The Sky Roots

The Sky Roots

Baobab TreesBy Francois de Maroussem
Taken & edited from “Constance Hotel Experience – SILENCE no. 16 November 2008.

The west of Madagascar offers imposing landscapes which are the real symbols of the island: the Baobab alley of Morondava (or of the Menabe: ancient Sakalava kingdom of the red island) and the famous Tsingy of Bemaraha, inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1990. The Baobabs (Adansonia) are giants with bulbous trunks, which store in their spongy tissues water to “hod” during the dry season. On the nine species registered in the world, seven are endemic to Madagascar, one to the whole of Africa and Madagascar and one to Australia, resulting from the explosion of the Gondwana.

The specific species to this region is the Adansnia grandidieri, named after Alfred Grandidier, French explorer and botanist, expert in Malagasy fauna. Its Sakalava name is “renala” meaning “the mother of the forest”. It is the highest baobab, reaching 30 metres and a circumference of…14 metres for the biggest! The oldest of these giants would be, it is said, 4,000 years… and age impossible to check since this type of tender wood does not have growth circles. This tree is highly useful to the Menabe village people who use its bark as walls for their homes, without killing the tree; the fruits and the seeds are rich sources of vitamin C and of oil. The huge white flowers with hundreds of Stamina are dream meals for bats and lemurs.

It is at sunrise and sunset, in winter, that their shapes are the most striking, with their huge pink trunks and the branches without leaves looking like roots. Madagascar being a country of legends, it is told in the Renala huts in winter that Andriamanitra (the great creator), faced with the arrogance of these giants that he had created, uprooted them and re-planted them upside down… hence, their name of “Roots of the Sky”.

Heading north on this red track, we must cross by means of a ferry, two rivers, Tsiribihina and Manambolo; the dusty track gets worse as we come closer to the Tsingy of Bemaraha, as if it was necessary to protect this fantastic mineral fortress. In summer, the mud prevents any access, except by zebu-drawn carts! Calcareous rocks, made of coral fossils and shells that were under the sea 200 million years ago, eroded into sharp blades, canyons, crevices, caves and channels during the last 5 million years. This fortress also benefits from a rich endemic fauna and flora, often forced to remain in this biotope: 13 species of lemurs, 94 species of birds and 15 of bats… as well as countless reptiles, amphibians, molluscs and insects. The flora is composed of 650 species, and new species are regularly being discovered! (reference www.tsingy-madagascar.com).

Ten years ago, the Tsingy of Bemaraha could not be reached and have only been opened to the public since 1998. They definitely are a “must” for travellers, ecologist globetrotters, amateur or experienced naturalists. Several circuits are being proposed, always accompanied and guided by the Angap guides. These polygot guides explain how the Tsingy were formed, identify the rare or strange species, and take out of their nests hidden animals.
After the visit to the canyons, caves and crevices, with the aeria roots of the trees living 30, 50 or 100 metres above, the climbing of those cathedrals of kartz provide big thrills and breathtaking views.  Safety is always guaranteed, either by metal ladders and wooden decks, or by snap hooks attached to iron cables. Even the crossing of the suspension bridge – worthy of Indiana Jones – can be done by any good hiker. In spite of the uncomfortable access, the reward is worth the trip.

By Francois de Maroussem
Taken & edited from “Constance Hotel Experience – SILENCE no. 16 November 2008.

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