Welcome to Madagascar

It was around 4pm on a wet Friday afternoon that Myself, Peter and Holly Fraser met at Heathrow Airport, vaccinated to the max and struggling to support the huge rucksacks that we were taking on our epic adventure to the Rainforests of Madagascar.

It was 9 weeks earlier that the three of us had stood outside the Millennium Reptiles the reptile shop I own in Sawbridgeworth discussing the possibility of the trip.

We had all wanted to go to Madagascar for years and now it was finally happening. We had agreed a detailed itinerary with a local travel company based in Madagascar. Holly had negotiated, re-worked, and fine-tuned it over several weeks to ensure that we would have the best chance of finding all of the different creatures we wanted to encounter in the wild.

While Holly was organising the trip I was busy rounding up all the equipment needed to better understand the animals people keep in captivity. I wanted increase my own knowledge and also share it with the world. I was particularly interested in the UV intensity they were subjected to in the wild. And soil temperatures for the correct incubation techniques.

My friend Ben kindly drove me to the airport to meet Peter and Holly. After a beer or two to start the trip off on the right foot, we boarded the plane and set off on our adventure to the land of chameleons.

Saturday the 8th of November 2014

After a short stopover in Nairobi, we were on our way to the capital of Madagascar, Antananarivo. It was midday as the plane approached “Tana” (as the locals call it) and our excitement rose as we strained to make out the brown huts and paddy fields that make up the city below.

 

We met our local guides at the airport and exchanged a reasonable number of euros for huge bundles of thousands of Malagasy Ariary, the local currency.

We set off from the airport in our 4×4 with Hobi, Andry’s brother, who spoke very good English, and his uncle the driver, and headed East to the rainforests of Andasibe.

We drove past rice paddy fields with Zebu, the local hump-backed cattle which we would later find was the staple source of meat on this vast Island.

The first stop was for lunch at a fairly non-descript roadside café, where we suddenly realised how hungry all the excitement had made us.

While we were waiting for our food we wandered out into the café’s small garden and while me and Peter discussed the likelihood of spotting any chameleons in the scorching heat.

Holly spotted the first wild male Oustalet’s chameleon of the trip. This was a most extraordinary creature, much larger than the Panther chameleons we had been used to and brown with a huge casque. Within a few minutes, we found two females in the garden and were privileged to see the male eating while we ate our own lunches. Little did we know, that we would see many of these lovely creatures over the next three weeks, to the point that an Oustalet’s chameleon became the norm and we hoped for something more unusual!

That evening we travelled to the Feon’ny Ala “hotel.” This was a lovely hut in the middle of a rainforest and we had been told to expect a downpour at six o’clock precisely – like every night, so we donned our waterproofs and head torches and ventured out into the rainforest, eager to find more chameleons.

Darkness came quickly and we walked along the road outside our hotel, scouring the branches of the edge of the rainforest for signs of a motionless white body (chameleons turn almost white when asleep as their bodies and colour-changing skin relax). Bang on schedule, the heavens opened and the rainforest shook with thunder and lightning. We tried to venture deeper into the rainforest but the rainforest floor quickly became a torrent of mud and we struggled to try to climb further into the undergrowth.

Just as we were considering giving up for the night, Holly spotted a short- horn or “brevicornis” chameleon (calumma brevicornis) sitting still on a branch next to my head.

After we had all admired this beautiful creature, we retreated to the hotel restaurant for some welcome food and some even more welcome beers.

Sunday the 9th of November 2014

We slept surprisingly well, considering the cacophony of insect noises and indri lemur screams that filled the night. We woke for breakfast at 06.15 and met Hobi and his uncle and the 4×4 at 07.30 for our short drive to the Vohimana rainforest. As we drove along the road through the rainforest, we could see lemurs swinging through the trees.

 

Our route by foot included following an old railway track through the forest for several miles. We travelled for over an hour without seeing a single chameleon, then suddenly our guide shouted “Snake! Snake!” and we ran over to see a hog-nosed snake on the train tracks. I did my best to catch it, but it escaped into the bush with me in hot pursuit.

After a couple of hours of trekking in the blistering heat, we were wondering if the weather were simply too hot for the multitude of chameleons we had been hoping to find in this area. Then finally, we found a male big-nosed chameleon (calumma nasuta) on a branch in the shade. That chameleon may be the most photographed chameleon in the world!

We were then on a roll as we descended to a river where we found some tiny frogs and strange-looking giraffe-necked weevils.

Then suddenly another snake was spotted and I plunged into the undergrowth after it. This time, success!

