Chameleons and geckos

The next day I met a British tourist at Sambava’s taxi-brousse station who was going to my village for a few days. Liam was spending a month in Madagascar to spot and photograph many of the country’s animals. We became fast friends on the taxi-brousse and ate together at my favorite soup and brochette hotely that evening.

The next day he said, “I’m guessing we can find chameleons here. We should have a go.” I had my doubts. I hadn’t yet seen a chameleon in my village, plus I thought they only lived in the rainforest. I took him to the beach because it’s lined by trees and brush of varying densities and could potentially be a chameleon’s home. As we strolled I pointed out a tree where the Sakalava hang sacrificed cow skulls on its branches. “About a month or so ago,” I told Liam, “There was a big Sakalava festival, and they sacrificed 105 cows for it. You should’ve smelled this tree then, it was awful. Burnt cow, ugh.”

A few minutes later Liam said, “There’s one!” On a branch a little higher than our heads sat a panther chameleon. Its black and gray colors blended well with the tree on which it rested. It was huge, probably two feet long. Liam ran back to the hotel to get his camera, and I kept an eye on the chameleon to make sure it didn’t escape. Then, by surprise, the bush next to me had an orange chameleon rattling around inside it. This one was a few inches long. My eyes darted from the large chameleon to the small one, and I remembered when I was seven year old and had read a children’s magazine about chameleons. Everything about the animal fascinated me then, from the way its skin quickly changed colors to its bulbous eyes and the way its tongue rolled out to eat insects. How unique it was! My childish excitement for chameleons returned to me, and I was ecstatic to live in the midst of this magical animal.

Liam returned with his camera and he snapped some great photographs of the panther. He was also excited. “Now I’ve seen both the smallest and the largest species of chameleon in the world on this trip,” he said. He showed the photograph of the smallest species he’d seen down south. It was a little less than half the length of a quarter.

In the course of Liam’s stay he also showed me seven species of geckos. Some are neon green and can get to be half a foot long, others are also neon green but smaller and their colors fade to blue as your eyes move toward their tail, and still others are small and brown and shed their scales when confronted by predators. I have the brown ones in my home. They crawl up and down my walls and feast upon the termites in my ceiling. They also let out a clicking noise every ten minutes that in English means, “Leave it to a tourist, Jordan, a tourist, to unveil a new side of your village which you didn’t even know existed.”

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