It’s 8pm and I’m sitting here in complete darkness. It gets dark here before 6pm, and despite the very welcome sunshine and heat (28 degrees!) it’s a reminder that it is actually winter here. This evening a power cut has plunged the town into further darkness – power cuts here are by no means infrequent, and everything stops to a standstill.
First, I should dispel any myths that I’ve come to Madagascar to save the lemurs, or chain myself to baobab trees! Since arriving from Tana (a week ago), I’ve pretty much spent all day everyday cooped up in the Blue Ventures office. Downloading satellite data from NASA (waiting for it to download), processing data, building utterly gorgeous (!) maps, and so on. It’s all in aid of saving the mangroves (no Nims, not groves of mangoes, or indeed men!). The monotonous routine is partly why I haven’t bothered to blog for a week – very little has actually happened. Here are the few things I have to report…
My flight down from Tana (yes, on the blacklisted planes) was ultimately like any other flight I’ve been on – no surprises really. The plane did however look like it had been bought second-hand from American Airlines decades ago. It looked like the set of those brilliant Leslie Nielsen Airplane! movies from the 80s… old metal seats, faded interior etc. Nonetheless we landed safely. To an airport that is frankly not much bigger than my house (that’s not to say I live in a mansion back home!). I made sure not to make the same tipping mistake this time, much to the disgruntled moans of those who needlessly went out of their way to assist me.
Meet Zo (pronounced Zu). He’s both my flatmate and colleague. He’s been a bit of a hero in showing me around town and generally making sure I settle in ok. Any time I leave the office, he’s there with me. Also means I don’t get charged foreigner prices, as I’ll prove below…
One of the first stories he told me about was a road accident. Three weeks ago he was taking the same taxi-brousse bus journey I had initially planned from Tana to Toliara. It was approaching midnight, Zo had fallen asleep. The bus driver, also, had fallen asleep at the wheel. The next thing Zo knew, he along with the other crammed passengers were being thrown about the inside of the bus as it tumbled over. Zo tells of the shock that he survived, without any serious injuries too. Unfortunately, one child did die during the accident – the child’s whole family had been travelling. The accident has clearly affected Zo, unsurprisingly he seems tense as he tells the story. It certainly fills me with relief to have flown down instead.
On a more positive note, we did embark on a day trip South of Toliara on Sunday (our one day off), to a village called Sarodrano. Here lies a beautiful natural pool (Grotte de Sarodrano) which we had completely to ourselves for the day – me, Zo, my boss Trevor and his girlfriend Merika.
The road to Sarodrano is supposedly one of the better roads in Madagascar. In reality it was little more than a dirt-track – certainly not tarmacked. It’s such a rough ride that when you stop the car, it feels like you’re floating with the sudden absence of the relentless pounding you are subjected to. The pool is a weird mix of freshwater at the clear top and saltwater at the murky bottom. This produced some cool wildlife: a lizard, some crabs, fairly large fish and shrimp. Nothing extraordinary yet. Oh and a shrub who’s juice is so poisonous it could kill you if swallowed. And I finally had a chance to swim!
First taste of Mada’s wildlife
First underwater shot using my new underwater camera. Not great focus but nice shot nonetheless!
I’ve also moved out of my £6pn hostel east of town, a 15min walk from the office. It’s too dangerous for Vazaha
(foreigners – a bit like the term Ferengi
) to wander the streets much beyond sunset (a couple of French tourists were stabbed to death last month). The Malagasy seem very shy, reserved but genuine people. One theory is that the poverty here drives the desperate ones to crimes like mugging – which unfortunately end up as fatal stabbings as they panic to avoid confrontation. Whether there is any truth in this theory, who knows. Either way, I don’t want to find out – so I’ve moved to the apartment right beside the office – 50p per night! Unbelievable Jeff. I’ve also kitted out my room with a bamboo shelving unit, an absolute bargain at £2 (yes £2) from the local market.
Bamboo furniture – £2
Lastly, I was told during a lunch that farther South of Salondrano is somewhat of a Wild Wild West. Bandits, cattle thieves, witchcraft, zombies – it all happens there. Apparently. A place to be avoided for the average tourist. I’m not your average tourist though…