CARPE DIEM by Ben Fry

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    After one of the best sleeps I’ve ever had, in a proper bed, and for more than four hours, I awoke to an absolutely pristine environment. Cameras out (and unlikely to be put away anytime soon) we all started taking hordes of photos of the beach adjacent to our homely little huts before heading off to breakfast. When you’re in a new and exciting place for the first time a stale piece of bread doesn’t seem like all that bad an option for breakfast. However, even at this early point people were already starting to slightly resemble fire-breathing piranhas at the sight of marmite and peanut butter.

    After breakfast we undertook the obligatory tour of the site and subsequent familiarization with Blue Ventures protocols. The tour was loads of fun; the protocols were boring, but important, and also served as a fantastic insight into the true isolation and remoteness of Andavodoaka. After only a few days, it is this remoteness that seems to be a stable and highly rewarding facet of the overall volunteer experience.

    Lunch was goat curry Yes! Proper red meat is rare out here and a fantastic luxury when it shows up on your plate. With all the goats around, you also start to wonder what may have happened to the black and white spotty that used to routinely sip at your shower run-off, yet seems to have suddenly and mysteriously disappeared overnight.

    Having passed our swim test earlier that day, a 400 meter doggy paddle, with the current, in about a meter of water, we could all properly go for a swim. A brief stint of snorkelling followed, however, with not much to see and six weeks of diving almost everyday ahead of us we chose to just laze about in the swimming pool of clear water instead, not a bad compromise at all.

    As day quickly grew into night, it’s interesting how quickly the sun sets here, we made our way down to the local village for our meet and greet session with the Nahudas. The Nahudas are essentially the village elders, and as such their views and opinions are held in high esteem and their influence widely felt. Furthermore, they are vital to the maintenance and sustainability of Blue Ventures’ working relationship with the local Vezo population. We met the Nahudas at one of the local Epi Bars, where we all introduced ourselves (a slightly lengthy process as everything had to be translated into Malagasy), and in return received a heartfelt and warm welcome before the party started. It’s also interesting to note that most of the Nahudas, as the village elders, are aged somewhere in their thirties, an ominous reminder of the poverty and lack of infrastructure rife throughout Madagascar that affects people’s lives on a daily basis.

    Yet all things considered, you will struggle to ever find a Malagasy person who isn’t smiling and they definitely know how to throw a party. Official greetings quickly gave way to song and dance and toka gasy. It should carefully be noted at this point that toka gasy is largely indistinguishable from petrol, it burns at about the same rate, smells the same, is about as equally as damaging to your insides, yet cost about 20 times less, making it even more nasty. One glass of the stuff will ensure the worst hangover you’ve ever had, after two you’ll start reciting obscure Monty Python quotes with pure clarity. If you make it to four, you are likely succumb to a demonic stupor, your night ending as you try to summon forth your long lost Malagasy ancestors to purge yourself of the pick-axe wielding lemur that has taken up residence in the left side of your skull.

    Thus although our meeting with the Nahuda’s is a little fuzzy round the edges to all involved, we definitely had an awesome time in one of the most unique bars you’ll ever set foot in. All in all it was a fantastic way to cap off a fun and introductory day to the culture, environment, people, and way of life that we would be immersing ourselves in, in the coming weeks.