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Journal from the Manambolo River - Day 3

In the morning we have sand in everything. It's almost like if has snowed. The cornucopia of insect life from the previous night has taken shelter in all our equipment and we're frequently surprised by strategically hidden scorpions as we pack.

At breakfast we're joined by a local Sakalava boy who's finely dressed. We learn that the Dahalo had crossed the river and appeared to be preparing an ambush in the late afternoon. Thus the concerns of Max and Betsara were warranted and they plan to take special precautions on their return trip upriver.

As we move downstream the landscape becomes more canyon-like. Increasingly there are little pockets of forest and we encounter more local people on the river.

We pass some fasana or tombs constructed with neatly piled rock. These are tombs of the Sakalava, the ethnic group that lives in this region and most of western Madagascar. In the distance there is a mountain where local people have typically buried their dead. Once you pass the mountain it becomes a serious fady or taboo to point with your finger -- you need to point with your knuckle, paddle, or elbow when trying to call attention to something. Pointing with your finger angers the razana or spirits of the dead.

We reach the Manambolo canyon and it is spectacular with colorful cliff walls and deciduous forests. We camp at a picturesque spot where a clearwater stream enters the muddly flow of the Manambolo. As we unload the pirogues bright yellow and teal butterflies flutter about and black kites circle above. Along the river there are strange rock formations with holes and arches.

I go for a walk up the clearwater creek ("Oly" creek) and find a gorgeous pool full of at least 5 kinds of fish including a silverside-like fish with black markings on its tail, a goby-like creature, and three types of cichlids (a sand-colored species with vertical bands, a dark cichlid, and an opaline type with red fins and occasionally yellow or orange flanks). Seeing these fish is a special experience; Malagasy cichlids are increasingly endangered due to habitat loss and degradation from deforestation and soil erosion. Additionally, the introduction of exotic species -- specifically Tilapia -- have absolutely decimated native fish stocks. In some rivers as much as 99% of the fish collected in surveys are now Tilapia species and several of Madagascar's unique cichlids are no longer recorded in the wild.

While walking back to the camp site I see my first lemurs for the trip: a group of Decken's sifaka leaping about in trees high up on the ridge above our tents. We watch them as the sun sets.

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Almost all pictures on this site were taken with a Konica Minolta

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