Thursday, Nov. 21
“Tana,” Madagascar

Pierre had never before seen a leech. So when our park guide advised us to tuck our pants into our socks to keep the crawlers from sucking on our ankles, the French traveler said he’d like to see one; what did they look like?

Pierre stops to look for leeches under his socks.

Pierre stops to look for leeches under his socks.

A half hour later, walking through the rainforest of Ranomafana park in eastern Madagascar, we were all-too familiar with the blood-suckers. Every few minutes, our group of four — Pierre, a French couple and our obligatory guide — would stop for a quick inspection, pulling the one- or two-inch worm-like creatures from our skin.

You can’t feel them latch on because they inject an anesthetic, but I quickly learned to respond to any wiggling sensation, since the leeches often climbed up me a bit before digging in. I felt that wiggling at one point under my shirt, and lifted it to see two suckers having breakfast near my belly button, another closer to my back. How did they manage to get under my shirt? I wondered as I worked to pluck them off.

While I found the leeches to be the park’s main attraction — although one encounter with them was plenty — we actually were on the hunt for lemurs, the monkey slash cat-like primate that exists only in Madagascar. Our guide spotted two varieties in the trees above our heads. He also pointed out a fist-sized snail and several birds, including one he called “rare.” To me, though, one bird looks the same as the next from afar, so what we stared at might as well have been a pigeon.

Later, as we left the park, we noticed huge spiders — the size of my head! — hanging from electricity lines. Our group watched them in awe, and in turn, locals watched us watching the spiders.

Dinner with the Ramonafana crew.

Dinner with the Ramonafana crew.

The next day Pierre and I split from the rest to continue backtracking north towards the capital, where he would catch a flight to South Africa for the next leg of his round-the-world tour and I would keep on north in Madagascar.

While reading my guidebook during the nine-hour bush taxi ride, I realized I had planned poorly: to make it up north in the next few days, which was necessary to catch a domestic flight I had planned for Nov. 26, I would have to spent the next full three days in a bush taxi. That’s when I realized why most tourists, even those who have weeks or more here, fly from one point to another. It simply takes too long to get around. So, I decided, if I could manage to get a seat on a plane, I would fly.

But the warnings about flights that fill up weeks or months in advance turned out to be true; there wasn’t a single flight up north this week, the saleswoman at Air Madagascar told me when I visited their office in the capital.

Instead, I ended up pushing back the flight I had already scheduled, the one I would have been rushing to meet. I would have some quality time in bush taxis, there was no way around it, but at least I’d have an extra week to cover the miles, more time to enjoy the towns and parks along the way.

To the north!