Fabled Islands of the Indian Ocean 10

Fabled Islands 10

April 16, 2009

As I write we are heading slowly to our anchorage in the lagoon of Mayotte, French Comoros. Officially known as the Departmental Collective of Mayotte, it is a French territory, hence the people all have French benefits and membership in the European Union. It is the only island in the Comorian Archipelago that voted to remain a French territory and forgo independence. The other islands in this chain are now independent.

We arrived early in the morning, anchored and began sending almost everyone ashore in the zodiacs for various local activities, excursions, and general sightseeing.

I chose to take the driving tour around the island with friends. It was hot and humid and it rained as we made for shore, adding to the swelter.

The few communities we saw from the van or stopped in were very reminiscent of villages in east Africa, though they were largely Muslim here. Nowhere were our cameras welcome, so I had to make do with a few touristy photos of flowers and fellow tourists doing the “tourist-thing.”  Not exactly my idea of fun, but it is what it is.

A brief walk in the local botanical garden was colorful, but I’m not exactly enthralled with a bunch of plants scattered about (sorry, garden lovers). Don’t get me wrong, the flowers were stunning, but I’m just not that into the botany.

The Ylang-ylang museum and plantation was interesting. It seems this plant oil is the basis for some very exotic and pricey perfumes. And, wouldn’t you know it, it smells pretty good too! I picked up a few “smelly soaps” as gifts for my all-female office staff. That should be pretty safe, don’t you think?

Our resident Seychellois naturalist, Guy (“Ghee”), also demonstrated some of the uses the local plans have for cleansing and medicinal use. One particular pod was used for intestinal ailments. He did say it was rather bitter, as our French-speaking guide soon discovered…

After lunch though was the real treat of the day: a visit to a Lemur reserve on M’Bouzi Island. It is within the large lagoon, and is about 100 acres in size. The lemur population on this island is not completely wild. They are acclimated to humans not only from the tourists who visit, but also the caretakers and feeders. The island is too small to sustain as many lemurs as live there.

After we landed, our group of about 10 –12 people followed the naturalist inland through the jungle undergrowth. While the group listened to a brief talk on the plants, I was just ahead on the trail, looking, taking a photo or two. I heard a low grunt. Or did I? I heard it again, several times. It sounds like a pig. What the…? Are there wild boars on the island? No, it was the lemurs! They actually grunt. Too funny!

After that little surprise, I found more and more of them scurrying along in the branches. When they realized humans had arrived (and likely some tasty bananas), they appeared in droves; literally dozens of them hopping about in the trees.

They would come down to within a few feet with no apparent concern. Clearly these are not wild, but fun to see anyway. We would have loved to see the wild lemurs on Madagascar, but politics being what it is, we had to settle for this experience. Fun as it was, it still wasn’t what we had hoped.

The creatures are amazing to watch, very inquisitive, with the bald face and opposable thumbs of the primates, but yet not quite so. They are more like primates crossed with dogs, and are classified as prosimians. They have nails rather than claws, and their tails are not prehensile like the true monkeys.

After spending an hour or so on the island wandering about, taking more than 120 photos just of the lemurs, and watching these amazing animals scamper about, I left and returned to the ship so others could come ashore (we limited the number of people on the island at any given time).

A nice dinner on board and an early bed for me, while some of the others went ashore at 9 PM to enjoy a local band at a French restaurant.



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