Friday, April 25, 2008

Three weeks in

From Sam:

I finally arrived at the site at sundown on April 1st, easily the longest transition period I’ve had from one place to another. That said I really, really loved the trip through Madagascar. I had a great time bonding with the other 11 volunteers in my van while we drove, saw a national park (and lemurs!), kept driving, barely slept and had a nice half day hike through an even better national park (with more lemurs!) The landscape was really fantastic, a combination of the endless plains of the Serengeti as well as jutting rock formations that made for some really incredible views. My camera is more or less dead, but luckily I’m with a bunch of shutter bugs and I think I’ll be able to get a CD full of pictures at the end.

In the three weeks I’ve been at the site next to the village of Andavadoaka I have learned how to scuba dive, attaining my Open Water status and soon Open Water Advanced. On a painful note, I have had some issues with one of my teeth on occasion. The change in pressure when I go down too quickly makes air unable to escape from my top left molar, possibly due to issues with a filling I have there. It was very unpleasant and I honestly cannot recommend it, but luckily it’s only happened twice and I’m fine as long as I descend slowly. That said, if you think you have a cavity or have had fillings, do yourself a favour and get a check up with your dentist.

Memorizing all the fish and benthic is difficult but rewarding, and those who prepare beforehand are rewarded with precious free time. As an avid reader and someone who is composing a daily journal, every extra moment you can get is a godsend. I don’t often mind myself sweating from exhaustion, but I am kept very busy.

It is interesting spending back to back time at two conservation centers and picking up on the many similarities and crucial differences, many of which I believe are probably related to the donation I gave each site in order to volunteer. Here, the relationship with the community is incredibly positive, very much off the beaten track – Andavadoaka is the subject of a single paragraph in Lonely Planet – and the meals are fantastic (if not a bit repetitive. Bring Marmite, Nutella, and any other spices, sauces or drink mixes, they will be a great commodity and a powerful bargaining tool!)

One of the highlights here probably occurred a few days ago, when I spent two days on the small island of Nosy Mitata with a family there. I went spear fishing with them and had a very insightful look at how the locals live, as well as a reminder that neighbouring village Andavadoaka is by far the most highly populated village around. It’s population? 1,200.

Sometimes they caught animals that we're trying to protect, but preaching to them would have been wrong, even if I possessed the Malagasy vocabulary to do so. Rather, it let me really understand where Blue Ventures stands and what it is all about.

Three weeks down, three to go, and I have to say that it feels just right as the midway point. I am not panicking that the time has gone by in the blink of an eye (though in some ways it has), nor am I worried that three more weeks with my fellow volunteers and staff will be the end of me. Well I'm off, I need to enter today's data before going into Andavadoaka to witness a village ceremony.

From Kat:


Hello to all out there in the internet world,

It's been another good week at Coco beach and beyond. On Friday, five volunteers me(Kat), Debbie, Mike, Anita, Maikel and Taylor all went north on a pirogue with Vezo staff member Angelo to document our sea cucumber farm. The waves were high and the ride was very wet and salty but we made it safe and sound.

Upon arrival, the President (mayor) of the village greeted us politely and brought out mats for us to use for our stay instead of sleeping on the sand. Angelo had brought supplies for cooking and proceeded to start our dinner. As we were only lying about Anita and I jumped up to help Angelo with the cooking. I've missed cooking a bit as all the meals at Coco Beach are prepared for us. I began chopping onions in a bowl while standing and using a very dull knife. Luckily fingers were not added to the mix. We helped start the fire in the cooking hut and started on the fish. Anita took charge of the rice.

As Angelo felt Anita and I had control of everything he and Mike went to sit with the Nahodas (elder men) of the village and discuss our business for the evening. It's customary to always stop in and speak with the Nahodas and/or President of the village upon arrival and departure. They always need to give permission for our activities.

Back in the cooking hut Anita and I are slowly attempting to find our footing in this foreign kitchen. No pot handles so we use sticks to lift the lids. Always watching your flame so it doesn't get too hot or burn out. Cooking with salt that is not crushed up into tiny dissolvable particles. It's all a bit disorientating. The fish went fairly well. Unfortunately Anita's rice didn't go so well. She is used to letting water boil and adding the rice after boil then simmering the heat until done. The rice here needs to be added to cold water and brought to a rolling boil or else you get very hard rice in the center and mush on the outside. All the women of the village had a good laugh at the Vaza who can't cook and then we remade the rice. Dinner was quite tasty.

At 11pm when the tide had gone out and the moon "lit" our way we headed out the the cucumber pen. It a 10X10 meter pen way out from the beach only noted with four sticks marking each corner. We had quite a bit of difficulty walking out through the dips and valleys that were the sandy bottom but made it out.

Mike, Anita and I hopped into the pen and began snorkelling around picking up the cucumbers as we found them through the sea grass. Handing them off to Maikel, Debbie, Taylor and Angelo who were measuring and weighing all of them. Upon collecting about 70 of the cucumbers and noticing (and avoiding) the lionfish who had taken up residence in the pen Angelo announced the scale was no longer working. AHHHH! Madagascar troubles!!!! We all tried to solve the problem but to no avail. We had to return the cucumbers to their watery slumber and return to the beach for rest ourselves.

