Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Bit of France in the Indian Ocean

The best day of our voyage (so far) was at little-known Mayotte in the Comoros, northwest of Madagascar. Unlike the other major islands in the Comoros, Mayotte has chosen to remain part of France. (The rest of the Comoros claim Mayotte, and in the past, a majority of the U.N. Security Council agreed, but a French veto kept Mayotte part of France.) So, much to our surprise, we found ourselves spending a day in the EU.

And what a fine day it was.

We spent the morning hiking around the Dziani Crater on Petite Terre, the smaller of the two main islands. (Quick quiz: What's the name of the main island?). This proved to be the first semi-strenuous part of our cruise -- mostly because of the sun and humidity. We are now deep in the tropics, a long way from the temperate climate of Cape Town.

As we circled the rim, we looked down on the canopy of trees and the green lake at the base of the crater. A particular highlight was seeing large Fruit Bats (also known as Flying Foxes) flying across the crater. Much larger than the bats back home, they are rather cute, in a winged fox kind of way. We also saw White-tailed Tropicbirds, Madagascar Bee-Eaters, bright red Madagascar Fodys, two endemics (the Mayotte White-Eye and the Mayotte Sunbird), Madagascar Paradise Flycatchers, and African Palm Swifts, amongst others. We also spied a Kestrel, none of which are listed as occuring in Mayotte, so maybe we had something new there. (Sorry for the grainy kestrel photo; the zoom lens was back on the ship.)

On the way back to the ship, we did a quick beach stop. We saw many trails of sea turtles crawling up the beach to lay their eggs. The female turtles usually come at night, so we didn't see any in person. But their trails -- which look like tracks from a four-wheel offroad vehicle -- show that they are about. Maybe we will see some later in the trip.

Answer: The main island is called Grande Terre.

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