“ Private reserve with lodges . Set in the spiny forest and ring tailed lemurs are all around you. „
Berenty Lodge and private Reserve South Madagascar
Berenty is in the far South of Madagascar. We flew to the coastal town of Fort Dauphin where we were met and driven to Berenty Private Reserve where we stayed two nights in a simple en-suite bungalow at Berenty Lodge with, dinner and breakfast included. The drive from Fort Dauphin is a very long four hours in a for wheel drive without air conditioning along a dusty and very poorly maintained road.
The road was built in 1956 and made of tarmac but NOTHING has been done to maintain it since ,large parts of it are washed away and there are huge holes up to two foot deep and as long and varied as you can imagine and worse. It was 85 km and it took well over four hours to get there so that might give you some idea.
Berenty reserve is set in spiny forest and also a dry deciduous forest surrounded by sisal plantations. It is Madagascar's most famous reserve and the easiest and best place to see Ring-tailed lemurs and the common brown lemurs as well as the wonderful Verreaux's sifakas which leap along the ground.
The bungalows are brick built with tiled roofs but inside is lined with bamboo stained in a pattern. This goes down to half way on the wall. Below the bamboo is plain painted cream walls. The bungalow has screened windows with wooden slatted windows so that even when they are closed the breeze can get in but it does make the room a little dark during the day. The window in the front of the bungalow opened sideways but as the sun was beating down that direction we didn't leave it open and did pull the curtain across to try and keep the room cool.
There were two smallish single beds, foam mattress on wooden base with one small pillow each. There was a spare blanket in the wardrobe but no extra pillows. The beds were made fresh with white sheets and a blanket and a candlewick cover; it is years since I have seen one of those. The floor was tiled throughout in light coloured ceramic tiles.
This had a toilet which worked though we only had one very mean roll of paper so I went and pinched the spare one from the toilet at the cafeteria as we appeared to have no room service all the time we were there. There was a basin and a shower tray sunk into the floor. There was a shower curtain but it was worse than useless except for privacy as it was about a foot off the ground and so water from the shower went under it. The big plus with this lodge was that we had hot water; the pressure was pretty naff as it dribbled out if the shower nozzle if it was it its fixing but came out better if you took it down and held it. But at least it did take the total freezing shock out f the water so you could wash your hair and not have a heart attack from cold water.
We were given a tiny bar of very ordinary soap and that was all. There were two creamy coloured thin but reasonably sized towels which we had the whole time we were there. Needless to say there was no hair dryer. However in the main room we did have the benefit of an overhead fan and that was great. The electricity went off between 10 pm and 5.30am but it did mean it helped when you were hottest in the day and early evening. Despite being screened and using 50% deet repellent we both got bitten in the room. There were mosquito nets but stupidly we chose not to use them thinking the room was screened but it would have helped if they had left a can of spray as I think a quick spray before we went to dinner would have killed the pesky beasts.
THE RESTAURANT AND BAR
This was a palm roofed building which was open at the sides. At one end was a small shop selling local crafts then there were dining tables, a bar and a kitchen and then there were a number of more comfortable seats where you could sit and relax or enjoy a drink, read a book or just watch the lemurs going about their daily business.
We stayed on a bed breakfast and evening meal basis here and had to but our lunch. The food here was expensive and very average. This was by far the most expensive of the places that we stayed while in Madagascar but there was no choice as it was miles from anywhere. Beer was about twice the price of anywhere else and this was the only place where we had to buy ALL our water. There was none left in our room and when we were met at the airport by the Berenty guide and driver we were not given any and this was the only time on this trip.
On the first day we were given either coffee or tea in a jug with no lid and if you asked for milk you got condensed milk. I know that was the only option years ago but UHT is so easy now and tastes much better in drinks than condensed. We were then brought four dry French bread slices and four slices of a sort of plain Madeira type cake, two tiny butter pats and some jam. The best part of breakfast was watching the ring tailed lemurs jumping on to the tables and trying to steal the brad and cake. On the second morning we were given small jars of homemade plain yogurt and then the bread and cake, so not very exciting at all.
LUNCH AND DINNER
They don't seem to have grasped the idea of a sandwich as a possibility for lunch and still offer a three course meal. The trouble was that there options were actually the same as the dinner menu but just given a different name. The starters were soup or quiche, the mains were a choice of a lamb stew with rice or a prawn dish with a tomato sauce and vegetables with rice. One lunch time they offered a beef burger which we had and it was awful. I couldn't eat mine as I found grizzly bits in mine so I just ate the courgettes that came with it - no bread. I am not keen on stewed lamb but I also didn't like the prawns as they had left the gritty bit in they and so each one crunched, they were small and thought I tried taking the yukky part out I lost interest after about the tenth prawn. I am not sure what you would have done if you had been vegetarian as nothing was offered apart from the soup.
Now I'll write about the desserts that were offered. Bananas with chocolate came as chopped up bananas with the squeezy sauce you put on ice cream squirted over them, my husband had a slice of pawpaw on night, and a bowl of raspberries was another meal's dessert. It was really pretty meager and uninspired. Had I realized that we were paying for each part of lunch separately I would have not bothered with the burger and I would have had just the side plate of tomato salad which was okay but was just slices of tomato put on a plate with grated mango in the centre and not really very filling as we only had one slice of French bread each.
The lunch we paid for came to £14 and that was the tomato salad and beef burger which couldn't eat and a beer between us. We spent less than that on a delicious meal at a lovely restaurant in Antananarivo with two beers and a dessert so it was really very poor.
WHY GO THERE THEN?
The reason people come to the reserve is to see the ring tailed lemurs everywhere around the lodges as well as the little common brown lemurs. We had a whole group of ring tailed lemurs sitting on our patio and I sat in a chair next to two mothers and their babies having an afternoon rest one day.
