Thursday, June 23, 2011

A long and winding trail?

Ah, the joys of being able to type up a blog entry over lunch. Electricity! My new house is near Ranomafana which has this huge waterfall. They have set it up so that they get most of the electricity from hydroelectric power and it is enough that it powers the entire region around it. My new place is surrounded by electricity and the power lines run right above the house. Unfortunately, the transformer to pull it off of the main line is REALLY expensive and not an option. Think 100 years of a Malagasy person’s pay. Working every day and buying food or anything. Not gonna happen.

In the mean time I can type in peace after finishing my lunch and I don’t even get charged extra for sitting here using their power. Same idea happens at the internet place, I can sit and type up things on my computer before I use the internet, hop on for 10 minutes and send out my emails without racking up much of a fee. This transformation in accessibility and cost of internet will probably mean more entries. Pictures are still hard unless I go into my banking town but I posted some on Facebook for those of you who have access to it.

Work! Hey…I do that!
Since moving I’ve talked to several people and already had a meeting with one of the local farmer associations. This one is all younger people (15-25 or so) who want to do a fruit tree planting project. Most of them have not done large scale plantings nor had to raise young fruit trees. To ensure that any trees that are donated to them (through Friends of Madagascar) are put to good use, we are holding several trainings. This week is the independence day festival so we are waiting until next week to really start. The first in a series of trainings will be to go over all of the basics. This means deciding what land is well suited for fruit trees, planning the spacing of the trees so that they each have enough room with the existing trees, size of the holes, and manure quality. Over the course of July, they will dig holes, then in August we will go back and double check everything, they will bring in manure, and in September we will plant. The people who attend the trainings and prove to be diligent farmers will be duly rewarded with trees.

I’m heading up to work with Earthwatch for a few weeks next month. Before I do that, it will be the perfect time to start air layering lychees. This means we will be preparing different branches of existing trees to grow their own roots (still attached to the tree) and then in December and January they should be ready to be chopped off the tree and planted. Down time in the next month or two will consist of training several groups of people to produce their own trees.

How hiking in Madagascar differs from Los Angeles
Today I went on a 4 hour hike around the park. Mike and I hike up on the north side of the town of Ranomafana and went until there were no trails left. Then we went some more. There are several rivers and streams around Ranomafana and we ended up having to cross one over and over by way of steppingstone. My new hiking boots are quickly getting worn in.

Somewhere on the hike we got to talking about how hiking in the US is so much different than hiking here. When I mention trails here, they are likely footpaths that are no wider than a single boot. There are often large rocks, brush, and saplings in these paths that are either trampled or avoided. The most terrifying part for me is the large population of terrestrial leeches that live in the forest liter and brush. They are (supposedly) small and crawl around like inchworms…up shoes, up socks, into pant legs, and up as far as thighs. They also linger on leaves and will gladly climb onto the hands of the unsuspecting. They then transform from skinny creepy worms to stereotypical leeches getting fatter and fatter on the very blood you need to continue hiking around. When they eventually are satisfied and fall off, you are then left bleeding your way through a rainforest. To make matters worse, like sharks, the next leech is attracted to your ever bloody sock-line and attaches itself in the SAME place! Anticoagulants help insure this cycle continues until you eventually run out of the forest screaming and slapping leeches off (I still can’t think of a more logical way to handle this inevitable situation).

With a lack of a maintained trail, we usually end up using whatever is handy to propel ourselves up hills and to keep from falling down them. This usually means grabbing onto a well placed tree and leveraging. Since we weren’t actually in the national park, the deforestation makes a lot of that impossible. Instead of gracefully (and somewhat neatly) making our way around, we end up scrambling, falling, and butt scooting more than most people would like to admit. The forest seems to have natural defenses to silly Americans trampling around. These include but are not limited to: thorns, trip-wire like vines, and plants with sticky seeds that love hair and can even stick to skin. My very least favorite is a plant or bug that causes your skin to burn for a few minutes, puff up into hives for a few minutes, make you believe that you are going to have a major allergic reaction and NEED to get out of the forest NOW, then magically stop reacting and go back to normal after 10 minutes or so. This time I ended up limping out (new boots) with completely filthy and bloody pants, burrs stuck to all of my clothes, a layer of plant life on my backpack, mud coated boots (that were dry on the inside, despite slipping in shallow water a few times, thanks Teva!), a couple of leeches inside my pants, and a temporarily hive covered hand.

All of this makes you wonder why I keep going back in for more. Refer to pictures of all the interesting plants, animals, insects, fungi, and waterfalls for rationale. =D Same time next week?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

On the road again

Ranomafana Painting Project
After moving out of my old site, I went up to Ranomafana to work with Valbio and Madagascar National Parks on Mike's project. We were assigned to paint the new visitors center for the park. There were 2 large rooms and another wall to paint in a week. The eight of us worked long days and finished some really great paintings as well as a topographical map.

River Trip
So for vacation we had planned on a group of 4 to go out to Tsingy. We ended up realizing that another group of 5 volunteers were going at the same time so our groups merged together. We spent 3 days going down a river in canoes and spotting various interesting things along the banks. We stopped at a gorgeous waterfall and eventually docked at a place to meet up with our "car". While we had reserved 4x4s to take us to the park, we were greeted by a camion, a very large vehicle usually used for transporting cattle. Long days in the car ensued. The good news is that Tsingy Bemaraha is totally worth it. The park is amazing and you actually have to wear a harness for a good portion of Grand Tsingy (the big rocks). We climbed up some huge rocks and into some small caves. We also visited Petit Tsingy which is the miniature version. The rocks are limestone and have been worn away over millions of years by rain.

Morondava and Baobobs
Coming back from Tsingy we stopped at the Avenue de Baobobs. It is very impressive. Some of the trees are thousands of years old and their scale is hard to capture in photographs. We got there right at sunset and stayed until it was almost dark. Morondava was great and we had a lot of fun exploring the town. It has the market featured in Bizzare Foods. Its so funny because the guy in the show has to say how awful the food is in it, we loved it! It was cheap and tasty. They also had some drink we were calling milk juice that was almost like strawberry quik.

Another year...
Its strange to know that this is my last birthday in Madagascar. Having just moved out of my old site and moving into my new house feels very surreal. Spending my day relaxing and eating good food.