Days have melded together, my conception of time has folded in upon itself under the alternate fever and chills. Nights are spent mopping up a deluge of sweat from a shiver that begins as a tremor and finishes as helmet holding, harry-carry jackhammer. The fever that follows has the drops of sweat sizzling on the skillet of my forehead, “and it’s not even breakfast time” I moan to myself in the throes of insomnia. Just the thought of rice and sardines is enough to bring a bout of nausea. “Malaria? Dengue? Madagascar special? Think positive, you’re in Madagascar! (With a fever and very low standard of medical care whispers a persistent voice in the back of my head). “God I’m dripping wet!” Well, not me exactly…I look up to see drop after drop of water marching along the suspension cord of the hammock like a line of ants. At the centre they pause, regroup and land with military precision on warm, pink flesh growing clammier by the minute. I lack the energy to actually get up out of bed to fix the hammock and so I simply roll over to avoid the worst of the enemy fire. Though I inevitably flop back into place minutes later. I manage a fitful few hours sleep under this Chinese water torture only to awake surprised to find myself soaking wet. My wherewithal gone with all the rain.
Headaches soon follow which have me confined to bed. “Cerebral malaria, it’s cerebral malaria” I prognosticated with a solemnity bordering on funereal. Of course I didn’t really know anything about the symptomology of cerebral malaria except that it was caused by P. falciparum, was the most serious form of malaria and that it eventually resulted in coma and death. Cancer had changed my nonchalant, laissez-faire attitude with respect to my health to a state bordering on hypochondria- “Yep, definitely cerebral malaria”.
At the isopoint, where temperature, and pain became one fluid reality I simply languored in bed. I took consolation in the brief flashes of lucidity – “maybe the headaches are caused by my new prescription glasses. Maybe I simply ate something that didn’t agree with me, it is the first week after all”. Then the curtain would fall – “No it’s cerebral malaria, you’re going to go into a coma and die…now try and get some sleep!”
The following day…at least I think it was the following day I dragged myself from bed and accompanied the guide. Up to this point we had failed to see any mantellas or giraffe weevils, both of which I insistently harangued the guide about. “Lemurs”? Would be the inevitable response, until I hammered home my macro background. So she took it upon herself to take me on a specific mission outside of the park to find these elusive subjects. We took the taxi-brousse 30 minutes from the park to a small village and then walked another 30 minutes up a hot road until we hit a small creek. It didn’t look like much…the surrounding vegetation was all secondary, people passed by every few minutes going to a from their rice plantations. I was a little skeptical, but followed the guide and the rabatteur down into the creek. We all stopped to listen.
Peep. Peep. Peep.
The calls weren’t the long trill or honk of some other species, but a short chirp, much like a cricket. We stalked around the bushes a little. “There’s one right around here”, the rabbateur said pacing back and forth in front of a small patch of bushes, his keen eyes probing the depths. Peep, Peep. “I’ll go over there and search, you keep an eye out here”, he told me with a gravity that was completely out of proportion with the occasion. I worried that if I moved I’d be committing a crime (Which isn’t so far out of the realm of imagination, as I have since come to learn that the Malagasy countryman is a rather superstitious creature. ‘Fadys’ or taboos surround daily life. Most are in line with some kind of logic or mainstream religion such as eating halal foods, the disavowal of pork or alcohol, though some seem as bizarrely evolved as the flora and fauna of this unique island. For example it is strictly prohibited to carry peanuts on the sea voyage from Mahajanga to Baly bay).
Just as he passed into the bushes on the other side of me, “There!” I cried. The rabbateur came hurrying back, “Where?!” I pointed at the now empty spot. His hands searched the vegetation until they came away with the brightly painted mantella, Mantella madagascariensis. “Yes, here it is!” His voice was at once proud and yet a little disappointed that he hadn’t been the one to first spot the fantastically coloured little creature.
Whilst mantellas are related to the South American poison arrow frogs, they lack their cousin’s toxicity and so can be safely handled, provided one washes ones hands afterwards (This may have to do with either an alkaloid-poor diet, or else the secondary loss of the mechanism used in toxin bioaccumulation). Endemic to Madagascar, they have successfully spread across the rainforested part of the island (North-South axis of the Eastern part of the island, which receives the greatest rainfall.
The way back and a bright orange speck that floated down from the the tree-tops like pollen landed not 10 feet away. The rabatteur looked ready to jump on it. A moment passed. And then he actually did jump on it, his had streaking out and catching the giraffe weevil mid-flight. “I believe you were looking for this” he said casually, though from his tone it was evident that he felt redemption at not having been the first to see the mantella. “This is the female, you can tell from the short neck”. “That’s short?” I asked, never having seen a beetle with a neck before. The guide chortled, “you’ll see…you’ll see”.
We finally headed back to camp after 8hrs of hiking around. Tired, but the fever had broken, I was weak yet well. Turns out all I needed were a mantella and a weevil taken once as directed by the guide.