Sunday, June 5, 2011

An Evening Stroll

Darkness falls early this close to the equator, and that's a good thing when your scheduled activity is a nighttime wildlife-spotting walk.

Guy and I met our guide at the Mitsinjo headquarters across from our guesthouse at 5:30, when the sun was setting. His name was Dipsi, or maybe Deep-see. I could remember how to pronounce it if I imagined Samuel Jackson getting chomped by the shark in Deep Blue Sea.

Dipsi led us along the road past the railway terminal and Hotel Mikalo. The national park is two kilometers from the town, but we weren't actually going into the national park, since nighttime visits are forbidden. No, we were walking along the road and then hiking through Mitsinjo's private forest.

Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. 

Dipsi's shoes wouldn't let us forget where he was. But that's okay, because they seemed to have magic animal-calling powers. And his eyes--! They were amazing. He could spot a chameleon on a dark branch from ten meters away.

"There." It was a small green frog on a green leaf.

"And there." A tiny brown chameleon on a thin branch, its tail curled up into a spiral.

Then we got to the good stuff, including a huge Parson's Chameleon, with a spiraled tail and a horned nose. Other tourists approached too, with their cameras and other guides.

But none of the other tourists could go into the private reserve. We hiked through the forest by the halos of our flashlights, enjoying sightings of spiders and strange plants. Dipsi was a local naturalist, born and bred and never even been to the northern beaches that Guy was headed to. He was 36 but looked ten years younger. He didn't say much, but he seemed to know everything about each plant or animal that we came across.

The private reserve was fun, but all the real action was happening back out on the road, including a mouse lemur. These are tiny and hard to photograph in the dark. Guy and I both bemoaned our lack of planning—neither of us had read up on how to use the manual functions on our cameras.

When we got back to the Parson's Chameleon, one of the other guides had pulled the branch down that the chameleon was sitting on, so everyone could get a close-up. That seemed pretty rude to the chameleon. I was glad our guide was more respectful.

Though he could be a bit stand-offish when it came to direct questions. Our night safari had been outstanding, and Guy wanted to know what would be the best time for us to start out again in the morning, to see the daytime lemurs.

The question was simple and straightforward.

"Dipsi, what's the best time to see lemurs?"

He hemmed and hawed and avoided answering because he didn't really want to get out of bed at five in the morning. And who can blame him? I was pretty sure *I* didn't want to get out of bed at five in the morning, but after being pushy all day, I had to sit back and let Guy lead. And if I didn't, well, he would have anyway. We were of similar dispositions.

Finally, Dipsi admitted that six was the best time to see lemurs.

"But we should go a little later."

We let him have his way. Heck, he's the expert.

Guy and I went back to Hotel Orchid for our scheduled meal, which turned out to be pretty good. And before we left, we chatted briefly with two guys who were talking about mountain gorillas in Uganda. I'd missed this social traveler's network when I'd been in Nigeria and Congo. It was nice to be meeting people again.

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