The guides thought I was mad at first as I kept jumping in and out of bushes and climbing trees taking UVI readings, if you would like to read my research please visit the UV page within this website.

After all this excitement, we headed back to the car and drove down another mud track to a wooded area, where we had more success, finding numerous different species of chameleon including more big-nosed chameleons, the extraordinary lance-nosed chameleon (calumma gallus), and a gravid Wilson’s chameleon (furcifer wilsii).

I held a grasshopper in my mouth and a wilson’s chameleon i was holding immediately flicked its tongue out and snatched it from my lips. Weird to some people! But a memory I will never forget.

We drove slightly further to an area where our local tour guide, William, had previously seen a female Parson’s chameleon. This was just outside a few huts where local Betsimisaraka tribespeople were living. The children excitedly pointed her out, high up in a tree which I immediately scaled to bring her down.

How amazing to see both one of the smallest species of chameleon in the world and also the largest, both in one day!

After numerous photographs and videos, followed by thanks and a small financial donation to the family to encourage them to preserve rather than kill these magnificent creatures (a concern, as most Malagasy tribes believe that seeing a chameleon is fady – terribly bad luck), we were on our way again.

We stopped for a late lunch, during which we saw a huge male Parsons chameleon, then headed deep into the jungle, where we found more Wilson’s and brevicornis chameleons, the most beautiful hairy caterpillars and the most awesome leaf-tailed geckos (uroplatus sikorae). They were very difficult to spot as their camouflage is truly amazing.

Just as we thought the day couldn’t possibly get any better, we were fortunate enough to stumble across more Parson’s chameleons, this time of the local variety, Parsonii Cristifer, a more turquoise shade than the female we had found earlier in the day.

Then it was back to the hotel to don waterproofs and head torches for another night walk through the daily downpour and thunder and lightning.

It was a short drive to our entry point along the unlit forest road. Suddenly we spotted a snake, crossing the road in front of us. We all leapt out of the car, looking like an emergency response team in our blue waterproofs and head torches. It was a very energetic little snake, which tried to bite me and Holly as we picked it up. We soon realised that we were being watched by the keen eyes of dwarf and mouse lemurs, high up in the trees.

The forest was beautiful at night and we marvelled at the magical creepers and winding tree roots that housed such a vast multitude of fascinating creatures.

We spotted numerous little chameleons that night, including the bright green Perinet chameleon (calumma gastrotaenia), also known as the Malagasy side-striped chameleon, and the tiny but perfectly-formed brookesia superciliaris in the leaves around our feet. We had to walk very carefully to ensure we didn’t tread on any of these tiny chameleons.

Monday the 10th of November 2014

We left the hotel at 08.00, having negotiated a lie-in with our guide, and headed to the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. Here we found some more brevicornis chameleons and, to my excitement, a gravid tree boa, sunning itself in the grass. Ironically, all the tree boas we would see would be on the ground and the single ground boa of the trip, which we found later on Nosy Be, was on a branch! We found a further three tree boas in the jungle, which made my day. All the boas seemed to be good-natured and fairly relaxed about being picked up and handled.

We went on to see some outrageous spiders with bright red legs, a skink and various species of lemur, including some fluffy babies that hadn’t learned to fear humans yet and dared to come very close to us.

As we walked along the path to our hut after another incredible day, we became distracted by the sound of a loud insect and stopped to investigate. While myself and Peter rummaged through the bush, Holly noticed a huge female Parsons chameleon just above where they were looking, which made a wonderful conclusion to the evening!

Moments later, back at the hut, I noticed that a tiny green tree frog had found its way into Peter’s wash bag, and we all felt so lucky to be in this beautiful place teeming with nature.

Tuesday the 11th of November 2014

On Tuesday we were taken to the airport and took a disconcertingly small plane North to Diego Suarez, or Antsiranana, where we were delighted to see our favourite species, the panther chameleon (furcifer pardalis) by the road near the Diego Suarez airport, sporting the local green colouring.

The landscape was dry and brown, seeming a world away from the lush, humid rainforest we had just left in the East. We were driven to the Amber Mountain where we were introduced to Angeluc, a very enthusiastic and likeable local guide, who proudly explained that the last reptile trip he had been a guide for was with Sir David Attenborough and he was excited to meet us.

We began climbing the mountain, which was covered in rainforest and soon realised we had struck gold with Angeluc as his knowledge of the rainforest was priceless. We spotted a wide range of chameleons, including the exquisite blue-nosed chameleon (calumma boettgeri), the Amber Mountain chameleon (calumma ambriensis), the rare Camouflaged Amber Mountain chameleon (calumma abreense) which was only discovered a few months prior to our trip, and several species of tiny leaf chameleon including brookesia tubercuata and brookesia antekarana.

