This week’s blog comes from Sheryl Dickey

I have just returned from a wonderful adventure with Bic (a Malagasy Blue
Ventures staff member) and Vanessa (a fellow volunteer) to a village down
the coast called Lamboara. The purpose of our trip was to do some sea grass
mapping and to work with the local women’s association to conduct a survey
of the fish that were caught that day. The plan was to take a motorized
pirogue (wooden boat that is a cross between a canoe and sailboat) to the
village on Friday afternoon and then return after lunch on Saturday. But
the reality turned out to be a bit different.

As of Friday morning, the pirogue that we were supposed to travel in was
still out on another trip. With the pirogue no longer an option Bic
arranged for the next best thing – a zebu cart. A zebu cart is a small cart
on wheels that is pulled by two zebus. The driver of the cart sits on the
edge of the cart and steers the zebus in the right direction. A zebu is a
large ox-like animal with a hump (a bit like a camel’s hump) behind its
head. About 4pm on Friday, we all climbed into the cart, wedging ourselves
into the confines of the small space, and strapping our gear to the back.
After a quick stop in town for water and bok bok we headed off. Our journey
took us through the spiny forest. There are no paved roads in this region
so the cart just bumps along a set of sand and stone tracks. The landscape
is quite stark with sand and various bushes and trees that are quite thorny
with gray and winding branches. Sometimes the path is overgrown with these
bushes and we would have to duck down and let the branches slap by us.
After a couple of hours we reached the Bay of Assassins. Unfortunately, at
this point the tide was still too high for us to cross over to Lamboara so
we once again had to devise an alternative plan for how to make the final
leg of the journey. Bic decided to swim across the Bay and arrange for a
pirogue to come over and pick us up. After about 45 minutes, Bic was back
with the two young men rowing a pirogue. We jumped aboard and crossed over
to Lamboara as the sun set in the west with brilliant reds and oranges in
the cloudy horizon.

We arrived in Lamboara in darkness. A diesel generator was providing light
for two different huts but otherwise the village was dark. We jumped out of
the pirogues when it got too shallow to row anymore. We waded up to the
beach and carried the stuff up to the village and headed directly to where
we were staying. The president of the town and his wife were our hosts and
let us stay in their yard. Essentially, each hut has a fenced-in area of
the beach that belongs to that hut. We were able to sleep out on the sand
within this enclosure. After grabbing a quick beer at the local epi bar we
came back to the president’s house for dinner. His wife made us a tomato
based octopus soup and rice. Within a few minutes of finishing dinner, we
laid out on a foam mattress on the sand, looked up at the stars, and went to
sleep. The next day we woke with the dawn and started our day. After
breakfast, a few members of the women’s association came to the President’s
house for a meeting about the fish survey. Essentially, every two weeks
Blue Ventures works with the local women’s associations to record the fish
being caught in the local villages. The meeting was to discuss how to
categorize, weigh and measure the fish. Afterwards, we went for a hike
through the spiny forest on the island and then a brief dip in the sea at
low tide. At about mid-morning we began surveying the sea grass off the
coast of Lamboara. Blue Ventures is gathering information about the sea
grass, mangroves and reefs in this region as part of an overall project to
establish a marine protected area in southwest Madagascar. Our job was to
record what types of sea grass were in this area and to mark the location of
the sea grass bed on the GPS. We spent the next hour and a half wading
through the sea grass. My favorite part of this process was seeing the
beautiful starfishes and seeing a sea hare for the first time. The sea hare
itself is unremarkable looking – a lump blending into the surface of the
sand. But when you step on it, the sea hare shoots out a massive amount of
magenta liquid as part of its defense. After conducting the sea grass
mapping, we headed back to the village to work on the fish counts. The fish
surveys went on intermittently for the next couple of hours and we were soon
thinking about how we were going to get back to Andavadoaka.

We could not get a pirogue because the wind was blowing the opposite
direction from the way we needed and the waves were too big. So once again,
when there is no pirogue there is always a Zebu cart! Bic had a cousin who
had a zebu cart in Lamboara. He agreed to take us but there was one problem
- no zebus. It was such a hot day the zebus were hiding inland on the
island somewhere in the shade and were not expected to return to the village
until it cooled off at about sunset. After contemplating various schemes
involving ferrying over the cart on a pirogue and the zebu swimming across
the bay – it was decided we needed to find another answer. It turns out
that there is one 4 by 4 vehicle in the village owned by the Italian
mission. Bic negotiated with them to give us a ride back to Andavadoaka.
To get to the 4 by 4 we climbed aboard the pirogue and met the vehicle
across the bay. Vanessa and I climbed in the back and Bic stayed up front
with the driver. Unexpectedly, in the back of the 4 by 4 was also a small
tortoise about 6 inches long. Once again we headed back through the spiny
forest but this time we were also able to wind our way through the baobab
forest as well. After a bumpy ride, we ended our day in Andavadoaka with a
huge rainbow appearing in the eastern sky. It was good to be back.

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