Sunday, December 27, 2015

Madagascar Madness

I must preface this and say that I feel like these blogs are horribly written. Everything is out of order, I can barely get pictures to upload, and half of it I've written at different times and quite awhile back. I've also probably left a lot of things out. So sorry mom and dad. Haha I'll have more pictures/videos when I get back!  Some things in Africa are just difficult, but I'm doing my best. 

Monday, December 21st 

My first two weeks here have flown by. Everyday so far has just been amazing. It's actually strange that it's so close to Christmas. I really don't feel in the holiday spirit at all. Normally that would make me sad because Christmastime is one of my favorite times of the year so missing out on that kind of sucks. But at the same time, I don't actually know what I'm missing out on so it's not that bad. And I'm also on a tropical island where it's beautiful weather everyday and I'm having tons of fun. So I guess you could say it's not too bad.

We actually drew names and are doing a Secret Santa game on Christmas Day. Camp is decorated with tinsel and Christmas stuff so that's fun too. We are also having special food on Christmas. I think we're having home fries and eggs for breakfast, a yummy pasta for lunch, and burritos and an assortment of desserts for dinner. We were able to choose what all we wanted to eat Christmas day. It was funny to have everyone sit around and talk about what we wanted because it's so impossible to have normal food here. Not only are most things difficult to find, but we also don't have a refrigerator or an oven. So you can imagine how limited the options are.

Most meals here are good still. We have a rotating schedule of food that consists of crepes, fruits, bread, and french toast for breakfast, and then either pastas or rice with vegetables for lunches and dinners. We also have really good desserts too. It's either fried bananas, fruit salad, pinapples, mangos, this weird fried coconut thing, or chocolate doughnut things which are my favorite. 

My first Friday here, we had Environment Day. Everyone was split into groups and had to go to the schools in several of the villages here. There we taught lessons that each group had constructed about degradation. My group taught our lesson in Kelly, a village that's about a 45 minute hike away. We had pictures of animals and explained to them that some of them belong in the forest, and some in the ocean. There is a problem here with people being really mean to all the fish and other animals. People have seen kids beating fish on the beach just for the heck of it. We also explained to them that trash belongs in trash cans and not in the ocean or forests. It was a little difficult to explain because most of the kids don't speak English all that well. They all pretty much speak Malagasy and French. We played a lot of games though and hopefully they took something out of it. I know I did. It was neat to see all the kids so enthusiastic. There were about thirty students between the ages of 5 and about 12.  The school is a small building with benches pushed up to tables that lots of the kids are squished together on. The classroom had a few chalkboards as well. Our class was a little rowdy but it was fun to interact with all of them. They literally love having their picture taken. It can actually get a bit hectic with how much they love it. 

This is the class and classroom we had our lesson in. 

Last weekend was my first time to really explore Hellville, which is the main town on Nosy Be. A boat runs from our camp to Hellville everyday at around 6am and boats come back at around noon and three 'o clock. We got there early and went to Oasis, a nice French cafe that has good juices, pastries, and wifi. After that I went with some of my friends, Savannah and Kristen, to get some groceries and run some errands. It's funny because back home I never eat Nutella. But here it's basically a necessity to make breakfast better. That, and soy sauce have become very important. 

Around town, tuk-tuks are the most common form of transportation. They're these weird, yellow, three-wheeled vehicles with a bench in the back.  It literally costs like fifty cents to get anywhere you want. 

We spent the rest of the day at Beach Bar in Ambotaluka, which is actually the prostitution capital of the world. It's really weird. It's a small town with a bunch of bars on the beach and hotels and stuff. It's actually a pretty cool area. The prostitution thing is strange though. It's really common on Nosy Be to see old white French dudes eating or walking around with young Malagasy women. Apparently it's every local girl's dream to marry a rich old French guy. So yeah it's kind of weird to see but at the same time I guess I'm just used to pretty much everything at this point and just take things in stride. Haha. 

