Monday, June 6, 2011

Lemur Island

Back at Association Mitsinjo, the community-tourism NGO in Andasibe, Guy and I negotiated for a car-and-driver to go on an afternoon excursion to Vakona Forest Lodge, an upmarket hotel about nine kilometers away. We certainly weren't staying at the lodge, given that it was ten times the cost of the Mitsinjo guesthouse, but we wanted to visit the grounds.

Because Vakona Forest Lodge features a place called "Lemur Island." That's where semi-tame lemurs jump on your head.

Hiring a car wasn't cheap, but I'd never had a lemur jump on my head before and neither had Guy. We were both keen to experience this unique activity.

"We forgot to buy bananas," I worried as the white 4WD took us along the winding road towards the hotel.

"They'll have some there," said Guy confidently.

When we arrived at the lodge, the driver first took us to check-in at the reception desk. We had to buy tickets. "Lemur Island" comes with a small admission fee.

The central hotel building of the lodge—one of the best in Madagascar—was lovely, with dining room tables surrounding a center stone fireplace.

"Let's eat lunch here after," suggested Guy.


We got back in the car and headed to a small makeshift jetty, where we were installed in a green fiberglass canoe alongside a naturalist in a blue fleece.

The guide had mini-bananas. He gave us each three.

The trip across the lagoon took only moments, and on the other side, we walked through tall grass to the the forest.

A cute brown lemur showed up, promptly walking right up to us. He climbed a branch near Guy and looked at him with his big innocent eyes.

The guide suggested we hold a piece of banana out.

And the lemur ate it, right out of Guy's hand!

Which was cool. And then the brown lemur got a little more brazen.

More, he seemed to say. I want more.

He jumped up on Guy's shoulder. Guy was startled but kept his cool.

And then more lemurs appeared out of the trees and on the ground. Some hung from their toes. And they were not shy. These lemurs—brown, ruffled, dancing, lemurs galore—they wanted our bananas and were willing to do whatever it took to get them.

Including jumping on our heads, shoulders, arms, and gouging our eyes out. Okay, no gouging. But their little hands were all over our faces and eyes. They didn't hurt. Lemurs are small and pleasant. They didn't seem to want to bite or poke us. All they wanted was a tasty snack.

I did not keep my cool. I was screaming at first—in a good OHMYGODGETITOFFME way—because well, duh, there were LEMURS ON MY HEAD. I bent over, trying to keep them away from my face, but they just climbed around on my back then. I stood up slowly, and after the initial shock wore off, I was just laughing out loud along with Guy.

The guide patiently stood and took photos. Lemurs climbed all over him but he didn't appear to notice.

Three cheeky brown lemurs brazenly unzipped Guy's backpack and stole the avocado he'd bought last night. They had it open and the lemurs were sharing it before we could even say "Hey, that's not for you."

And soon we were out of food. The lemurs hung around hopefully for a bit but became bored. But not before one shit on me.

We left the island delighted and excited. What fun it is to have lemurs jump on your head!

"And now you will go to see the crocodiles."

What? We didn't want to see any crocodiles. But off we went to see crocodiles, birds (some that eat meat, like the kookaburras that used to visit when I lived in Australia), and some wildly pacing fosas, a mongoose-looking puma-like mammal that likes to EAT LEMURS. I felt bad for the fosas being cooped up, but they did look fast, mean, and kind of evil, like a Tasmanian devil.

We had snacks at the lodge by the moat (to protect against crazed banana-chasing lemurs?)—we'd missed lunch while we'd been touristing—and headed back to town.

"This is a nice town," said Guy. "Cheap lodging and good food. Let's stay another night."

I looked at Guy for a minute, thought about my office not being able to find me and about the possibility that I really did need to check in with them. But he was right.

"If you can find me Internet, I'll stay."

He asked our driver, who dropped us off at the town cybercafe.

And we headed back to Hotel Mikalo for a celebration dinner for our excellent lemur-filled day.

Before, with a few exceptions, my trip had felt like an ordeal. Now, it was starting to feel like a holiday.

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