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Jourmaline for breakfast a trip to Madagascar.


Every summer I travel to Europe to photograph specimens for collectors, dealers and museums, and to attend the wonderful mineral show in Ste.-Marie-aux-Mines, France. At the end of the 2007 trip I traveled to southeastern Europe with my friend Tomasz Praszkier from Warsaw. Tomek (his nickname) is a geologist who travels around the world for work and pleasure. In 2008, after I finished my travels in Europe, I accompanied him and his girlfriend Asia on a new adventure--to Madagascar. This is the story of that trip.


Although Africa, which lies 600 kilometers to the west across the Mozambique Channel, is considered the cradle of mankind, Madagascar was not populated until about 2,000 years ago. The settlers were seafarers from Indonesia and the result is that much of the populace looks distinctly Asian. Some time after the initial settling of the island, people from Africa migrated there too. The Indonesian settlers brought with them rice, which remains a staple crop in Madagascar to this day. With a semitropical climate, other crops that can be grown include bananas, sugar cane, pineapples, cocoa, vanilla, manioc, mangos and even corn.

Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world, broke away from the African continent in the middle Jurassic period and its ecosystem has remained fairly isolated ever since. Unique flora and fauna, including the famous lemurs, chameleons and baobab trees, have evolved there.

The country of Madagascar is officially called the Malagasy Republic, and the Malagasy language (with three major dialects) is spoken by 18 tribes. Since the country was a French colony for many years, French is also spoken by most people in the larger towns and cities. Because of this connection, most tourists are French. The majority of the Malagasy people (about 55%) practice traditional African religions emphasizing a cultic connection with deceased relatives; most of the rest are Christian, about equally divided between Catholic and Protestant, though the poorer people are predominantly Catholic. Wherever you go in major towns and cities you are beset by beggars and numerous people hawking local crafts, souvenirs and minerals. The beggars, ranging from small children to the very old, are everywhere in the cities, especially around hotels and restaurants. The poverty of the people can be heart-breaking.

A common mode of transportation in the major towns and cities is by the pouse-pouse (rickshaw). The pouse-pouse drivers, many of them barefoot, are seen everywhere and camp out by the hotels offering rides to anyone leaving. Cars are relatively few, as "luxury" imports for the rich are taxed at a rate of 100%!


On July 18th we departed from Paris on a ten-hour flight to Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. We arrived early the next morning and were met by Tony (pronounced "Toony") and his wife Noro (pronounced "Nooroo"). Tony is Tomek's driver whenever he comes to Madagascar. We made a quick stop at their house to look at some nice tourmalines they had just acquired for Tomek. We then stopped at a hotel to pick up Tomek's sister Kasia and brother-in-law Marcin, who had arrived about a week earlier. After a quick bite to eat we visited the warehouse where Tomek keeps the specimens he buys as well as the ammonite fossils he collects for his stratigraphy work. This was followed by a stop at the University of Antananarivo to visit an associate of his. While Tomek was busy the rest of us found a tank of formaldehyde in a hallway that contained the famous coelacanth fish (a "living fossil") first discovered between the Comoro Islands and Madagascar in 1939.


Our next stop was the local outdoor market. It was a warren of stalls with everything you could imagine for sale. The mineral, gem and fossil dealers were concentrated in one area. There were hundreds of cut and polished ammonites, quartz crystals polished to reveal the phantoms inside, many kinds of cut stones, and also mineral specimens. Most of the latter were of poor quality, but if you looked you could find some nice pieces. You do not pay the asking price but must haggle, which I am not good at, so for the rest of the trip I let Tomek take care of the necessary haggling. We bought a few small tourmalines and then found our way back to the Toyota Land Cruiser and headed south out of the city.


Our destination that evening was the city of Antsirabe, which is situated in the middle of a famous pegmatite region. We found our hotel, checked in and fell gratefully into our beds. After breakfast the next morning we were off to another market, this one devoted exclusively to "rocks." There was a single row of ramshackle booths selling all sorts of minerals, fossils and cut stones, generally of better quality than we saw in the market in Antananarivo. Tomek knows all of the dealers who carry better material and they know what sorts of things he buys. We looked at a lot of tourmalines, quartz crystals, rhodizites, spinels, microlites, morganites, titanites and quartz crystals. There was nothing really outstanding, but there were a few nice, small, single crystals of tourmaline as well as a good thumbnail phenakite from Anjanabonoina that I added to my collection that day.

Our lunch established a pattern for the rest of the trip. If we dined al fresco (which was frequent), a crowd of people would gather just outside the dining area. Some would have local crafts to offer and some would have minerals, gem rough or cut stones for sale. When we were finished eating we motioned to them that we were ready, and one at a time they showed us their wares. We passed on all the gems and gem rough, and seldom bought the crystals because of their low quality or damaged state. If a selection was made, bargaining commenced.

After lunch we took a short drive to the southeastern part of town and stopped at Lac Tritriva, which is a beautiful lake in a small volcanic caldera. Then we visited another lake of volcanic origin called Lac Andraikiba, a popular destination for picnickers and occasionally even for boaters. Near the bathhouse is an area set aside for the sale of minerals and gems. The quality of goods here is not as good as in the mineral market in Antsirabe, and I only bought a small group of quartz crystals as a gift for a friend.

