Thursday, July 10, 2008
Croc farm and culinary adventure
The Croc Farm Parc Zoologique, billed as a five-minute drive from the airport, is a remarkable place. Once we leave the main highway, the drive to the farm is along one of the most remote villages we have encountered, a sort of dirt Main Street through a community of unbelievably poor people who sit on their door stoops and wave at us readily as we bump and bounce along in our tour bus on a narrow thoroughfare that I imagine is impassable in the rainy season except perhaps by 4WD vehicle. The farm is sort of an oasis in the countryside, shaded by tall imported pine and native eucalyptus trees. I have no idea what to expect, much less what we will be served for lunch, only knowing that my selection would not be crocodile meat, which represented 3 of our 5 food choices on a menu presented to us by tour guide, Mamy, the day before. The small gift shop inside the farm's entrance has a number of high-priced souvenirs, some made in Japan and others made locally. We are welcome, but Ryan's HD video camera is not, unless we leave it at the front desk or pay $85 US to take it inside. I protested but the lady there was not willing to negotiate. No way were we leaving the camera with them, so we paid the toll. Inside, we are accompanied by a barefoot employee wearing a faded red jumpsuit. It is wintertime in Madagascar, so were are advised that animals and reptiles may not be active. I was freezing in the windy, cool weather; my only longsleeved shirt was being laundered by the hotel, and all us were reaching the end of our travel wardrobe in now our fourth day of wearing basically the same clothes since leaving home. The farm appears to have four ponds for raising crocs. The first two we see have juveniles about 2 feet long, but they are everywhere in the fenced area – thousands of them. We are fortunate to see three chameleons in one outdoor exhibit, brilliantly colored specimens whose only movement to give away their location are eyes that rotate slowly if we watch carefully. A number of Madagascar's most exotic amphibians are displayed inside a small pavilion of glass-faced displays. Other outdoor exhibits display tortoises; a weasel-/cat-like predator called a fossa, two ostriches (one of which bites Jack Rich when he gets too close), and a family of lemurs that surprises and gives us a close-up look at their dexterity and amazing acrobatics. Another exhibit features hundreds of full-grown crocs, most of which are sunning themselves on the banks of a lake. A bridge allows us to walk out into the lake and get a close (10 feet) overhead look at some crocs that are a dozen feet long and hundreds of pounds each. Lunch is served in an outdoor pavilion at the top of a hill overlooking the lake. The food is fresh and good-tasting. Croc meat, white in color, appears in the salad eaten by about half of our group (see photo), and as an entree in a curry-seasoned sauce along with white rice. Ryan Britt lets me try some of his. The salad meat is tough and chewy; the entree meat is white and more tender. Lots of jokes persist, with some saying it tastes like chicken. Right. It perhaps tastes like a cross between seafood and chicken, with a distinctive flavor I can't adequately describe. I don't expect to repeat the taste test anytime soon, but I can say I did it once. I ordered what turned out to be grilled zebu ka-bobs, which were tender and steak-like. No A-1 sauce is to be had. Ryan captures some excellent video footage of our visit and some of the wildlife at the Croc Farm; watch for it soon.