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Favorite thing: Tavy is a slash and burn technique that locals use for agriculture. Thinking of it, I always understood that the more you burn soil, the more you kill nutriments in it... Peasants in Madagascar always believed the contrary. Then, for decades, they just slash and burn hundred of thousands of sq. meter per year. Like if there was a race for the greatest burner or what (?).
[Aug. 2004: I just heard while watching a program the principles of this tavy. To have arable plots of lands, Malagasy countrymen had used, since centuries ago, to apply the slash and burn technique. They first slashed trees (of the primitive forests) then burnt trunks to have ashes nourishing the soil. Planted the plots and left them to rest and regenerate for 40-50 years. It used to work for decades. The balance had been maintained since trees were growing again. For some decades, population had rapidly grown so that they needed more arable soils. Burnt more surfaces and left less years for regeneration. Whilst the soil was left for rest for 40-50 years, the average rest period is now 8 years. As a result: no trees growing, less nutriments regenerated. ]
Doro-tanety means the burning of soil. It can result from tavy, vandalism, political protestation (?) or pyromania. This phenomenon usually occurs throughout the island in winter (because weather is dry in winter, it is easier to burn vast surfaces). Now, click on the picture and you'll see that even on this red- lateritic soil, they still believe that burning would make it more fertile.. and they burn.
It is to counter such actions and to educate peasants (80% of Malagasy) that NGOs, the government, the more educated Malagasy people are now working together to guide the weakest ones, the poorest, the illiterate. Work is tough though locals, government, citizen associations make it possible to save what can be saved. It needs a strong will and a noneless strong support from tourists, visitors, holidaymakers.
Fondest memory: This is the area just before entering Isalo Park... Dry, burnt and nude soil
Updated Aug 9, 2004
Favorite thing: It's after seeing those red- soil sceneries that "Red Island" comes to your mind.
This is not only in Isalo area but throughout the Central Highlands too. Tana, Fianarantsoa and Toliara provinces.
In the past though, the country was nicknamed "Blue island" for it being so green, dark green that it seems blue when seen from above (plane, for instance). Blue-green because of the primitive forests.
But deforestation "arranged" it all to fully upset the ecological balance. Indeed, where on this red soil would live the lemurs, the birds, the chamilions without forest and greeneries?
Hopefully, NGOS and new government tackle the education problem of those 80% of Malagasy now. ANGAP (I mention in my must-see activties tips) has had tough job to orientate and forbid the extract of sapphire in the Isalo park itself in the latest years. How would they achieve that since a massive exodus hit Ilakaka region to extract sapphire ?
The job was too immense compared to the expectations the whole population has towards the discovery of this Malagasy Eldorado.
Now, the craze for this activity seems to weaken a bit. Also, the NGO managed to finance and implement micro-projects like planting rice, cultivating vegetables to provide the locals with revenues (and so to deter them from extracting gems in the Northern part of the massif, where Isalo National Park lies)... That, in larger scale, would encourage them to send kids to school and leave this park alone, without the big holes made for sapphire mining.
Fondest memory: Many reasons entitle this island the nickname of "Red island".
*Red as Red- lateritic eroded soil
*Red as Communism:
Yes, "Blue island" turned also red when ancient president Didier Ratsiraka came to power in 1974, with his Marxist- Leninist approach, his Little Red book, Boky mena.
An approach that he left in the 90s, making a huge 180-degree-turn to capitalism. Meanwhile, nothing has changed. Yes, change: people was empoverished, public services were deficient, corruption practice skyrocketed. A huge part of society remained illiterate.
Now, scholar kits are distributed to countryside families in order to spare them the cost of material. Still, one has to find a way to encourage them to NOT keep the kids in the fields.. but that's another story.
Maybe you are wondering why I talk about politics. Because nature, wildlfe protection, environmental problems are tightly linked to economy. And economic decisions (or non-decisions, for that matter) are dictated by political measures. No more than in poor countries are parks and nature reserves are so under threaten. In Madagascar, there is not any other park that has known such a fate as this Isalo National Park, for its contaning the precious sapphire mines.
Updated Aug 9, 2004
Favorite thing: Does it surprise you to encounter rivulets in the desert Isalo park ?
It shouldn't since two main rivers in Southern part of Madagascar depart from Isalo area.
Remember ? It is a massif, with different altitudes. Then rivulets and rivers run through it. :)
Fondest memory: Once again, one of fondest memories of mine is the sharp contrast between the lush oasises, the humid gorges and the dry rock formations.
Updated Jul 30, 2004
Favorite thing: You will have to go through these corridors.. It, as many others, are located in the rocks, creating some kind of oasis. See? Greenery, flowers, rivulets or sometimes cascades are located in the middle of the dry rocks...
At some time while climbing, you'll have to stick to the cliff, with the help of some rope, to not to fall in the water. Still, the water was 1.50 m lower. :) see next tip
Isalo is about that: the combination of rocks -plants; dry-wet.. to give us the sight on weirdest landscape in the country.
Fondest memory: silence in the park... though the sifakas communicate with their calls, silence prevails due to the immensity of the area.
feeling of immensity... hmmm.. OK, I don't talk about the "immensity" of this gorge in the picture, of course. It is rather narrow, in fact. :)
Updated Jul 30, 2004
Favorite thing: End 1997, a peasant found a sapphire stone and showed it to a tourist. The rumour that sapphire was discovered there had spread nationwide. And "small" people came to extract minerals as a job. In no time, Ilakaka region, then a hamlet with no electricity with just dozens of inhabitants, welcame hundreds of thousands of mine workers from all over the country. The "city" grew so quickly but was never ready to host so many people. They were there, with the hope of making money from sapphire extraction. Appalling working and living conditions, of course. Many are reported to have died in the mining galleries, surprised by erosion.
