Monday, December 31, 2007

A fond farewell

Tuesday 18th December
Coco Beach, Andavadoaka
18:26 (UK), 18:26 (Madagascar)

Tonight was a really fantastic night at the BV camp. It is the penultimate night for the volunteers here in Andavadoaka and to see them all off the women’s association of Andavadoaka came to give us a farewell. There were at least 20 women there. It has been the first time that I have seen so many women of the village together. Normally it is the men that BV interacts with – fishermen etc. They sang and danced for us, spoke to us and then gave us a cake (with icing on – causing much excitement!)

This expedition has been the first to invite the women’s association to sell products to our volunteers on a Sunday. In the farewell speech they thanked BV for the support given to school children through their scholarship programme, thanked the volunteers for their English teaching at the school and other work in the village. It was great to see and hear the impact that the work of BV has had directly from the women. I trust a woman’s opinion far more and so this really hit home. The whole of Coco Beach including the staff enjoyed the show and them after we all enjoyed the cake – except for those of us that are vegan / with wheat allergies / fish allergies (cakes here all seem to have a fish after taste due to the pans used to make the cake).

An end of a good day really…

The rest of the day has been filled with working to distribute stoves and meeting with the Velondriake committee to discuss biogas in the group of villages. We are starting work on a feasibility study here and it was great to hear their understanding of a recent biogas proposal and the reasons why they are in favour of such a project. Their main reason it seems is electricity. We have previously analysed the water sources in Andavadoaka to show that pathogens are a serious problem, but despite this sanitation seems like a low priority and having electricity for other things is more important to them. Anyways there is a lot of analysis to be done and we need to convince the village of the potential effectiveness of small scale systems through demonstration- perhaps BV’s new Ecolodge can be just that place. We’ll see how things progress.

Best get to bed now – early start surveying a household’s fuel use.

Ellie La Trobe-Bateman
Carbon Offset Manager

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Turkey love and three hours difference

Monday 17th December
Coco Beach, Andavadoaka
16:09 (UK), 19:09 (Madagascar)

I really should change the clock on my computer but I quite like being reminded that I am 3 hours in front of all you UK people. So when I get up at 6am I know you are all safely wrapped up in bed, probably in 2 duvets now it us getter close to mid winter – the winter solstice nears – and I go off for an early morning snorkel in water no colder then 25ºC. Not that I am being too smug. And now I am winding down before party night whilst you are all in the twilight hour of 4 – 5pm.
Thinking about it now I watch sunset at about the same time you do. Fantastic.

It has been a week since arriving and it now feels like I have been here for a month. I feel like I am part of the furniture and feel I have got to know everyone well already. Having little- no communication with the outside world encourages communication from individuals and you definitely get to know each other a lot quicker.

So the week that has been has included; getting ill, getting better, getting sun burnt, getting a great tan, skin falling off leaving me whiter than before, Stuffing the turkey falling in love, the freight arriving, Larissa the new BVCO site coordinator arriving, getting a new reef named after me, snorkelling and 3 walks to the random, distant mobile phone point in the middle of the spiny forest.

The biggest event of the week, above the freight and BVCO’s coordinator arriving, is that Stuffing; the turkey has fallen in love with a lovely female turkey. They have spent the last 3 days in each others feathers. It is beautiful to see – true love. Wish I was a turkey. They’ve been following each other around like lost souls. Now it feels even more wrong that he will be taken away at Christmas. I feel there is some hope though- I think Tristan (pictured with his beloved pet...) is falling in love with Stuffing – yesterday he was spotted making morning ‘gobble gobble’ noises – perhaps having the competition of another turkey has made him jealous.

Having freight has been a great excitement for all – new band sparkling new dive kit – enough for all volunteers to have one, a telescope, more oxygen, and the best bit – goodies for all the staff. I forget that I have only been in Madagascar for 2 and a half weeks, some of the staff have been away for 9 months plus. It seems marmite is the most priced possession, perhaps second to hot chocolate! If anyone is coming out to site and wants to make some quick friends then bring one of those items and you will be loved forever.

Ellie (BVCO Director)

Monday, December 24, 2007

From Ellie: Reflections of the BV site

Sunday 23rd December
La Refuge, Tulear
14:34 (UK), 17:34 (Madagascar)

My time on site has gone so quickly. It has been great to finally get to see the workings of BV and meet the staff, volunteers and local community that make BV what it is. There are so many aspects to think on and things I have learnt:

Volunteers come from a range of backgrounds – a range of ages and focuses on life. Primarily though they all want to contribute to the work of BV and feel that they are actually being useful – contributing to something of true worth – and that they do.

