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Masoala Forest Lodge

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"Where the rainforest meets the sea"

Masoala Forest Lodge
Maroantsetra, Madagascar



The Masoala Forest Lodge is situated on approximately 10 Ha of private forested land, in the area of Tampolo, on the Masoala Peninsula. The land has a clearing in the forest of approximately 2 Ha, which was a local Malagasy-style farm for at least the last 20 years and thus is planted with numerous fruit trees, cloves and vanilla as well as indigenous vegetation. The MFL is sited in this clearing with dense forest all around. The land has approximately 400 meters of sea frontage, consisting of alternate sandy beaches and granite and basalt rock formations, lined by a band of coastal forest and hardwood trees. The remainder of the land is thickly forested with secondary coastal forest, including rare hardwood species such as pallisandre and ebony and many palm species and with several small streams. There are numerous lemur species in this forest, including white fronted brown, sportive, woolly, mouse and dwarf lemurs and aye-aye, as well as many bird and reptile species. This forest is protected as a private reserve by KM with a network of nature trails for the exclusive use of the clients of the MFL. The land is situated within the “zone de occupation controle”, (ZOC), a controlled usage enclave surrounded by the Masoala National Park and thus construction and activities are subject to regulation by the Department of National Parks, (ANGAP). The land is surrounded on three sides by undeveloped, forested land also part of the ZOC and then by the Masoala National Park. The seaward side is the sheltered waters of the Bay d’Antongil, with the Tampolo Marine Reserve starting approximately 100 meters down the coast and extending for 10 kilometers southwards.

The MFL is owned and managed by Kayak Masoala SARL. KM is a Madagascar registered company, formed in 2003 in a partnership between a South African, Pierre Bester and a local Malagasy from Maroantsetra, Felix. At the time of the formation of KM Pierre had been directly involved in eco-tourism for over 10 years in Malawi and Mozambique, having started and directed the company “Kayak Africa” that developed and manages the island lodges of Mumbo and Domwe in the Lake Malawi National Park and that pioneered sea kayak expeditions to remote Southern African destinations, including Pemba Island Zanzibar, the Querimbas Archipelago in Northern Mozambique and the Mitsio Archipelago and Masoala peninsula in Madagascar. Felix had several years experience as an official guide for Masoala National Park since its formation in 1996 and began work with Pierre on the first Masoala sea kayak expedition of 1998. Pierre and Felix began at that time the collaboration that led to the formation of the company KM that still runs sea kayak tours on the Masoala Peninsula and the development of the MFL which opened formally in 2004.

The MFL is designed to provide the necessary comforts for high-end tourists in a natural setting. The architectural emphasis has been on keeping it simple and authentic, using local building styles, materials and techniques as far as possible. The buildings are of hardwood timber frames and plank floors, with local ravinala leaf thatch and walls of raffia and ravinala stems (where there are walls). All building materials are sourced outside of the national park, with the timber being purchased from suppliers in Maroantsetra. The client accommodation is in canvas and mosquito netted “safari” tents, positioned in the thatched stilted bungalows, with a veranda on each end. The tents are furnished with local style wooden furniture, made in Maroantsetra by local carpenters and with coconut husk carpets. Use of cement has been kept to an absolute minimum, found only under the ground for the construction of grey water soak-aways and discretely at the tents and dining room entrances to secure the local stone paving in heavy use areas. Lodge paths are paved in local stones. A 24 meter long bridge over the mangrove river estuary, constructed of deadwood and hardwood planking, links the MFL with the private forest trail network. The wood and natural materials of the structures are treated using coconut and linseed oil and varnish, in order to promote their longevity in the demanding climate of the rainforest.

The essense of the MFL experience is the all-encompassing natural beauty and wildlife in the Masoala peninsula. This includes a cultural element of the local communities and traditions. Only non-motorized activities are promoted by the MFL. The clients are encouraged to walk in the primary forest of the Masoala National Park always with the official guides from the MFL. Other walks are in the coastal forest trails along the sea shore and the trail network in the private reserve of the MFL. Snorkeling gear and training is offered from the MFL and directions onto the best coral reefs right off the beach. Sea kayaking gear and guiding is available to the clients who are encouraged to undertake at least one outing along the sheltered coast. A pirogue trip up the Tampolo River in traditional wooden pirogue forms a part of the standard itinerary. A cultural tour of the village of Ambodiforaha and of a traditional local farming operation is also an optional activity. Clients are encouraged to interact with their guides and learn something of the local culture and traditions as well as the natural history.

A comprehensive library of natural history is provided in the lodge for the clients use. Boat fishing is offered as an extra activity, but it is only for game fish and only enough for consumption in the lodge. Catch and release sport fishing is not undertaken as it is contrary to local culture and is wasteful of fuel. Whale watching by boat is likewise offered, but usually is restricted to the boat transfers to and from Maroantsetra and unnecessary boating around the bay is not encouraged. The boat skippers have been trained in whale watching techniques and of the Malagasy whale watching regulations.