Then suddenly, the then government closed the mines, "in order to regulate and make it safe to work there". They meant by that, organising the extraction business, administration, "working on the new mining code" related to it. There was certainly some good intention in that, given the situation in the area (no safety, bad living conditions, unlawness, diseases incl. STD...). Also, the Isalo park started to be the scene of mining activities, tough job for the ANGAP of course (see about ANGAP later, in my must see's).
Still, whereas small people were sent home, jobless. The mines were opened to officials who drove there, by car, by helicopter Sri Lankan, Thai traders. They were extracting the gemms and kept small people aside. One of extracting sites there was told to belong to the son of a top government official. The son had, then, his air company too.
Then, the mines re-opened in April 2001, reportedly after that a lot was extracted by officials. Yet, small people are installing themselves again. Now, let's see what the new government would do for this situation. I will update.
Fondest memory: Before reaching Isalo National Park, we passed Sakaraha and Ilakaka without noticing they were the sapphire towns.
That is because I was there in 1995. Then, I noticed both towns were isolated, made of this red earth with just small huts here and there.
Now, Ilakaka is the local equivalent of the Wild West: bustling shops, restaurants, bars, casinos, inns. It even has its own radio station. Strange area I never walked in. But friends who went there in 2001 reported that everything costed a lot there since money flows. No basic amenities such as electricity either toilets but "groupe electrog?ne". Houses were rather settlement dwelling. Also, guns were ruling. Many prostitutes (from 14) for the miners. The guys need entertainment :)) Taxi rides are reported to be expensive too.
Despite current government's (the one who has been there since 2002) attempt to regulate sapphire extraction there, the Far West habits are not part of history yet. I was told that corruption of officials is still a system. Seems to enhance still.
To think, the sapphire extracting activities take place in the Northern part of the massif, the very one that houses the National park as well. This is what I was refering to in my intro text, talking about the tie binding the fate of a park with the attitude of the decisionmakers.
Updated Jul 30, 2004
Favorite thing: .. to finish with, the most rewarding activity after the efforts of walking under the sun, on the slippery rocks, in the canyons: a bath in the rockpool water.
This is a natural rockpool. Still, since eroded soil brings sand in the pool, park keepers have to regularly pull the sand away in the pool. Big Thanks to them !
Updated May 22, 2004
Favorite thing: Of course, water is not good for you there. You may bath but I advise you to NOT drink, of course. Better have your own bottle (sealed) of Eau Vive or Olympiko, or other boiled.
Even, the water in this pic is not for bathing. Wait for the rockpool for that.
Fondest memory: It is amazing that this area -that is seen as arid sometimes, more desertic & rocky than lush- contains lots of rivulets, springs.
Isalo massif is even the starting point of 2 major rivers in the South.
Spring water runs in the depths of gorges and narrow humid canyons. So humid that ferns and mosses hang on the rock walls. At some time, you would find yourself hiking against the torrents, stepping on the rocks, trying to stick to the cliffs. In summer (Jan-March), this is a very refreshing experience in the Lemur valley. You would appreciate it since from the starting point, there wouldn't be no shelter, no tree until you reach the Valley.
Updated May 22, 2004
Favorite thing: It sure amazed me. It seems that locals in this area are used to live in huts. Small huts. Still, I was stuned when I saw this hut. I am not sure this is for human, given its size but for what then ? Animals? Well, if it's for the domestic animals I saw: dogs, goats, sheeps, this is not large enough either. What is the hut for then? Mystery. This is the smallest I saw, I must say.
Fondest memory: While passing by the houses in the arid bushy region, I wondered myself how people in those huts live. What do they eat ? In fact, apart from some manioc plants & goats & sheeps, they seem to have nothing to eat.
Updated May 22, 2004
Favorite thing: You wouldn't feed 15 millions of people without cultivating the staple food. So, in Isalo park oasises, one finds many types of cultivation, including ricefields. Yep, you are in Madagascar, folks !
Fondest memory: The constrast betwen the lusher area of the canyon, where runs a river and lies a rockpool, and the drier parts.
Updated May 20, 2004
Favorite thing: Geckos are other species you usually find in Madagascar. if I am not wrong, the island is even known for gecko species. Still, I don't have any info regarding gecko specificity in Madagascar. Maybe the biggest gecko ? I know about the tallest chamilion and the tallest butterfly. I know Madagascar has some giant geckos buit is it the only place for them? I don't know.
Maybe because they are not my favourite "beasts" ?
Anyway, one can always have a look here to know more of them:
Fondest memory: One has to pay attention while walking because of the colour of some animals that make them appear as invisible. Like this one, it resembles the rock on which it is laying.
But of course, sometimes you may encounter the electric green gecko or the neon gecko... beautiful and looks good on photo.
PS: Belgianchocolate just told me it looks like a lizzard. I thought of that too. He pointed out about the fingers (that geckos usually have round fingers). I thought of it too. So, it is likely to be rather a lizzard than a gecko. My lat visit was in years and years ago, I didn't take any note so it is sometimes difficult to remember of everything.
Updated May 9, 2004