Wednesday the 12th of November 2014

The next morning we returned to Amber Mountain, finding Petter’s Chameleon (furcifer petteri), brookesia and several species of leaf-tailed gecko; uroplatus giganteus, uroplatus finiavana and uroplatus ebenaui.

As I dug down into the red soil to take temperature readings, the guide looked at me as if I had lost the plot. I explained to him that it was to help people better understand how to care better for the chameleons back home.

But it wasn’t all work! We released our inner Tarzan and swung around on some loose vines in the jungle.

In the evening we returned to the Imperial Hotel, where we took a yellow scooter taxi or “tuk tuk” on a hairy ride through the city streets until we found a restaurant.

Thursday the 13th of November 2014

On Thursday we drove to the Red Tsingy, a rock formation caused by the rain and wind erosion of a laterite soil. These natural rock formations take their red colour from the iron oxide in the soil. “Tsingy” means “where one cannot walk barefoot” in Malagasy, indicating how precarious walking across these needles could be. In actuality, the red tsingy are relatively soft, however we would encounter the rigid grey tsingy the following day, which were an entirely different matter.

We drove on to Ankarana National Park, where we were again staying in very basic huts on the edge of wilderness. That evening we embarked on a night walk with our third local guide, a Sakalava lady.

By this time, the three of us had become experts in spotting sleeping chameleons, finding them well before our embarrassed guide, who eventually redeemed herself with her own chameleon find. All the time we walked, we were watched by lemurs, swinging in the tree tops above.

Friday the 14th of November 2014

This day was the most arduous of the whole trip. We took as much water as we could carry, but this soon proved insufficient, as we sweated on a 2-hour trek through the humid jungle, then a further 2.5-hour trek across the hazardous grey tsingy.

Severely dehydrated, we were distressed to realise that we were not trekking in a circle and actually had to retrace our steps back over the tsingy. Our water had all but gone after a few hours and so we shared the last bottle carefully. A couple of hours later, we made it back to the rainforest and embarked on a long trek to the bat caves. Holly’s suncream began to look increasingly viable as a source of hydration. Holly herself seemed to be particularly appealing to the giant orange mosquito-like insects (ctenophore pectinicornis) that swarmed around her and she donned a mosquito net hat to avoid being eaten alive.

On the way to the caves, we saw various species of lemur, some exotic- looking caterpillars and some snakes that were obviously more hydrated than us, because i couldn’t even chase after them.

Peter and Holly could only watch exhausted as I bravely scaled the last few hundred feet to the bat caves alone.

Inside the caves, I came across massive spiders, larger than my hands, as well as copious bats. The caves were pitch black and I trekked deep inside with only a small torch, i kept thinking that if the batteries were to fail then I would be in a little trouble. I was surprised to see small geckos that deep in the cave as there was no chance of them receiving any natural sunlight. I must admit it was a relief as I slowly found my way out the cave and finally seeing the sunlight.

At this point, we had been trekking for over 8 hours and had run out of water almost 4 hours ago, but still had another couple of hours’ trek to get back to the camp. Seriously doubting our ability to make it back, we staggered back down the path we had come along for several kilometres until we came across a road digger – with a pickup truck!

After some persuasion and the offer of monetary reward to both the driver of the truck and his boss, we were soon on our way along the track back to the camp. When we arrived we insisted that the local store was opened and bought most of their stock of liquids, then sat in relieved silence in the shade, drinking bottles of water and sugary drinks until we felt human again.

Saturday the 15th of November 2014

It was now time to head further West to Ambanja, passing through Ambilobe on the way.

We stopped at a cocoa plantation near Ambanja and plunged into the plantation, in search of the stunning blue Ambanja locale of Panther chameleon (furcifer pardalis).

Ambanja was truly beautiful and my favourite place on the island, while exploring the plantation we found a few juvenile female panther chameleons but were struggling to find a fully grown one. But all of a sudden we found a huge, and very angry, green and blue male panther chameleon.

As we travelled on towards Ankify, the vegetation became more and more lush. We pulled alongside a roadside shop and spotted another huge Panther chameleon among the roof branches. After some negotiation involving more financial reimbursement, we were permitted to take a closer look at the stunning chameleon, which was similar to the Ambanja locale.

