One hundred and sixty-five millionyears ago the island ofMadagascar was cast adrift. As thehuge super-continent of Gondwanalandsplit apart, this large chunk of Africastarted its slow, inexorable drift out into theIndian Ocean. And so began a uniqueexperiment in evolution. Isolated from therest of the natural world, the Malagasyfauna and flora took their own distinctivepath. Today over 80% of all life here isendemic, occurring nowhere else on Earth.The island is the last refuge of the lemursand such endemic bird families as thevangas, ground rollers and sunbird-asitys.It also supports an exceptional diversity ofstriking reptile species and many uniquehabitats such as the strange 'SpinyForest'. This is truly a land of the weirdand the wonderful. No creature, however,epitomises Madagascar more than thebizarre nocturnal Aye-aye, the scruffylooking lemur with its trademark skeletalmiddle finger, undoubtedly one of themost elusive and sought-after animals onthe island and one of the key goals on thisexciting holiday.Our tour begins with a flight toMadagascar's capital, Antananarivo. From here we take a short flight to thetown of Maroantsetra, gateway to the lushrainforests of the Masoala Peninsula. TheMasoala National Park is the island'slargest rainforest reserve and a strikinglybeautiful place dominated by huge treesdraped in climbers, mosses and otherepiphytes. It is thought to be the richestarea in the country for wildlife and, withmuch of this enormous biodiversity stilllargely unknown to science, who knowswhat we may find! We will certainly be onthe look out, however, for a wide variety ofthe more familiar lemurs -including bothRed-ruffed and White-fronted BrownLemur - and birds such as Red-breastedCoua, Short-legged Ground Roller, thebizarre Helmet Vanga and the rare andelusive Madagascar Serpent Eagle andBernier's Vanga. This will also be our firstopportunity to look for the Aye-aye. We next travel across the Bay of Antongilto the nearby island of Nosy Mangabe,where we camp for two nights. The NosyMangabe Special Reserve wasestablished to protect the Aye-aye,several of which were released here in1966 in an effort to establish a newpopulation and protect this muchmaligned creature from extinction. Theanimals have since flourished and theisland is now one of the few places wherethis bizarre and elusive lemur canoccasionally be seen in the wild. Beingstrictly nocturnal however, we will besearching for them -and such otherdenizens of the night as Brown MouseLemur and the wonderfully camouflagedleaf-tailed gecko -only after dark.During the day we will focus on NosyMangabe's diurnal wildlife, that includesBlack-and-white Ruffed Lemur,Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher andMadagascar Pratincole. Two short flights take us to our nextdestination, the green oasis of theMontagne d'Ambre (Amber Mountain)National Park, located on Madagascar'snorthernmost tip. Here we will stay in acomfortable wildlife lodge, from which wewill explore this lush patch of montanerainforest in search of Sanford's BrownLemur, Mountain Fork-marked Lemur,Crowned Lemur and perhaps even theelusive Fossa, the largest carnivore on theisland. The birdlife here is especiallyabundant and includes the endemicAmber Mountain Rock Thrush, as well asMadagascar Ibis, Souimanga Sunbird,Pitta-like Ground Roller, White-throatedOxylabes and Hook-billed Vanga. Next we move south, to explore the dryforests of the Ankarana Special Reserve.The Ankarana massif is a limestone plateau which rises abruptlyfrom the surroundinggrassy plains. It has beeneroded over the aeons into adramatic landscape of jagged limestonepinnacles, known as tsingy, andnumerous caves and other castelandforms, all edged by a dry deciduousforest. Wildlife here includes CrownedLemur, Sandford's Brown Lemur and birdssuch as Crested Coua, MadagascarPygmy Kingfisher and the localised White-breasted Mesite. After a full and exciting itinerary, weconclude our holiday with a relaxingcouple of nights on the beautiful island ofNosy Be, lying off the northern tip ofMadagascar. From the comfort of ourhotel you may relax on the beach, snorkelin the crystal clear waters or dive on thenearby coral reefs. Keen wildlifeenthusiasts will also enjoy exploring theisland's nature reserves and perhapsconsider crossing to nearby Nosy Komba,home of the confiding Black Lemurs. Nomatter how you decide to fill these finaltwo days, Nosy Be is the perfect spot inwhich to unwind and reflect on our