Sunday I just relaxed around camp. It was a pretty busy week though with lots of diving. I passed my fish species test which is super exciting!!!!! I'm officially doing surveys now. We basically have five dive sites that we try to do a set number of surveys each month. We aim for five nudibranch, invertebrate, benthic, and active fish surveys as well as two reef fish surveys. At least I think that's the right number for everything. Either way we do a lot of surveys. 

Since I specialized in fish, I do active fish and reef fish surveys as well as nudibranch surveys, everyone does those. In active fish, we take a slate and just write down every type of fish species we see, normally around forty types. In reef fish, we measure out 50meters with a reel, then follow the path and record the number and size of particular species within a square window, either 2meters across or 5meters depending if you're doing wrasse or damsel fish. 

My slate after an active fish survey. Lots of species. 

Some of the flash cards I had to learn to pass my fish species test. 

On of our local staff's cute little baby playing on camp. 

I also officially finished my Advanced Open Water dives today. My first week I did my Navigation, Peak Performance Buoyancy, and Fish Identification dives. Last week I did my night dive, which was awesome. We did it at our dive site right in front of camp, Turtle Towers. The visibility wasn't that great but what was amazing was the bioluminescents in the water. We stopped at one point and all turned off our dive torches. It was completely black with no light. It was like being in a black pit. Then we were able to wave our arms through the water and amazing things happened. Any movement caused the water to kind of have sparks. It was one of the coolest things I've ever seen. I seriously felt like I was God creating the galaxy. Splash of stars here, giant planets there, constellations everywhere. It was just so insane and beautiful and amazing I can't even describe it. It was just like being in space with all the stars and planets and comets and everything swirling around you. It was definitely something I will never forget. 

That Friday I actually went with the Forest conservation team to Lockabe National Park on Nosy Be. We did a four hour,1090m hike up  and stopped at a look out at the top of the mountain overlooking the rest of the island. It was amazing. We also saw some really neat creatures including several snakes and lizards, lemurs, and a really rare chameleon- a minima. Alice, the forest officer has been looking for one for months and we actually found two, one of which I found! They're the second smallest species of chameleon in the world and very endangered. They were only about an inch long. It was really cool to see in person. It was also cool to hike in a primary rainforest. The trees were so thick you couldn't even see the sky the entire hike. We didn't really have to worry about rain because it wouldn't have reached us anyways. There were Tarzan-like vines everywhere that you could actually swing on. It was really cool and I'm glad I took the day to get off Nosy Komba and do some hiking and get some excersize. 

This past weekend was super fun. We took the early boat into Hellville again on Saturday. We went to Oasis for breakfast and ran errands again and then headed back to Ambataluka. We met up with some other people in the program and hung out for a bit. We got a hotel room right net to beach bar for the night. After a delicious lunch of some type of pasta we rented fourwheelers and explored the island. There were ten of us split between eight quadbikes, as the call them here. Savannah rode on the back with me. The fourwheelers were pretty good but started really sketchy. None of them broke down though so that was good. We actually had a local guy show us around. 

First we headed to the Cascades, a waterfall. The road there was seriously insane. We had to drive off the main paved road onto a dirt road that went through some pastures and woods. I feel like they made this place really hard to get to to make it more fun for people though. We had to cross sketchy flooded creeks and go across weird sections filled with softball sized rocks and through tons of mud. I felt like I was in one of those dirtbike races where you have to go over logs and stuff. It was definitely entertaining with quite a few mishaps, none of which were mine. I was pretty thankful I had grown up on four wheelers. 

When we finally got there we had to hike down to the waterfall. It was probably fifteen meters tall and enclosed on all sides so it made a circular area. The trees went all the way around and over the pond too so it was a really neat effect. There were some locals and little kids swimming too. The Australian guys were all jumping off the waterfall. 

It was funny because when we went to leave, all the little kids grabbed our hands and walked up with us. They were so cute. Sam looked back and saw everyone with these little kids and said "have we all got one of these?". It was quite funny because yeah, we did all have little kids holding each of our hands. 

