Guides Who Know their Job
Guides Who Know their Job: Spotting a tiny chameleon among the leaf litter on the forest floor, stories about the burial customs of the Bara tribe and advice on hitchhiking to the nearest big town. These three things have one thing in common, they were all carried out by different guides I met along the way in national parks throughout Madagascar. The standard of the guides I met there was second to none and their knowledge and willingness to help is a credit to them as a whole.
Hery, the guide I spent most time with in the two weeks of my trip to Makay and later in Isalo is one of the only ones who takes tourists into Makay and is a bit of a specialist at it. With tight cropped hair and a schoolteacher air about him he is very professional and was quite stressed when things were not quite working out as planned at times. Going into Makay at the start of the wet season is no easy feat and caused him headaches ranging from the 4×4 we started out with not being able to cross the Mangoky river towards the park to keeping calm when were well and truly lost one day and it looked like we would be spending the night under the stars.
Hery is the only guide the park office has the contact number for who goes into Makay and he has gotten his experience through hard work. Having started as a porter in Isalo national park and working his way up to being a cook he gained his accreditation as a guide for Isalo and then became one of the very few guides who go to Makay. An earnest man with a family to support who takes his job very seriously this is the kind of person you want running things when you are in one of the most isolated national parks in the world. One of the best among the guides who know their job.
He was always keen to make sure I felt part of the group which consisted mainly of Malagasy speakers although sometimes I was a bit of a reluctant participant, like at the end of the Makay hike when we were back in the village of Bernoone drinking some local rum. Hery produced a some fried beetles as an accompaniment which at first I wasn’t keen on trying but which proved to be quite tasty and like many savory snacks I have had with a beer over the years.
He also has great knowledge of the Bara tribe which is the largest ethnic groups in the southwest of Madagascar giving me very interesting information about marriage and death rituals and celebrations. One of the most interesting things he told me about was fady which are taboos in Malagasy culture. Once such fady the Bara tribes holds is against pointing and it is particularly taboo to point at a tomb. Another widely held one is against the eating of lemurs though there is evidence of this one being broken and lemurs meat eaten in mining camps and as delicacies in rare cases in some restaurants. These taboos are passed on from generation to generation and are often reinforced by stories to back them up. People who break these taboos may be shunned by the community depending on the nature of the violation. This kind of knowledge gave me an insight into the culture and way of life and also provided pointers on what not to do so as not to offend people.
Tosi, my guide in Ankarafantsika national park took spotting wildlife to a different level when he pointed out a Brookesia, which are among the worlds smallest chameleons, in leaf litter on the ground. Almost impossible to pick out even he was excited at our find as he doesn’t see them very often. It was so difficult for me to spot that he had to almost touch it to show me where it was. The one we saw was no more than 10cm in length and looked every inch like a decaying leaf on the ground. The amazing diversity in these parks really needs an experts eye and I certainly had that in the presence of Tosi.
“What do you think is the best way to get from here to Brickaville?” I asked Herman, who was showing me around Andasibe national park, home to the worlds largest living lemur the Indri.
“Hmmmmm..” came the reply, followed by “When are you going?”
“Monday morning, do you think there will be taxi brousse going that way?” I asked about the 115km stretch between Andasibe and this large town on the doorstep of the Pangalanes canal.
“Yes but they may be full,” Herman replied.
“So maybe its best to go back into Moramanga first then?” I asked. This would mean doubling back on myself to catch a bus and travelling the same road twice.
“No, just wave somebody down and offer them some money for a lift if they are going that way,” he replied.
This turned out to be one very useful piece of advice as not only did it save me hours going back to Moramanga it also resulted in one of my most interesting days ever on public transport. Or public transport of a sort as a truck stopped to pick me up after I waved it down near Andasibe where I joined other passengers sitting on the bunk bed behind the driver. I got to sit on the bunk and get views over the bush at the side of the road into the surrounding countryside as well as getting unique views of the villages we passed through all the way to Brickaville.
I could reel off countless stories of how well informed and helpful the guides were in every park I visited and I hope to meet guides who know their job next time I am there.