The other reason is to see the amazing leaping Verreaux's sifakas lemurs jumping along the ground. It is also a unique place to visit for botanists as the spiny forest contains plants seen nowhere else in the world.
WALKING IN THE DRY DECIDUOUS FOREST
We had three walks in the surrounding local forest. These parts of the forest was luckily not destroyed when the family who own Berenty forest came in the 1930s to start up the sisal plantation. It wasn't until the 1980s that they decided to set up the private reserve and build the lodges for people to be able to come and see the ring tailed lemurs and Verreaux sifakas. The common brown lemurs were introduced from other parts of Madagascar and have flourished in the area too.
There are so huge and very beautiful trees in the forest and many lose their leaves in the dry season. It is quite strange as you walk along paths covered in what looks like autumn leaves and apart from the fact that the trees are different types and the temperature is well over 30 degrees you could be in an English wood in Autumn.
The first part of the wooded area had huge tall trees and when we were there the egrets were nesting really high at the top. Underneath the trees were coated in white bird poo and the forest floor was covered not only in dry leaves but also in feathers and bird droppings. I was always rather keen to move through this part quickly as it smelled like a chicken farm and I was concerned I might get some contribution from the egrets landing on me. The noise they made was really loud too so smelly, noisy and messy, altogether not my favourite part of the walk.
As we walk around our local guide alerted us to anything he spotted. We saw a huge variety of bird life from the smelly egrets nesting to a number of different cuas , guinea fowl, quail, magpie robins, black kites, fly catchers and so many more. They were very quick and quite shy so hard to photograph however my husband did get a few good shots with his SLR, my point and shot was not much good for birds.
We saw a huge colony of fruit bats arriving back after the night out and settling in the trees to roost for the day. They made loud noises and got fed up when another bat landed on their branch and they felt the need to fly off and settled elsewhere. They make a huge flapping noise as they are coming in to land then neatly fold the 'wing' around themselves as they hang upside down from the branches. The tree looked like someone had hung lots of black bags up in the tree from a distance but as you got closer you could make out their little faces.
One evening as we were walking around a couple of brown lemurs came to a deep concrete hole full of water and they were trying to work out how to lean down to drink the water without falling in. we watched for a while then the guide went and picked up a large stick and put it into the water. The two who had been sitting pondering leapt off but another lemur came down and ran down the stick and managed to get a drink so the guide's efforts hadn't gone to waste.
The highlight for us was watch a group of the Verreaux sifakas leaping from tree to tree then they came down and leapt across the road just in front of us. They jump on their back legs and throw their arms in the air, looking rather like children jumping for joy. These are the only lemurs that do the leaping along the ground and they just look so hilarious, we stood and watched the group for about half an hour at least. These sifakas are white with a brown top to their head and black faces; they look like they are wearing a little hat and have lovely soft creamy white fur and the prettiest little faces with bright round eyes.
The ring tailed lemurs are everywhere around the lodges and are very cheeky. This is the lemur that you see on the film 'Madagascar' and they walk along the ground waving their tails like flags as they go. They have much smaller faces and pointier noses than the sifakas and they are smaller altogether. They swing and leap through the trees at speed and sometimes run at speed along the ground. Their call is a bit like a cat's meow and you hear them calling each other as they wander around. They reminded me of cats the way they lay on our patio and the rather superior way they walked around the place waving their tails in the air. What was lovely is that when two arrived on a branch or wall or wherever then they would great each other and kiss and check each other's baby out as though they were long lost friends. The two mums on our patio wall sat sleepily while their little babies crawled all over each other and around. They always kept half an ear or eye open just in case they had to rush off but you could see their heads drooping and their eyes shitting from time to time.
We also went for a night walk in the spiny forest and that was very strange. These huge cactus trees mad the place almost ghostly and you had to be a little careful as some of the plants were very prickly. We saw a White-footed sportive lemur which just sat and looked at us wide eyed in the dark with its eyes shining in the torch light. We also saw two Grey mouse lemurs and they were tiny with real lemur faces but the size of a mouse but they could leap about four feet from tree to tree as though they were on springs. These two are nocturnal lemurs and unlike the diurnal lemurs these build a nest and have two or three babies in the nest. The diurnal lemurs have one baby and it clings to the mother's fur for about six months until it is confident in its leaping ability.
WOULD I RECOMMEND?
Well you wouldn't go to stay here for the food and accommodation but it is worth it to see the wildlife and the vegetation in the reserve. It is a long and uncomfortable though scenically interesting drive to get to Berenty. The lodges are okay, they were built in early 1980s and they look dated but they are reasonably comfortable. The food is pretty poor and there is not a lot of choice really. Luckily on the first day the hotel in Antananarivo had packed up a 'boxed breakfast' and we had only eaten one box so we shared the other as our lunch which spared us the food and the cost of lunch on our first day. So don't go for the food or the luxury accommodation as you will be disappointed but the setting is fantastic and having lemurs just walking past you in the grounds and watching you from a tree as you enjoy a cold beer takes a lot of beating.
Personally I think they should start by doing up one bungalow at a time as they are looking very shabby, particularly the bathrooms and they should offer decent pillows.They should also invest in solar electricity to save the use of a generator as in the long run it would save them so much money as the sun beats down every day. They need to do something about the food as it is a very poor breakfast, no fruit at all offered and bread and jam is very boring unless you are a ring tailed lemur! The rest of the food needs to be varied a little and some vegetarian option offered too. When you are there for three days and the same is offered for lunch and dinner every day, all be it with a different name but it looked and tasted the same, it gets very boring. If you can't eat prawns as many people can't for different reasons then you are even more limited in your choice.
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