Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fourth Week in Madagascar

I have been in Madagascar for exactly one month so far! This past week we went on a hiking trip to Vatoharanana (Vato for short), a pristine forest within Ranomafana Park. Many researchers go there to study the different species of lemurs, including the Black-and-White Ruffed Lemurs and Sifakas. It was a nice 3-hour hike there because we went slow while Dr. Wright told us about many of the plants along the way and the history of the park. It was interesting to see the transition from secondary to primary forest; the trees were getting larger and vines were growing wild on every tree.

I have included a picture of Cait holding the gigantic earthworm we found 3 of during our walk, pretty wierd huh? After we got up ‘fingernail hill’ we got to an overhang to eat lunch just as it began to downpour, it seemed that we had entered the real “rain forest”. But when it rains in the rain forest, the trails become very muddy and the leeches come out in droves. Some of us have experienced a leech or two back at Centre ValBio, but Vato is leech-ville, and others, like me, where not ready for it. I can count at least 20 leech bites (which itch) on me, it was not the highlight of my trip. When we got to the campsite and set up out tents and my group was fortunate enough to get a site under a shelter, which came in handy later on. Since it was raining all-day the lemurs didn’t come out because I was told they hate the rain just as much as we do, so there wasn’t much to do for the rest of the day except huddle under the shelters and wait for mealtime.

That night a big storm came with lightning crashes too close to be sleeping in a tent (Kara, the camping expert, was doing the flash-to-crash math). The 5 girls in my tent were all freaking out and kept finding leeches and cockroaches in our tent, but having a great time talking about the crazy situation we were in. During the storm many tents collapsed and flooded, so we had to squeeze more people into our 4-person tent so everyone could be semi-dry.

The next morning it was beautiful and sunny out and we were able to enjoy the rain forest once again. We hiked to the next research camp site, Valohoaka (Valo), where there was a beautiful lookout point and waterfall (see pictures) where we spent most of the day. It was getting around lunchtime when the thunder started up again, so we started to head back to camp. Not even halfway there the storm of the century dropped on us. We were all drenched within a minute, the trails turned into mudslides and getting a leech was the last thing on our minds. The lightning and thunder was right above us and at one point it began to hail (in Madagascar!! That hardly happens!). Although it was a horrifying experience (don’t forget we were surrounded by huge trees), we all couldn’t stop laughing because there was nothing we could do about it except keep walking towards Vato. This is one of the experiences I will never forget and also a great story to tell in the future.

Some people hiked back to Centre ValBio after that but I stayed one more night and got to be woken up by the calls of the black-and-white ruffed lemurs. These lemurs are constantly calling to each other, but no one is sure why. All I know is that they are loud and sound like nothing I could try to imitate. The hike back to Centre ValBio the next morning was enjoyable because it was sunny again and has been so for the past few days.

For the rest of the week it has been the students’ job to figure out what we will be doing for our independent research projects and write up our proposals. About half of the students will be doing behavioural studies with lemurs, some students are researching birds, insects, ecology studies or cultural studies. I will be looking into how the people of Ranomafana town can benefit from practising sustainable agricultural techniques. I’m excited to start my project, but first we have our cross country trip that I am so excited for!

Tomorrow we depart for our 10-day trip at 7:30am to go to a city south of us, Ambalavao. Here we will be visiting the Anja Reserve where Ring-Tailed Lemurs live. Here the lemurs have thicker coats compared to the ones that live further south and can be seen bounding around on huge granite boulders. I am excited to see them because they aren’t found in the rain forest where we are. The hotel we are staying in is also a famous paper factory where we can watch the workers make handmade paper. After that we are off to Ifaty on the West Coast to swim in the Mozambique Channel (the waterway between Africa and Madagascar) and snorkel at the coral reefs. We will also be visiting Isalo National Park that is famous for it’s canyons, rock formations, natural pools and the thinner-coated Ring Tailed Lemurs. I don’t have too many details yet; all I know is that this will definitely be my favourite course I’ve ever taken. I’ll be sure to update with plenty of fun experiences when I return.

I’ve also included a group of us walking back from a fun day in town with our Malagasy T.A. Franck. (Cristina, Franck, Collette, Kara and me)

And since my mom has been asking, I will also put up a picture of my humble abode.