Where’s the rano mafana in Ranomafana?

            I took a vacation this week on my way to Tana/Mantasoa for IST (In Service Training) in Ranomafana.  Ranomafana is located in the rainforest about halfway between Manakara and Fianarantsoa.  I went there with two of my fellow Stage Sudesters and meet with two others from my Stage.  Once there, the five of us got a room at a travelers hostel and started our plans for the next few days.  It had started raining in Ranomafana shortly after we arrived and the forecast showed that it was only going to get worst as the week progressed; as it turned out, it only rained that day and the next and was nothing but sunshine after that.  So fearing that the rain was going to get worst we
decided that we would go ahead and do a hike through the rainforest the following morning and then relax in the hot springs pool the day after that.  Waking up that next morning, there was only a slight drizzle and so we grabbed our raincoats and cameras and headed up the road in the direction we thought the national park headquarters probably was in…we had no real idea.  Fortunately we were correct and after about a mile or so we finally arrived.  Not believing that we were Peace Corps volunteers we had to show the park host our residency papers; it is very common for people to think we are just Vazaha.  Once she was satisfied, we paid for our entry and a guide and started our five hour hike through the rainforest.  We were stopped again at the ticket booth on the trail going into the rainforest because the guy there also did not believe I lived in Madagascar.  So I showed him my papers and gave him (in Malagasy) my spiel about where I lived and what I did. 
            It was at this time that it truly began to rain and would not stop till we were just about to leave the rainforest.  The trail soon turned from cement to dirt, which soon turned into mud.  This would be a good point to state that Ranomafana, though was a place I wanted to go at some point, was a last minute decision made the day before we left to go there.  That being said, I did not pack shoes and only had my flip flops to wear till I returned back to site.  As you could imagine flip flops are not contusive to hiking period, but especially not when hiking up and down muddy and slippery trails in the rainforest.  So I took off the flip flops and carried them as I barefooted the hike. 
            Due to the rain a lot of the animals were not out, but we did get to see a few cool insects, like the elephant beetle, and three different kinds of lemurs; the golden bamboo lemur, the greater bamboo lemur, and the red bellied lemur.  We were fortunate to see these three lemurs because they are the three rarest lemurs in that rainforest.  Our guide was amazing at finding them too.  As we walked he would hear a call and then run out into the forest calling back to the lemurs till he had spotted them and then beckoned us to come take a look.  Although many of the animals tried to stay out of the rain, what the rain did bring out were the leeches.  There were so many leeches!!!  During our hike we were constantly stopping to pull them off of our feet and legs; we did this so much that we finally stopped pulling them off till they had reached our knees.  I personally lost count of how many leeches I pulled off at 73!! 
            Even with the leeches the hike was amazing.  It took us through bamboo groves, through secondary forest, to amazing over looks, across serene brooks, through the primary forest, by majestic waterfalls, across the countryside, by the ex-presidents house, and ending back in town.  Towards the end of the hike one of the other volunteers stated that they were tired of the leeches and hiking and so the guide took us on a ‘shortcut’ straight through the rainforest to quicken the hike; no trails, only the engulfing rainforest.  The hike itself ended at the hot springs pool and baths.  These turned out to be closed for the next few days for renovation, canceling our plans for the next day.  Once we entered back into Ranomafana we tipped our guide and made our way back to our room for de-leeching, showers, and dry clothes.  

Elephant Beetle

Path through the bamboo grove.

Golden Bamboo Lemar

Greater Bamboo Lemur

A lot of our hike looked like this.

A quick stop for de-leeching.

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