The following morning several mineral dealers were waiting for us in the parking lot of the hotel, including one with a monster morganite crystal about 25 cm across. The fellow wanted an outrageous price and would not budge, so we passed on it. We did, however, buy several small, bi-colored tourmalines from another dealer that morning. Then our first real adventure began!


We finally left at about 9 a.m. under cloudy skies and headed southwest to the Sahatany Valley, famous for its numerous pegmatites. Overlooking the valley is the equally famous Mount Ibity (Mt. Bity). Tony dropped us off on a ridge overlooking the valley and we hoofed it the rest of the way over a steadily worsening road. The view of the valley was great! The sky had cleared, and it was a sunny, warm day. Houses and small villages were scattered amongst the terraced rice fields. We could see the white dumps of pegmatites on the far side of the valley. The valley is primarily metamorphic and the host rocks are quartzites, gneisses and marbles. At the first village we came to we were offered a number of tourmaline crystals, amongst which were several worm buying.


After price negotiations and payment we left the dealers and a pack of children behind and waded across the shallow Sahatany River in our bare feet. We went on through several more small villages, repeating the experiences we'd had in the first, but finding nothing more to buy. On the other side of the valley we came to the Tsarafara pegmatite complex. The fenced-off area is controlled by Italian mineralogist Federico Pezzotta. The gate, such as it was, was open, so we walked in and took a few photos of the workings and of a family that was screening the dumps looking for bits of facettable tourmaline.


The pegmatites have decomposed in situ and are mined via hundreds of vertical shafts going down over 20 meters through the laterite soil. At the top of each shaft is a crude windlass made of a log supported by forked sticks. The pegmatite area, which was not being actively worked at the time, looked like a battlefield, what with all of its pits and piles of waste rock. We spoke with the guard, satisfying him that we were not collecting anything more than photos, and then we were on our way.


We then walked down the valley a short way to the Antokambohitra pegmatite, which was also temporarily inactive. En route we passed a church where the locals were singing hymns in Malagasy (it was Sunday). Marcin, who is principal violinist with the Breslau Symphony Orchestra, had to go in and record some of the wonderful music.


After crossing the river again and getting a shoe full of water, we climbed out of the valley and met Tony and the Land Cruiser at a different location. From there we drove south on National Route 7, stopping for a short while in the town of Ambositra which is known for its folk art, especially wood carving. The weather had turned rainy and we continued for another live hours to the city of Fianarantsoa. There we found a fine Chinese-run restaurant and our hotel (unheated as usual).


The next day continued rainy, but this did not dampen our spirits. A bit northwest of Fianarantsoa is Ranomafana National Park which is, appropriately, a rain forest. After buying what may have been the last available umbrellas in the local village, only Kasia, Marcin and I entered the rain forest with our guide. This is where we saw our first lemurs, geckos and chameleons. Kasia came out with a small hitchhiking leech on her calf.

After our return we found a nice resort hotel where we had a leisurely lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon sipping hot tea. Dusk found us back in the forest for a glimpse of the nightlife. We were not disappointed: we got to see one of the island's few predators--a civet. They are about the size of a house cat, with rows of spots running down their sides, and are a bit more lithe than the better-known predator called the fosa (pronounced "foosa"). On the way back, one must cross a small wooden footbridge over the rapids of a small, raging river. Standing in the middle of the bridge, looking at the mist-shrouded jungle in the dusk, with the roar of the rapids in your ears, you get a feeling of what the virgin jungle was like before man arrived.


The following day dawned bright and clear, and we continued southwest to nearby Anja Park, which consists of a small group of mostly bare granite mountains rising up from the plain. Here we saw our first ring-tailed lemurs, who ignored us from their perches in the branches, as it was nap time. We clambered up a naked granite monolith, and from its top we had a beautiful view of the countryside.




After leaving Anja Park we continued southwest and slowly descended from the central plateau that takes up much of Madagascar. The drop in altitude meant a welcome increase in temperature. Our nest stop mat afternoon was the small town of Ihosy, where we were shown some quartz crystals with phantoms. The sellers also had some unidentified equant, brown, translucent crystals in calcite veins that might have been uvite. We did not buy anything, but Tomek made a note to find the source of the unknown crystals.


That evening we stopped in the town of Ranohira, where we stayed in a hotel owned by Noro's family. The town is the jumping-off point for the wonderful Isalo National Park. A wall of cliffs cut by several small canyons rises out of the flat grasslands. With our guide, Jean Baptiste, we climbed up one of the valleys. On top, the terrain leveled out for some distance, then dropped off into a valley with a spectacular view of weird, weathered, multi-hued rock formations. We saw our first pachypodium (elephants foot) plant which looks like the bag from a bagpipe, with scraggly branches projecting from it, topped by bright yellow flowers.

We zigzagged down another small canyon and into another world. The valley was densely green with semitropical plants, in contrast to the surrounding near-barren, dry grasslands. Near the bottom of the valley we found a picnic ground with stone benches and tables where we stopped for lunch. There were brown lemurs snoozing in many of the trees. When they saw food, though, they came to life, scampering, swinging and leaping down from their perches in hope of a handout.



You are not supposed to feed them, but it is hard to resist giving them a little bit of bread. They are quite friendly and brave, coming up to you and taking the food right out of your hands. I was holding my baguette sandwich behind me while I gave a piece of bread to one lemur, when another lemur sneaked up behind me and attacked my sandwich, resulting in a tug-of-war.

