On the western side of Madagascar is the seaside town of Morondava which is home to the Avenue of Baobabs. The Avenue of Baobabs is a dirt road linking Morondava to Tsiribihina lined with these majestic baobabs. Our flight from Antananarivo to Morondava took about an hour, alternatively it is about a 9 to 12-hour drive. Most visitors come here en route to Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park or to Kirindy Nature Reserve. It is a very small town where you can walk from one end to the other in about 30 minutes. We stayed at the Pallissandre Cote Quest which is considered the best hotel in the area.
The baobab is a prehistoric species in existence much earlier than mankind and the splitting of the continents. It has been referred to as the Tree of Life because it is a symbol of life in a place where little else can survive. It absorbs and stores water during the rainy season and in turn produce nutrient dense fruit in the dry season. Baobabs are usually solitary trees, standing alone in the midst of empty spaces. However, here at the Avenue of Baobabs, they are clustered together forming an avenue lined by columns on each side. They are sometimes called upside down trees where legend has it that a devil plucked up the tree and thrust its branches into the earth leaving its roots in the air. Other legends claim that baobabs were the first trees planted by the gods and due to their inexperience, they accidentally planted them upside down. These giant strange looking baobab trees standing now are what remain of dense forests that used to be here. Over the past years, forests were steadily cut down to make way for towns and sugar cane plantations. These baobabs were not cut down because they are considered sacred to the Malagasy people who believe that these trees hold the spirits of the dead. Even in the ancient times, leaders like to hold meetings under baobabs with the belief that these trees hold magical powers and are able to aid them in making the correct decisions. The baobabs here at the “avenue” are of the Adansonia grandidieri species which is the biggest and most famous of the 6 species of baobabs in Madagascar, out of nine known to exist. Some of these trees are over 800 years old and over 30 meters tall. They are well adapted to the arid environment and their massive trunks have very little wood fibre, instead most of it is for water storage. We were told that each baobab can hold up to 300 litres of water. The fact that with deforestation, these baobabs are now living close to rice paddies and plantations, hence they are constantly exposed to abundant water supply which is actually affecting their survival. The entire baobab tree is valuable in that the bark can be made into rope and clothes, the leaves are edible, and the fruit is extremely rich in nutrients and antioxidants. Many foreign companies have begun to promote baobab fruit as a superfood and harvesting and grinding the food into powder is relatively easy. Come here to the avenue during sunset for the best photographs.
About 50km north of Morondova is the 25,000-acre Kirindy Nature Reserve which is a privately managed forest reserve. This area consists of dry deciduous forests which are one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world. Kirindy is said to have the greatest density and diversity of primates in the world. It is home to 8 lemur species and over 60 species of birds many endemic to Madagascar. There is a night walk which I read is very rewarding in that you see many nocturnal creatures. However, it is over 2 hours drive from Morondova and the roads are in bad condition making it unsafe to drive at night. Since we prefer not to stay inside the reserve at their camp, we were unable to do the night walk. Most of the lemurs here are the common brown lemurs and the verreaux sifaka. The verreaux sifaka is also one of the dancing lemur species where like the diademed sifika, it does a peculiar dance hopping sideways and forwards upright on their hind legs. Most of the other species in the nature reserve are nocturnal such as the rare Coquerel’s giant mouse lemur, fork-crowned lemur, western fat-tailed lemur, gray mouse lemur, and tenrecs, and fossas.
After an eventful but rather rough few weeks in Africa, I am ready for my holiday after the holiday. Next post will be on my short visit to Mauritius. Stay tuned!
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