I have never been a religious person, but standing in the middle of the Madagascan rain forest, an Indri Indri lemur hanging off a tree next to me, another two above me in the forest canopy, almost made me break in song of praise and send a prayer up to the heavens.
We were near the village of Andasibe in one of the bio-diversity hotspots in east-central Madagascar, in the Mitsingo community run conservation area of the vast forest. A Malagasy NGO that started as a community initiative, Mitsinjo works in conservation, nature-based tourism and development, including agriculture and health, since conservation cannot be successful without increasing the capacities of the local population and improving their livelihoods. Mitsinjo integrates the protection of prime habitat and the generation of sustainable income for the local population living in and around these areas. Mitsinjo funds its conservation and development efforts almost entirely by visitors, thus making patronage to the community a vital key to its existence and ongoing survival.
My wonderful guide Pierre and I had set off early that January morning, just as dawn was breaking, along the same path we’d trodden the previous night for a night hike. Just like the evening before, the forest was alive with calling birds, chirping insects, the musky hum of a tropical jungle. As it was just the two of us, having already struck a good rapport, we veered off the beaten path into the deeper forest, on the search for the elusive Indri Indri lemur.
The Indri lemurs are the largest of the lemur family; all being endemic to the fantastical island of Madagascar. They live in small groups, making monogamous pairings and inhabiting a clearly demarcated area, never crossing with other Indri families. They are perhaps most well known for their distinctive call, which my travel partner Dee and I were introduced to in the wee hours of our arrival morning as a mournful song wafting through the forest, echoing with others. In mid sleep, one could well be forgiven for thinking that one was in the deep ocean, surrounded by whales in thousand of miles of water.
And it was this song that surrounded me as I sat in a clearing at that point that morning, while Pierre had gone off in search of a family of night lemurs he knew to live close by. I lay down on the forest floor to stare up into the trees and up at the sky, taking in the surroundings, when all of a sudden, the forest around me erupted in the mournful calling of Indri Indri calling to each other.
A hour later, Pierre and I had veered right off the path, bashing through bushes and undergrowth, down into a ravine, where we were met with the sight of the two Indri, introduced in my opening paragraph, lounging in the tree tops. While he went off to look for more amazing creatures, I was again left alone to revel in my surroundings.
I’d jokingly asked him before he’d left if he’d know how to find me again as we really were in the middle of the jungle and was met with a very emphatic reply saying he’d be back within ten minutes. Needless to say, my imagination started running wild around what I thought was that mark and, as I was trying to figure out where North was… how I was possibly going to find my way out alone… and what a story it’d make once I was found a week later, crawling out along a trickling stream, I heard a rustle next to me and turned to see another Indri had descended from the overgrowth, hung from the tree trunk next to me and chomped on a handful of leaves. You know all those key signs in life that one is supposed to take heed of? Well, this was certainly one of those. Mainly that I wasn’t lost and alone in the jungle! And, on hearing a whisper from Pierre behind me saying “You’re so incredibly lucky”, I knew I was.
How lucky I was to be in that moment, in the Madagascan rain forest, with lemurs, and chameleons, and fire flies, and brightly coloured frogs, and crazy critters. How lucky I was to have spent two weeks prior to that in a veritable island paradise on Ile St Marie. How lucky I was to have had a fabulous, fun and free spirited travel partner in Dee. How lucky I was to have met some absolutely amazing people on that particular trip.
And in a broader sense, how fortunate I am to be able to do all these amazing, interesting things with my life. The gift of curiosity, and the ability of being able to follow that desire for more knowledge, for wanting to see more, experience as much as possible and living as open, free and honest a life as possible. This is not a gift or luxury afforded of most people on this planet due to circumstances that I can write about in another post. This post is to acknowledge my gratitude and my profound awareness of how lucky I am. I can only hope and endeavor for more of the same, surrounded by amazing human beings, wonderful critters and good holidays.
Words and Video: Louise Mycielski
Picture: Nick Garbutt