After lunch we walked up a small, lush, Eden-like valley with a beautiful stream flowing between the rock cliffs. After a bit of a hike we came upon two small, crystal-clear pools called Piscine Bleu and Piscine Noire nestled in the green foliage and rugged rocks. We lingered long enough to be told by a tourist from Cleveland who had dived into the water that it was really cold and he did not advise swimming. On the way out, after clambering over boulders and across rickety bridges of branches, we came back to the picnic area. The brown lemurs had disappeared and been replaced by ring-tailed lemurs who were just as good at posing for tourists.


We returned to the truck and continued southwest, making a quick stop in the town of Ilakaka in the middle of a broad, grassy valley. About ten years ago Ilakaka was just a sleepy little village, but then it was discovered that the ancient river gravels beneath the town were full of fine-quality gem sapphires. Overnight Ilakaka became a "Wild West" town with shootings, thefts and people pouring in from all over to find their fortune, including Chinese and Sri Lankan buyers.


A bit farther down the road, near the town of Sakaraha, we stopped to look at some of the traditional graves. Each grave is a stuccoed, walled enclosure filled nearly to the top with rocks. Projecting from the rocks are poles with figures carved on them and horned zebu skulls at their bases. The outsides of the walls are traditionally painted with scenes from the deceased person's life. Nowadays there are often figures from movies such as Rambo and Bruce Lee. It is considered taboo to photograph the graves.


Our goal that day was the small fishing village of Sarandrono on the southwest coast a short way south of the town of Toliara. Before driving out on the sandy spit where Sarondrano is located we picked up Tony's wife Noro, who had traveled there by public transportation. After a bumpy ride followed by very soft sand, we found a nice bungalow on the beach facing west toward the African continent across the Mozambique Channel. The bungalow rested on pilings above the sand dunes; it had woven reed walls and a thatched roof, and was encircled by an attached porch. There was no electricity, and lighting was either by kerosene lamp or candles. The bath was a small room on the veranda with a barrel of water and a ladle. The toilette was wherever you were comfortable out in the dunes.

The village of Sarondrano is home to fishermen--very basic and traditional. Brightly painted outrigger canoes carved from logs line the shore, and children run everywhere laughing and playing. The homes are made of a framework of slender logs planted in the ground and covered by matched roofs and woven reed walls.

The next morning after breakfast we rented an outrigger and two paddlers and headed out onto the ocean. Tomek and Asia were brave enough to go snorkeling in the cold water while the rest of us were content to enjoy the experience vicariously. Back near the shore one of the paddlers jumped out, grabbed something off the sea bottom, tossed it into the bottom of the outrigger and leaped back in. The object in the bottom of the boat was an octopus hiding between a couple of mismatched shells. Tomek pried the octopus out and Kasia had a good time playing with it before putting it back on the boat bottom. I am sure the octopus ended up as someone's dinner that evening.



We then paddled across the small bay to the mainland where we visited a freshwater spring in a sinkhole just in from the shore. Called the Grottes du Sarondrano, it boasts crystal-clear water and colorful fish. Since this water was much warmer than the seawater, Kasia and I decided that the Grottes was a great place to snorkel. By the time we finished and were ready to leave, the tide had gone out and the water in the bay was so shallow that we had to get out and push in order to give our boat enough draft to clear the bottom.

That evening we dined again at the local restaurant, Auberge du Pecheure, and it was a wonderful ending to our visit to Sarondrano. A group of expatriate Frenchmen was also eating there that night, and one of them was celebrating a birthday. The staff came in with a birthday cake singing Happy Birthday in Malagasy. One of the Frenchmen pulled out a harmonica and another a soprano recorder, and they played several Malagasy folk songs. This was all that was needed for a group of Malagasy locals to start dancing just outside. The locals had brought with them a drum and something resembling a homemade guitar, and they took over after the Frenchmen finished playing.

Several of our group as well as the Frenchmen and locals were dancing in the sand under the starlit sky. Every song was fast-paced with energetic dancing, like a Malagasy version of Irish step dancing but with a bit more upper body movement. Marcin rushed back to the bungalow to get his sound recorder and we all enjoyed the wonderful, spontaneous, festive atmosphere.


The following day we piled our gear back in the Toyota and made the long, bumpy ride back to the main road. From there it was a short drive to the town of Toliara, which is the terminus for Rte. 7 on the coast. We made a quick stop at the local outdoor market where Kasia and Marcin bought a few gifts to bring home with them.

A short distance southeast of town we visited the Antsoky Arboretum. It was founded about 40 years ago by a Swiss botanist who spent much of his career studying the fascinating plants of Madagascar. The arboretum has many of the plants that are endemic to the spiny forests of Madagascar, including over 100 species of just the euphorbia group! Our last stop was the airport where we dropped off Kasia and Marcin for their return flight to Poland.



We left the lovely seacoast and drove back along Rte. 7 to the northeast, stopping in Zazafotsy. There we were offered many of the tabular, dark red rubies that are found in quantity in the gneisses nearby. We came to Isalo Park just before sunset, which was perfect timing. Close to the road is the "Window of Isalo," which is a natural opening in a ridge of rock. The tourists were thick on the east side of the ridge, with cameras ready to catch the sunset through the Window.