Finally we arrived at Ankify, the gateway to Nosy Be, our R&R island where we hoped to find the Nosy Be locale of Panther chameleon. We checked into the Baobab Hotel where we were given coconuts to drink from. After a long hot day, that fresh coconut water tasted better than any cocktail!

Myself and Peter paddled and swam out to a nearby sandy island before dinner, setting the tone for a more relaxing remainder of the trip.

Sunday the 16th of November 2014

Finally, it was time to set sail for the island of Nosy Be! We zipped off on a little speed boat and in about an hour had arrived at Nosy Be’s harbour in the terrifyingly-named “Hell-Ville.” One shady taxi journey later, we were in the most luxurious hotel of the trip, which had real concrete walls and a swimming pool! We felt very much out of place after adjusting to wooden huts, but we bravely soldiered on!

After a lazy morning in the hotel, not quite remembering how to sit still and relax after 9 days of jungle and rainforest treks, me and Holly went to explore the beachfront, where there were lots of huts set up by local Sakalava tribespeople to sell handcrafted items.

That evening, Peter’s sister Mary and her husband Alasdair joined us. They had travelled from South Africa to meet us and gave us a real boost.

Monday the 17th of November 2014

We went for a walk around the hotel and were delighted to find that there were lemurs living nearby that were so unfazed by humans, that if we stood near the trees that they were bounding around in, they would jump onto our backs to try to steal mango or coconut from us!

Within a short walk of the hotel, we also stumbled across an enormous wild tortoise, that we at first mistook for a statue.

Back at the hotel, some local Sakalava tribeswomen performed a traditional dance while singing and banging together handmade instruments.

Tuesday the 18th of November 2014

We decided more exploring was in order and so Me, Holly and Al ventured off in a different direction by foot, in search for wild chameleons. As with most of our adventures in Madagascar, the sight of our pale skin was fascinating to the local people, who came to ask what we were looking for and were eager to help us find chameleons, in the hope of receiving a financial “merci” gesture. With the help of a local family and some rudimentary Malagasy phrases such as “we are looking for chameleons,” we found a male panther chameleon and were surprised by how green the colouring was compared to the “Nosy Be” locale of panther chameleon that we had seen in the UK. We began to question whether we had been misled in the UK, but our trip the following day would prove that the turquoise locale does in fact exist on Nosy Be.

Wednesday the 19th of November 2014

After a few quiet days, we couldn’t sit still any longer, so it was time to visit the Lokobe Reserve, a protected jungle that could only be accessed by rowboat. Here we found more of our beloved panther chameleons, this time sporting the more traditional turquoise Nosy Be locale we had been expecting, as well as a ground boa. It was fitting that after finding numerous tree boas on the ground, the ground boa was relaxing in a tree.

We were very excited to find more lemurs, Petter’s chameleons, some stump-tailed brookesia (brookesia stumpfii) and the second smallest sub- species of brookesia, the brookesia minima, less than a centimetre in length and so fragile we didn’t dare hold them on our hands.

Thursday the 20th of November 2014

On Thursday, we embarked on a boat tour, along with a young Italian couple we had bullied into joining us, so that we had enough people to persuade the speedboat owner that it was worth his while taking us to the nearby islands.

First stop was the island of Nosy Tanikely, where Holly jumped off and dived into the jungle, finding a very angry male panther chameleon that looked surprisingly different than the Nosy Be panther chameleons despite its proximity.

The rest of us went snorkelling and saw a breath-taking variety of sealife, even including a leopard shark.

Next up was the Nosy Komba island, where we saw more lemurs, ground boas, tortoises and most excitingly, a turquoise male panther chameleon very similar to the Nosy Be locale.

We then hopped back on the boat and zipped round to the island of Nosy Sakatia, where we ate lunch and then dived into the woods in search of panther chameleons, curious to see how the species differed there. We found two males with very different colouring, within a few metres of each other. I was fascinated by the large land dwelling crabs that were living in self made holes.

Friday the 21st of November 2014

Sadly it was time to leave Nosy Be, so we made use of the pool one last time and then headed off to the airport and caught a small plane back to Tana, where we spent the night in a disturbingly seedy hotel, whose one redeeming feature was that it housed an aepyornis (elephant bird) egg, about 4 times the size of an ostrich egg, in a display cabinet.

Saturday the 22nd of November 2014

Before catching our flight back to the UK, we squeezed in one more dose of chameleons, visiting the old palace in Antananarivo, where we had heard that stunning carpet chameleons live in the trees. We were sad to leave these beautiful creatures and head back to the UK.

Until the next adventure!

