Madagascar: Looking for a Lemur
An Excerpt from “Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries” by Lea Lane, available on Amazon. Read the review of the book here.
In the Indian Ocean east of Mozambique, Madagascar – the Red Island, the Rainbow Island, the “Eighth Continent”– is the fourth-largest island in the world, chock-full of wild and wonderful things.
You’ll find dry desert, towering octopus trees with spindly cactus-like branches, white sand beaches and gigantic baobab trees. Around 80 percent of the island’s natural wonders, maybe 200,000 species, don’t exist anywhere else. Here are half the world’s chameleon species, and glorious birds, bugs like tiny giraffe-necked weevils, and amphibians including the painted Mantella frog – fluorescent green and bright pink, with yellow stripes.
Madagascar’s customs are equally unique. Famadihana, the “turning of the bones,” is a funerary tradition of the Malagasy, who remove their ancestors’ bodies from family crypts, rewrap them in fresh cloth, and rewrite their names on the cloth to be remembered. And sometimes they dance with the remains.
My grandmother loved the waltz, but I can’t imagine dragging her around to “The Blue Danube.” Also, since dancing in faraway places has sometimes brought the unexpected (see Malawi), and most of my partners dance as if they are dead anyway, I’ll pass on that goal.
I remember reading in elementary school in Miami Beach about furry animals with long arms and huge eyes, that hang in the crooks of branches – monkey-like creatures ranging from the large, wailing indri to the tiny mouse lemur.
Through the years I’d seen a couple of lemurs in zoos, and their look and their behavior reminded me of my uncle, who liked to sleep on his stomach on the couch after a Thanksgiving meal, with a hairy arm dangling to the floor.
I longed to see lemurs in Madagascar, their only natural habitat. With few predators, they are relatively fearless, and I was told a close-up encounter in the wild would be easy to come by. And so, late in life, I sought to find one.
I arrived in a speedboat across turquoise shallows to Nosy Komba, one of hundreds of islands that make up the island-nation of Madagascar. Along the shore, batik cloth in primitive patterns rippled on lines; cottages with palm-frond roofs seemed cozy; a woman in a sarong, with markings on her face, looked bored as she waited for Instagrammers to take her photo; and vanilla beans were displayed in plastic bags, ready for foodies to purchase as hostess gifts for people with open kitchens and farm sinks.
But I had only one goal. I trekked into a jungle where I was told they hung out, and heard a conspiracy of lemurs – yes, that is the group name – squeaking in the faraway trees.
After about half an hour, there it was, my first – and, as it turned out, my only — lemur, dark and furry with big yellow eyes, hanging directly above. A slacker if I ever saw one. And yes, it did resemble my sleepy relative, so I called him Uncle Artie.
I got closer to take a photo, a life’s dream. I sighed, and knew I would remember the moment forever. And I certainly did.
Uncle Artie pooped on my head.
©2019. Lea Lane. All rights reserved.
Joyful and informative Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries (published by The Three Tomatoes Book Publishing) presents writings and illustrated photos in a memoir covering over 50 years of travel throughout the world. You’ll find a range of unforgettable people and places through vivid personal experiences — good, bad and often, laugh-out-loud funny. Available in print and eBook on Amazon.
Lea Lane is an award-winning author of eight books. She has written for magazines, websites, and newspapers including The New York Times and The Miami Herald. She is currently a regular contributor to forbes.com.
Greg Correll, former illustrator for The New Yorker and CLIO winner, has created stunning fine-art illustrations, based on her photos.
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