I believe that the road to Ranomafana has been upgraded in the last few years, and compared to some of the other roads we travelled (the Fort Dauphin to Berenty being a particularly vicious boneshaker of note), it was a smooth and pleasant ride.
Villages on the High Plateau are generally charming. We found the architecture to be unexpected (perhaps this betrays how ill-researched we were?) - double storey brick buildings with thatched roofs being the norm, and in certain villages, there was almost a sense of Eastern Europe. As with every other aspect of life, fady (traditional beliefs) have a huge influence, and so the layout of the house is rigidly dictated, with the parents' room oriented to one specific compass point, and the kitchen to another, and so on.
Village life wherever you go is always fascinating. In one village, we were struck by the juxtaposition of traditional totems within the grounds of a fairly modern school, indicating how in Madagascar, the ancient and traditional always remains intrinsically linked to the present.
Elsewhere, we got a sneak preview of what people could look forward to for supper: in one place, a freshly caught eel, and in another, tiny freshwater crayfish (which we sampled later that evening ourselves, and would highly recommend so long as someone else shells them for you). Perhaps what was even more fascinating than the animals themselves (which were pretty interesting) were the cunningly designed little carrying containers made of what seemed to be bamboo-like sticks lashed together with lengths of creeper.
However, the image that will remain with me most vividly is the main photo for this travel tip: a pastiche of thatched roofs in different stages of repair and variable antiquity, swathed in smoke from the indoor fires, and a very laid back dog having a snooze on the roof covering the woodpile - it brings a whole new dimension to the adage, "Let sleeping dogs lie"!
One of the things that I like so much about Madagascar is that the wildlife experiences start before you have even set foot outside your hotel! This is not meant to imply that we had problems with vermin or insect infestation, but sipping an ice-cold Three Horses Beer whilst watching geckoes hunt insects on the restaurant walls has to be one of the most entertaining ways to while away the time between placing your order and tucking into your meal!
One of the reasons why I like geckoes so much is the success with which they have adapted to coexist with humans, and how they have managed to turn the threat posed by human encroachment into their habitat into an opportunity by exploiting the 'niches' that we create.
Geckoes are past masters at using curtain fixtures and wall hangings as hiding places from which to observe and stalk the insect life that is attracted into artificial light. And before you know it, they have snapped up a juicy moth or beetle, and are chomping away on their supper in synch with you!
Or at least that's how it's meant to work. In this particular case (at the Centrest Hotel in Ranomafana), we had been watching a particular gecko stalking a moth for quite some time. Sensing a good photo opportunity, my husband had his camera at the ready, waiting to capture the moment of capture. Snap went the gecko's mouth, and snap went the camera shutter.
Unfortunately the gecko was so startled by the unexpected flash of light that it opened his mouth in surprise, giving the moth a stay of execution!
One should probably not ascribe human emotions to animals, but I could swear that the gecko in question spent the rest of our meal sulking behind the curtains and muttering darkly about the impact of tourists on food security!
It's so easy to get hooked on primates when you think of Madagascar's wildlife, for reasons that are absolutely understandable: after all, they are enchanting and cuddly-looking not-so-distant relatives (and possibly more endearing than some of the people to whom you may admit to being related!)
But lemurs are by far from being the only show in town. If you have read my other travel pages, you will already know that I am absolutely unapologetic at my fascination (bordering on obsession) with geckoes and chameleons - for this reason, I have shown uncharacteristic restraint and have only included one photo of a leaf-tailed gecko below! The frogs are also fantastic - given that frogs in general are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of both human encroachment on their habitat and climate change, it was a special treat to see so many frogs, both in terms of numbers and species.
Madagascar's insects are also extraordinary. In Ranomafana, you may be lucky enought to see the massive and exquisite comet moth - see photos elsewhere - as well as equally interesting, if more sinister-looking creatures such as the enormous praying mantis below. The beauty of these animals is that they come out at night, and many are attracted in to artificial light, which presents hitherto unexpected (and occasionally unwelcome) wildlife spotting opportunities after dark. And of course the giraffe-necked weevils are utterly unique - another one of God's evolutionary experiments to make you shake your head in admiration and bemusement!
In terms of the gigantic earthworm, I simply have no words to describe it, except to say that it was absolutely massive!