The next day we continued our drive to Fianarantsoa and then north. Just south of Ambositra we headed west. The pavement soon ended and we found ourselves in the small town of Ambatofinandrahana. I was pleasantly surprised when we pulled into the driveway of a nice house called the Marbre Auberge, which was to be our base of operations for the next two days. Many towns such as this have electricity for only part of the day, and running water can be problematic. It was back to the ladle and barrel of water for bathing.


The following day we drove south with our new passenger, Toma, who is very familiar with the mineral localities in the area. Tony drove us to a nearby village called Ambalamahatsara where he left us to take off across the valley and inspect some of the numerous pegmatites found there. As in the Sahatany Valley, the host rock here is marble. Most of the pegmatites were not actively being mined, but one local we met showed us a circa 16-cm morganite he had exposed. Back at our "bed and breakfast" we had a late lunch, then began driving southeast to Tetikanana. It was near there, in an exposure of gneiss in the side of a wash, that the hematite crystals epitactic on rutile had been found several years ago. We found nothing, and French dealer Laurent Thomas, who had worked the locality, told me later that he did not think there was much left.


After tramping around all day looking at pegmatites, we met Tony and drove back to the Auberge du Marbre. We packed our belongings and headed west. Our next stop was the town of Itremo, which is in the center of a quartz crystal-producing district. The biggest dealer in town had thousands of single quartz crystals and clusters of all sizes. In an area behind his shop he had numerous baskets close to a meter in diameter, all lined with straw and filled with crystal groups; Tomek chose a number of specimens. Then we visited another dealer who had a batch of "pineapple" quartz. It looked a lot like the white-coated, rough-surfaced quartz that came out of Ouray, Colorado years ago. We continued west and stopped for lunch on the side of the road. Toma and I took a walk and found several pits surrounded by quartz dumps and rejected crystals up to 20 cm long.

We spent the rest of the afternoon driving west on a dirt road that got worse and worse. I have never seen a road that was so bad for so long; most of the time we were in four-wheel drive. We had to get out several times to give the Land Cruiser a little more clearance, and for the sake of safety. The whole day's driving only took us 100 km. If it had been the rainy season we might have covered only 20 km because of the mud.


It was pretty late when we pulled into the small town of Amboropotsy. We found a very primitive "hotel" catering to the locals, and it was full. We finally located a place to stay at a restaurant/home. It was a small, two-story building with a single small room for dining and a small entry area with various bottled beers and soft drinks on the wall. The owner gave up her bed for me, and Toma slept on a foam mattress on the floor next to the bed. In the dining room Tony and Noro slept on another foam mattress on the floor while Tomek and Asia slept in the Land Cruiser (I think they were the smart ones). The place was far from clean, but luckily 1 had a sleeping bag. The toilette facilities were particularly memorable: a hole in the floor of a collapsing, doorless adobe shack out back where the locals walking by could appraise your efforts.

The owner served us a late dinner of rice and pork with particularly greasy utensils and the usual sand. I did not sleep well because I woke up every five minutes thinking there were bugs on me. We got up early, had breakfast and left. It was a relief to get going and leave behind the less-than-stellar accommodations, although we did appreciate the efforts of our hostess.


The following day was not much better. We continued west over more awful roads, making it to Mandrosonoro where we stopped for lunch and minerals, of course. We bought some nice amethyst scepters from a woman who invited us into her home, unwrapped many crystals and arrayed them on her bed. During lunch at a local restaurant two guys showed us some pale, lightly etched heliodor beryls, the biggest of which was about 4.5 cm. The two miners had a hard time agreeing on a price, and when they finally did it was pretty high. Tomek bought two small pieces and gave them some money to continue mining.

The road continued west and, dropping off the central plateau, was paved for a very pleasant, short distance! The asphalt did not last long, however, and after crossing a small stream we bottomed out against the center ridge of the road and damaged part of the truck's suspension. Noro, Tomek, Asia and I packed some necessities in our daypacks and walked down the road. Tony and Toma stayed behind to guard the truck and our gear. Just after sunset and a thirty-minute walk we came to a village. It was like stepping back in time--thatched roofs on mud-walled huts with chickens and pigs running around. I took a photo of all the curious children that came to stare at us, and they went crazy wanting their individual photos taken.


In the meantime Tomek and Noro made arrangements to rent two bull-drawn carts. One of these, with two men and food, went back to our Land Cruiser to spend the night with Tony and Toma. The other cart, with a layer of hay to sit on, was our transport to the next sizable town. For the next three and a half hours we sat in the cart under beautiful starry skies traveling over a mercifully not too rough dirt road. We made it to the town of Malaimbandy, which was dark and closed up at that hour. Just beyond the town we found a group of bungalows and roused the owner. She made us a late dinner and we gratefully settled into our quarters. Malaimbandy is at the junction of the horrible dirt road we had been on and a good paved road.

Sometime later that night Tony showed up at the bungalows, having left Toma behind with the vehicle. We made a number of cell phone calls the next morning to arrange for someone to get to the truck to repair it. In the meantime we had a schedule to keep, so we caught public transportation (a large truck, with many people in the back, called a taxi brousse) and headed west on the paved road. It was so potholed that it was better to drive on the shoulder than on the "pavement."


We finally got off at the port city of Morondava on the west coast of Madagascar, where another road headed north. We had arranged to meet a young man with a Renault sedan at that intersection. We traveled north on the dirt road to the Avenue of the Baobabs, where there are many of the strange trees that Madagascar is famous for. The magnificent and bizarre trees are usually "loners" and seldom grow in the concentration they are found in along this one stretch of road.

