The moment has finally come– here’s the obligatory lemur post!
September 25th was a ship holiday. Every six weeks, Mercy Ships has a 3 day weekend. There weren’t any surgeries on Friday, but I was on call. So while the majority of the crew went away to local beach resorts, I stayed back with the other 2 on call nurses and we terminally cleaned the operating room. I wasn’t swabbing the deck, but I did mop the OR floors. I resolved that Saturday was going to be different. I would finally venture out with some friends to the nearby lemur park– Parc Ivoloina (pronounced “eev’-uh-lah-ween”).
Since I last posted, I have had a new bunkie- Wendy. Linden had to leave with the Life Box crew and they will be traveling across Madagascar until mid-December. Wendy wanted to see the sights so we arranged to go to the park with Rachel (another OR nurse) and Chris (an anesthetist). With our exploration team chosen, we next needed to obtain transportation. We walked into town and hailed a taxi. Thank goodness Chris spoke French or we would have ended up paying double the usual fare.
Our driver, Daniel, made a few stops on the way to the park. First was to fill the gas canister he kept in his trunk. Second was to check his tires and make sure they were road ready. This was a necessity because our taxi was a small sedan from the early 1990s– not exactly an all terrain vehicle. Although Madagascar is similar in area to Texas, traveling from point A to point B couldn’t be any more different. The roads are treacherous and winding with a tendency to bottleneck down to one lane. I thought I knew poor road conditions since I live in Michigan, but I’ve never seen roads like this before. Daniel had to carefully maneuver around every pothole without hitting pedestrians in the process.
After a half hour, we arrived at the park and it had begun to rain. I’m very grateful to my friend, Emily, for loaning me her rain jacket. I would have been soaked otherwise!
The price for admission was 20,000 ariary ($6) for non-malagasy visitors and 1,000 ariary (30 cents) for a malagasy adult. This is wonderful because it encourages the citizens to visit the park and learn more about the flora and fauna of their country. Many of the lemurs are endangered due to deforestation and hunting. (Apparently, lemurs make for good eating.) Conservation is the main focus of the park; not tourism.
But don’t feel all that bad for me– that initial $6 stretches pretty far. I’m able to return to Parc Ivoloina for free as many times as I want for a whole year!
We arranged for an English speaking guide, Giara, to take us through the park. Interestingly enough, he happens to be one of our Ward translators on board Mercy Ships.
There are 12 species of lemur found at Parc Ivoloina. Some of the lemurs are free roaming and have been tagged for research purposes, like this little guy.
I got pretty close to him.
But he didn’t pose long before he scampered off.
According to their website: “While some animals were born in the forest, most of the animals at Parc Ivoloina were donated, exchanged with other zoos, or seized by the Malagasy government from illegal operations. All of the animals at Parc Ivoloina were obtained legally.” Because of this, some of the lemurs are in enclosures for their safety.
There was a little strip of land out on the surrounding water. Giara explained that some lemurs that had been rescued from a black market pet auction were temporarily living there.
I honestly could have watched the lemurs all day. Now what sound does a lemur make, you might ask? While some make the typical primate calls, some of the lemurs oink!
As we continued our tour, the rain fell heavier and heavier. Most of the lemurs were looking at us like, “Ya’ll are crazy! Shouldn’t you be finding cover?”
There were more animals at the park than just lemurs. We also learned about chameleons, boas, frogs, and tortoises.
And then there was the plant life. Our guide cut some vanilla and cinnamon from the trees for us– it smelled like Christmas time! Although vanilla is one of Madagascar’s main exports, it is not naturally found in the country. It has to be imported into the country and fused to a surrogate plant for it to grow.
Rosewood, on the other hand, is found naturally in Madagascar. Unfortunately, it is endangered because it is in high demand in first world countries. A kilogram of rosewood is worth 100,000 ariary ($30), but a piece of furniture made of rosewood can be sold for thousands of dollars in the States. What exacerbates the problem is that rosewood is not fully mature (gives off seeds for future trees) until it’s 18 years old. In order to fulfill the demand for rosewood, immature trees are cut down. This further adds to the poverty problem in Madagascar. All of its natural resources are being sold before they can be replenished and someday there won’t be anything left to sell.
Giara handed us leaves with soft hairs on one side– they felt like feathers. These leaves are used for toilet paper by the locals. Another use for the plant is an anticoagulant. By rolling the leaves vigorously in your hands, it forms a paste that can be applied to wounds and stave off bleeding.
Finally, we learned about the travelers tree or ravenala.
This tree is natural to Madagascar and has many uses. Its leaves are used for building roofs. Giara cut one leaf into strips and taught us how the locals fold it into a cup. Then he skewered the trunk and water came pouring out. We enjoyed a fresh drink with our leaf cups.
There was a restaurant in the park so we decided to break for lunch.
Originally, we thought we would head directly back to the ship, but our driver suggested taking us on a scenic route. For a couple more ariary, we agreed. Daniel took us down a one lane dirt road through a local village.
All of a sudden, we hit a huge pothole and the car stopped. Daniel didn’t speak much English, but he did know a few key phrases. “Uh oh, problem.”
He jumped out and pulled a wrench from under the car hood. Wendy snapped a photo of what the “problem” was.
While Daniel began his repairs, I noticed a gecko on a nearby fence.
After Daniel reattached everything, he lifted the car hood to blow into the air filter. It took five attempts, but the engine finally turned over and we were back on the road.
“No problem, no problem,” Daniel reassured us. At the end of the road, we came to a Catholic church. Daniel told us to go ahead and walk to the beach.
In the end, the detour was worth it. You can’t deny that the beach and ocean are beautiful.
When we returned to the taxi, Daniel was underneath the car, covered in oil. Apparently there were more repairs to be done.
But Daniel reassured us again (“No problem, no problem!”), washed off his hands in the nearby river, and then started the car. We made it back to the Africa Mercy safely. Despite all the bumps in the road, wrong turns, and miscommunications, it was an amazing trip.