It was good to come at the end of this last expedition of 2007 and hear the views of the volunteers, to hear their stories and work out how each of their paths had lead to them being in this remote village on the coast off SW Madagascar. There are people who are travelling the world; people whom are taking a career break; people whom want to work in marine conservation; people whom like diving; people whom just want to get away for a few weeks; people whom don’t know what they are doing with their lives and people that do. Brilliant – the diversity of people all brought together through one project. And then there are the volunteer’s parents too – brilliant also – especially those that read blogs (Hi again to Fiona’s dad – don’t worry I will be back in the UK soon and you can stop reading the content of my brain – thinking about it – this is a bit like the film ‘Being John Malcavitch’ – you are getting to know me – but I don’t know about you or how many others there are – hmm – that will give me some exciting Larium dreams tonight)!

Staff – again – all so different but yet have been brought together all in the name of saving the coral reefs. I have really enjoyed getting to know each of them individually and enjoyed my time with each of them greatly.
Although it is not my primary role as BVCO director, I do feel a strong commitment to the workings of Blue Ventures and feel it is very important to fully understand the skill set that is working in the field, and the operation of BV – this will inevitably help BVCO in the long run.

BVCO’s three Malagasy staff – Larissa, Angelo and James have also been great to get to know – and despite a small language barrier we worked it out and at the end of my time I feel that all the new procedures have been well understood and I am happy to leave in the knowledge that everything has been communicated and action has started.

Andavadoaka & Velondriake – Velondriake is the community group that has been set up along with BV & WCS to work to establish a series of MPAs that will benefit the people of those communities. It really is working and regular meetings are held to discuss the future of this and other issues that affect them. I presented myself and BVCO to them to further an initial biogas project that has been proposed. It was an interesting experience – first hand participation in bottom up management – every possible energy project in this area must go through them. They are fully supportive of both the stove programme and the biogas proposal- without such support project running would be very difficult and conservation objectives could not be achieved.

Pace of life – We in the Western world work far too hard and far too much.
In Madagascar everything goes slowly-slowly, so slowly that you sometimes get confused and think you may be going backwards. I conclude that we should meet somewhere in the middle so that we can take projects forward but we can take time to have long lunches / long dinners / both with friends / family / work colleagues without guilt. When I get home I am going to try to take this into action and spend more time with those important to me. Work is important to me – the BVCO project and BV are a high priority – but we are all people and all people aren’t just made of work – they are stitched together by the people that they have met along the way.

This shift in pace for me has been the hardest thing being out here. I have been out here for a month for work and when things haven’t gone to plan it has been frustrating at points, but sometimes that is just the way it is. So sometimes this ‘problem’ will have to wait until morning – and perhaps it will be dealt with better then. This is obviously one of the biggest challenges facing BVCO and other offset companies running small scale community projects – when offsets are demanded within certain time periods there can be conflicts in making such a project accelerate due to the environment they are being run. It may therefore take longer for an offset to be made but the outcome is more rewarding and in a community project that can directly benefit those involved.

Impact of Ecotourism – Since I was in Andavadoaka 4 years ago a number of things have happened. One of the most significant is the acceptance and the interest of the local community in these ‘vazahas’ that come to stay for 6 weeks at a time. On the expedition back in 2003 most of the local community were quite obviously wary of these white people, now they are as welcoming as to come to thank the expedition at the end, bringing cake, songs and dance. There is also a small shop that people call the supermarket – a slight exaggeration, but it does now sell mars bars, Pringles, biscuits and flowery decorations! I know that a lot of the stock is targeted towards BV, but there is a lot of local business also and so people in the village now have access to things they otherwise would not, for example flour, butter, cheese, mosquito nets and weighing scales.
In this world where we desire equity by contraction and convergence we are going to have to find some middle ground with our consumerism. If supermarkets in the UK stocked only as much as this ‘supermarket did then the world would have less rubbish, and less want (I would remove some of the tacky jewellery from the shelves though!).

There is time to ponder in Madagascar – especially whilst travelling. I left the camp in Andavadoaka to travel to Tulear via Morombe on Friday. I travelled with Fran and Charlie (field scientists) and a volunteer by pirogue to Morombe, and thankfully it took only hours – it is a beautiful way to travel but with 7 of us and luggage it was just slightly cramped. I found Pere George (a Swiss priest whom is a fan of solar ovens and may be able to assist in locating a place for a new stove workshop in Morombe) and after an hours kip I caught the taxi brousse at 1am to leave for Tulear – and then the trip begins!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

From Ellie - All the better for feeling better

Thursday 13th December 2007
Coco Beach, Andavadoaka
18:52 (UK), 21:52 (Madagascar)

Firstly, I'd like to say hi to Fiona's dad if he is reading this.  Thanks
for listening in!  Now for the update:

After feeling like death for 2 days and having half a day completely in bed,
with toilet dashes, I am better and feeling fantastic for it.  Everything is
great now.  Once your world has been rendered insignificant due to some
raging bacterial battle going on somewhere between your oesophagus and lower
ileum, when it final appears again it looks amazing.