time inMadagascar and the wealth of weird andwonderful creatures that we will no doubthave been privileged to enjoy.Northern Madagascar - In Search of the Aye-ayeA 16-day holiday to the rainforests of northern Madagascar in search of the mysterious and elusive Aye-aye and a wealth of other endemic animals and birds.Sunday 27th October - Monday 11th November Cost: £5,295Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationANTANANARIVOMASOALANATIONAL PARKMAROANTSETRANOSY MANGABESPECIAL RESERVEANTSIRANANAMONTAGNE D'AMBRE NATIONAL PARKNOSY BEANKARANAINDIAN OCEANMADAGASCARSAMBAVAOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Tana.Day 2Fly Maroantsetra.Day 3/5Masoala National Park.Day 6/7Nosy Mangabe.Day 8Maroantsetra.Day 9Tana.Day 10Montagne d'AmbreNational Park.Day 11/12Ankarana SpecialReserve.Day 13/14Nosy Be.Day 15Depart Tana at midnight.Day 16Arrive London.AccommodationSimple but comfortable hotels andlodges with a mix of private andshared facilities, plus one night ofcamping on Nosy Mangabe. FoodAll included in the price.GradingGrade B/C. The basic nature of theaccommodation, coupled with theheat and humidity, demand a goodlevel of fitness and a sense ofadventure!FocusLemurs, birds and other Malagasywildlife.LeaderAndy Smith.Single room supplement£650.Web quick search: MDG05183Tsingy de Bemaraha Nature ReserveAye-ayeMadagascarPygmy Kingfisher
184THE AMERICASNorth, South and Central America offer a mouthwatering bonanza of wildlife habitats, cultures andopportunities to suit all tastes and constitutions! The Amazon, the world's largest forest; two greatmountain ranges, the Rockies and the Andes (the longest mountain chain on Earth); the dramaticlandscapes of Patagonia; the moss-draped temperate rainforests of Western Canada and the spectacularcacti deserts of Baja California; these diverse landscapes contribute to a tapestry of staggering variety andsuperlatives. The cultures and history of the Americas, too, are every bit as rich. We meet indigenoustribes and 'First Nations' communities, and visit such world-renowned sites as the Mayan ruins of Tikaland the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu, in Peru. The region also offers us a wonderful and varied selection ofbases, and we make the most of comfortable cattle ranches, state-of-the-art rainforest and wildernesslodges, elegant schooners, and more traditional hotels and motels.South America, with climatic, altitudinal and geographical extremes as wide as any, holds more birdspecies than any other continent. Andean Cock-of-the-rock, Andean Condor and numeroushummingbirds and macaws are just some of the avian highlights we can expect to find as our tours explorethe Venezuelan Llanos, the High Andes and Amazon rainforests of Ecuador and Peru, the BrazilianPantanal (a swamp the size of England!), Guyana, the stunning Iguazú Falls and the Patagonian coastlinesof Chile and Argentina. Offshore islands, such as the Falklands and the Galápagos, offer the perfect tourfor the photographer, and all other wildlife enthusiasts. Indeed, our outstanding 2-week cruise of theGalápagos aboard a splendid schooner is, we firmly believe, second to none!North America may lack the south's faunal diversity, but it offers the comfort, security and sophisticationthat some travellers prefer, and is not short of spectacular landscapes itself! From the prairies and theswamps of Florida to the Blue Whale's watery realm off California's Monterey Bay, we enjoy some of thefinest wildlife spectacles on Earth. In Canada, we visit the west to watch Grizzly Bears fishing for salmonand pods of Orcas as they ply the calm waters off Vancouver Island. We also head further north to cruisethe intricate mosaic of islands and fjords of the Great Bear Rainforest, home of the ghostly-white 'SpiritBear'. In the United States, Central America and the Caribbean, our tours to Florida, New England, St.Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico, Costa Rica and Belize offer winter and spring sunshine and an exoticcocktail of colourful birds, butterflies and whales -perhaps the perfect place to start if you are not yethooked on this supremely varied 'double continent'! "I expected this trip to be very good and my expectations were surpassed. My thanks to Naturetrek and, inparticular, our guides for the trip of a lifetime." B.M., Tyne & Wear -Canada. "520 birds in two weeks does not get any better! The trip leader was excellent throughout." P.B., Yorkshire -Ecuador.