Thursday, 20 February 2014

Sun, sea and sand: Welcome to Andavadoaka!

We did make it through the bumpy road! What a ride! ;-) 8 hours through the mainly sandy coastal “road” in two cars. One of them, a standard 4WD and had 5 people, the other a sort of minibus, with two rows of seats facing each other, taking the remaining lot. Two of the volunteers had the “Madagascar bug” by this time, I assume for them the view over the turquoise sea didn’t compensate for the quality of the road... (However, they managed to hold everything in until our arrival- to everyone’s relief...). The rest of us –luckily- could listen to songs, stare out the window and have a relatively good time. To be honest, it was not as bad as the warning of our expedition manager had suggested.

Andavadoaka is a small fishing village in a bay, with 3000 inhabitants. They are 45 minutes drive from the nearest village and about 40km from the nearest town, Morombe (to the north). The sandy coastline of the village is decorated with the fishermen’s traditional boats, the “pirogues”, carved out of one piece of wood. There is one main street in the village, and the houses that are not on it seem to be randomly scattered around. There are a few tiny “shops”, where one can buy the essentials: some vegetables, meat, flipflops, nailpolish, rhum and beer. There are two schools and two different churches. Surprisingly, there are 2 or 3 disco bars as well, giving me the impression that the locals like to enjoy themselves...

The houses are made of wood and are quite fragile. A year ago, this region was badly hit by a cyclone, apparently the biggest in three decades and it left a lot of desctruction behind. Some houses were still not rebuilt and demonstrate how very vulnerable everything is around here to the forces of nature.

Seen from the coast, to the left of the village, there is a tiny peninsula with some rocks and the statue of the Holy Mary looking towards Africa. Behind this peninsula lies the Coco Beach Hotel, where all Blue Ventures staff and volunteers are based. This area is (naturally) divided into three smaller bays: the tiny Half Moon beach just in front of the volunteer huts, the Coco Beach and the Turtle Beach.

In the four days we’ve been here, we’ve seen numerous presentations and have been introduced to tons of rules (and even signed official papers that we agree to follow them ;-). One of the presentations explained how we need to take care of ourselves medically (should be relatively straight forward, out of 8 volunteers, 5 are medics). Another presentation introduced us to the scientific research BV is leading and how the diving volunteers will contribute to data collection. I was surprised to find out that they have to do 4 weeks of training (both in terms of diving praticalities as well as species recognition skills) to be able to participate in data collection during the last two weeks.

Volunteers also have a rotating set of duties, and these were  explainedas well. We do this in groups of two:
  • Weather monitoring 4 times a day
  • Making sure we have drinking water (we receive water in a big barrels, but that still needs to be filtered and then purified. Consequently, the water we drink is safe, with a slight swimming-pool after taste...)
  • Cleaning the hut where all the diving equipment is stored
Yesterday we had our first malagache language lesson and today we were supposed to meet the village elders to officially introduce ourselves. There was a big storm last night, so the village didn’t receive its supplies (among them, rhum, which is indispensible for any social occasion) therefore the introduction was postponed until next week.

Each day is well structured and we have less free time than I had expected.We start with breakfast at 8, directly followed by some duties, study time for the divers or some lectures until lunch, which is at 13.00. Then we have an hour off, but until now we’ve been using this time to settle down, unpack our suitcases, deal with our mosquito nets (or the lack there of...), wash our clothes, etc. The afternoon continues with more lectures/introductory presentations and closes with duties at 18.00. Dinner and feedback about the day at 19.15. Twice a week someone does some entertainment after dinner (like a mini talent show, with one person at a time). The electricity goes out at 21.00 so we usually go to bed around 22.00.

Our food is provided by the hotel whose huts we are renting and it’s of very good quality. I expected much less, but they really make an effort to make good and healthy combinations of available ingredients.

For now, that’s enough detail about the practicalities. Concerning how it feels to be here: since we’ve arrived I have the impression that Im in some sort of a parallel universe. Time is still passing, but my relation to it has completely changed. It’s quite slow if I look at it at a minute by minute basis, but overall, the days go by quite fast. Life has become so straight-forward and simplified, I love experiencing this. I don’t spend half an hour picking my clothes in the morning, I have all meals provided by someone else, I know where to go and what to do at each hour. (And the one thing that concerned me from home, the cold, slightly salty shower is about the best thing ever, because its super refreshing!).

The physical isolation also brings peace to my mind, I’ve successfully left all the worries of my daily life in Toliara. I haven’t checked my emails in 4 days and I’m not missing them at all. It’s extremely relaxing to get away from the usual environment and be here, in the middle of nothing, disconnected, only focusing on the here and now and on the forces of nature. The Mozambique channel lies 30 meters in front of our hut with a coconut tree and endless sand in between. The sound of the waves is deeply therapeutic (although it can get quite scary during a storm), and the wind never seems to stop blowing.

It’s great to be here. 

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