I thought a walk would kill me off yesterday, but after a 2 hour walk from
camp to the only spot in a 40km radius with signal for mobile I started to
feel remarkable better, and today have been very nearly normal.  It is great
to be back here; and really great to meet all the Blue Ventures staff and
volunteers here.  It feels like I am finally getting to understand the
workings of an organisation I helped to set up and have been working for on
and off for the last 4 years.  Every minute I am enjoying at the moment, and
I have finally gotten over the heat.  So it appears everything has come at once
– getting better, sun burn decreasing in intensity, really enjoying the food
and generally getting acclimatised.  

The best thing about being here is that you can find the space to get away
from everyone and everything- you can find a spot on a beach or in the spiny
forest where you can’t hear anyone or see anything that has to do with a
human.  That is when I am at my most happiest.  Despite it being great to
get my own space the last few days have also shown me how much I enjoy being
with people and how good it is to be around the other BV staff – most of whom
I have never met before - along with the volunteers - whom i am enjoying
getting to know also.

The BV staff here have helped me understand more how, from London, I
can work best with the team here.  I hope that by me being here they will
understand more fully the needs and demands of BVCO also.  They are also a
lot of fun and I am now wishing that I was staying for Christmas.
I have to get to Morondava though for work, and to meet with the project
leader there. 

There is another issue with Christmas in Andavadoaka – I have got quite
attached to the turkey that they intend to eat.  “Stuffing”, as it is
called, - is incredibly dog like, so much so that it follows our field
scientist Tristan around and even tried to come manta towing with him today
(possibly not the most suitable occupation for a turkey); it waits for you
outside the toilet and lives on the porch of the very person that is going
to eat him for Christmas.  My attachment with this turkey makes it hard for
me to stay to witness its death.  But I guess it has had a very long life
(it is an eldery turkey) and has definitely had a good last couple of weeks
roaming Coco beach and eating rice and beans.  Still, something inside of me
wants to break it free.

Work continues, and Larissa is due to arrive on Sunday – it will be an
intense 4 days of stove work next week.  The best thing about work here is
that it is started by a morning swim in the sea grass shallows amongst the
needlefish and goatfish followed by breakfast in good company and a mango!
What more can one ask for?  I can’t think of anything at all!

Offset now with bvco –

From Ellie: Back in Andavadoaka...after 4 years!

Wednesday 12th December 2007
Andavadoaka -  Blue Ventures Research site
 06:47 (UK) / 09:47 (Madagascar)

Finally I have arrived and I feel awful.  I think I must have picked up

something up in Tulear and for the first time in all the travels I have done
I have a traveller’s belly; nausea, fever with hot and cold, exhaustion and
becoming friendly with the toilet - that type of thing.  So last night I gave
in and succumbed to the antibiotics – then commenced an all night battle in
my stomach, which was fun.  I can’t wait to feel better and to enjoy eating
again.  I think I will need at least a day of rest, which is really
difficult for me to do.

So anyways, Garth and I arrived in Andavadoaka by 4x4 late Monday night,
after 8 hours of bone jarring driving along the sandy, rocky, steep coastal
‘road’ that runs from Tulear to Morombe.  My neck was not best pleased by
the experience, but I really quite enjoyed it; good company, a new
experience, and we were getting out of Tulear finally.  Towards the end we
passed a supermarket in the middle of nowhere – and it sold red wine!  I
commented on it then asked which village we were in – “Andavadoaka” was the
answer.  How very weird, there was never anything more than an epi-bar
selling tomato puree and coke 4 years ago!  So here I am back in the place
BV started all those years ago.  It seems like I have walked into different
place with a fully operating organisation unrecognisable from before. 

My first day on camp was really good and I took a break from BVCO to find
out more about the research programme and went manta towing, (that’s a
marine survey technique that requires one individual to be dragged behind a
slowly moving boat noting the change in the benthos).  To be honest it was a
last minute decision and I was not adequately prepared for the 4 hours of
mid day sun on the motorised pirogue.  It was great fun, and I enjoyed it –
it was the only 4 hours that I felt well yesterday, but I am now completely
burnt from head to foot.  I think the only time I have been this burnt was
went I was 3 years old and I was with my parents in New Zealand.  We spent a
day on hot water beach and as it was cloudy I was not sunscreened up it.  It
is the same now- hurts to put anything on.  Despite having a great day
yesterday, I am feeling a bit sorry for myself now – burnt with a bacterial
war going on in my stomach.

I am staying in one of the staff huts like that I stayed in before- but this
time I have the room to myself.  It is great having my own hut, but the
floor seems to be steeply sloping so one side of the bed is very much lower
than the other- but it is a bed so I am happy.  I have a shower area for
bucket wash and a sink.  The water is only on twice a day, but I am getting
used to planning the bucket fills now.  

