Monday, October 5, 2009

Second Week in Madagascar

I wrote this blog on 9/27, but the Internet wasn’t working when I went down to the internet cafe, so my mom has been nice enough to update my blog..unfortunately i didn't take that picture of the mouse lemur, but I have seen them. Also we didn't hike across the desert, that story in full is in this week's blog....enjoy!!!

Wow, two weeks, we’ve been so busy it feels like 2 months have passed so far. Since the last time I wrote we’ve been on a hiking trip, took our final exam in the biodiversity course and began our primate behavior and ecology course. There’s been a lot of studying and reading going on here but also a lot of just sitting around outside and hanging out together. Everyone gets along so well and is having a good time.

Last Monday we took this sleepover backpacking trip. It turned out to be more like 10-hours of hiking up and down a mountain and at times it wasn’t even a trail, more like dredging through bushes with sharp leaves and sinking into muddy rice paddies. But then we got up to this gigantic waterfall, the tallest waterfall I’ve ever scene and probably ever will see. We were at the top of it and you could see forever! And you could also so easily fall off, it was soo cool. It sounded like a jet plane, it was so loud. I took pictures and videos of it, but they won’t do it justice. It was looking over a valley where we were gunna be staying that night and you could see so many rice paddies (did I mention that all Malagasy people eat is rice??). So then we started to hike (more like slide) down the mountain into the valley and got to see the waterfall from the bottom. The hiking was hard and it was pitch dark for the last hour, but the waterfall and the scenery made it so worth it, even the hiking experience was fun, because it was like nothing I had ever done before. And that night we stayed in this small secluded village (the closest road was 3 hours away) where they don’t really even use the currency. They made us dinner (huge bowl of rice with some veggies on the side for vegetarians) and hot tea and coffee and burnt rice water (they boil water in the pot they used to make rice in………I wouldn’t suggest it…it tastes like slash-and-burn agriculture) which was wonderful because I would have eaten a whole Zebu (their form of cattle here. There are more zebu that people in Madagascar, but they don’t eat them, only on very rare and special occasions and for white people, because they are more of a form of wealth than food…not the smartest idea for a country filled with starving people) and drank all of it’s blood after that hike (not really though J). And then the whole village came out because they wanted to welcome us and they did a series of traditional song and dances for us, which was reallllly cool. Young men and young women danced and sang songs to go along. This was also one of the reasons that made the whole trip worth it. It was something that I’ll never get to do or see again. So after that we passed out only to be woken up by all the rosters that roamed around this village at 5:00 am. (in every village there are so many chickens and their chicks and ducks and stray dogs walking around everywhere) There were also baby pigs walking around our campsite which was very cute. So then we had breakfast (huge bowl of rice, cassava and honey. And burnt rice water) and walked around the village to see how they used compost and grew coffee beans and so much rice and had many latrines. It was considered one of the more ‘sustainable villages’…but I though differently because the burnt down all the rainforest around them in every direction for rice paddies. And then we had lunch (huge bowl of rice and some veggies on the side for vegetarians and burnt rice water) and decided to start hiking through this desert of a valley at 12 noon. But the hike back wasn’t bad, it was just really hot and we had to climb one hill to get out of the valley that was so huge and steep and took 15 minutes to climb. But I made it!!!! And this was the day before the final exam and the reason why I didn’t feel like studying too much J.

I try to do my laundry every other day here instead of letting it pile up in my tent. I use a bucket of water and a bar of soap, so I only want to do a small load at a time anyway. Also, sometimes it rains on the clothes (like today), so you have to leave them on the line for a few days till they dry.

The primate behavior course has been interesting so far. We have already learned so much, which takes me back to my physical anthropology course. Now we are getting into more lemurs and some of the researchers at Centre ValBio have been giving lectures on the work they do here. Sarah Zohdy is one researcher that studies wild brown mouse lemurs (Mircocebus rufus) here in Ranomafana. These cute little lemurs are the smallest primates and are nocturnal. Everynight they set box traps with bananas in them so catch the mouse lemurs. They take regular measurements of them and dental molds to check for dental senescence and release them that same night. In captivity experiments, these mouse lemurs have been known to get Alzheimer’s Disease, cataracts, anosmia (loss of smell), hearing loss and live up to 15-18 years old. By using the dental molds there are able to determine how old the lemurs are. So far the oldest mouse lemur they have caught is 9 years old. They haven’t seen any signs of the alignments that were found in the lab. It sounded like very interesting work. Then that night I spotted the tapetum lucidum (the glowing eyes / the reflection of my light shining back towards me) of a mouse lemur on my way up to my tent. I followed it for a few minutes, it was soo cute!!

Gotta go study and read now! Hope everyone is enjoying fall!

p.s. I am trying to put pictures up of gorgeous Ranomafana, but it is next to impossible. They will come with time :)