After taking many photographs we continued north to the town of Tsimifana on the banks of the Tsiribibina River and the terminus of a ferry. Luckily the ferry was ready to leave when our driver dropped us off there, so we climbed aboard in the dark. The ferry was small and consisted of two pontoons and a wooden deck big enough for maybe two vehicles and a few foot passengers. The crossing was not directly to the other side but took us several kilometers downstream, and so we had about a 40-minute ride. The ferry ride in the dark, starlit night was wonderful, with the stars reflecting off the water and the gentle waves lapping against the hull. I should say here that the estuaries along the coast are not a place for swimming, as they are populated by Nile crocodiles.



A friend of Tomek's named Olivier owns a hotel in the town of Belo on the other side of the river. He had not gotten the message to pick us up, so Tomek and Asia walked to town. I was left standing in the dark on the side of the dirt road by the river, with all the luggage. With every little noise I thought there might be a crocodile coming out to get a taste of tourist.

After about thirty minutes Olivier showed up in a pickup truck and we drove to the Hotel Suzanna. It was one of the best places we had stayed at so far: it even had electricity. The power was turned off by the town for several hours each night and there was no hot water, but the hotel had its own generators, so there was no break in electrical service.

The following morning we left in another four-wheel-drive pick-up and headed north. We made a quick stop at an area where fossils were weathering out of the sandstone. Lying on the ground were pelecypods, fragments of straight ccyhalopods, petrified wood with worm borings and casts of crab burrows. After a very dusty four-hour drive we came to the Manambolo River. The ferry was not due for a while, and since we did not have a lot of time we hired two men to take us across in pirogues {dug-out canoes). It only took a few minutes to cross the narrow river, and our driver and truck had to wait for the ferry.


Immediately on the other side is the entrance to the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, where we purchased tickets and hired a guide. Tsingy is a karst region that looks like something from a science fiction movie. The horizontal limestone beds have been weathered into giant, irregular blocks with vertical gaps between them that are up to several meters wide. The tops of the blocks are covered with thousands of spires up to several meters tall. We walked between the blocks and in places were able to climb up to observation platforms set amongst the spires and view the surreal landscape from above. To add to the unreal atmosphere, some of the odd plants Madagascar is known for grow amongst and atop the stone formations. The strange outcrops are surrounded by a forest that is full of lemurs, geckoes and other interesting wildlife.


We spent that night in some nice thatched A-framed bungalows in the local town of Bekopaka. It was nice and rustic, and we each had real bathrooms with cold showers and mosquito netting over the beds. Electricity was provided by a generator from 5 to 10 in the evening only, and only in the office/restaurant.


The next morning we arose early and went back to the river where we hired two more pirogues. They took us upstream to where the limestone cliffs come right to the river's edge. There we visited two small caverns that had some nice cave formations.

Back at the ferry crossing we boarded our pickup truck and headed north for about another hour. We had spent the previous day in "Little Tsingy," which is the most visited part of the park because of its ease of access. That day we were to visit "Big Tsingy" a little to the north. As the name implies, it is bigger than Little Tsingy as well as more spectacular, rougher and less visited. We were required to wear safety harnesses and tie off to cables attached to the rock walls in places. We even ran into an inquisitive mongoose in one of the mini canyons.

Back at the park entrance we crossed the river once again and drove south back to the Hotel Suzanna in Belo. There we met Tony and Noro, who had arrived in the meantime. We were driven south back to the crossing at the Tsiribihina River where we boarded a much smaller canoe-like terry with outriggers that took us across. Remember our disabled truck? The mechanic whom we had contacted via cell phone had come out to the truck on a motorcycle and had temporarily repaired it, so our trusty Toyota was waiting for us on the other side.

We drove south, passing through the baobabs again, and finally turned east where we had gotten off the taxi brousse two days earlier. The road was just as bad as I remembered, but the potholes finally disappeared and we had smooth sailing for a while. At dusk we reached Malaimbandy, where we had slept the night after the breakdown. On the side of the road was a guy looking for a ride to Antsirabe with several tons of gem-quality rose quartz! We ate dinner there, then continued on to Miandrivazo, where we spent the night. The bungalows there actually had solar water heaters and we had our first hot water showers in almost two weeks!


The following day we finished our drive back to Antsirabe and settled down in our old hotel, doing little for the rest of the day. That evening a dealer came to the hotel and showed us a lot of nice minerals, including some very nice garnets frozen in pegmatite matrix. We bought a number of specimens from the fellow and asked if he would show us the mine, which he readiiy agreed to do. After he left 1 took my first ride in a pouse-pouse to a nightclub for a taste of the local night life. The music was very enjoyable Malagasy pop, mixed with some western rock.


In the morning we drove a short distance west to the town of Ibity. It was the weekly market day, and that is where we headed. The market has no designated mineral/gem area, but once the word got out we were inundated with people with outstretched hands clutching their little treasures. They had mostly tourmaline crystals, and we bought several. Afterwards we walked around looking at the things being offered--homemade brooms, baskets, used clothing, unrefrigerated meat and really foul-smelling dried fish were just a few of the goods for sale.