There were also 3 cockroaches that lived in my shower area when I arrived.
I am a vegan; I do care about animal welfare and the rights of other living
creatures but I am afraid to admit my initial instinct was to try to wash
them down the plug hole.  I succeeded with washing two of them down, and
immediately felt awful.  The other one lived with me for a day and then my
unkindness to nature came back to hit me.  A spider span a web above my
shower area and quickly caught my new cockroach friend.  I thought nothing
particularly of it other than this was a nature process, until the dead body
of the cockroach with scavenging ants fell into my only bucket of clean
water to wash in.  

So I learnt a couple of important lessons yesterday;  don’t go out on a
motorised pirogue without a hat and adequate covering, and never kill
cockroaches – their family will only die in your water supply.

Offset now with bvco –

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

This week's blog comes from Sheryl Dickey

I have just returned from a wonderful adventure with Bic (a Malagasy Blue
Ventures staff member) and Vanessa (a fellow volunteer) to a village down
the coast called Lamboara. The purpose of our trip was to do some sea grass
mapping and to work with the local women's association to conduct a survey
of the fish that were caught that day. The plan was to take a motorized
pirogue (wooden boat that is a cross between a canoe and sailboat) to the
village on Friday afternoon and then return after lunch on Saturday. But
the reality turned out to be a bit different.

As of Friday morning, the pirogue that we were supposed to travel in was
still out on another trip. With the pirogue no longer an option Bic
arranged for the next best thing - a zebu cart. A zebu cart is a small cart
on wheels that is pulled by two zebus. The driver of the cart sits on the
edge of the cart and steers the zebus in the right direction. A zebu is a
large ox-like animal with a hump (a bit like a camel's hump) behind its
head. About 4pm on Friday, we all climbed into the cart, wedging ourselves
into the confines of the small space, and strapping our gear to the back.
After a quick stop in town for water and bok bok we headed off. Our journey
took us through the spiny forest. There are no paved roads in this region
so the cart just bumps along a set of sand and stone tracks. The landscape
is quite stark with sand and various bushes and trees that are quite thorny
with gray and winding branches. Sometimes the path is overgrown with these
bushes and we would have to duck down and let the branches slap by us.
After a couple of hours we reached the Bay of Assassins. Unfortunately, at
this point the tide was still too high for us to cross over to Lamboara so
we once again had to devise an alternative plan for how to make the final
leg of the journey. Bic decided to swim across the Bay and arrange for a
pirogue to come over and pick us up. After about 45 minutes, Bic was back
with the two young men rowing a pirogue. We jumped aboard and crossed over
to Lamboara as the sun set in the west with brilliant reds and oranges in
the cloudy horizon.

We arrived in Lamboara in darkness. A diesel generator was providing light
for two different huts but otherwise the village was dark. We jumped out of
the pirogues when it got too shallow to row anymore. We waded up to the
beach and carried the stuff up to the village and headed directly to where
we were staying. The president of the town and his wife were our hosts and
let us stay in their yard. Essentially, each hut has a fenced-in area of
the beach that belongs to that hut. We were able to sleep out on the sand
within this enclosure. After grabbing a quick beer at the local epi bar we
came back to the president's house for dinner. His wife made us a tomato
based octopus soup and rice. Within a few minutes of finishing dinner, we
laid out on a foam mattress on the sand, looked up at the stars, and went to
sleep. The next day we woke with the dawn and started our day. After
breakfast, a few members of the women's association came to the President's
house for a meeting about the fish survey. Essentially, every two weeks
Blue Ventures works with the local women's associations to record the fish
being caught in the local villages. The meeting was to discuss how to
categorize, weigh and measure the fish. Afterwards, we went for a hike
through the spiny forest on the island and then a brief dip in the sea at
low tide. At about mid-morning we began surveying the sea grass off the
coast of Lamboara. Blue Ventures is gathering information about the sea
grass, mangroves and reefs in this region as part of an overall project to
establish a marine protected area in southwest Madagascar. Our job was to
record what types of sea grass were in this area and to mark the location of
the sea grass bed on the GPS. We spent the next hour and a half wading
through the sea grass. My favorite part of this process was seeing the
beautiful starfishes and seeing a sea hare for the first time. The sea hare
itself is unremarkable looking - a lump blending into the surface of the
sand. But when you step on it, the sea hare shoots out a massive amount of
magenta liquid as part of its defense. After conducting the sea grass
mapping, we headed back to the village to work on the fish counts. The fish
surveys went on intermittently for the next couple of hours and we were soon
thinking about how we were going to get back to Andavadoaka.

