Volunteer blog by Isabel Butcher

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    I never understood how people on Big Brother, Ship Wrecked etc could spend so much time doing so little. Just sitting around babbling inanely to each other (the only apparent explanation being the evident lack of brain cells between them). But now I do. Sitting around doing nothing but talking rubbish and munching bottomless sacks of kapiki (peanuts) in such an amazing setting a zillion miles from the stresses of reality, is a fantastic experience and antidote to normal life. It’s a luxury we afford ourselves all too infrequently back in the rat race, but here it’s almost too easy and too nice to do it a bit too often.

    However, there are so many other amazing things to do that it is (almost) always worth the effort of peeling yourself out of the hammock or out of bed at 6am. There are camping trips to islands to survey sites too far to get to in one day; manta towing (being keel-hauled behind a boat with a snorkel looking for new reefs); night dives; trips to mangroves; sea cucumber counting; overnight stays in local villages; baobab measuring. It’s when you find yourself setting sail in a pirogue at 6am to go manta towing that the reality check kicks in and you think this is better than getting on the tube!

    Sometimes a conscious effort has to be made not to start taking for granted being here and all the amazing things there are to do. Is whale watching (sailing by local pirogue to a tiny island and sitting watching for migrating humpbacks from the top of a rickety platform with the most amazing view really a chore?! Hello? Reality check? How many people can say they’ve had the opportunity to do that? Is being on the 6 o’clock dive for third day in a row really a bad thing?! Just another stunning sunset? Yawn (although that may well be the response back home when the 27th photo of said sunsets comes out)

    Being ill (as is the form for everyone at some point!) is actually a blessing in that it makes you appreciate being here all the more once you’re better and able to enjoy it all again. Being lucky enough to be here for two expeditions I’ve been able to get sufficient sitting time in the first six weeks to get it out of my system and am extremely glad I’ve now got a whole other six weeks to enjoy everything available here. It also provides an opportunity to observe the differences between the two sets of volunteers.

    Seeing the first lot off was really hard. In some ways it was horrid to be left behind, but in others (not least the prospect of 33 hours in the back of a truck) it really wasn’t. But it’s true that you only really appreciate what you had once it’s gone. ­Being here, after the people you’d spent 6 weeks living with had left was very odd. The huts were like a ghost town, haunted by memories of little things that had happened and people had said, and they were sorely missed. (If any expedition 33ers are out there reading this, we miss you! Hope you’re having fun scattered around the globe!) But seeing the reaction of those who did return to camp after the epic journey to Tulear was another wake up call to remember how amazing it is here. The next lot of volunteers have arrived relatively unscathed from their journey, if a little shell shocked at finding themselves in the most incredible setting where they’ll spend the next six weeks of their lives. There are new experiences, fun stuff and memories to be made, and I am determined to make the most of every second, every pirogue trip and every sunset there is going.