Lemur price (noun): the cosmic principle that if one sees/experiences something really cool (especially in Madagascar), one will see/experience something equally awful.
S02 has changed. The dining table made of tarps and lashed together logs is now a solid table and benches. Ragged tents are now six bunkbeds (complete with foam mattress) in the big house at the top of the hill. The raised latrine and field we snuck out to pee in during the night, is now empty bungalows complete with running showers and toilets.
Needless to say, I was disturbed/semi-disappointed to hike for hours, breathless, to end up in what amount’s to a Hilton. But this post isn’t about that. It’s about the first two days where we set up 80% of the camera trap grid and I got my first taste of the lemur price.
Our first day it was pouring rain. Welcome back to Madagascar! Terrestrial leeches were out in force, inching up boots, sneaking up backs, ending up on necks and heads. Despite the elements and my own near-phobia of leeches, we were able to set up 9 camera stations between two teams.
Our second day was a dream. Clear blue sky, warm, golden light bathing everything in a soft promise that whispered, no, there would be no leeches to battle with that day*. Which would be nice, because the steep inclines the day before had nearly killed me, and now we had to set up 10 stations.
R, one of the guides, took us on a circular path, hitting up the view past 7, taking us to 16, 21, 23, 11 and then 10. On our way past the view, he showed off the new platform built for better photographs. Back in my day, we had to flirt with the possibility of falling off a steep cliff to get a good picture of this view… I was rather unimpressed until I realized I wouldn’t have another chance that day to take pictures, so I went back up the trail.
After I finished, what should R spot off the trail except for a silky? And after we got pictures of her, what should he spot except for another silky on the opposite side of the trail?
It was in that way that we wasted about 30 minutes taking pictures while we should have been working.
I couldn’t believe it. Only two days and I was doing awesome at completing side quest #3 (Operation Silky Sifaka Family Portraits).
Ever the optimist, I thought: this is too easy. There’s a price to be paid for this. A lemur price.
Of course, I simply thought that I would have to deal with getting a leech in some terrifying place, like under an eyelid, or tripping and smashing my knees into rocks. Little did I expect the hellish journey that lay before us…a journey so traumatizing that I began pretending that each of the camera stations were Joe Immortan’s five wives to keep my mind from my physical and mental anguish.
Station 16 (retroactively named The Splendid Angharad): the station that set the tone of the day. After our embarrassment of silky sifaka riches, we came across a new clearing. I *felt a leech bite my bare shoulder and tripped many times (expected). Then, we ran across a contraption in the middle of the trail.
It was a home made animal trap. Chopped and replanted bits of thick vegetation blocked the trail. Any animal walking along the trail would have to go over/around the trap, or (more likely) through it. Go through and they would end up with their head in a noose. The trap would trigger, and a large, bent stick (not shown), would fling them up in the air, where they would dangle and asphyxiate until the hunter came back around.
I fumbled for some minutes, trying to find the Malagasy word for clever. All I could say was, “tsara, fa ratsy” (good, but bad). R and D were understandably confused and laughed off my craziness.
My appreciation of the trap dimmed as we came across another less than a 100 m away…then yet another just a bit before our camera trap station. As we set up, I wondered, whether we would actually see anything walking around. What animal would be near such a trap-infested, degraded area?
Station 21 (retroactively named The Dag): Back to the enormous new clearing, but this time, we get to climb up the steep slope! In the blazing hot sun! After puffing and panting my way up the incline–including a pee break that led to me shouting at a curious R and D to mandeha (go!)–we find solace in cool forest.
Only to break into another, even bigger, new clearing! The devastation was so complete that R spent 5 minutes attempting to find the (long gone) trail to 21. The GPS unit we had with us was little help. The points I had carefully entered in the day before were showing up as 200 m away from the true station location.
By the time we set up station 21 and dealt with *yet another leech determined to hide in my backpack, my mind was beginning to fragment. Was this station 21? Did I even care?
Station 23 (Capable): Going back through the clearing, to crest a rise and see, yes, even more trees chopped down, was the final straw. This is where I started naming the stations after Joe’s wives. This is where I disregarded all sense of pride and had R and D set up #23 while I recuperated on a large rock in the middle of a small stream. I tried to remember the forest as it had been; I could recall a beautifully lit pool of water in between 21 and 23 that was no longer there. I could envision dark, damp trails and tons of vines and mossy, wet trunks. No longer.
And I had never thought to take pictures. Now all I had were the remains.
I soothed my ruffled feelings with the thought: at least 23 is still in rainforest.
Station 11 (Cheedo the Fragile): We dove back into rainforest and did some major bushwhacking on our way to 11. For 20 minutes we blazed our own trail. This means, we slammed into tree trunks, crawled over downed logs, anointed our faces with spider webs and tangled helplessly in thorny vines at ankle, calf and knee height. After vaulting over yet another log, I rolled bodily into station 11, only to see to my right a usable (if slightly overgrown) trail. The one we hadn’t taken. I had R clear it.
Station 10 (Toast the Knowing): There’s something to be said for bushwhacking. Although you get the spiders, and the thorns, and the bruises, you go at a wonderfully slow pace. On the way to 10, we were on a usable trail, so no slow-going for us! Once again I was stuck puffing and glaring at every incline that dared show its face. Along the way, R found some rather fresh fosa scat that I wrapped up in leaves with the intention of dissecting once I got back to camp. I ended up throwing it away due to a need to use both my hands while hiking, but the knowledge that some carnivore (fosa or otherwise) had been using the trail recently made me feel better. At least we’ll get some pictures at 10 and 11, even if 21 and 16 might be dead.
In regards to the side quests:
- Fosa: I was able to find a GPS point of a fosa sighting late in October, 2013 near station 2. Not a point of the actual mating tree, but it’s enough. Plans are being made to badger R (who knows the forest like the back of his hand) to help me find the tree.
- Red ruffed lemurs: Transect V (for Varecia) has been set up along the trail to camera stations 5 and 6. I was in camp for the setting up of the final five stations due to the continuous pouring rain and flooding. D and R reported that they saw a red ruffed along the trail from stations 1 to 2, so chances are high that there will be pictures in the future.
- Silky sifaka: I want clearer pictures of the babies, darn it!
*The weather is a lie.