Travel log from Dabolava Exploration Camp, Central Madagascar, 2005

Tomorrow I leave for the capital city to prepare for my flight back to Canada. It has been three months and so much has happened here. I love my work and the project, the people here, the surrounding country. It has all been so amazing. The weather has warmed up, I am guessing somewhere in mid to high thirties. We’ve had several big thunderstorms, my god, does it ever thunder here, lightening is like strobe light and thunder collapses from the sky like angry gods. Once it was directly above me and I was so scared, I was afraid to leave my bed to see if the laptop was getting wet, I thought, forget it, nothing is getting me out from my bed! A quick moment of desire to crawl into my parents bed…

The next morning, when I mentioned it (casually) at breakfast, nobody seemed to have really noticed, in fact, I was told it gets much worse..cyclones are common in January!!

With the increase in moisture, though, all kinds of creatures have been showing up, gorgeous birds, snakes (mostly pale yellow boas) and chameleons. The tall mango trees bear tremendous amounts of fruit, I eat about 4 or 5 mangoes a day! Even a large grey eagle visits the trees on occasion, for the easy access of ripe fruit, truly. Everywhere in Madagascar are mangoes of all shapes and sizes, but our own mangoes are the sweetest 🙂 We also grow papayas, tomatoes, tiny tiny red chili peppers (sooooo hot!) and small round limes in our camp.

The first collage is of my trip on the Mahajillo river to the west coast, it lasted three days and I camped on sand banks. Once at the west coast I drove for 6 hours south through the most breathtaking baobab forest, I was even able to take photos in the moonlight, really incredible, those trees, you could have 10 people holding hands around the base of one. Local villages have their houses made from pieces of bark of the baobab. The villages are built around the baobab and the trees have large strips of their bark missing, but not so much so that they will die. Their fruits are the size of a large mango, but round, brown and silky furry if you stroke them the right way. They’re hollow-ish with soft seeded fruits within. I collected a small one that had fallen and it dries beautifully.

At last I arrived in Morondava, a small town situated on the ocean. The beach was huge!!!! And the water, unbelievable but true, warm! I also swam at night. I rented a lovely clean room at a small hotel for 5$US a night, own bathroom and shower (a luxury here) and went to the local nightclub where I danced on bare feet and little fuzzy bugs ran fast across the floor (brushed off two spiders from my arm, too, and no, it was not the punch coco speaking! (punch coco is rum with coconut milk and sweet evaporated milk…outta this world good). My feet were so black it took 10 drunken minutes to wash them off before going to bed ;)) My driver met me there and we drove back to camp (9 hours drive over 200 km, you can imagine the shape the road was in) and I brought back a cooler full of shrimp, tuna steaks and a rice bag full of coconuts (62!). We’ve been having punch coco for quite some time 🙂

The second collage shows one of our fieldcamps. Some areas in our permit are so remote, it is better to stay a few nights. This place was called Kelimotraka and is is 1 km south of a large snaking river. It took about 6 hours to get there, with shovels, driving through rice fields, crossing rivers and driving along the crest of huge mountains with enormous gullies on either side. Did I mention we had 9 people packed in our landcruiser!! three geologists in the back, with 3 mre geologists on their laps! In the front, our driver, the gendarme (police man in ill-fitted cammo outfit) with his AK47 wedged between him and myself in the front seat!

When we arrived at our destination, a 3 house village, the locals ran away so fast!! I saw one man running, falling, getting up and running again, I felt really bad. It took quite some coaxing, mostly from our gendarme, since they were somewhat familiar with him, for them to come back. They warmed up to us and we pitched tents in their village. Our car was the first vehicle to have ever entered their region and our landcruiser had scared them. We had very little food with us but what we had we shared. I had a packet of cookies with sugar coating and when I gave some to a 6 year old, beautiful little girl, she licked it and exclaimed..”Hmm!! Mami!” meaning “sweet”;  she had never had sugar before! When the cookies were divided and finished, she proceeded to pick all the fallen sugar grains from the earth to eat.

The people were especially interested in my digital camera and easily posed for many pictures, afterwards crowding me to see the picture. No school for the children, and what surprised me the most is that they don’t make life easy for themselves. No wooden benches to sit on, they sit on rocks or the ground. They only chop wood for one meal, no storage. And the creek that they bathe in and collect water from had no area made up for easy water access or something dug out for a bathing basin, nothing! One woman arrived with a fish she had caught, it was less than 10 cm! It was a huge experience for me.

There have been problems with the zebu bandits, they stole 80 zebu one night from a local village and the villagers were so outraged, they tracked them down, caught one of them and killed him! Then they brought the body back to town for everyone to see. Now I don’t now whether to be more afraid of the bandits or the locals 😉 We try and remain as neutral as possible, as geologists should be, but I commissioned 5 spears made and they are mounted in a weapons rack in the office here.

About spiders, no scary nephilas, yet. But what’s funny, well sort of funny, is that the huntsmen spiders, who frequent the camp, mostly the kitchen and my house, don’t really scare me anymore. I find that when they notice me, they freeze and I can easily move the box or chair they are on, outside to shake them off. They run faster than anything I’ve ever seen. I do have a delightful little skink (lizard) habiting my house and I named him Bert. He’s about 20cm, mostly tail and the smoothest skin, like a snake. At night when I pull down my mosquito net around my bed, he often falls off with it, quickly skittling across the floor. In fact, I can see him now, he just popped up behind my desk. I like him, of course, because he eats all the little bugs. Sometimes he runs straight across my feet or across the desk when I am working, he doesn’t even know I am here.

Time to join the barbeque, we are having a special dinner tonight (I think I saw sheep legs in the kitchen), because I am leaving tomorrow. I dread the 26 hours of flight. Did you know Madagascar is exactly at the opposite side of Vancouver? And I am not looking forward to the cold. But so see my family and friends..ahhh it has been a while and I am certainly looking forward to that!