by Kate Evangeli
We’d been trained up in the art of how to sex an octopus which basically involves putting your fingers in the head, finding the correct tentacle and seeing if there is a sperm tube. It is a surprisingly fun skill, especially if the octopus are doing their changing colour thing. So, it was an early start for our trip to the reserve on Nosy Hao, a nearby island. We got there just in time for the Fomba, but our lack of boat meant that we still missed it, which no one was upset about. The Fomba involves giving presents to the ancestors in the form of Fanta, rum and cigarettes by throwing them into the sea, and of course downing a glass of the rum yourself. It seems that in Madagascar, any kind of celebration starts with glasses of rum being downed very early in the morning. Then there was the meeting which was very successful for a local project as the community decided to take the ideas that Blue Ventures suggested, but of course being a Malagasy meeting it was a long affair with everyone being formally introduced and a lot of talking. Then we headed over to the reserve which is an hour’s walk out from the island and can only be reached on foot at low tide, a really beautiful walk with blue waters and white sand islands. We sat in a row under the shade of a boat watching local people fish octopus, there were just miles of people with sticks intensely examining the holes of the coral. Most of the people fishing were women and children, we couldn’t believe the amount they caught. Then, it was a quick trip back to the island as the tide comes in and where we were standing was soon to be the middle of the ocean. We managed to catch pirogues back to the island which was lovely, there’s no motor, just the calm water and a sail or two. Sailing on a pirogue when the water is calm is by far the nicest way to travel round here. We got back to the island for the octopus data collection, the fishers’ come in with big sacks full of octopus which were weighed and sexed ready to be carted off to Tulear. They caught a lot of octopus, and a lot of big ones so everyone was very happy.
Overnight trip on a pirogue
Rachel and I decided to go with the shark and turtle team on their trip to the islands down south by pirogue. Obviously, all pirogue trips are all dependent on the wind, if the wind is going in the right direction its beautiful and quick. If the wind is bad you need to zigzag across the sea which usually involves bucketfuls of water being thrown into the boat and everything getting soaked. We had very bad wind. We started at 6am ‘Malagasy time’, which involved us waiting around for an hour and a half as nothing runs on time here. We got on the boat, sat on our piles of lifejackets and were very comfortable for 10 minutes, then we got soaked. It was a couple of hours till we got to our first village Lamboara. Here, there is the motto that if you sing while you work it makes the time go by quickly and it doesn’t feel like work, so Rachel and I were serenaded by the boys on the way. Lamboara is a little village much smaller than Andavadoaka, it is of course very beautiful and the people are all very nice and friendly. We met with the shark ‘sous’ collector who had recorded 5 sharks that had been caught in the last month. Then we set sail to Ankitambagna which was such a beautiful journey through the mangroves next to Lamboara. Ankitambagna is a lot like Lamboara, except that the people were a lot more fascinated by Rachel and me. I got dropped off about a kilometre down from the beach so when I turned up on my own all the kids came running down to say hello. By the time the boats got in I had a crowd of women and children around me who managed to spot that Rachel was a foreigner from about a kilometre down the beach. The sea was too rough to sail to the next village so I walked with some of the boys the 4km down the road, leaving Rachel with a couple of boys with limited English, a sail and a fish book to keep her entertained. The walk was nice, we only walked as we couldn’t find the zebu cart as the boys are very aware that people from England don’t like to walk very much. After 10 minutes I was asked if I’d ever walked that far. In the village there were loads of turtle shells and dead baby turtles that they used as decorations by their front doors and shark jaws instead of door knockers. Here I weighed shark fins which was very exciting. We sat in the supermarket for a while, by supermarket I mean a shop that sells soft drinks, rice, cigarettes and biscuits. As I haven’t managed to pick up barely any Malagasy, this seemed to me like a very bizarre interaction of lots of people all talking very quickly, for a very long time. I think they may have been discussing the weather. To amuse myself I tried the local moonshine rum called Toga Gasy, my audience laughed a lot at me when I asked to try it. I was presented with a half tumbler full of this clear liquid, it tasted very strong, but you don’t want to drink more than a sip. We zebu-carted back to the village where Rachel had been waiting, I strongly recommend that everyone takes a zebu cart at some point in Madagascar but I’m glad it was quite a short journey. The zebus are quite wobbly and sometimes don’t make it up hills very well, you also have to keep on guard for any branches that might whip you across the face. We got back and a fire was very quickly made and we all sat round it while turkey was being cooked. This was a fantastic meal, the meat was very much appreciated. Then according to Vezo tradition we were told stories about the sea. By the fire we were told stories about why cats catch rats and why there are fish in the sea. Then Rachel and I went to our tent and the boys made a tent out of the sails of the pirogue. The next morning we were woken with coffee and makari – rice cake they eat for breakfast. We were then hurried onto the boat so we could catch the good wind back to Andava.