Happy campers

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    Mantis shrimp

    By Cari Walker, Blue Ventures volunteer, Andavadoaka, Madagascar.

    Half of the group on Expedition 63 took an overnight camping trip to the island of Andragnombala. We had initially intended to go to Tampolove. However, the local saying “it depends on the sea,” caught up with us. Because of the wind, one of our pirogue sailors suggested Andragnombala. The pirogue journey on the way over was very nice despite the fact it was an early trip. The local boka boka, which are similar to doughnut holes, can make any journey better. Luckily for me, the pirogue I was on had both boka boka and plenty of coffee. On top of that, my pirogue was being sailed by Bruse, who happened to be incredible at sailing pirogues as most Vezo men are. Once we arrived at the island, we set up camp and almost immediately went back out on the pirogue to go fishing for our dinner. I was quite obsessed with the quest of finding a lobster whilst snorkelling, but to no avail. I did, however, see a mantis shrimp whilst snorkelling. A friend, Rob, said it was good I didn’t go to grab it. Apparently, they are one of the fastest animals alive and have super powerful claws that could literally split your thumb in half.

    Mantis shrimp

    One of the pirogue sailors caught two fish after being out there for several hours. After that, we realised it wasn’t a successful day for fishing and went back to the island. Walking back, the same man that had caught the fish speared a flounder which was quite impressive. The rest of the afternoon was filled with trips walking around the island, rolling down sand dunes like children, and cooking the fish that had been caught. That in itself was quite a mission due to the gale-force winds. It is a possibility that most of the seasoning on the fish was in fact sand. Nevertheless, it was a great meal after the long day. We moved our camp site to a different location to escape the winds, and Bruse made a fire using an entire tree. Needless to say, we were warm for the night. Drinking local rum, playing games, listening to music, and watching films all under the most incredible view of the stars was an experience of a life time.

    Come morning, we enjoyed more boka boka and tea. Everything was quiet and peaceful. That was until we hear locals and BV staff yelling and running towards the coast. Then another volunteer, Carla, said they were yelling “bevata!” We were swept along with a sudden rush of people running towards their pirogues and within ten minutes we were gliding across the waves apparently in search of a dead whale! We weren’t sure of the details but the excitement of the locals fed our adrenaline. The closer we got, the stronger the stench of fish grew, and when we finally got to it there were already several pirogues of men hacking at the blubber. There were also birds, including an albatross, joining in on the free-for-all. The whale was unrecognisable apart from its size and the ocean had a thick top layer of oil. It was quite an experience; but after the previous night, a few minutes of the stench was all we could take. However, the locals spent the day hauling the carcass back to the shore via a pirogue.

    As soon as we were back on land we had to leave again to get back to Andavadoaka village by lunchtime and unfortunately the wind was against us, therefore the hour journey there turned into a five hour journey home. It is something we all must endure during time in Andavadoaka. It is an initiation or a rite of passage; but mostly a time to bond. I was joined on the pirogue by Marsh Prendergast, one of the Blue Ventures field scientists. We spent the journey discussing star fish and their diet, during which we were being carried over reef flats by the strong Vezo pirogue men; zigzagging back and forth from the coast. We were welcomed home by the other half of the group who had spent the two days doing recreational and science dives. I personally had to take a hiatus from the group for a few hours after the pirogue ride, for quiet contemplation. With hindsight giving me a new perspective, this was an amazing trip overall and I only wish I had time for more like it.