City tour of Ambalavao and the small National Park of Anja

June 20, 2013 

The city of Ambalavao houses in its surroundings one of the few existing vineyards in Madagascar and you can visit a small farm that also offers the opportunity to taste them. Ambalavao is also known for the production of small artistic works using paper produced from the bark of a tree locally known as "AVOHA". Then a visit to the small but interesting Anja park which is home to several families of ring-tailed lemurs, several reptiles and some tree frogs.

Valley in Madagascar
The tour in Madagascar continues to the south, and descending from the plateau center. A wide valley is home to the city of Ambalavao, known for the presence of the only vineyards in Madagascar and for the production of a particular paper made from the bark of a tree, as if it were a papyrus.
Vineyard in Madagascar
Vineyard in Madagascar

Vineyard in Madagascar. Madagascar is not definitely known for the production of wine, however this activity exists only along certain valleys in the center of the country, where the right conditions occur. The grape harvest generally occurs in January.
Winery in Madagascar Malagasy wine
Wine in Madagascar

The winery is equipped with concrete barrels and bottling is done completely by hand. Wine is used only for domestic consumption in Madagascar and is not exported. White wine, red wine and brandy are produced.

Silkworm cocoons
The Ambalavao tour continues with a visit to a small family run business where silk is worked from the cocoon, to get to the final fabric.
Silkworm cocoons being worked
Silkworm cocoons being boiled Raw silk
The cocoons properly prepared, are boiled for three days before being hung out to dry.
Silk spinning silk being spun
The raw silk thus obtained is spun with a patient manual labor.
Natural dyes
The ball of silk obtained is then colored using exclusively natural dyes of plant origin.
Silk bieng dyed
Silk being woven
Finally, with this rudimentary weaving machine, the thread is woven to form the desired tissue.
Avoha Avoha Tree
Avoha bark
The Ambalavao tour continues with a visit to a factory that produces a very special paper (antaimoro paper, similar to parchment) from the bark of AVOHA, a shrub that lives in southern Madagascar. The bark is collected and compressed into cylindrical parts, before being sent to Ambalavao for processing. In the photo above, the tree of AVOHA and its trunk with bark (after the collection of the bark the plant does not die, but it is able to generate additional bark for the next cycle).
The bark is boiled for 3-4 hours.
Traditional paper Madagascar
After boiling, the bark is beaten until you get a paste-like consistency and texture you want. So, a ball of dough weighing 400 grams (picture above) is produced . Subsequently, the ball of dough is dissolved within a shape, where it is deposited in the form of a thin layer (picture on the right).
Paper being  worke in Madagascar
Paper Ambalavao Paper antaimoro
Paperof Avoha

The antaimoro paper is then cut into sheets of the desired size and decorations are applied using fresh flower petals. The work is then exposed outdoors to allow complete drying.

Photo of antaimoro paper.
Souvenir Madagascar
Finally it is then packaged for sale, creating squares, postcards and envelopes. At present, the paper antaimoro is used only for decorative purposes, and not as a support for writing as it was in origin.
Ambalavao Euphorbia pulcherrima

Photo Ambalavao. In Ambalavao I find big trees of Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima or Poinsettia)
Continuing the journey in Madagascar to the south, shortly after Ambalavao, I visit a market of zebu, which normally is held on Wednesday of each week (subject to be extended to Thursday if there were more animals to sell, as in this case). Remember that the zebu is a massive bovine for meat and work ,extremely important for the domestic economy of Madagascar. The animal is provided with a kind of hump just behind the withers, which constitutes an accumulation of fat which makes this bovine particularly resistant to drought.
Zebu Market Zebu market
Zebu market photos. The price of a zebu adult is around 330 Euro with the current exchange rate.
chameleon perfectly camouflaged
I reach the small park of Anja, where I come immediately across a chameleon perfectly camouflaged with the bark of this shrub.
The head of this chameleon resembles' that of the fearsome T-Rex.
Chamaleon's head
A colony of strange insects moves along a branch.
Tree frogs Tree frog
Two small tree frogs the size of a fingernail.
A strange insect.
Lemur catta
Lemur catta

But the main attraction of the park of Anja, in south-central Madagascar, are the catta lemurs, also known as the ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta)
Lemur katta
Photo of lemur catta.
Drinking lemurs Drinking lemur

Unlike other lemurs that are able to extract enough water from the plant products they eat, the ring-tailed lemur prefers to drink and this puddle becomes the drinking point for this group of animals.
Lemur in Madagascar
Photo of Lemur catta. After drinking, this ring-tailed lemur licks its whiskers before shaking the excess water from his face.
Lemurs  katta
Another photo of lemur katta.
Ring-tailed lemurs ring-tailed lemur.
Lemur catta

Photo of ring-tailed lemur. The lemur katta is medium in size, has strictly diurnal habits and is quite widespread throughout the southern Madagascar, however, the IUCN classifies it as "nearly threatened" due to deforestation.

The journey continues towards Isalo, leaving the wettest area of eastern Madagascar and entering a kind of arid savannah.

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English translation by Lorena Anzani.