Welcome to Madagascar

It was around 4pm on a wet Friday afternoon that Myself, Peter and Holly Fraser met at Heathrow Airport, vaccinated to the max and struggling to support the huge rucksacks that we were taking on our epic adventure to the Rainforests of Madagascar.

It was 9 weeks earlier that the three of us had stood outside the Millennium Reptiles the reptile shop I own in Sawbridgeworth discussing the possibility of the trip.

We had all wanted to go to Madagascar for years and now it was finally happening. We had agreed a detailed itinerary with a local travel company based in Madagascar. Holly had negotiated, re-worked, and fine-tuned it over several weeks to ensure that we would have the best chance of finding all of the different creatures we wanted to encounter in the wild.

While Holly was organising the trip I was busy rounding up all the equipment needed to better understand the animals people keep in captivity. I wanted increase my own knowledge and also share it with the world. I was particularly interested in the UV intensity they were subjected to in the wild. And soil temperatures for the correct incubation techniques.

My friend Ben kindly drove me to the airport to meet Peter and Holly. After a beer or two to start the trip off on the right foot, we boarded the plane and set off on our adventure to the land of chameleons.

Saturday the 8th of November 2014

After a short stopover in Nairobi, we were on our way to the capital of Madagascar, Antananarivo. It was midday as the plane approached “Tana” (as the locals call it) and our excitement rose as we strained to make out the brown huts and paddy fields that make up the city below.

 

We met our local guides at the airport and exchanged a reasonable number of euros for huge bundles of thousands of Malagasy Ariary, the local currency.

We set off from the airport in our 4×4 with Hobi, Andry’s brother, who spoke very good English, and his uncle the driver, and headed East to the rainforests of Andasibe.

We drove past rice paddy fields with Zebu, the local hump-backed cattle which we would later find was the staple source of meat on this vast Island.

The first stop was for lunch at a fairly non-descript roadside café, where we suddenly realised how hungry all the excitement had made us.

While we were waiting for our food we wandered out into the café’s small garden and while me and Peter discussed the likelihood of spotting any chameleons in the scorching heat.

Holly spotted the first wild male Oustalet’s chameleon of the trip. This was a most extraordinary creature, much larger than the Panther chameleons we had been used to and brown with a huge casque. Within a few minutes, we found two females in the garden and were privileged to see the male eating while we ate our own lunches. Little did we know, that we would see many of these lovely creatures over the next three weeks, to the point that an Oustalet’s chameleon became the norm and we hoped for something more unusual!

That evening we travelled to the Feon’ny Ala “hotel.” This was a lovely hut in the middle of a rainforest and we had been told to expect a downpour at six o’clock precisely – like every night, so we donned our waterproofs and head torches and ventured out into the rainforest, eager to find more chameleons.

Darkness came quickly and we walked along the road outside our hotel, scouring the branches of the edge of the rainforest for signs of a motionless white body (chameleons turn almost white when asleep as their bodies and colour-changing skin relax). Bang on schedule, the heavens opened and the rainforest shook with thunder and lightning. We tried to venture deeper into the rainforest but the rainforest floor quickly became a torrent of mud and we struggled to try to climb further into the undergrowth.

Just as we were considering giving up for the night, Holly spotted a short- horn or “brevicornis” chameleon (calumma brevicornis) sitting still on a branch next to my head.

After we had all admired this beautiful creature, we retreated to the hotel restaurant for some welcome food and some even more welcome beers.

Sunday the 9th of November 2014

We slept surprisingly well, considering the cacophony of insect noises and indri lemur screams that filled the night. We woke for breakfast at 06.15 and met Hobi and his uncle and the 4×4 at 07.30 for our short drive to the Vohimana rainforest. As we drove along the road through the rainforest, we could see lemurs swinging through the trees.

 

Our route by foot included following an old railway track through the forest for several miles. We travelled for over an hour without seeing a single chameleon, then suddenly our guide shouted “Snake! Snake!” and we ran over to see a hog-nosed snake on the train tracks. I did my best to catch it, but it escaped into the bush with me in hot pursuit.

After a couple of hours of trekking in the blistering heat, we were wondering if the weather were simply too hot for the multitude of chameleons we had been hoping to find in this area. Then finally, we found a male big-nosed chameleon (calumma nasuta) on a branch in the shade. That chameleon may be the most photographed chameleon in the world!

We were then on a roll as we descended to a river where we found some tiny frogs and strange-looking giraffe-necked weevils.

Then suddenly another snake was spotted and I plunged into the undergrowth after it. This time, success!