In the morning after gathering our things and wishing the President good healthy wishes we headed home. Hopefully we will try again later this week with better results.

Well wishes and happy lives to all
Kat, Expedition 37

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The journey to Andavadoaka...

From Sam:

On Getting Here

After twenty three hours in the air (which itself was preceded by a night in the Guatemala City airport), it would not be hard to have other individuals irk me. But to my pleasure, the five other Blue Ventures volunteers I met up with at the airport were all exceedingly friendly. We arrived at our hotel around 1:30 in the morning and until 4 we were hanging out in the lobby, chatting and drinking cold THB.

In the morning we met five more members, and took off for a three day long trek through Madagascar to Andavadoaka. Even when we were driving rather than hiking through incredible landscapes to see lemurs and swim under lush waterfalls we all got along great and bonded quickly. The way I figured it, you’re bound to get along with others who have the guts to spend six weeks in Madagascar doing reef conservation work. The views out the window certainly didn’t hurt either.

In my short time on this planet I have been to my fair share of places, but Madagascar stood out to me for its jutting rock formations and red dirt houses that initially littered the sides. I have heard some call it ‘The Eighth Continent’ for its landscape, and I am inclined to agree.

When we arrived in Tulear on the west coast, we were all very tired, but there was more travelling to be done. A flatbed truck carried us plus the other volunteers and staff who we rendezvoused with down the coastline. While some will tell you that the bouncy nature of this ride makes it a mission to be feared, I found it to be great fun. Even so, when we finally arrived in Andavadoaka, framed by the golden glow of the sun lowering under the sea, I felt truly elated to be where I was.

All in all I left in a shuttle for the Guatemala City airport at 6:30PM on the 26th of March, and arrived at 5:45PM on April 1st. The journey required two airlines, three cars and four flights to be completed. But having now been here for a week and a half it was undoubtedly worth it (and then some).

And from Kat:

I’ve been here in Andavadoaka for just over a week. It’s been a whirlwind adventure so far with arriving in Tana exploring the city streets and meeting many of my volunteer pals there. Quite a few of us then proceeded on a taxi brousse trip for three days on our way to Tulear. Dave, our guide, was a wonderful help teaching us about the country as we drove and our stops in a couple parks to trek through the forests and see lemurs (as well as so many other animals and plants) was a fabulous way to introduce ourselves to Madagascar.

Along the way all the volunteers seem to bond well to each other in the relaxed if very cramped van that we travelled in. Once we made it on site at Andava I was so glad to have that time to meet everyone as the work begins quickly. I’ve been learning so much about the people of Andava and how BV has had an impact and continues to strive to create a more positive impact each day.

I haven’t had the opportunity to do scientific diving exercises as of yet since I’ve been learning to dive here onsite but can’t wait to get started on that soon. The training for diving has been tough; our confined water dives aren’t in a pool but in “calm water” shallows but both Richard and Al, our dive instructors, have been incredible and make you feel safe through all the training. We have only a couple more training dives left and then on to the open water dives!

So much happens here you can’t participate in it all. Yet that’s part of the joy of being here. Gathering before dinner to have Vao Vao and learning all that has happened in the day is exciting to say the least.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Expedition 36- veloma in verse!

So let's talk about expedition 36

You may at times have felt it a bit fixed
what with no viz, we've all been in a bit of a tizz
What with all the storms, we've all been a bit forlorn.

No diving today, that's what we say!
we have ridden the storms together, so no more talk of the weather
But let's talk about what you have done.

At moments you have completely shone
and for sure we will be sad to see you all gone

'cause your achievements have been very long.

We had a fantastic open day
when all the kids came out to play
the children got dunked and sucked on some air
they didn't see fishes but they didn't care.

Turtle racing was fun, and we put on a show
- even the president had a go.
Monsier Roger even joined in the fray
making Beck's heart leap with his condom display.

Your posters were super, smashing, great
A real asset to the collection to date
The pirogue race will surely be remembered by all

Great strength was shown, i think you'll agree we all had a ball.

Then onto the singing, our time in the spotlight
I hope we didn't give the villagers too much of a fright.

Technical problems and hitches galore
But Bic's presentation still wowed the floor
It was great, but we mustn't forget
Expedition 36... isn't over yet

Yet more bad weather, and more rain that fell
So off to Bevato, we all yell.
Up there we have mangroves and baobabs too,
but watch out for mosquitos when doing a poo!

Climbing up trees and traipsing through mud,

and even more mosquitos sucking your blood.

On our return, it's like a new place.
No wind and good viz, and now a smile on your face.
Now three and a half kilometre square of belts
in only four days - watch our scientist's hearts melt.

You have all been so great, so bask in your glory
when you regail to your friends expedition 36's story.
And especially remember when talking of Andavadok
Explain about the fashion of wearing one sock.
So never forget your Vazaha foty foty
and always remember mampiasa kapoty!!!

* Editors note: "
mampiasa kapoty" means "to use condoms"

Charlie (Field Scientist) and Becks (Expedition Medic)