After the waterfall we drove across the island for around an hour an explored before ending up at Andilana, one of the prettiest beaches on Nosy Be. It was beautiful and had tons of people around who were all on on of the cruise ships. I was seriously SO dirty at this point. The roads, while paved, have tons of dirt on them. When we took off our helmets and sunglasses we all had dirt caked in weird shapes on our face. It was hilarious. A nice swim in the ocean washed off all the dirt though. After that we headed back to Ambataluka to our hotel. We went to a Zeburger for dinner where I had a delicious burger. I'm pretty sure my stomach has shrank a bunch since I've been here because it was a normal sized burger and I could barely eat half of it. And everyone knows how much I can normally eat. I've also gone full vegetarian when I eat here at camp. The meat here just kind of freaks me out and I like the vegetables better anyways.  

After dinner, we went to Beach Bar and had some drinks and danced. It was a lot of fun. I was so proud of myself for staying up til almost 2am too. I usually wake up here around 5:30am and go to sleep by 9. So it was a big deal to stay up that late haha. 

Savanah and I at Beach Bar. 

Funny local named Samuel Jackson. 

Pretty sunset after riding four wheelers. There's no shortness of beauty in Mada. 

The next morning we slept in. It was nice staying in a hotel because we had AC, a refrigerator- which meant cold water- and a hot shower! It was heavenly. It's funny though because all of those things are nice, but it's really not a big deal to live without them. 

Later we went to Nandipo, a cool bar/restaurant in Hellville while we waited for the three 'o clock boat back to Nosy Komba. I had three cheese pasta and it was heavenly. 

Savanah, Kristen, and I in the tuk-tuck. Our driver randomly pulled over and climbed into a small crawl space behind us to hide from the police, which have tons of check points across Nosy Be. Africa is weird. It's even weirder we weren't phased by it. 

Today was really busy. Someone was sick so I was able to go with them to Tanikelly, a tiny island about thirty minutes away to do my Deep Dive, which was the last dive I needed for my Advanced course. That means I am officially Advanced Open Water certified. Yipee. 

Our dive at Tanikelly was so awesome. The water was incredibly clear. We went down to about 20meters. Justin, our dive instructor, brought some eggs down to show us first hand the effect that pressure can have at deeper depths. He peeled the shell off of the raw egg and dthe entire thing stayed together. It was really neat. You could bat it around and squish the yolk around. It eventually all popped but it was really cool to see how the pressure affected it. 

The diversity at Tanikelly was also really good. We saw a lot of the fish we normally see at our dive sites closer to us, but just a lot more. There were huge schools and all of the fish were huge! It was insane. I didn't even know some of the fish could get that big.  

We saw quite a few absolutely massive groupers, some blue spotted rays, giant schools of big emperor fish, and a wide assortment of some really neat species of fish. It was great. 

After that I had an active fish survey dive at Dragon's Den, a short boat ride from camp, and a reef fish survey dive at Turtle Tower's, right in front of camp. So needless to say, it was a busy day, much of which I spent underwater. I barely had time for lunch.

Since then I've just been hanging out and relaxing. Currently waiting for dinner. It's nice to have all my meals cooked and dishes done for me. I'm being spoiled. I also had one of the local staff do my laundry today for a couple bucks. 

The rest of my week will probably be busy as well, with still plenty of time to relax. I'm definitely feeling at home at this point, it's just crazy how fast everything is going by. I'll be home and back to real life before I know it so I'm really trying to enjoy my time here.  

Saturday, December 26th

So I haven't had wifi to post my last blog so I thought I'd go ahead and add the last few days onto it. 

Christmas here was a blast actually. Christmas Eve everyone hung around camp and played games and drank. I've actually learned so many fun new drinking games and I can't wait to get home and play them. The night actually ended with a late night swim. Everyone swam out to the Turtle Express, our dive boat that's anchored off shore about 200 meters from the beach. It's been a really full moon the past two days so it was great. We were all jumping off of the boat and laughing. It was a blast. Funny story though because we had all left clothes and head lamps and everything on the beach. Then the tide came up super fast when we were swimming so when we got back a lot of our stuff was gone. My hoodie, the only long sleeve article of clothing I brought, was gone. My friend from Romania, Victor felt so bad that the next morning he went down to the beach looking for my hoodie and actually found it. So that was nice. 

