Three weeks in

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    From Sam:

    I finally arrived at the site at sundown on April 1st, easily the longest transition period I’ve had from one place to another. That said I really, really loved the trip through Madagascar. I had a great time bonding with the other 11 volunteers in my van while we drove, saw a national park (and lemurs!), kept driving, barely slept and had a nice half day hike through an even better national park (with more lemurs!) The landscape was really fantastic, a combination of the endless plains of the Serengeti as well as jutting rock formations that made for some really incredible views. My camera is more or less dead, but luckily I’m with a bunch of shutter bugs and I think I’ll be able to get a CD full of pictures at the end.

    In the three weeks I’ve been at the site next to the village of Andavadoaka I have learned how to scuba dive, attaining my Open Water status and soon Open Water Advanced. On a painful note, I have had some issues with one of my teeth on occasion. The change in pressure when I go down too quickly makes air unable to escape from my top left molar, possibly due to issues with a filling I have there. It was very unpleasant and I honestly cannot recommend it, but luckily it’s only happened twice and I’m fine as long as I descend slowly. That said, if you think you have a cavity or have had fillings, do yourself a favour and get a check up with your dentist.

    Memorizing all the fish and benthic is difficult but rewarding, and those who prepare beforehand are rewarded with precious free time. As an avid reader and someone who is composing a daily journal, every extra moment you can get is a godsend. I don’t often mind myself sweating from exhaustion, but I am kept very busy.

    It is interesting spending back to back time at two conservation centers and picking up on the many similarities and crucial differences, many of which I believe are probably related to the donation I gave each site in order to volunteer. Here, the relationship with the community is incredibly positive, very much off the beaten track – Andavadoaka is the subject of a single paragraph in Lonely Planet – and the meals are fantastic (if not a bit repetitive. Bring Marmite, Nutella, and any other spices, sauces or drink mixes, they will be a great commodity and a powerful bargaining tool!)

    One of the highlights here probably occurred a few days ago, when I spent two days on the small island of Nosy Mitata with a family there. I went spear fishing with them and had a very insightful look at how the locals live, as well as a reminder that neighbouring village Andavadoaka is by far the most highly populated village around. It’s population? 1,200.

    Sometimes they caught animals that we’re trying to protect, but preaching to them would have been wrong, even if I possessed the Malagasy vocabulary to do so. Rather, it let me really understand where Blue Ventures stands and what it is all about.

    Three weeks down, three to go, and I have to say that it feels just right as the midway point. I am not panicking that the time has gone by in the blink of an eye (though in some ways it has), nor am I worried that three more weeks with my fellow volunteers and staff will be the end of me. Well I’m off, I need to enter today’s data before going into Andavadoaka to witness a village ceremony.

    From Kat:

    21/04/08

    Hello to all out there in the internet world,

    It’s been another good week at Coco beach and beyond. On Friday, five volunteers me(Kat), Debbie, Mike, Anita, Maikel and Taylor all went north on a pirogue with Vezo staff member Angelo to document our sea cucumber farm. The waves were high and the ride was very wet and salty but we made it safe and sound.

    Upon arrival, the President (mayor) of the village greeted us politely and brought out mats for us to use for our stay instead of sleeping on the sand. Angelo had brought supplies for cooking and proceeded to start our dinner. As we were only lying about Anita and I jumped up to help Angelo with the cooking. I’ve missed cooking a bit as all the meals at Coco Beach are prepared for us. I began chopping onions in a bowl while standing and using a very dull knife. Luckily fingers were not added to the mix. We helped start the fire in the cooking hut and started on the fish. Anita took charge of the rice.

    As Angelo felt Anita and I had control of everything he and Mike went to sit with the Nahodas (elder men) of the village and discuss our business for the evening. It’s customary to always stop in and speak with the Nahodas and/or President of the village upon arrival and departure. They always need to give permission for our activities.

    Back in the cooking hut Anita and I are slowly attempting to find our footing in this foreign kitchen. No pot handles so we use sticks to lift the lids. Always watching your flame so it doesn’t get too hot or burn out. Cooking with salt that is not crushed up into tiny dissolvable particles. It’s all a bit disorientating. The fish went fairly well. Unfortunately Anita’s rice didn’t go so well. She is used to letting water boil and adding the rice after boil then simmering the heat until done. The rice here needs to be added to cold water and brought to a rolling boil or else you get very hard rice in the center and mush on the outside. All the women of the village had a good laugh at the Vaza who can’t cook and then we remade the rice. Dinner was quite tasty.

    At 11pm when the tide had gone out and the moon “lit” our way we headed out the the cucumber pen. It a 10X10 meter pen way out from the beach only noted with four sticks marking each corner. We had quite a bit of difficulty walking out through the dips and valleys that were the sandy bottom but made it out.

    Mike, Anita and I hopped into the pen and began snorkelling around picking up the cucumbers as we found them through the sea grass. Handing them off to Maikel, Debbie, Taylor and Angelo who were measuring and weighing all of them. Upon collecting about 70 of the cucumbers and noticing (and avoiding) the lionfish who had taken up residence in the pen Angelo announced the scale was no longer working. AHHHH! Madagascar troubles!!!! We all tried to solve the problem but to no avail. We had to return the cucumbers to their watery slumber and return to the beach for rest ourselves.

    In the morning after gathering our things and wishing the President good healthy wishes we headed home. Hopefully we will try again later this week with better results.

    Well wishes and happy lives to all
    Kat, Expedition 37