The south west coast of Madagascar is noted for its spiny forest and we set off from our hotel, Le Paradisier, for the 10-minute drive to the “Reniala Reserve”:https://reniala-ecotourisme.jimdo.com/. Unlike many of the national parks we’d visited on our tour, this was a private reserve, owned by the community, with fees being put into education.
Our guide was excellent and although our walk was meant to last an hour, it took us twice as long as it was so fascinating. The paths, surrounded by all manner of spiny bushes, were flat and relatively wide so walking was easy, although we were constantly bitten by mosquitoes.
The 60-hectare site had over 800 baobabs, which included various species and oddities: carrot shaped, bottle, chair, leaning over, teapot, twins, etc. A large one said to be 1200 years old, would need 8 people to link arms around it. Naturally fallen baobab fruit, lay on the ground and was being eaten by bright orange termites whilst fruit still on the trees, hung like baubles on a Christmas tree.
Our guide pointed out the four types of wood used to make fishing vessels which included balsa for the main part. He asked if we’d heard of the pallisandre tree, and when we said yes, asked whether we thought it was heavy or light. He proceeded to ‘lift’ this ‘heavy’ piece of wood, passed it to me, but when I reluctantly took it, it was a very light balsa.
We were shown various species of euphorbia, including one whose milky sap causes blindness. Another, with red sap, is an antidote if applied to the eye within an hour. Many of the village people still use plants, bushes and trees for medicinal purposes due to the lack of, or cost of healthcare.
The spiny octopus plant had long spikes used by locals as tooth picks and acts as a compass as it always faces south because the winds are southerly, and they lean to get the moisture from the wind.
There were two species of tortoises (radiated and spider) and a centre for young ring-tailed lemurs rescued from villagers who have illegally captured the adult lemur to eat. They will eventually be released into the wild after going through various levels of acclimatisation.
We spied bee hives in the trees and found baobab honey for sale back at the entrance. Before we left, we saw the nursery where baobabs were being grown.
We loved seeing the spiny forest and would make two recommendations: start early before it gets too hot (we visited at 6.30am) and cover up to avoid mosquito bites.