The guides thought I was mad at first as I kept jumping in and out of bushes and climbing trees taking UVI readings, if you would like to read my research please visit the UV page within this website.

After all this excitement, we headed back to the car and drove down another mud track to a wooded area, where we had more success, finding numerous different species of chameleon including more big-nosed chameleons, the extraordinary lance-nosed chameleon (calumma gallus), and a gravid Wilson’s chameleon (furcifer wilsii).

I held a grasshopper in my mouth and a wilson’s chameleon i was holding immediately flicked its tongue out and snatched it from my lips. Weird to some people! But a memory I will never forget.

We drove slightly further to an area where our local tour guide, William, had previously seen a female Parson’s chameleon. This was just outside a few huts where local Betsimisaraka tribespeople were living. The children excitedly pointed her out, high up in a tree which I immediately scaled to bring her down.

How amazing to see both one of the smallest species of chameleon in the world and also the largest, both in one day!

After numerous photographs and videos, followed by thanks and a small financial donation to the family to encourage them to preserve rather than kill these magnificent creatures (a concern, as most Malagasy tribes believe that seeing a chameleon is fady – terribly bad luck), we were on our way again.

We stopped for a late lunch, during which we saw a huge male Parsons chameleon, then headed deep into the jungle, where we found more Wilson’s and brevicornis chameleons, the most beautiful hairy caterpillars and the most awesome leaf-tailed geckos (uroplatus sikorae). They were very difficult to spot as their camouflage is truly amazing.

Just as we thought the day couldn’t possibly get any better, we were fortunate enough to stumble across more Parson’s chameleons, this time of the local variety, Parsonii Cristifer, a more turquoise shade than the female we had found earlier in the day.

Then it was back to the hotel to don waterproofs and head torches for another night walk through the daily downpour and thunder and lightning.

It was a short drive to our entry point along the unlit forest road. Suddenly we spotted a snake, crossing the road in front of us. We all leapt out of the car, looking like an emergency response team in our blue waterproofs and head torches. It was a very energetic little snake, which tried to bite me and Holly as we picked it up. We soon realised that we were being watched by the keen eyes of dwarf and mouse lemurs, high up in the trees.

The forest was beautiful at night and we marvelled at the magical creepers and winding tree roots that housed such a vast multitude of fascinating creatures.

We spotted numerous little chameleons that night, including the bright green Perinet chameleon (calumma gastrotaenia), also known as the Malagasy side-striped chameleon, and the tiny but perfectly-formed brookesia superciliaris in the leaves around our feet. We had to walk very carefully to ensure we didn’t tread on any of these tiny chameleons.

Monday the 10th of November 2014

We left the hotel at 08.00, having negotiated a lie-in with our guide, and headed to the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. Here we found some more brevicornis chameleons and, to my excitement, a gravid tree boa, sunning itself in the grass. Ironically, all the tree boas we would see would be on the ground and the single ground boa of the trip, which we found later on Nosy Be, was on a branch! We found a further three tree boas in the jungle, which made my day. All the boas seemed to be good-natured and fairly relaxed about being picked up and handled.

We went on to see some outrageous spiders with bright red legs, a skink and various species of lemur, including some fluffy babies that hadn’t learned to fear humans yet and dared to come very close to us.

As we walked along the path to our hut after another incredible day, we became distracted by the sound of a loud insect and stopped to investigate. While myself and Peter rummaged through the bush, Holly noticed a huge female Parsons chameleon just above where they were looking, which made a wonderful conclusion to the evening!

Moments later, back at the hut, I noticed that a tiny green tree frog had found its way into Peter’s wash bag, and we all felt so lucky to be in this beautiful place teeming with nature.

Tuesday the 11th of November 2014

On Tuesday we were taken to the airport and took a disconcertingly small plane North to Diego Suarez, or Antsiranana, where we were delighted to see our favourite species, the panther chameleon (furcifer pardalis) by the road near the Diego Suarez airport, sporting the local green colouring.

The landscape was dry and brown, seeming a world away from the lush, humid rainforest we had just left in the East. We were driven to the Amber Mountain where we were introduced to Angeluc, a very enthusiastic and likeable local guide, who proudly explained that the last reptile trip he had been a guide for was with Sir David Attenborough and he was excited to meet us.

We began climbing the mountain, which was covered in rainforest and soon realised we had struck gold with Angeluc as his knowledge of the rainforest was priceless. We spotted a wide range of chameleons, including the exquisite blue-nosed chameleon (calumma boettgeri), the Amber Mountain chameleon (calumma ambriensis), the rare Camouflaged Amber Mountain chameleon (calumma abreense) which was only discovered a few months prior to our trip, and several species of tiny leaf chameleon including brookesia tubercuata and brookesia antekarana.