This was my last day in Madagascar and I was to get some real exercise. We drove 14 km south from Antsirabe to the small town of Sahanivotry. We picked up the garnet man there and headed up a dirt road toward the hills to the east. The road went bad quickly and we continued on foot. As we made the top of the first ridge we had a beautiful view back over the valley and Route 7. In the other direction was a panorama of mountains sprinkled with the white dumps of pegmatite mines. Our first stop was a rose quartz mine, and after much up and down hiking and numerous stops for the wheezing tourists to catch their breath we stopped at another pegmatite. This is the locality for ilmenorutile (aka struverite) and consists of several pits along the strike of the pegmatite. Next to one pit was one of the saddest hovels I had seen on the trip. A man and his family lived there while working on the pegmatite. A shelf in the hut held the fruits of their labor, and we bought three thumbnail ilmenorutiles from the fellow.

We hiked back across the valley to a small stand of pine trees. Hidden among them was an adit that accessed the garnet pegmatite. We crawled on our bellies into a small stope, the walls of which were studded with thousands of garnets. Our guide had a single candle and Tomek, Asia and I had small flashlights. We took a few garnets but had not really come to collect--it was enough to see and photograph the locality, and we did not want to deprive our guide of his livelihood. After returning to the fresh air we made the long, strenuous trek back up the ridge and down to the valley where we met Tony with the truck.


First thing in the morning, we were greeted in the hotel parking lot by at least six dealers, and I bought my last tourmaline. Tony then drove me to Antananarivo where I caught my ten-hour flight back to Paris. The trip was a great experience and a wonderful adventure but, like my trip to China, it also produced sensory overload. We walked our rear ends off, had our truck break down, rode in a wagon drawn by Zebu bulls under the starry skies, slept in someone's simple home, saw incredible sights and bought nice minerals. There was also little hot water, sometimes no running water, heat, cold, endless kilometers of horrible dirt roads, poverty, children and adults begging for food, diarrhea and some pretty sad hotels. We also saw a beautiful forest and beaches, fascinating wildlife and an amazing country. All in all it was a great trip that I will never forget, with tourmaline for breakfast, lunch and dinner (and a late night snack).


The central and eastern part of Madagascar is a shield formed by igneous and metamorphic Precambrian rocks. Some areas of Madagascar were intensively intruded during the Pan-African Orogeny (the episode responsible for creating the Gondwana supercontinent). In Madagascar the consequence of this long-lasting, multistage process is an abundance of large pegmatite fields and pegmatite-rich areas having extremely varied chemical and mineralogical compositions.

One of the most classic and best described pegmatite areas is the famous and still-productive Sahatany Valley. This huge valley is situated at the foot of Ibity Mountain (2,292 meters high), about 30 km south-southwest from Antsirabe (one of the biggest Malagasy towns). The Sahatany Valley is easily accessible on foot from Ibity village, which can be reached even by a small car from the main road (Route No. 7). The majority of Malagasy localities are very difficult to reach, even by four-wheel-drive vehicle. For this reason the Sahatany Valley is one of the most popular destinations for mineral collectors and mineral dealers, local and foreign.

The valley, formed by the Sahatany River, is about 30 km long and very wide. The bedrock is metamorphic and includes schists, quartzites, gneisses and marbles. This variety of rock types results in a very diverse landscape; the quartzites, being the most resistant to weathering, form the high, jagged Ibity and Kiboy Mountains, while the marbles and schists form gentle hills.

The Sahatany Valley pegmatite field extends over 150 square kilometers and contains over 100 larger pegmatites; these are typical vein pegmatites emplaced primarily in marble. The majority of pegmatites occurring in the Sahatany Valley are of the Complex Type (LCT) (lithium-cesium-tantalum) with subtypes rich in lepidolite, elbaite and danburite. The rest are of the Beryl Type (BCT) (beryl-columbite subtype) (Pezzotta, Simmons, 2001). In the older classifications they were considered typical sodalithic pegmatites, with characteristic dominance of albite over microcline, lepidolite over other micas, spessartine over almandine and elbaite over schorl.

The pegmatites vary in dip, from almost horizontal to vertical, and bear a diverse relationship to the relict bedding of the host rocks, from concordant to discordant. They also range in size from small (a few meters long) to quite large (several hundred meters long).


Some of the pegmatites in the area are very rich in gem crystals, which is the main reason they are mined. The most famous minerals are certainly tourmalines in multicolored, gemmy and lustrous, well-terminated crystals. The crystals range from green to pink, blue, yellow and violet. Moreover it is worth mentioning that one of the most spectacular tourmalines, the so-called "tsilaizite" (Mn-rich elbaite characterized by incredibly intense red/violet color) comes from the Tsilaizna pegmatite in the Sahatany Valley. The other gemstones mined in the valley are beryl (pink, blue and multicolored), danburite and kunzite spodumene. In the course of gemstone mining, a number of other interesting species have been extracted as well. The workings are mostly in the eroded (kaolinized) pegmatites. Because of this, most minerals are extracted as loose crystals, the most common being tourmaline, beryl and quartz. Multi-mineral specimens (such as quartz with tourmaline and /or beryl) are much rarer. Unfortunately, because of the very primitive mining methods and the focus on gem rough, most of the specimen crystals are damaged or incomplete.

The Sahatany Valley pegmatites are also the type localities for a number of mineralogical rarities such as londonite, manandonite and bityite (Antandrokomby pegmatite) and behierite (Manjaka pegmatite). Other rarities occurring in the pegmatites of this area include microlite, hambergite and rhodizite (Antandrokomby is one of the world's richest sources of this mineral). Periodically the mining activities focus on the recovery of such rare minerals purely as collectibles.


