Recently, the weather here in Madagascar has been rather wild. Just two weeks previously we were having thunderstorms on a daily basis with afternoons spent running to and from huts to hurriedly place buckets down to stem the numerous leaks and, in some cases, waterfalls that would spring up around the site.
As exciting as it was listening to the huge rolls of thunder and sudden crashes of lightning that struck the ground close by, it did provide us with some difficulties. Firstly because of the huge quantities of water and surface run off, a lot more sediment was being washed into the bay. This meant that the visibility at our survey sites was so bad that we were unable to complete this months surveys. The high temperatures that accompanied the rain storms has also cause bleaching to occur in the bay. At Rose Garden,one of our marine reserves, a large bommie at the site now looks as if it is snow capped having gone from yellow to bright white in the space of a week. This can become a particular concern if the water temperatures stay to high for too long meaning that the coral will not be able to regain the algae known as zooxanthellae that it has a symbiotic relationship with and requires to survive.
The rain almost caused problems that would have been more suited to the UK. With torrential rain in the morning of the day of the first event put on my FI.PA.MI.FA in the village. FI.PA.MI.FA is a local association that focuses on strengthening traditional customs and consumptive taboos that underpin the cultural significance of marine turtles. The education day was a chance for all those involved to meet and finalise the local law (known as a DINA) which was to be put into place banning the fishing of turtles under 70cm and also creating a closed season between December and March.
Fortunately the rain held off throughout the whole event which was very successful with everyone agreeing to the terms of the DINA. Each village now has a group of turtle guardians who will monitor turtle catches and measure them to ensure they are greater than the minimum size. If not, they will be confiscated and subsequently released back into the ocean, something that we may be able to assist in if it occurs.
Other than this, it’s been a fairly quiet couple of weeks here at ReefDoctor. There are currently no volunteers and only one new one whom arrives this weekend. I am on duty to go and meet him in Toliara which also gives me a chance to post up the blog. Most of the time when I post up a new blog entry, I have to travel into Toliara. It is the nearest town to us and gives me access to the wifi I need to upload anything from my Ipad. As a bonus Toliara provides some other space age technology such as cold drinks, electric fans and flushing toilets which would be out of place in the likes of Ifaty where they still stare with wondrous eyes at the taxi brousse which goes by every morning.
A day to Toliara usually starts with a 05:30 wake up call. Not exactly pleasant on a Saturday, but if you want to be able to get a taxi brousse that doesn’t require you to hang on to the back for dear life then it’s necessary. After the hour and a half ride on the brousse, you arrive at the station on the outskirts of Toliara. Here you are immediately accosted by a crowd of people yelling “pousse pousse!” at you who surround the brousse reaching through the sides as if you have suddenly arrived in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. Once you have battled your way through the mob and found your way to one which you hope has enough duck tape on it to survive the journey you can head into the town.
Usually in cities and towns in any other country when you get in a taxi (or in this case pousse pousse) and inform them where you wish to go, they will confirm they know where it is, take you to the destination swiftly at which point you will pay them, say thank you and be on your way. But not in Madagascar. Here you inform them where you wish to go, they confirm they know where it is and then proceed to take you in the completely opposite direction. This can be troublesome if you yourself do not know how to get to your destination as there have been times when new volunteers and even myself have sat on a pousse for a good 15 minutes before he says he doesn’t know where he is going.
Once you finally arrive at your destination the driver may then try to charge you more than the price you agreed to. Suddenly the cost will go from the agreed 1000Ar to 10,000Ar. If they ever try to do this to me now I just sigh and through the money that I had already agreed to pay on the seat and walk off.
One of my most memorable journeys on a pousse pousse occurred when I was travelling from the hotel into the town centre to grab some lunch. I exited the hotel and immediately, there appeared a walking pousse pousse who was all smiles and excited chatter. I agreed with him the price into town and hopped on. He continued to chatter away stopping every 10 metres to turn around and speak to me, I would tell him to keep going and he would begin walking again for a few seconds before stopping yet again. This continued for a while until at one point he stopped next to a stall selling denim jeans and proceeded to try and get me to buy him a pair. I told him no to which he ignored and persisted that I should buy him some and it wasn’t until I began to climb out and walk the rest of the way that he got the message. We finally arrived at the café and I paid him what we had agreed on, however he was no longer happy with this price and so decided to take my hat as extra payment which led to a ridiculous scene of me chasing him round and round his pousse before I was finally able to snatch it from his head.
So once your in town your free to explore. The popular destinations for ReefDoctor staff and volunteers alike include Laterasse, a small café that serves good breakfasts and has speedy free wifi, the new supermarket called Score, which people tend to go to as if it is a museum of technology wandering around staring at the magical refrigerators full of cold drinks, and there is also Gelateria, an Italian restaurant that serves the most incredible ice cream and smoothies.
Once the shopping and gorging is over its on to the hotel. Nowadays, when I go in, I usually stay at the ReefDoctor apartment but before this and occasionally I will stay at a hotel called La Palmier which ReefDoctor are regular customers. La Palmier is owned by an Englishman called John who has been living in Madagascar for close to twenty years. The hotel is used by a lot of NGOs and other English speaking people so its. Great way of meeting new people who work up and down the coast (also John has a fantastic selection of movies and tv shows which we can pick and choose between to take back to RD).
So that’s Toliara. I has it’s flaws, though it is a great place to go for a little break to get some work done, contact friends and family and just enjoy not having a bed that is half sand. Just, watch where your step…