Madagascar: A gemologist’s journey (Morondava)

On Monday, June 9, 2014 we left Ifaty and took our clown bus back to Tulear where we boarded an Air Madagascar flight to Morondava. Morondava is further north on the west coast of Madagascar.
Tulear to Morondava
It was a long busy day and we would be getting up early the next morning. So after a late dinner we headed back to our rooms to go to bed.

We left early the next morning for the 13-hour journey on extremely bad roads, en route to Tsingy. Along the way we stopped to see the icons of Madagascar: the Baobab Trees on the famous Avenue of the Baobabs. They tower high above the regular trees in the area.

Nautillus Resort
There are 8 species of Baobab trees, of which six are endemic to Madagascar. Two others are found in Australia and east Africa. Some Baobabs are up to 2,000 years old. The trees are huge…you can see me standing at the base of one of them in my red top and white skort.

In my next post, we will continue our journey on the road to Tsingy National Park.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A gemologist’s journey (Ambolimalika)

The next morning we drove to a small fishing village for the day. It was stunningly beautiful. We could swim, take a boat ride, snorkel, relax on the beach and read a book or take a walk among other things.

Although Ambolimalika was absolutely beautiful, it is a very poor village.

Ambolimalika Madagascar
We strolled along the beach then into the local village where they make their boats out of a single tree stump. A group of children were happy to give us a tour…they taught us the words to one of their songs. In return, I taught them how to say I Love You in English.

Back at the beach, I swam, had an amazing feast, then me and friend Jaroslav went for a walk. I made a cute little friend, Mayasa, along the way. She spent time with me on the beach and absolutely amazed at the camera.

Mayasa
On my return visit to Madagascar in November, I was determined to find Mayasa again. I had a special gift bag to give her. It took me two days to find her, but we were finally reunited. She recognized me immediately and was happy to receive her gift bag.

That evening back at the Nautillus Resort, we enjoyed singing and drumming by a group of Malagasy girls called Boloco Malagasy. Boloco Malagasy was started as a non-profit organization to give girls in poor villages a chance at a better life. I would strongly suggest you look them up on YouTube. They have several amazing videos there.

After this song they lead us down to the beach, still beating on their drums, to a huge bonfire where we all danced and enjoyed the music on the beach.

Our next day we fly to Morondava to reunite with our drivers.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A gemologist’s journey (Ifaty)

Our visit to the Ilakaka alluvial sapphire deposit marked the end of the work portion of our trip. Now it’s time for few days of rest and relaxation.

Since we were parting with our drivers for a few days while they drove up to Morondava, we boarded our next form of transportation: The Clown Bus! We were packed in like sardines. It’s a good thing this was late in the trip and we all had gotten to know each other by then.

Tulear to Ifaty Madagascar
This form of crowded transportation is quite common in Madagascar. They are referred to as a taxi-busse! Our Clown Bus took us from Tulear to Nautillus Resort on the beach outside of the town called Ifaty.

The staff is great! We are greeted each evening with an amazing meal and rum punch served from a spigot in a tree. The owner is proud of his punch. The kitchen staff is always happy to see visitors. And Mr. Robinson is my favorite.

Nautillus Resort
Mr. Robinson is an herbal doctor and he makes honey out of baobab tree flowers. On my second visit to Madagascar, Mr. Robinson cured my food poisoning by giving me a tea of cooked sticks and branches of some sort. It tasted like artichoke broth…a little strange, but it cured my sour stomach over night. Then I hurt my foot and he treated it with the juice of a aloe-relative. I miss Mr. Robinson already!

The next stop is Ambolimalika…a small fishing village further north on the Mozambique Strait.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A gemologist’s journey (Ilakaka Sapphire Deposit)

Ilakaka was probably the most exciting mining stop for me on the entire trip. As a Gemologist, I learned about this discovery, saw pictures and videos of it in my studies, but never imagined I would ever go there. This was the one day that really focused on gems rather than minerals. So I was like a kid in a candy store there.

Ilakaka Alluvial Ruby and Sapphire Deposit
Discovered in 1998, Ilakaka is one of the world’s largest alluvial sapphire deposits. This means the stones were washed down from their original source into an alluvial fan. The most common sapphires found here are purple, pink, violet and yellow. Classic blue sapphires are rare here. Ilakaka is considered the “wild west” of Madagascar since the sapphire discovery!

The video below tells more about the story. Enjoy!

