Friday, January 1, 2010

Nosy Komba, Isle of Lemurs

Map picture

After two days at sea travelling east from Kenya, we arrived at Nosy Be’, Madagascar where we anchored just offshore. Nosy Be’ is a small island just 5 miles off the northwest coast of Madagascar and is home to around 60,000 people. Immediately after dropping anchor, the ship was surrounded with islanders in their small dugout canoes. IMG_5389 Some of them came trying to sell souvenirs, but most came to sing and shout a welcome. In fact, the ship was surrounded all day, and only as we pulled up anchor to depart, did the little boats return to shore.

To us and most of those on the ship, the real attraction of this stop was the nearby small island of Nosy Komba, because it is a sanctuary to a large colony of lemurs. The island can only be reached by boat, and even at that it has no landing facilities, so boats simply pull as close to shore as possible, and you jump into knee-high water and walk up on the beach.IMG_5409 Our ride from the ship took about 40 minutes in a small local boat that held only 10 people. Since over 189 people had signed up for this excursion, there was quite a bit of activity simply getting everyone over to the island.

Immediately upon landing, it was obvious that we were in a third world country. People were friendly and welcoming, but it was sad to see how they lived. I never saw any roads, much less any electricity or phones. There were a large number of children around, while most of the women seemed to be busy sewing, cooking or washing laundry.

After getting organized from the landing, our group started a walk through the little village and up a steep hill to the lemur sanctuary. IMG_5429 As we walked into the IMG_5456 surrounding tropical forest, the air became very still. In the extreme heat and humidity and with no wind, everyone quickly became soaked in sweat. Our guide thankfully stopped frequently. We finally stopped at an area where there were a small family of lemurs and everyone crowded around for a picture. The little animals were quite friendly and completely unafraid of the adoring crowds.IMG_5440 They would sometimes jump down onto peoples’ necks or arms, particularly if they were holding a banana. The males were jet black with big tufted ears and brilliant eyes. The females were light brown with black faces and white tufted ears. They were a beautiful and gentle animal.

We continued on our climb, pausing frequently. Finally, we reached the sanctuary which was right outside a Catholic Monastery. Here we not only saw more lemurs, but also large chameleons, snakes, and tortoises. IMG_5497 I actually got to hold a large boa snake, and also the male chameleon.

On the long walk down, both sides of the path were lined with small huts, and everywhere women and children tried to sell their wares. The children had their faces all painted and they would form in groups of 4 or 5 and sing as we went by, being sure we saw the basket on the ground with a $1 bill sitting there as a suggestion.IMG_5420

After our 3 hour journey in the extreme heat and blazing sun, it was good to return to the cool ship. That, of course, involved the comedy of watching a bunch of old “out of shape” people trying to swing themselves up from the pounding surf into those little boats.

Between the “wet” landing, the sand, and the muddy climb, my shoes were trashed. Lisa and I both jumped into the shower, not only to hose ourselves down, but to try to somehow clean up our muddy, sandy, messy shoes.

All in all however, it was a fun visit. My only regret is that when I got to look at my pictures, there were very few good ones of the lemurs. I checked Lisa’s shots, and they were similar. In the deep shadows of the forest, we did not have much light, and the low light combined with the animals black fur was making it difficult for our cameras to focus and shoot fast enough. Pooh! I should have known better, but at least I did get some good shots to share, and I will post them later today.

At this point, we are sailing east again from Madagascar towards two small islands in the Indian Ocean, Point Des Galets and Port Louis on Mauritius.

For now we wish everyone a very Happy New Year.


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