We could not get a pirogue because the wind was blowing the opposite
direction from the way we needed and the waves were too big. So once again,
when there is no pirogue there is always a Zebu cart! Bic had a cousin who
had a zebu cart in Lamboara. He agreed to take us but there was one problem
- no zebus. It was such a hot day the zebus were hiding inland on the
island somewhere in the shade and were not expected to return to the village
until it cooled off at about sunset. After contemplating various schemes
involving ferrying over the cart on a pirogue and the zebu swimming across
the bay - it was decided we needed to find another answer. It turns out
that there is one 4 by 4 vehicle in the village owned by the Italian
mission. Bic negotiated with them to give us a ride back to Andavadoaka.
To get to the 4 by 4 we climbed aboard the pirogue and met the vehicle
across the bay. Vanessa and I climbed in the back and Bic stayed up front
with the driver. Unexpectedly, in the back of the 4 by 4 was also a small
tortoise about 6 inches long. Once again we headed back through the spiny
forest but this time we were also able to wind our way through the baobab
forest as well. After a bumpy ride, we ended our day in Andavadoaka with a
huge rainbow appearing in the eastern sky. It was good to be back.

From Ellie: Logistics

Saturday 8th December 2007
Tulear – Chez Lala – still!
13:53 (UK) / 16:53 (Madagascar)

A week has passed and I am still in Chez Lala. It has gone quite quickly really and I have had done a lot whilst here; meetings with ADES, with the IHSM, with BVCO past site coordinator, writing a new project proposal for the Morondava project, collecting money, spending money, trying to get some form of exercise, walking a lot, dodging lecherous men, arranging for transport, eating lychees, thinking about lychees and life (interchangeable really).

On a lecherous men note, I have decided that Saturdays are the worst as they all get drunk. Today 3 drunk men accosted me in the street, at separate occasions, one in the middle of the market, much to the amusement of the other Malagasy. Then later, walking with Garth, no one says a thing and it feels like I am making it all up.

I am really ready to leave this town. Of all towns that I have not lived in I am starting to feel this is the town I have spent most time in. It sucks you in and leaves you stuck. Logistics here are difficult, slow and unpredictable. It is odd how some things work really well and other things don’t. Physically getting anyway in Madagascar (especially the SW) takes always twice as long as you hope or expect. The roads are bad and transport by anything other than taxi brousse is expensive – really expensive- and are not even more certain to reach their final destination than the public routes. Last time I took the taxi brousse on this route from Tulear to Morombe to get to Andavadoaka it took 20 hours, with 5 breakdowns, but I guess we did have the pleasure of both sunrise and sunset! I wish that the boat route was still operational, but alas the commercial fishing operator Copefrito now collects their fish from villages by truck and not boat – that that’s that one scuppered.

Yesterday BV Staff Garth and Gildas returned to Tulear. This was great on many accounts – 1 – I have finally got someone to speak with in English about – 2- People that I can go for dinner with opposed to avoiding the lone situation, and most importantly -3- I can walk with someone to stop the men and -4- we can now make a plan to get to site. Or so I thought. I have been trying to minimise the cost of this trip as much as possible and so it is therefore best for BV and BVCO to share transport costs and travel together. But the guys have a lot too to do in Tulear and I hadn’t quite realised –a lot of new things to buy for site and land issues to secure for the community owed Ecolodge that is planned. It also turns out that the BVCO new site coordinator has to return to Tulear and will be here this evening. I need to stay to meet with her, and get her to return to site as soon as possible, so we can all start on the new monitoring protocols.

So another 2 nights here!! I am truly becoming the Alan Partridge of the Madagascar world. Having company is a big plus and perhaps a couple more days won’t be too bad, and Garth is staying here too at Chez Lala so I am not a lone hotel groupie! I think I’ll make a T-Shirt when I get back.

I wanted longer than 2 weeks on site to go through everything and get a real feel for the place and community again; but as with all things here you can never plan for everything and I must make the most out of whatever situation I am given. It will be more intense, but no doubt I will get everything done.

On Monday myself and Garth will travel with 6 stoves, some medical kit to site leaving Gildas to arrange the other logistical purchases. On the road again!! Oh yes!

From Ellie: Changes in Tulear

Thursday 6h December 2007
Tulear – Chez Lala – still!
17:00 (UK) / 20:00 (Madagascar)

I thought today I would write about my reflections on Tulear. I have spent nearly a week here now and a lot of things have changed from 4 years ago. A lot of things still remain the same:

  1. Walking in the street – I had completely forgotten about this but here it is so difficult to just walk down the street. It was the same before. As you walk along ‘Pus pus’ drivers come out of nowhere, people on bike hurtle towards you, men walk into you, small children come and grab your hand and ask for “Cadau! Cadau!”, chickens seem to come out of nowhere and cars seem to be indifferent to you. You really have to be alert. I find it quite exhausting.
  2. Health & Safety – Not taken too seriously here. A health & safety officer would have a field day here; men carrying planks of wood wiith no care in the world, two people on bikes (always for some reason), no specific rules of the road, un-built pavements etc. etc.
  3. Mangos – They were out of season when I was last here. They are so delicious. I have found I prefer them when they are hard then I can eat them like a pealed apple and not make a fool of myself.
  4. Lychees – Again they were out of season when I was here and I had no idea they grew here. They are now my favourite fruit and I am actually addicted to them. We will see if I can make myself sick on them!!
  5. Running – It is very difficult to do this activity here. Despite desperately wanting to I find it takes so much emotional energy to go through the ridicule that I find it exhausting. I can muster ever other day at the moment. When I was last here I must have been less restless…
  6. Flies – I had forgotten about these- there is a lot of them. This is what happens when temperatures rise! We may hate the cool in the UK but at least we have fewer flies.
  7. People lying in the street – In the hotter parts of the day many people lie down with friends to chat in shaded areas. I was watching a couple yesterday wondering whether this would happen in the UK is climate change really became extreme. I figured that no we wouldn’t we’d continue to be productive and turn up the air conditioning – that will keep the economy going! I think I would quite like to try it once though and see what the reaction is.
  8. Western Unions – There are a lot, I mean a very lot of dirty old French men here in Tulear picking up young Malagasy beauties. There is a couple staying next door to me and it really makes my blood boil. There seem to be more this time, which is unfortunate but probably because there are more…
  9. Tourists – a lot more. I was here before the year of the civil war and the year after so tourists were quite a commodity.
  10. Two currencies – Three years ago Madagascar changed from FMG to Ariary by an exact division of 5. In Tana they are used to it. Here in Tulear they still quote FMG. For the first few days this meant I was paying 5 times more it was. And there was me thinking things had got expensive!
  11. Telephones – Everyone has a mobile. 4 years ago no one did. Orange seems to have taken over.
  12. Music – The Malagasy love music – and are great dancers. Music with a bum swinging beat is always playing! The music reflects the seemingly carefree, happy disposition of much of the population.
  13. Living in a hotel – Feels the same, well slightly more comfortable as this time it is just me. On the Oxford expedition 4 years ago we stayed here for a week with 4 of us in one room!!
  14. Mme Lala – of Chez Lala – I think she finally likes me. I think she thinks of me as the silly English girl who can’t speak very good French, but still at least she’s smiling now.

From Ellie: Partner developments!

Monday 2nd December 2007
Tulear – Chez Lala
16:57 (UK) / 19:57 (Madagascar)

You are probably now thinking I have no one else to speak to. You’d be right. My French is getting rapidly better – but my conversational level has only yet found a ‘Can I please possibly have another roll of toilet paper?’ high, so having an interesting thought provoking conversation is difficult. I did however have a very good meeting – in a mixture of French and English with the people at ADES.

ADES are BVCO’s project partners in the stove programme, and they have so far been responsible for constructing the stoves that we have created the demand for in Andavadoaka. A lot of interesting discussion indeed! Thanks to the support of the Adventure Company we will be able to start a new programme in Morondava working heavily with ADES to distribute approximately 250 solar box ovens,100 parabolic solar stoves, a number of yoyo stoves and mitigate approximately 500 tonnes of carbon dioxide in the first 3 years. We also discussed the establishment of an ADES-BVCO workshop around the Andavadoaka region to reduce issues of transportation from Tulear and open up the possibility of future projects in further away areas. Monitoring will be high on the agenda for BVCO during this phase of project development and whilst ADES provides the technical knowledge of stove construction, BVCO will be providing the monitoring protocols and verifying the emission claims. A new protocol developed by BVCO and Eco ltd ( will be trialled during this time. All exciting stuff really.

The walk back from ADES left me very burnt. It has been 40 degrees at midday and only cooling by about ten degrees it feels.

I had my exercise fix this morning – and went for a run to Tulear port and along the ‘beach’ (more a polluted mud flat) – surprisingly the jeering was about as bad as walking, but at least they passed quicker. It was short but gave me an appetite today. I have eaten my body weight in lychees- perhaps not the most balanced of diets and I really hope I don’t turn into one – a pink dimply crusty fruit.

Right, off I must go to deal with this monitoring data!

Offset now with bvco –

Friday, December 07, 2007

Volunteer Blog by Jane Westerman

Madagascar will change the way you look at the world. Guaranteed. After three weeks here, issues that I would fret about at home vanish into insignificance. The here and now is what is so important - sitting on one's terrace after a busy day, watching pirogues drift past, silhouetted against the setting sun. Who would want to be anywhere else?

Though at least 25 years older than anyone else here, the welcome and the sense of a team has been heartwarming. Delicious food, amazing setting and Andavadoaka cheerful acceptance of strange visitors all add to the ambience. Oh, and bring everything that is on the list because there's no popping to Sainsbury's if you've forgotten it! 

I'm very glad that we did a few week's homework before we came - the fish don't hang around waiting to be identified! The visibility has so far been hampered by strong winds, but strangely, when you are hovering with your nose 10cm above a tunicate (or is it a sponge?) you don't really notice! 