Wednesday the 12th of November 2014

The next morning we returned to Amber Mountain, finding Petter’s Chameleon (furcifer petteri), brookesia and several species of leaf-tailed gecko; uroplatus giganteus, uroplatus finiavana and uroplatus ebenaui.

As I dug down into the red soil to take temperature readings, the guide looked at me as if I had lost the plot. I explained to him that it was to help people better understand how to care better for the chameleons back home.

But it wasn’t all work! We released our inner Tarzan and swung around on some loose vines in the jungle.

In the evening we returned to the Imperial Hotel, where we took a yellow scooter taxi or “tuk tuk” on a hairy ride through the city streets until we found a restaurant.

Thursday the 13th of November 2014

On Thursday we drove to the Red Tsingy, a rock formation caused by the rain and wind erosion of a laterite soil. These natural rock formations take their red colour from the iron oxide in the soil. “Tsingy” means “where one cannot walk barefoot” in Malagasy, indicating how precarious walking across these needles could be. In actuality, the red tsingy are relatively soft, however we would encounter the rigid grey tsingy the following day, which were an entirely different matter.

We drove on to Ankarana National Park, where we were again staying in very basic huts on the edge of wilderness. That evening we embarked on a night walk with our third local guide, a Sakalava lady.

By this time, the three of us had become experts in spotting sleeping chameleons, finding them well before our embarrassed guide, who eventually redeemed herself with her own chameleon find. All the time we walked, we were watched by lemurs, swinging in the tree tops above.

Friday the 14th of November 2014

This day was the most arduous of the whole trip. We took as much water as we could carry, but this soon proved insufficient, as we sweated on a 2-hour trek through the humid jungle, then a further 2.5-hour trek across the hazardous grey tsingy.

Severely dehydrated, we were distressed to realise that we were not trekking in a circle and actually had to retrace our steps back over the tsingy. Our water had all but gone after a few hours and so we shared the last bottle carefully. A couple of hours later, we made it back to the rainforest and embarked on a long trek to the bat caves. Holly’s suncream began to look increasingly viable as a source of hydration. Holly herself seemed to be particularly appealing to the giant orange mosquito-like insects (ctenophore pectinicornis) that swarmed around her and she donned a mosquito net hat to avoid being eaten alive.

On the way to the caves, we saw various species of lemur, some exotic- looking caterpillars and some snakes that were obviously more hydrated than us, because i couldn’t even chase after them.

Peter and Holly could only watch exhausted as I bravely scaled the last few hundred feet to the bat caves alone.

Inside the caves, I came across massive spiders, larger than my hands, as well as copious bats. The caves were pitch black and I trekked deep inside with only a small torch, i kept thinking that if the batteries were to fail then I would be in a little trouble. I was surprised to see small geckos that deep in the cave as there was no chance of them receiving any natural sunlight. I must admit it was a relief as I slowly found my way out the cave and finally seeing the sunlight.

At this point, we had been trekking for over 8 hours and had run out of water almost 4 hours ago, but still had another couple of hours’ trek to get back to the camp. Seriously doubting our ability to make it back, we staggered back down the path we had come along for several kilometres until we came across a road digger – with a pickup truck!

After some persuasion and the offer of monetary reward to both the driver of the truck and his boss, we were soon on our way along the track back to the camp. When we arrived we insisted that the local store was opened and bought most of their stock of liquids, then sat in relieved silence in the shade, drinking bottles of water and sugary drinks until we felt human again.

Saturday the 15th of November 2014

It was now time to head further West to Ambanja, passing through Ambilobe on the way.

We stopped at a cocoa plantation near Ambanja and plunged into the plantation, in search of the stunning blue Ambanja locale of Panther chameleon (furcifer pardalis).

Ambanja was truly beautiful and my favourite place on the island, while exploring the plantation we found a few juvenile female panther chameleons but were struggling to find a fully grown one. But all of a sudden we found a huge, and very angry, green and blue male panther chameleon.

As we travelled on towards Ankify, the vegetation became more and more lush. We pulled alongside a roadside shop and spotted another huge Panther chameleon among the roof branches. After some negotiation involving more financial reimbursement, we were permitted to take a closer look at the stunning chameleon, which was similar to the Ambanja locale.

