Isalo National Park

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Things to do


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September, 2018

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Our six-week trip of Madagascar included two hikes in Isalo National Park, whilst staying at “Isalo Rock Lodge”:

We met our guide, Marky, at the park office, where two maps depicted the entire park and the routes of our hikes. It was suggested, and we agreed, that rather than do two half days, we should combine the hikes to give us a full day of rest.

We drove to the start of the trail with Marky regaling us with facts and figures which we found hard to take in due to the bumpy road. But we did note that Isalo is Madagascar’s second largest park.

On arrival, another map showed the 3km route in detail and we both thought “that shouldn’t take too long or be too difficult”. However, the start was steep, up steps and unfortunately several groups were setting off at the same time, so we kept pausing until each found their pace and space.

We stopped at the Bara Tombs built into the rocks and heard how bodies are exhumed a year after the death and reburied in another location. As we got higher, the terrain flattened and widened. We passed numbers created from pebbles in 2001, when there had been a total eclipse. The park, a sacred place, had been overwhelmed with visitors so they’d created a self-guided, numbered trail.

On crossing the flat plain, we noticed tapia trees, a common plant which withstands the effects of fire, and whose leaves are the sole food of the silk worm. Nearing large lichen-covered sandstone outcrops, we spotted various native plants including the distinctive yellow pachypodium, whose trunks resembled elephants’ feet.

On reaching huge sandstone rocks, we climbed steps for better views before continuing through rocky outcrops including one with large pinnacles, said to resemble Arizona’s Monument Valley. More steps followed, and it was very hot, but eventually trees provided welcome shade. We scrambled down steep steps, towards the palm-fringed “piscine naturelle” where we changed into swimwear behind a bamboo screen and had a cooling dip before standing under waterfalls with warm gushing water.
Having dried off, we initially took a slightly different shaded route along the river before rejoining the track. By now, the temperature was over 30 degrees which made even flat terrain arduous.

On returning to the car we drove to the start of the Namaza trail, which we’d understood was the shorter of the two, and would take us to the waterfall, Cascade de Nymphes, and the blue and black natural pools. We decided to visit the pools first. The terrain was hilly, and signs started to indicate it was a longer, more difficult route than we’d envisaged. The path became narrow and steep as we reached a canyon where we eventually hit the river. We scrambled over rocks, criss-crossed the river on stepping stones, negotiated rickety wooden planked bridges, and crawled along narrow ledges above the stream. By this stage we were exhausted but determined not to give up. Then the going got really bad, we were pouring with sweat, and so with 400m of difficult terrain left to go, we reluctantly turned around.

With hindsight, we should have done the hikes over two days as we could have finished before the heat of the day began in earnest.

Helen Jackson

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