Tuesday, March 28, 2006

It's Goodbye from Expedition 20

The last few days of the expedition were immense. All the difficult things were less difficult and all the amazing things were more amazing. The last few dives
were exploratory or recreational and we found a new site, Lovo Be, which had great coral, huge fish (including a species that hasn't been seen at Andavadoaka before), and a 'witch's garden' of soft corals, sponges and gorgonians.

I was a little apprehensive about the camion ride home, the trip to Andavadoaka had taken 27 hours, and no one wanted to try that again. The first half of the
trip, through the spiny forest, was terrifying. The first spider into the truck had us all jumping about squealing, then after five minutes we accepted the
fact that we were going to be travelling back with half the spiny forest and all of its insect inhabitants in the camion with us. Once we reached the end of the spiny forest we took out all the luggage and the foam we were sitting on (best idea ever) and shook out all those spines and leaves and insects life, then, much more comfortable.

A few of us had taken the advice of one of the field scientists and stayed up all night before we left, that made leaving a little more weepy, but passing out in the back of the camion much easier. I don't remember large sections of the trip because of the excellent sleeping I got through. We looked like a pile of puppies (hot, stinky, sweaty puppies, to be sure) all flopped on the foam and each other in the heat of the day.

We have been eating solidly since we arrived in Tulear, which has morphed from a foreign place where everything is more difficult than at home, to a blissful paradise of zebu steak and pizza.

We have been saying goodbye to people one by one as they head back home. It is horribly sad as each person leaves, but at the same time I'm happy because I have
managed to change my flights and I get to go back to Andavadoaka for another few weeks. Yes, Andavadoaka is hot and challenging and far from home, but the people
there are easy to love, the diving is special and the sunsets are grand.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

And a Little Bit More

It’s a very low tide in Andavadoaka today and the inviting blue sea that was lapping at the beach this morning has retreated almost to the fringing reef, leaving large expanses of brown reef flat to be baked quietly in the midday sun. Here and there spindly black figures can be seen dotted around the reef like distant wading birds – people from the village poking sharpened sticks into likely looking holes and quickly slaughtering any unfortunate creature that they manage to dislodge. In the foreground meanwhile the yellow-billed kite does its daily patrol up and down the beach, hanging almost motionless on the breeze while its head jerks back and forth and the eyes scan the ground for prey. Every so often it drops down out of site, then rises up again to its holding position with a limp-looking lizard in its claws. The wind changes for a moment and distant sounds come drifting across the reef flats: the voices of Vezo women and children, the harsh cawing of black and white crows, the faint whine of an outboard motor further out to sea.

It’s nearing the end of the expedition here, and the now lean and tanned team of volunteers has settled into a steady rhythm of research dives. PITs, IBs and fish belts are slowly being ticked off the research plan, rescue divers are busy practising missing diver scenarios, and staff are planning how best to drop an artificial reef made of old dive tanks between 007 and Recruitment.

And Now From Our Lovely Interns On Site Sabrina & Leanne

There have been a couple of days of bad visibility in the near shore dive sites recently, so after a couple of aborted dives, it was all we could do to keep our spirits up. Then amazingly the Fish Bowl dive site got rediscovered (and GPS'd), and we had one of our best dives ever. Even Mark was excited about the great visibility. We saw so many fish like Spotted Tobies, a Bluespotted Ribbontail Ray, a
Trumpetfish and so so much more. Sadly though, according to the staff here, Fish Bowl is not looking its best since the cyclone. It is probably the worst affected site, with very little coral surviving and the substrate largely being covered by turf algae. On our way back on the boat, we then had another thrill after about seven dolphins were spotted leaping out of the sea!! We can't say we actually got to swim with them, but what a brilliant way to end a dive.

The other day we celebrated International Womens day with a parade in the village. The Blue Ventures women joined the Vezo women as we formed a long line and marched through the long sandy streets of Andavadoaka, as they sang in beautiful harmony in Malagasy. We ended in the town square and stood in the blazing sun as the men marched around us and saluted the flag, but then all the villagers began to sing the national anthem and it was worth the heat, as they sang beautifully and again in perfect harmony. International womens day ended with a party at the epi-bar with lots of dancing!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Celia Colquhoun-King Reporting from Andavadoaka

Zebu: Malagache cow with impressive set of horns

Zebu cart: cart with rudimentary suspension and two zebu attached.

Zebu cart to the baobabs: obscure form of torture invented by staff for staff and volunteers.

It was something of an impromptu day off today, on account of the sea being too angry for diving and as a result that was preceded by an impromptu party night last night. There were a few people feeling in a party mood and much merriment was had round the dinner table. Unfortunately, for those who indulged, that made the bumpy, dusty ride to the baobabs in the blazing sun quite challenging.

The baobabs were astonishing, some had enormous shiny fractal pattern fungus growth on them, some had carvings of zebu, one had with a hive of wasps, and there was one supporting one side of the web of a golden orb spider. The web is so sturdy you can hang a pair of sunglasses off one strand.

Once the baobabs were mapped, in spite of the heat, we went for a wander to see a flock of flamingos. They looked pale and a little ordinary, but, when they decided we were too close, they took off and were all legs and wings, flashing pink and red. The sky was an intense deep blue complimenting the picturesque lake and surroundings and making the whole area on that never fails to deliver on the really really beautiful stuff.

The zebu must have been eating something good while they were waiting. We returned to Andavadoaka after lunch to the tune of bovine flatulence and flying cow poo.

The sea still looks a little soupy this afternoon, but the surf-like waves have subsided and with luck, and co-operation from the weather, we will be back in the water tomorrow. All the volunteers will be going to Laguna Blue (a nearby hotel) for lunch tomorrow. We will be having pizza and pasta (Cheese!!) so I predict sore bellies for tomorrow afternoon. Still, it will be worth it, you have never seen a group of people so excited at the idea of pizza.