The Sahatany Valley has been an important source of gemstones and mineral specimens since the beginning of the 20th century. In the first decade of the 20th century most of the serious mining efforts were conducted by the French, primarily in the Maharitra and Ampatsikahitra pegmatites, and produced large quantities of gems. At the end of this period, the production in the area drastically decreased. Finally, in the 1970s, the deposits were turned over to the local communities and to regulation by the traditional land law, initiating a new period of mining: the locals started digging hundreds of small, chaotic, dangerous pits in the kaolinized pegmatites. In recent years production has been quite variable; each time a big find has been made, "tourmaline fever" has ensued and hundreds of people have descended on the area to dig numerous pits. In general, the miners in recent years have been much more focused on mineral specimens than in the past. Some spectacular mineralogical discoveries have occurred, and a number of fine specimens are found every year.

Recently the most intense mining activity has been taking place in one of the largest Sahatany pegmatites: the Tsarafara pegmatite, especially in its southern part, called Ankadilava. The area has produced a number of pockets with multicolored tourmaline, spodumene and beryl. Other important places that have been worked recently are Antandrokomby (producing rhodizite, manandonite and beryl), Antanetinilapa (worked for gems mainly in the alluvium downhill from the pegmatite), Ampatsikahitra (producing spessartite, tourmaline and beryl) and Antokambohitra (producing poor-quality gems and schorl). Other pegmatites have been worked with varying intensity and with varying results.

Pegmatites of the Sahatany Valley became well-known internationally via the detailed descriptions and research done by the famous French mineralogist Alfred Lacroix (1863-1948). An important part of his great three-volume work Mineralogie de Madagascar (1922-1923) is devoted to descriptions of the pegmatites and the mineralogy of the Sahatany Valley. Other important works on Malagasy mineralogy that deal with the Sahatany Valley deposits include the papers of Jean Behier (1903-1965), e.g. his Contribution a la Mineralogie de Madagascar (1960). More recent descriptive works of great importance include those of Federico Pezzotta, e.g. the ExtraLapis English issue Madagascar, A Mineral and Gemstone Paradise (2001).


Ambatofinandrahana is a small town on Route No. 35, located about 70 km from Route No. 7 to the west, with easy access (No. 35 is a comparatively good road by Madagascar standards). Around Ambatofinandrahana are numerous interesting localities producing various mineral species. This concentration of interesting localities is the product of a diverse geology. The most productive deposits in this area are pegmatite veins in metamorphic rocks and low-temperature hydrothermal veins. The relatively high population density (for Madagascar) and the easy access to the area (the majority of the localities can be reached with four-wheel drive) have led to thorough geological exploration and many mining projects.

Geologically, the rocks of the Ambatofinandrahana area are part of the Itremo Group (Antananarivo Block), which is characterized by Proterozoic shallow-marine sedimentary rocks (sandstones, limestones) which were metamorphosed to quartzite and marble during the amalgamation of the Gondwana supercontinent (Collins, 2006, and references therein). Magmatic intrusions were also emplaced during that event, and in fact it is likely that the majority of the mineralization in the area is related to this episode.


The Ambatofinandrahana region is most famous for quartz with and without inclusions, epitactic hematite on rutile, bastnasite, tourmaline and beryl, including huge crystals of aquamarine, with dumortierite crystals, encased in solid pegmatite.

The three localities described below are typical and have been the most important producers in recent years.


The Tetikanana locality (named after a small village located about 1 km from Ambatofinandrahana on Route No. 35) is situated in a small valley between two gentle hills south of Ambatofinandrahana. The Tetikanana outcrop is in a big lavaka (the Malagasy term for a deep valley or canyon cut into laterite by erosion during the rainy season).

The area south of Ambatofinandrahana consists of metamorphic rocks, such as marble (forming hills) and quartzite with granitic intrusions. Weathered granites exposed at the bottom of the lavaka contain hydrothermal mineralization and slickensides in faults. Rutile and hematite specimens have been found on fault surfaces and in small pockets filled with earthy hematite. Some are of very good quality, with small (usually 2 to 3 cm but reaching a maximum of nearly 10 cm), lustrous epitactic hematite crystals on rutile crystals. They were called "keys" by the locals because of their characteristic shape: a hexagonal, tabular hematite crystal perched atop a rutile "leg" to form a specimen shaped like a door key. Unfortunately those most interesting specimens were found only very rarely.

The Tetikanana locality was discovered by local miners a few years ago and was mined occasionally, but has since been abandoned.

In this same area, even within the town of Ambatofinandrahana, there are other outcrops carrying hematite-rutile mineralization. In some of them giant tabular hematite plates up to 40 cm have been found. Unfortunately, no good-quality epitactic intergrowths of those two species have been found there.


The village of Itremo is situated about 30 km west of Ambatofinandrahana, 4 km from Route No. 35, at the foot of the jagged Itremo mountain range. Itremo is the "capital of quartz": there is even a group of quartz crystals mounted on a small monument in the central square of Itremo village. Mining and dealing in quartz is an important source of local income; you can find huge quantities of this mineral in almost every house. Of course, the majority is only rough material suitable for tumbling, carving, etc., but there are also large quantities of rock crystal and "pineapple" quartz. The rarest specimens include scepters, crystals with moveable gas bubbles in fluid inclusions, fuschite inclusions, and star-shaped hollandite inclusions. Smoky quartz crystals and quartz crystals with chlorite and/or iron oxide inclusions are also occasionally found. There are almost no continuously operating mines in the area; the majority are worked only occasionally or "on demand."