This was our final stop on our trip that was business related. Now it’s time to relax on the beach a bit. Our next stop is Ifaty on the Mozambique Strait.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A gemologist’s journey (Isalo National Park Evening)

Our afternoon in Isalo National Park was just as beautiful as the morning. After a delicious lunch and entertainment by four friendly ring-tailed lemurs, we’re off again on one last adventure to a tropical waterfall. The scene was just too inviting and some of us jumped into the refreshing pool of cold water. It was well over 90 degrees that day and the incline to reach the waterfall was fairly steep, so it was wonderful to cool down in such a beautiful area.

Isalo National Park
We ended our day in Isalo Park visiting a popular tourist stop referred to as the Window of Isalo. It’s a rock formation with a natural frame perfect for capturing the sunset just right.

In the evening we had a wonderful meal in our high end hotel resort. Afterwards, Federico Pezzotta gave a presentation on the different gems and minerals of Madagascar.

Federico Pezzotta
Madagascar is the worlds most locality rich island for gems and minerals, hosting many of the most impressive and unique specimens. Here he discussed the difference in tourmaline specimens from one locality vs. another. The presentation was very interesting.

In my next post we head to one of my favorite stops, Illakaka.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A gemologist’s journey (Isalo National Park Morning)

On the way from Amboarohy corundum deposit to Illakaka sapphire deposit we pass Isalo National Park, Madagascar’s most visited national park…and probably the most beautiful.

This unique park has incredibly diverse landscapes including grassy plains, mountains, deep canyons and tropical oases with picturesque waterfalls dropping into inviting teal-blue pools of cool water. Our eight hour hike took us through all of these in one day!

Isalo National Park
We begin our day-long hike in terrain that is reminiscent of the Badlands of South Dakota. It’s hot, but the views are spectacular, making it all worthwhile.

Isalo National Park
We pass Frankenstein Rock, an old tomb and a hornet’s nest before descending upon…
Piscine Naturelle: A gorgeous tropical oasis complete with ring-tail lemurs. This area was so beautiful and the water so inviting. It’s one of the favorite tourist locations in the park.

Isalo National Park
We follow the small oasis until it ends and we’re back in the hot arid landscape. We walk some distance under the direct sun before stopping under a nice shade tree for a break. Shade trees are rare in this area.

Our guide takes a moment to show off a tiny scorpion, and the wings of a grasshopper, which mimic a poisonous plant. Then we’re off again!
Isalo National Park

As we ascend a small mountain, we can see our starting point behind us in the distance, and flat grassy plains in front of us.
Isalo National Park
Hiking just a little further takes us peering over deep canyons like the desert southwest. Ken stops to take a selfie over the cliff.

After a busy morning hiking, we stop for an amazing BBQ lunch of ice cold beer, salad, zebu kabobs and rice, while a group of four lemurs entertains us.

Isalo National Park

Tomorrow we continue our beautiful hike in Isalo National Park.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A gemologist’s journey (Amboarohy corundum quarry)

Amboarohy is a famous locality for sapphire and ruby in well-formed crystals occurring in biotite metamorphic schists. The mine is located at the top of the mountain near the town of Zazafotsy. It’s a several-mile hike up to the top.

Amboarohy Corundum deposit
Amboarohy corundum quarry
The view from the top is amazing. I’m the first one to reach the mine, thanks to living in Colorado, so I start digging for something valuable. But, while I’m in the pit with several others, something scary happens…


I was a little freaked out when I could hear the popping and crackling of the fire and I looked up and saw the large flames. Thankfully the pit I was in was large enough so the fire could not suck out all the oxygen. One of my fellow travelers was in a small but deep hole when the fire came through. He quickly scrambled out of the hole for fear he might be suffocated.

Fires burn all over Madagascar. Locals burn the brown grass to make way for new grass for their zebu. But they don’t supervise the fires, so they just burn wild all over the country. This is causing further deforestation and loss of lemur habitats in Madagascar.

So was the hike worth the effort?

Those who decided to dig in the dump pile found some amazing pieces. This beautiful specimen shows blue and pink sapphire in the same crystal. Something that is commonly found from this particular corundum deposit. This is the same piece from three different angles. Not bad for a free specimen!

Amboarohy sapphire tailings
Those of us who chose to dig in the pit got skunked. But at the end of the day, we all had the opportunity to buy ruby crystals in schist from a local miner. The price was 20.000 ariary, or about $8.50 each. These are the ones I bought.

All in all, I appreciated the good exercise of our hike. I enjoyed seeing a new type of deposit and my rubies on schist were priced right, so it was good. And although scary, it was interesting experiencing the fire as well.

In my next post, I’ll introduce my favorite park we visited on our trip: Isalo National Park.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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