Finally we arrived at Ankify, the gateway to Nosy Be, our R&R island where we hoped to find the Nosy Be locale of Panther chameleon. We checked into the Baobab Hotel where we were given coconuts to drink from. After a long hot day, that fresh coconut water tasted better than any cocktail!

Myself and Peter paddled and swam out to a nearby sandy island before dinner, setting the tone for a more relaxing remainder of the trip.

Sunday the 16th of November 2014

Finally, it was time to set sail for the island of Nosy Be! We zipped off on a little speed boat and in about an hour had arrived at Nosy Be’s harbour in the terrifyingly-named “Hell-Ville.” One shady taxi journey later, we were in the most luxurious hotel of the trip, which had real concrete walls and a swimming pool! We felt very much out of place after adjusting to wooden huts, but we bravely soldiered on!

After a lazy morning in the hotel, not quite remembering how to sit still and relax after 9 days of jungle and rainforest treks, me and Holly went to explore the beachfront, where there were lots of huts set up by local Sakalava tribespeople to sell handcrafted items.

That evening, Peter’s sister Mary and her husband Alasdair joined us. They had travelled from South Africa to meet us and gave us a real boost.

Monday the 17th of November 2014

We went for a walk around the hotel and were delighted to find that there were lemurs living nearby that were so unfazed by humans, that if we stood near the trees that they were bounding around in, they would jump onto our backs to try to steal mango or coconut from us!

Within a short walk of the hotel, we also stumbled across an enormous wild tortoise, that we at first mistook for a statue.

Back at the hotel, some local Sakalava tribeswomen performed a traditional dance while singing and banging together handmade instruments.

Tuesday the 18th of November 2014

We decided more exploring was in order and so Me, Holly and Al ventured off in a different direction by foot, in search for wild chameleons. As with most of our adventures in Madagascar, the sight of our pale skin was fascinating to the local people, who came to ask what we were looking for and were eager to help us find chameleons, in the hope of receiving a financial “merci” gesture. With the help of a local family and some rudimentary Malagasy phrases such as “we are looking for chameleons,” we found a male panther chameleon and were surprised by how green the colouring was compared to the “Nosy Be” locale of panther chameleon that we had seen in the UK. We began to question whether we had been misled in the UK, but our trip the following day would prove that the turquoise locale does in fact exist on Nosy Be.

Wednesday the 19th of November 2014

After a few quiet days, we couldn’t sit still any longer, so it was time to visit the Lokobe Reserve, a protected jungle that could only be accessed by rowboat. Here we found more of our beloved panther chameleons, this time sporting the more traditional turquoise Nosy Be locale we had been expecting, as well as a ground boa. It was fitting that after finding numerous tree boas on the ground, the ground boa was relaxing in a tree.

We were very excited to find more lemurs, Petter’s chameleons, some stump-tailed brookesia (brookesia stumpfii) and the second smallest sub- species of brookesia, the brookesia minima, less than a centimetre in length and so fragile we didn’t dare hold them on our hands.

Thursday the 20th of November 2014

On Thursday, we embarked on a boat tour, along with a young Italian couple we had bullied into joining us, so that we had enough people to persuade the speedboat owner that it was worth his while taking us to the nearby islands.

First stop was the island of Nosy Tanikely, where Holly jumped off and dived into the jungle, finding a very angry male panther chameleon that looked surprisingly different than the Nosy Be panther chameleons despite its proximity.

The rest of us went snorkelling and saw a breath-taking variety of sealife, even including a leopard shark.

Next up was the Nosy Komba island, where we saw more lemurs, ground boas, tortoises and most excitingly, a turquoise male panther chameleon very similar to the Nosy Be locale.

We then hopped back on the boat and zipped round to the island of Nosy Sakatia, where we ate lunch and then dived into the woods in search of panther chameleons, curious to see how the species differed there. We found two males with very different colouring, within a few metres of each other. I was fascinated by the large land dwelling crabs that were living in self made holes.

Friday the 21st of November 2014

Sadly it was time to leave Nosy Be, so we made use of the pool one last time and then headed off to the airport and caught a small plane back to Tana, where we spent the night in a disturbingly seedy hotel, whose one redeeming feature was that it housed an aepyornis (elephant bird) egg, about 4 times the size of an ostrich egg, in a display cabinet.

Saturday the 22nd of November 2014

Before catching our flight back to the UK, we squeezed in one more dose of chameleons, visiting the old palace in Antananarivo, where we had heard that stunning carpet chameleons live in the trees. We were sad to leave these beautiful creatures and head back to the UK.

Until the next adventure!