Christmas day was really good. This has definitely been one of my most favorite Christmas's ever actually. All of our local staff had the day off so we were in groups to cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Everyone working together and being in and out of the kitchen all day really made it feel like Christmas a lot more. Our meals took forever to cook because we only have one burner, but everything came out really good. Lunch and dinner were the best meals I've had since I've been here. There was also tons of food so that was nice to be able to actually eat and somewhat stuff myself. 

Secret Santa was also really fun. Justin, one of the dive instructors here but is originally from Maine, dressed up as Santa. They have a funny tradition each year where someone wears a funny santa costume that's made up weird red capri pants and a santa jacket and everyone has to sit on his lap while you open your secret santa gift. He even made a beard out of tinsel. It was great. 

The gift I got was so good too. Laura, a girl from Spain, had me. She bought a Madagascar flag and had everyone from camp sign it. It's seriously my favorite thing in the world and I'm going to keep it forever! It was such a thoughtful gift. Everyone really did a great job with the secret santa. Most of the gifts were really thoughtful and nice. It was funny how creatively people wrapped the gifts. We obviously don't have wrapping paper or boxes so people used banana leaves or colored on construction paper. I did mine with brown paper and then tied it with some red and white string I found. Our tree was also cute. We have a tiny like one meter tall tree that we stuck in a bottle filled with sand and decorated it. 

It was honestly just a great day. Everyone was so cheerful and we all hung out and spent time together. It was great to be able to give and receive one gift too. It was nice to take the consumerism out of Christmas for once. No one was focused on what they were getting for Christmas and instead just enjoyed the day. We played tons of games all day. They played cricket and rugby on the beach but I obviously had no idea how to play. Haha. We also did a funny little relay game. I was a team captain and my team won so the losing team had to buy all the winners a beer. 

Vanessa, our Marine Officer who is originally from Kenya, has had her parents and brother here too which has been fun. It's always nice to have family around for the holidays even if it's not my own. They also brought us beer too which was great. We literally ran out of beer Christmas night. It's not easy to get anything around here so once we are out, we are out for awhile until someone goes to Nosy Be. Vanessa's parents are pretty much from New Zealand. Her dad taught everyone how to do a Haka before playing Rugby. It was absolutely hilarious. He was screaming these weird phrases and had people do this funny dance and stomp their feet. It was quite interesting. He was really fun though and kept making up fun games for everyone to play. 

My gift to Savanah! 

Seriously love my gift. 

This is a little out of order, but Wednesday night something completely hilarious happened. Victor, Justin, Vanessa, and I were sitting around. Everyone else had randomly gone to sleep really early. We were all just talking when I saw a big crab running over to the side. I went and picked it up and was playing around with it, pretending to put it on Victor and stuff, when it somehow reached around and grabbed onto my index finger on my left hand. I seriously couldn't get it off. At first they thought I was kidding or something but soon realized I was serious. Of course the first thing Vanessa does is start taking pictures. We have most of it on video too. It was great. We seriously couldn't get it off though. It was angry! We tried prying it off but it just wasn't happening. Justin eventually went and got some pliers and still couldn't get it off. We tried breaking the claws and stabbing it in the face and it literally would NOT let go. Meanwhile I'm laughing so hard and am in excruciating pain. It hurt, but I realized how hilarious the situation was. Finally, after seriously like three minutes at least I finally got it off my finger. No idea how honestly. It literally pinched all the way through my nail. I had actual blood coming out of my nail. So lesson learned, African crabs are angry and not to be messed with. I still can't feel the tip of my finger. 

Here is Justin trying to get the crab off my finger unsuccessfully. 

The aftermath. 

Overall it's been a really good couple of days. We did a "fun dive" on Christmas Eve. I've just been hanging out, reading books, and relaxing. Nothing much else is going on. I'm seriously enjoying relaxing on a tropical island. I love my friends here and just life in general. Couldn't be better.

A view of our storm from the deck on camp at Lockabe National Park on Nosy Be. We have a great view of the island and Hellville. 

Sometimes we had too much time to kill, especially when it rains. Spent a morning coloring funny masks and listening to music on day. 

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