The meeting of modern technology with traditional way of life is the key to sustainable eco-tourism infrastructure in the remotest areas. Mobile phone connection with the mobile network using a booster with an antenna mounted in a tree provides the voice and email communications vital to the local logistics. Roof mounted solar panels, battery bank and inverters provide the bulk of the electrical power used by the lodge. For the rainy days a small stand-by generator is used to charge up the battery bank and to pump water. A solar water heater provides the hot water for kitchen and staff use. The client’s bathrooms have gas powered heat-exchanger units to provide instant hot water for showers and basins. Plastic, leak proof, septic tanks provide the sewerage treatment for all client and staff toilets to ensure no leaching of raw sewerage into the environment. Grey water is treated with grease traps and then into below ground soak-aways. Water is pumped from a hand dug well, sited in the wetland above the mangrove river estuary, to a plastic header tank and then gravity fed by plastic piping to the lodge and infrastructure. Lighting for the client accommodation is provided by solar charged battery powered LED lamps. The batteries are collected and taken to the lodge reception area for charging by back-up generator if the solar system does not provide enough charge.

Paraffin lamps provide extra lighting for the verandas, bathrooms and path ways. Cooking is done on gas hobs and in a wood burning oven that supplies charcoal for grilling and slow cooking in special brick-lined charcoal hobs. Refrigeration is by gas powered freezers. Vegetable storage is in a charcoal lined “fridge” to keep vegetables dry and well aired and free of insects. Drinking water is provided by fresh collected rain water, filtered by a ceramic filter for the clients use. Vegetable waste is collected in a scavenger proof container and then converted to compost and mixed with cow dung and straw from rice harvest to provide mulch and nutrient for the vegetable gardens and fruit trees. The very limited plastic and paper waste generated by the lodge is collected and transported to Maroantsetra where it is burned in a scavenger proof pit.

Access to the MFL is provided by the fleet of Kayak Masoala boats. The main client transfer vessel is a 9 meter “Cape Craft”, built by Cape Craft Marine in Cape Town, South Africa. This boat is powered by a 315 HP Cummins marine diesel engine and a Castoldi water jet and with two Yamaha 115 HP outboard motors as back-up. The supplies, building materials and staff are transported by a 10 meter wooden vessel of 7 ton capacity, powered by a 50 HP Deutz diesel engine and stern drive. This boat was constructed in Maroantsetra by a local boat builder, with the motor, propulsion, steering and electronics imported from South Africa. Other boating needs are fulfilled by a 6 meter Gemini rigid inflatable boat with two 85 HP outboard engines and a 6 meter fully inflatable boat with two 25 HP outboard engines. The diesel powered boats are used for almost all the transportation, which is the most fuel efficient and environmentally friendly form of motorized marine propulsion.

Almost all food supplies are purchased in Maroantsetra, the remainder being purchased from the local villagers at Tampolo. The vast bulk of this is fresh vegetables that are purchased at the local market. There is no plastic packaging and the produce is local and fresh. The lodge has a vegetable garden to provide hard to source vegetables and herbs for the consumption in the lodge. Otherwise all vegetables are purchased from the local community and in Maroantsetra market. The lodge has numerous fruit trees that provide some fruit in season and this is supplemented with fruit purchased from the local communities. Seafood is purchased from the local fishermen. Rice is the staple food for the staff at the lodge and forms a part of the Malagasy experience for the clients. Rice is purchased in bulk (up to 3 tons) when in harvest season and then stored at the lodge in a traditional Malagasy rice house. Drinks provided at the lodge are only bottled drinks in refundable glass bottles. The lodge policy is not to provide bottled water as it was found that the local population has already enough of these empty plastic bottles for their use and they would become a source of environmental pollution in an otherwise pristine environment. Bread and cakes are baked fresh at the lodge in the gas oven. The lodge farming operation provides free range “rainforest chickens” and eggs and duck eggs. Fresh beef and occasionally wild bush pig are purchased from the local community when available.

The staff of the lodge, totaling from 20-30 men and women, is drawn from villages from the length of the Masoala peninsula. This includes cooks and kitchen staff, camp staff, builders, boat captain and crew and official and kayak guides. Contract day labour is sourced from the local village of Ambodiforaha, approximately 2 kilometers from the MFL. All the staff have been trained by the management for their roles and are encouraged to in turn train others to increase the pool of skilled labour. The MFL staff is paid wages that are higher than the minimium wage and than that paid by other tourism operators or other employment opportunities in the area. Other direct financial benefits include the tips and gifts from clients that are shared equally between all staff. The local village of Ambodiforaha has a traditional women’s dance and song group that performs at the MFL for all the clients as part of the standard itinerary. The MFL pays for this and also encourages clients to contribute as well. The local villagers are encouraged to sell the excess fruit and vegetables they produce as well as some of their cash crops of vanilla and cloves to the MFL. The MFL pays a premium price for these spices and then resells to the clients, in effect providing access to a far better paying market than the locals would otherwise have.

The MFL provides free boat transport to and from Maroantsetra for the people from the local villages. This is a major problem for the local communities as they would otherwise have to walk up to 15 kilometers to a bigger village and then pay a relatively large amount for the boat from there to town, which would normally render the trip unavialable. The MFL assists with the functioning of the local school in the village of Ambodiforaha by supplying books and pens to the children and text books to the teachers. The MFL has financed and implemented a refuse collection system for non-bio-degradable refuse for the village of Ambodiforaha by providing concrete rings to serve as refuse bins and for burning the refuse inside. The MFL financed a bridge over the Amodiforaha river for the use of tourists and locals. The MFL sponsors the local football team from Ambodiforaha with uniforms and balls.

2013 Wildforests Awards