I will confess that the days running up to imminent departure were not necessarily as calm and collected as I would have liked. In fact, safe to say that it was more like unbridled panic (where did I hide my dive knife; how on earth am I going to fit all my kit into the vast backpack I was told I just HAD to purchase by the sales assistant in Blacks; is it wrong to take more than 2 bikinis?) mixed with an overwhelming curiosity about what the next 6 weeks held in store.
Questions were constantly flickering through my frantic mind…’what on earth have I signed up for,’ ‘how am I ever going to learn 150 different types of fish after years of immersing myself in the world of marketing rather than an underwater world,’ ‘what are the other people going to be like’ and ‘how on earth are we getting from Tulear to the expedition site’…in fact…’where am I going again…?’
On more ‘interesting’ bus rides in India I have previously dabbled with the concept that the elation felt on arriving at ones destination (commonly referred to as the ‘ahhhhhh’ factor) is directly associated to one’s journey to get there.
Having crossed the first hurdle and all met up successfully in Tulear (bags, shmags ;-)) it was time for the last leg of our journey to the site.
We crept across the shore in the dead of night (you can forget diamonds…..a head torch is a girl’s best friend) and shimmied up a rickety yet strangely sturdy ladder, to reach the deck of what to me conjured up childhood memories of Captain Pugwash’s (wasted on the under 25’s I am afraid but oh so apt) pirate sailing ship – brilliant. And let the Madagascan adventure begin.
We whiled away the hours and hours and hours and hours reading, napping, whale watching, scoffing, chatting and happily chilling. There was even perhaps a little bit of inventive ‘I spy’ thrown in for good measure – ‘I spy with something beginning with ‘w’…..ho ho ho, although if you weren’t snoozing at the time it was likely to be a whale.
Some ‘time’ later we arrived at Half Moon beach in the light of a full moon, polishing our environmental halos, having made the 150km journey from Tulear with only the power of the wind.
Being met by a cheery London greeting and a speedboat, weary but contented volunteers were delivered gently onto the beach, where a short trot up some steps found us at the huts that were going to be our homes for the next month and a half.
We all slept well that night.
Waking up the next morning generated as many sets of wide eyes as the previous night’s arrival had done. Our row of huts neatly dotted across the top of a baby cliff overlooking what was appearing to be our own private beach and it was (and still is….never get bored of that view) glorious.
The next few days were a blur of briefings and benthics and bowel movements (er…for some) and books and basic science training and maybe the odd beer or two – all in the name of science and group bonding, of course.
We are roughly half way through the expedition now and those fish aren’t looking as baffling at all, the benthic has been well and truly nailed by 99% of us by now, (ahhh what inspiring, patient, helpful and empathic scientists we have to aid us on the path to underwater enlightenment) we are idly humming the choruses of Malagasy pop songs under our breath and local greetings to the Andavadoka villagers roll off the tongue with ease. Home from home.
It still amazes me, at the end of another packed day, at what we have the opportunities to do here, both in and out of the water. Diving and learning and whale watching and pirogue riding and boat marshalling and local school teaching and foot-balling (er, getting stuffed by the the local village team – yeah but we let them win…) and volley-balling and guitar playing and camp-firing and generally getting stuck in and getting the most out of an amazing place and a great group of people.