracker and guide. It is a remarkable opportunity to increase one’s knowledge of the world we live in and, in my opinion, this should really be the focus of any Safari.

I know I’ve said this before about other destinations but if you have the time and the resources, just go when you can. No matter what time of year you arrive, you won’t regret it.

happy world turtle day

 

Today is “World Turtle Day”. The day actually recognises all species of turtle and tortoise, despite its name (some languages don’t dfferentiate between the two) and in the spirit of love of all things Testudine I thought I would acknowledge the day and share a picture.

I’ve always loved turtles and tortoises; I find them extremely fascinating from an evolutionary/scientific perspective but there’s also just something about them I can’t quite name that makes me want to just be around them.

Turtles have been around for about 220 million years, making them about as old as the oldest known dinosaur. They were around when Earth looked completely different to what it looks like today; when the land was covered in ferns and grass didn’t exist and the continents were joined together as Pangaea. They survived mass extinctions, continental drift and climate change. Pretty cool huh?

 

Giant Tortoise, Mauritius

Giant Tortoise, Mauritius


nosy iranja, madagascar in pictures

This little island is about an hour and a half from Nosy Be island (in the far North of Madagascar) by boat. It’s tidal, so when we arrived it looked like two round islands with a massive beach connecting the two, but as the tide came in the two islands became separated.

There’s a baby turtle nursery (a bit dubious about this) and a village too. Here are some pictures.

 

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chillaxing with lemurs

Well here we are folks, the moment we’ve been waiting for…We’re hanging out with lemurs in Andasibe (and we have been told the proper way to say this is “an-DAS-ee-beh”), about a three hour drive + traffic east of Tana.

We’re staying at the lovely Vakona Forest Lodge which is great; the lodge encompasses several walking tours as well as the very cool Lemur Island, which is a refuge for many different species of lemur.

Nearby is Analamazoatra Reserve, the part of Andasibe-Mantadia NP that is home to the indri-indri, Madagascar’s largest lemur. Here you can see lemurs in the wild.

The National Park itself is a haven for lemurs, which have suffered due to land clearing. The National Park is now a protected area where the lemurs can hopefully thrive again. There are 10 different species in the Analamazoatra Reserve (four diurnal and six nocturnal) and each species lives in groups/families, but they live in harmony with each other as they have slightly different diets and are active at different times.

I think the most amazing part for us, both in Analamazoatra Reserve and over on Lemur Island, was hearing the lemurs call to each other. The indri-indri have an incredible call (similar to a Siamang I guess, if you’ve ever heard one) and the ring-tail lemurs have several, easily distinguishable calls for different situations. Their “alarm” call is amazing: high-pitched from air danger, e.g a hawk, and low-pitched for ground danger, such as a snake. They stand up on their hind legs to make the call and we were blown away by how loud it is for such a small animal!

Just a note: All lemurs we saw are are endemic to Andasibe, with the exception of the ring-tail lemurs, which are endemic to the South of Madagasar only. We were luckily enough to see them because there is a large family on Lemur Island, which is home to Lemurs that have been rescued from various fates.

Ring-tail Lemur
 
indri-indri
Baby lemurs hitch a ride on mum’s back
Ruffed lemur having a snooze
Bamboo lemur, one of the smallest diurnal lemurs

a lesson in choosing tour operators wisely

We had some setbacks today… and were reminded of some valuable travel lessons!
We left the hotel at 6.15am to head out on a cruise to swim with the dolphins – something I have wanted to do for as long as I remember. Even as a really little girl I was in awe of dolphins so words can’t really describe my excitement levels as we left the hotel and made the 90 minute drive to the boat.
The view was stunning as we set out to find the dolphins. I would really love to post a photo for you but hotel wifi is telling me NO… I will post a picture blog when we get home.

There was a group of about 15 boats about 300m offshore. We saw them and thought we would just sail straight past them, but instead we joined the,. At this point we figured the drivers would just have a quick word to each other, perhaps trade a couple of tips and co-ordinate their movements so we weren’t all in the same area, but it turned out they had spotted a dolphin and so we joined the chase too. Next thing we knew we had 16 boats (that’s approximately 160 people) chasing this one lone dolphin, trying to corner it so it wouldn’t escape.

I was disgusted and when our driver saw that I was visibly upset, he laughed in my face.

I tried to get in the water even though I didn’t want to be near the dolphin as I didn’t want to add to the problem, but I had been given faulty snorkelling gear. By the time it was fixed, the driver told me I was too slow and was no longer allowed to get in. (‘Yelled at’ is more appropriate than ‘told’, to be honest.)

Eventually the dolphin managed to escape and Logan and I cheered for him. The poor thing was probably already in a pickle because his pod were nowhere to be found, and here were 160+ humans with loud boats chasing him, jumping on him, yelling, splashing and trying to disorient him.
So all in all we paid a very large amount of money to feel disappointed, upset, belittled, exhausted and ripped off, not to mention how cruel we were to the dolphin.
Every cloud has a silver lining though… We made two lovely South African friends. We will attempt the dolphin swim again but this time, with a lot more research behind us. Lesson learnt!

Tomorrow we are sailing a catamaran to Ile aux Cerfs; hopefully we have better luck.

SHARK!

I was, to be perfectly honest, completely freaking out. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it really and as much as I made jokes about being gobbled up limb by limb I wasn’t really finding it all that funny. The two and a half-hour boat trip out to the Neptune Islands gave my brain plenty of time to do some thought backflips and I jumped from being thrilled to scared to happy to anxious to wanting to vomit.I managed to keep my breakfast down though, unlike most people on the boat. The long ride from Port Lincoln, on the Eyre Peninsula, to the islands is really choppy and when you’re that nervous it’s worse. Once the cage goes in and you’re given the safety brief, that’s when the gravity of what you’re about to do really sinks in.

As I slowly climbed down into the cage, I realised my fear actually had nothing to do with the feared Great White Shark, rather it was the ocean itself I was afraid of. I never used to be scared, and when I was a teenager I would have been the first to get in that cage, but lately a switch has gone off in my head and I’ve been finding myself feeling frightened of things I never used to be afraid of, like heights and open water. Maybe it’s just part of being a responsible adult, maybe it happens when you stop pushing yourself, I don’t know. Yet hopping into that water brought me face to face with that fear.

The first dive I just had to focus on being in the water, using my regulator properly, and calmly breathing in and out. Eventually it got easier. However, after a while I had had enough and had to get out. We hadn’t seen a shark yet. After a hot coffee and a breather I psyched myself up to get back in, but I told myself it would be the last time, and if I didn’t see the shark, so be it. I stayed under for a good 45 minutes, until my face went blue, my ears hurt from the pressure and I had a heache. I was so determined to see that bloody shark! Eventually though, I had to get out. I was freezing!

Of course, as soon as the next group of divers got in the cage, the shark came, Stuff it, I thought, I’m getting back in! And it was so, so worth it.

These amazing creatures really command our respect. They are so calm and graceful; even though I was struggling with the dive they made me feel peaceful. They have such a gruesome reputation but to see them up close was just the most awe-inspiring experience. We saw two sharks a male and a female from what I could see, both about 4-5 metres long. The male even had a bunch of fish swimming along with him! He also had a few scars.

We were so grateful to be able to see the sharks in their natural surroundings, doing what they would normally do without us there. It was really important for us to be able to see them in the wild without upsetting them, as they deserve our respect. Adventure Bay Charters in Port Lincoln really looked after us and the sharks, and we couldn’t have had a better day.