The geology of the Itremo massif is not very complicated; most of the area consists of layered quartzite with well-preserved ripple marks and other sedimentary marine structures.

The quartzite is cut by countless hydrothermal quartz veins containing quartz crystal pockets. Geodes range in size from a few centimeters to a few meters and may contain quartz crystals to over 1 meter in size. The majority of the pockets contain opaque white crystals of poor quality, but because pockets are so numerous the number of good finds is high. Very often, interesting specimens of a particular type are found only in a single pocket and nowhere else. In other cases veins contain a series of pockets that may be mined for many years--for example the quartz crystals with hollandite "stars." Irregular and chaotic mining in countless veins spread over a large area, and the discovery of many new veins every year, generally result in different types of quartz being available during every visit to the Itremo area. The majority of Madagascar quartz specimens available on the international mineral market have come from this area.

Numerous pegmatites are also found in the Itremo massif, but they have not produced any good-quality specimens, only tourmaline and beryl rough.


Ambalamahatsara is a small village located about 25 km south of Ambatofinandrahana. There a system of pegmatite veins crosses white marble and schist in a group of hills about 1 km north of the village. The veins are comparatively thin, usually about 1 meter to a few meters thick, and the majority have been mined for gem rough.

The pegmatites consist of feldspars, quartz and lepidolite. In the central parts of the veins are numerous zones containing embedded tourmaline and beryl crystals. The tourmalines are usually green and pink; the beryl crystals are pink, green and colorless. The tourmaline and beryl crystals are usually over 10 cm in size, occasionally reaching over 20. Unfortunately, the crystals are not very well formed because of the almost total lack of voids, but huge quantities of rough material have been mined there. Rhodizite occurs in some veins (Besiere, 1965). Typically the marble has been metasomatically altered in the contact zones surrounding the pegmatites, resulting in numerous cavities containing wollastonite.

The Ambalamahatsara locality was an important subject of research during colonial times and had a great impact on the history of Malagasy mineralogical and geological research (for example, see Besiere, 1965; Guigues, 1953, 1954).


The Ialamaitana group of pegmatites is located in a mountainous area 2 km east of Sahanivotry village, which is on Route No. 7, about 35 km south of Antsirabe. The pegmatites occur in metamorphic rocks, in a geological situation similar to that of pegmatites in the Sahatany Valley. The difference between these areas is that in the Sahatany Valley the dominant pegmatite type is the Na-Li type (an old, mostly disused classification, but still very useful as a field term and for use by mineral collectors), whereas the Ialamaitana pegmatites are of the K type. The difference is that Na-Li pegmatites contain minerals such as albite (Na feldspar), lepidolite (Li-rich mica), tourmalines (often gem-grade), beryl varieties (goshenite and morganite but no aquamarines) and spessartine. K-type pegmatites contain K-feldspars (microcline), muscovite and/or biotite, tourmalines (generally only black schorl), beryl (almost solely aquamarine), and almandine.

The Ialamaitana pegmatite field contains a number of pegmatites of various sizes, from one to a dozen meters. Only a few of them have been mined. The largest quarry, recently abandoned, is in a big coarse-grained pegmatite containing large amounts of beryl (mined as industrial stone in colonial times) and rose quartz (mined recently as decorative stone). No interesting mineral specimens have been found in this quarry.

Most famous, and as well known as the Ialamaitana pegmatites, is a system of pegmatite veins mined for niobium-rich rutile called "struverite" (described in the early 1900s as a new mineral species, but later discredited). Struverite occurs there in a medium-grained pegmatite, in association with rare beryl, schorl and almandine. A tack of open pockets in the pegmatite means that crystals are frozen in solid rock. Because the pegmatite is highly weathered, the crystals contain many cracks, and specimens in matrix are almost impossible to collect. Struverite crystals usually have a dull luster, gray color, and a size up to 5 cm. Crystals are typically not very sharp. It must be noted that the best struverite crystals (up to 10 cm, black and lustrous) have been mined a few hundred kilometers north of Ialamaitana, but the dealers usually label them "Ialamaitana" as well, to keep the locality secret.

The last important pegmatite mined in this area, known as the Antsotsara pegmatite, is a small vein producing numerous, good-quality trapezohedral crystals of almandine. The crystals are usually 1 to 2 cm, but specimens up to 5 cm have also been found there. They are deep red or black with reddish internal reflections. The luster is good but not the equal of crystals from the world's best localities. Because the mined portion of this pegmatite is also weathered, most specimens are very fragile and the crystals are mostly loose, but there have also been some good-quality specimens on matrix mined, some of them containing schorl in association.

Jeffrey A. Scovil

734 East Coronado St.

Phoenix, Arizona 85006

Tomasz Praszkier

Spirifer Geological Society

Warsaw, Poland

Tomasz Praszkier

Spirifer Geological Society

Warsaw, Poland
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Author:Scovil, Jeffrey A.
Publication:The Mineralogical Record
Geographic Code:6MADA
Date:May 1, 2010
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