2 days in the life of a volunteer - 1 typical and 1 a little more special
5.30am: So today I'm up with the sun, which at home would be unthinkable, but here, as it rises over Andavadoaka village, it seems like a great way to start the day.
6am: The reason for my early start: diving. This one is a fish point-out, meaning I get to try and identify as many species as possible. It also means I get to see a lot of very cool fish. Among many other things, we see black saddled and spotted tobies, a halfmoon triggerfish and a whole school of goatfish and big eye snappers.
8am: Breakfast. Diving makes you incredibly hungry, so at breakfast there's very little talking and a whole lot of eating!
9am: My second dive of the day. This one is a benthic test, which I have to pass in order to start the first part of my science dives. It's at a really beautiful reef, and at one point I'm swimming along and suddenly see a whole wall of coral in front of me, with fish everywhere. We see a huge trumpet fish, a couple of cuttlefish (1 big female and 1 little male) and a big lizardfish. I passed the benthic test, so now I'm ready to do some science!
11am: Now I have free time until lunch. Our hut needed a good sweeping out - living next to the sea has its charms, but it also means you get a lot of sand blowing into your home! Although I have to say that waking up and seeing the waves breaking on the beach, with the palm trees waving in the breeze more than makes up for it. I also spent some time learning my fish for the second aspect of the science dives. All this free time is very tiring so I managed to fit in a nap in the hammock as well before lunch.
1.30pm: Lunch: Aubergine and pasta as well as crab - a real treat!
2pm: A little more free time in which I'm able to write some emails home.
3pm: Lecture on the Velondriake Marine Protected Area. A lecture may sound boring but actually it's fascinating to hear about the work Blue Ventures is doing here.
5pm: The Women's Association comes round with their embroidered tops, trousers, bags and a few other things. The embroidery they do is really beautiful and so detailed. It looks machined but it's all done by hand. They're also selling fish samosas, and as good as lunch was, there's always room for a samosa.
5.30pm: A group of us go into Andavadoaka village for tomatoes, mangoes and of course chocolate from the supermarket. All of the children come out to greet us with Salaama Vazaha! They all have huge smiles on their faces; everyone is so welcoming when we go to the village.
6pm: Time for duties. This week my group are cleaning the bat cave (the dive hut), which of course means sweeping away the sand and making sure the kit is clean and put away properly.
7pm: Vao Vao. This is when we hear the news of the day and plan for tomorrow. Today some volunteers saw two white tipped reef sharks!
7.30pm: Dinner. Rice, beans and some big fish steaks. Really tasty, but currently beyond my fish ID skills.
8pm: I'm learning to play Texas Hold'em, and not doing too badly - I've won a fair few bottle tops tonight.
9.30pm: The lights go out and it's time for bed. When you have such a long day it's great to just get into bed and fall asleep to the sound of the sea.
And now you've seen a typical day, here's a more unusual one. Lyubomir, Alan, Sonia, John, Vicky, Kate and I went on a trip to the village of Lamboara. The villagers there have decided to close off a beach so that turtles can nest in peace. Blue Ventures initiated the conservation of turtle nests, as villagers would normally eat the eggs, but it was Lamboara who decided to close off the whole beach. People are certainly changing their way of thinking here. There's going to be a fomba (ceremony) to celebrate the closing off of the beach.
6.30am: We're up and packing our bags for a possible overnight stay. We're going to need plenty of water and snacks, and of course our cameras.
7am: We're waiting for zebu carts to arrive, but of course we're on Malagasy Time here, so no one is in a hurry. We're happy to wait, especially as Axelle has gone into the village to buy bok bok (doughnuts) for us all.
7.30am: The carts arrive and we all pile in. There are no seats, but there are foam mattresses on the floor so it's pretty comfortable. I reckon it's a far more pleasant way to travel than by car.
10am: We arrive at a bay, where our tracks seem to go straight into the sea. Lamboara is on the other side, so we wait for the tide to go out. We sit in the sun and eat our snacks. Lyubomir brings out cheese and biscuits for us all, which is a nice surprise.
11.30: The zebu carts take us to a sand bar in the middle of the bay. From here pirogues (small boats that you row in this case) take us to the village, so we arrive in style.
12pm: We arrive at the village. All the villagers see us come, and we're shown to the President's house for lunch.
1pm: A lunch of rice and eggs. There would have been fish but the past couple of days have been windy, and this morning the fishermen were waiting for us to arrive. There's plenty to go around though, and Lyubomir had the forethought to bring chocolate bars for us all to share afterwards. That's one prepared volunteer!
2pm: Meeting of the village, which we are invited to attend. They are discussing the closure of the beach, and although it's all in Malagasy it's quite lively. A lot of children sneak in during the meeting, but to watch the villagers or us I can't tell.
3pm: Walk to the beach, where they put up a sign and a flag to be sure people will know it's closed off. It's accompanied by singing and dancing from the women followed by drinks to the ancestors (the children sip Fanta while the adults drink rum).
5.30pm: We all walk back to the village. The coastline here is really beautiful - all rocky headlands and crashing waves until we round a corner, where it's suddenly sandy beaches and the sea is totally flat. The sunset is really vivid, it seems a perfect end to a great day.
7pm: Dinner of turkey and rice. It's really tasty, and of course we have another dessert from Lyubomir, this time dates.
8pm: Bed is straight after dinner. The walking and traveling makes us all very happy to climb into sleeping bags.
6am: We all wake up with the sun, to a see a beautiful sunrise over the fishing pirogues and the bay. We have a breakfast of bok bok and leave by sailing pirogue shortly after. This is a truly fun way to travel home, the boats are really simple and the sailors are climbing all over the place doing I don't know what. We can get pirogue sailing lessons here, it would be so much fun to try it.
So there's two very different days in the life of a Blue Ventures volunteer, and I have a feeling there'll be plenty more new things to try in the weeks to come.