Rather than having a second walk through Madagascar’s Ranomafana National Park, we asked to visit the small, community-run Ranomanfana Arboretum which was a 15 minute drive from our hotel, Setam Lodge.
Up a steep flight of steps we met a guide waiting for us at the entrance. Initially we thought we didn’t want a guide and we’d prefer to wander around ourselves as we’d read the trees were well signed and in three languages. However, we were introduced to Christo who proved to be a true asset.
The well-marked path took us past a variety of palms: a beautiful fan-shaped palm with large leaves; the dypsis decaryi palm with its unusual triangular shaped trunk and a short stumpy palm whose fan-like leaves all pointed in different directions.
There were trees with leaves which were green on top, and either brown, gold or bronze underneath, others with beautifully veined leaves and one whose large leaves are used as toilet paper by the villagers (hopefully they use the new leaves which are more Andrex like than the larger, Izal like ones).
The various barks were fascinating: various colours and textures, horizontal stripes of a bamboo, and eucalyptus which sheds its bark like a snake.
We learned about what the trees were used for: some for firewood, especially those containing a form of latex, others for houses and zebu carts or making rope. We saw how the travellers’ tree releases water from its spines when cut which is why it’s the only tree which doesn’t burn in a fire because of its own sprinkler system.
We made our way up to the view point, a grassy open area with a thatched octagonal building, central stone table and wooden benches all around. We admired the views of the river and watched people panning for gold.
On the way back down, we saw the amazing tree (named because the flower grows on the leaf), a mini baobab and finally, fruit trees including clove, avocado and pineapple plants.
This was a fascinating couple of hours during which Christo proved to be a master of animal spotting: Parsons Chameleon, red wasp, short-necked giraffe weevil, orange chameleon, nocturnal tree frog and long green gecko. We were also lucky to see a hedgehog-like baby tenrec, scooting through fallen leaves: this was our only sighting during our six-week trip.