Friday, January 6, 2012

A Pirate's Paradise

Next morning, early, Dorique drove us out to the airport and we made the brief flight up to Diego Suarez, or Antsiranana. It's formal name is the latter, supposedly adopted over 35 years ago. But apart from the flight times sign at the airport, I never encountered anyone or any organization using anything other than the old name, Diego Suarez. Or simply Diego.

We were met at the Diego airport by our next two Cactus Tours Madagascar guides, Zeze and Marshall. Not wasting any time, we headed straight for Mount D'Ambre National Park. But on the way, we were treated to our first sightings of wild chameleons. I swear, Zeze and Marshall could probably spot them at 100 meters in the dark....

Imagine, something like that, just crawling leisurely along your garden fence. Very cool! But just looking at them from the car was not enough. Zeze gave me an even closer look:

They feel really funky moving on your hand, with a soft but firm grip. They do have tiny claws in their gripping paws, which look like mittens, that bite into your skin a bit. But it is so worth it! Zeze and Marshall also spotted this one:

We also got our first look at the lush and colorful northern Madagascar countryside:

As we approached Mount D'Ambre, we passed through Joffreville:

The park itself was everything you might want a tropical rainforest to be:

In fact, we had demonstrated to us exactly why it is called a rain forest. As we were hiking, it began to rain, and rain harder. We got soaked! And when the rain finally let up, we spent a few minutes pulling off the leeches we had picked up along the way. Gross? Sort of. But now we can both tick that one off our lists: Blood sucked out by leeches. Check...

Clear of those, and the rain (mostly), we stopped for a picnic. Here:

Just another standard picnic spot in a national park...

With the world's smallest chameleon (yes that is a ring):

We then hiked out to the Cascade Sacré, which most definitely felt like a sacred place, along a trail with views like this:

Where we paused in this magnificently serene setting:

For one of my favorite pictures of us, ever:

On the way out, we marveled at these Angel's Trumpet flowers, which are much bigger than they look here:

The chameleon spotting continued with this green one:

Then I actually spotted this one (I was so proud!):

You can see it better here:

We also saw, thanks to Zeze or Marshall's eyes, not mine, this cool grey gecko (almost every other gecko we saw was green):

We eventually found our way into Diego by early evening:

We stayed at the Grand Hotel. (Cactus Tours really did us right with the lodging arrangements everywhere we went.) We explored Diego a bit, and I must say I really, really liked it. It is trying to revitalize, and I can see how with some work it could be the coolest, hippest town. It has some really interesting architecture from multiple eras...

And it is rather vibrant, I thought (the three photos that follow are two that resulted from the auto-adjustments our camera makes depending on the angle of the light and a third that I created with Photoshop so you could see something of how it looked to us):

We looked around at a bunch of restaurants, but in the end we opted for some yummy street food. Thanks again to my brilliant wife and her fluency in French, we were able to make sure that what I got was vegan. So fun. Really, how many chance are we going to get to make a meal out of street food purchased for a relative pittance on the sidewalk of an old pirate's paradise?

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