Saturday is teaching afternoon and in 30 years of primary teaching, I haven't experienced anything quite like it. Forty clamouring enthusiastic 3 - 11 year olds in a dirt yard under a tree requires a little planning to stay sane but is incredibly satisfying. Bring any visual aids you can - a musical instrument (that can be sterilised after over-eager blowing) - better still.

For us, the wildlife is an added bonus: The baobab forest on the 4X4 ride from Toliara, the totally different spiny forest, iridescent bee-eaters, numerous waders, huge bird-wing butterflies, scaly lizards, myriads of
grasshoppers and the odd snake. And that's before you dip your head under the water to see the huge diversity of sea creatures that await you. Giant centipedes in sea shoes and monstery cockroaches render one less lyrical

Our Blue Ventures team here are professional, knowledgeable and FUN! Thank you all so much - time is passing too quickly. 

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Update from Ellie: Hot Hot Hot!

Sunday 1st December 2007

Tulear – Chez Lala

13:42 (UK) / 16:42 (Madagascar)


Oh my goodness it is hot.  Really hot.  Tulear may be only 500km south of Tana, but it is also at sea level and thus it is 10 degrees warmer – approaching 40ºC!  At least there is little humidity, making this a walk in the park compared to my trip to Goa.


The last two days have been slow.  My brain and body are finding it hard to adapt; from being on full on the accelerator since August I have been forced to stop because everything is shut here!  Don’t get me wrong you can buy a mango / sweet potato / bottle of THB at any time of day but banks, internet places and office are open infrequently (9 – 12, 3- 5 Monday – Friday in fact).  So this sudden stopping has felt like a personal crash – especially when one has got things like saving the world on one’s mind!  It is also only cool enough really to work and concentrate in the early morning and after 4pm.  I start to see the point in air conditioning after years of hatred of the energy intense equipment.


Yesterday nothing really happened at all.  I learnt French and took the flight from Tulear – which was only a third full – increasing my carbon footprint from 47.5kg to 95kg!  I was also deeply insulted by the steward on the plane whom asked ‘where are your parents?’ I announced in a very loud voice that I was 24 and able to look after myself thank you very much.


Today I meet Garth – Blue Ventures’ field scientist – for the first time.  We were able to catch up on a lot of the projects we have been working on and I was finally able to go for a walk without being heckled.  Other than this excitement of the day I have been mostly been hot and  frustrated at not being able to run or swim, but have been trying to walk about Tulear to get my bearings with closed ears.


I think maybe tonight I will write a book on ‘how western women get treated abroad- a country by country analysis and assessment of why?!’   Damn the media and other travellers, but whatever impression has been given the taunts are always the same what ever country I am in…Alas there is nothing I really can do- even dressing like a nun doesn’t seem to work!


Tomorrow should be a good day; meeting with our partners ADES and then picking up some money from a western union transfer.  I am a little nervous as I will be on my own this time. 


Ellie Xx

Blue Ventures Carbon Offset

Update from Ellie: Tasks in Tana

Friday 30th November

15:15 (UK) / 18:15 (Madagascar)


A day of driving all over Tana centre on errands; trying to get the freight released from customs has left me feeling rather tired, smelly, and dirty.  As a highly active person I have found it very frustrating being contained in one vehicle all day long.  Tried to go for a bit of a walk – but have found Tana not to be the best walking location – surprising that – cars and people fill the space and shouts of ‘Mademoiselle!’ and ‘tssss, tsss’ fill the air. 


I have come to expect unwanted attention as a lone female where ever I travel, but I still don’t enjoy it; it has a tendency of cutting short any walking that I do.  So exercise-wise I am just going to have to stick to yoga on the roof terrace and sit ups in the room until I get to the sea and to Andavadoaka.


Lychee season is only a month in length in Madagascar – and is currently in full swing – and I am enjoying their bounty.  Bananas and Mangos too are ripe and street sellers sell nuts and veg. - plenty to keep a vegan happy.  I have found lots of dried fruit too, so I am most definitely not going hungry. 


I felt a lot like I was on an expedition today – logistical issues a plenty!  Since last time BV imported to Madagascar systems have changed and you need approximately 2.45 times more paperwork than previously.  I am not sure it matters exactly what is on it so long as there is more of it and you have to travel to about three different places to receive it!  There probably is a system, but anyways by the end of the day I am not sure we are much closer at getting all the dive kit, and staff goodies out!


Booking tickets for a flight from Tana to Tulear was not much easier – computers breaking and blatantly being ignored resulted in the tickets taking an hour to get.  I really did not want to fly – hoped that by travelling with the freight I could not only save on money but on carbon too. Reducing those overheads and saving the atmosphere from more carbon!  But as with all things here – you can not rely on things.  It s important now I press on - so then I will.


I met with the Wildlife Conservation Society and discussed a proposed biogas project for Andavadoaka.  They have some funding available depending on a feasibility study and some contribution money - this is most certainly a project we could get involved with.  I will try to start the scoping work whilst in field – the potential is enormous – generating energy (either electricity / gas, reducing harmful pathogens, and creating compost for any form of growing and gardening.


So it’s the end of the day now – feel shattered – feel like I have come back a time zone and not forward.  Achievements – good meeting with WCS, made some progress with freight, made a hotel reservation in French on the telephone!!!  And in emptying my bag I find I have brought a compass.  Back from the expedition days.  Looks like I am at my computer facing NWW.  Useful.    Disappointments – not travelling overland to Tulear, found banks don’t change South African Rand here...

Ellie Xx

Blue Ventures Carbon Offset

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Update from Ellie: My Arrival in Madagascar

Thursday 28th November

17:02 (UK) / 20:02 (Madagascar)


I always swore to myself that I would never write a blog; it was too trendy, and perhaps reveals a little too much about a person, but today I have reassessed my opinion.  Here commences the first of many BVCO blogs – I know the excitement is intense!  It may turn out to be a rather boring tale, but I hope it will give some insight into the workings of a small not for rofit carbon offsetting organisation, along with an insight into Blue Ventures as a whole, the location in which BV works, and my own personal travels and experiences as a vegan abroad. 


So today I start this blog malarkey at the beginning of an exciting phase for myself and for Blue Ventures Carbon Offset.  I have set out on a month’s trip to Madagascar to strengthen relationships with project partners, set in place a new, improved and evolving monitoring tool that we hope can be used by other carbon reducing stove programmes worldwide, along with training up new staff members and bonding with the team as a whole.  This will be the first time we have all met in person.  Before now our programme has been successfully operating with remote co

mmunication; but now with a new site coordinator starting the time has come for me to bite the 2.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide bullet and make the journey.


After offsetting the flights with a solar stove in Andavadoaka, I set off from Heathrow yesterday evening for Mauritius.  Most people travel via Paris, however my previous two encounters have been less than favourable, and so I opted for the exotic route.  The plane was full – good for my carbon footprint but bad for my legs and the woman next to me on the window seat had possibly the smallest bladder in the world!  Loads of sleep for me!  The transfer was smooth and easy – there were only 3 planes in the entire airport and I was the only one meeting any connecting flight.  I took them by surprise so much that I had to wait half an hour for someone to show to give me a boarding pass. 


Food so far had not been a problem, with Air Mauritius providing an equally average non meat / dairy alternative on the first flight.  On the second I thought I was in for even more luck a vegan sandwich – some weird vegetables…vegetables that were perhaps a bit to meaty for my liking.  I confronted the air hostess about this meaty vegetable that tasted and smelt remarkably like chicken.  She declared that it was indeed a meaty tasting vegetable.  I didn’t believe her or the VML label, so stopped eating it.  Spent at least half an hour worried I’d eaten chicken, but then realised there were more important things – like the carbon footprint of that ‘remarkably like chicken, but not chicken’ sandwich – think packaging, raw material transport and now it’s location 15000ft above sea level powered by jet fuel.  Good bread anyways.


Right, back to the story – so anyways landing and taking off all good; buying visa- all good 13 Euros and very quick; bags – all turned up (amazing as the last 2 times I have come to Tana I’ve lost at least one bag – I put it down to avoiding Paris); bags through customs – fine; meeting Dave Raza – great; money changing – fantastic (but not euros / Rands) and then the cherry on the top – the Blue Ventures freight

 that I am meant to be escorting overland has also arrived on the plane I was on.  It will take a couple of days but at least it’s here.


Now I am writing this from my B&B room at the place BV now recommends.  I have my own hot shower and sink (very excited), and bed and desk.  I will be here for a couple of days, so it is good it will be able to do some work easily also.  Unpacked and showered.  Feel shattered but the excitement of this new blog thing is too much! 


It is great to feel like I am going back to my roots.  Madagascar changed me a lot 5 years ago when I was here as a research assistant with Frontier, and taught me a lot too, both then and following year.   Now coming back to see a project that I help to start up 4 years ago back when I led the Oxford University Coral Awareness Research Expedition to conduct exploratory dives around the reefs of Andavadoaka (yes – we were all very aware of coral), is well, rather weird.  And of even greater excitement is going to see the solar and energy efficient stove programme that I have poured my heart and sweat into over the last year.  So much potential for the project and I hope that this trip will help to achieve that – start the wheels turning for beneficial, well monitored, fuel and carbon reducing stove projects to spread across this isle.


17.45 (UK), Bedtime (Madagascar)…Until next time- turn off those stand-bys  and don’t even think about opening that window if the radiator is on!


Much love to all (especially you… and you! x),

Ellie xxx

Blue Ventures Carbon Offset