First day in Ranomafana by Stephen DiBlasio

On Saturday night, June 3rd , we arrived at Centre ValBio outside of Ranomafana National Park. This gave us enough time to settle in for the Sunday market in Ranomafana. Every Sunday in Ranomafana a day long market is setup around the whole village. Everyone attends this day of no work, often attending church before-hand. Our TAs taught us helpful words often used by the villagers to allow us to buy items at the market on our own. I quickly learned how to bargain with the local people as they often try to overcharge foreigner for items. The first item I bought using only Malagasy was a handcrafted candleholder.

[The candle holder and other handcrafts for sale in Ranomafana]

After each of us bought items from the market, we walked down the street to a restaurant on the border of the village. A few of the villagers followed us to this restaurant, eagerly trying to sell us spices. They sold things such as vanilla beans, curry spices, and cinnamon. When we arrived at the restaurant we were all seated on outside on the porch of the house, with a beautiful view of Ranomafana. Afterwards, we continued down the road, taking a taxi to the nearest medicinal plant garden. In Madagascar, traditional healers pass down their skills to their children. Often, the medicinal plant is boiled into a tea for consumption. Others are mashed up combined and used during massages to heal injuries such as sprains or broken bones. The national tree, traveler’s palm (Ravenala madagascariensis), is said to be used for type 2 diabetes.

[Ravenala madagascariensis & Medicinal plant garden in Ranomafana]

When we returned to Centre ValBio, we were treated to dinner and a welcome party. We met the whole CVB staff and even taught a few of the Malagasy dances. The people at CVB were very welcoming and very informative. Being on this trip for the health internship, being able to talk to first year Stony Brook Medical School students was very helpful. They told us what their first year was like and how they went about getting accepted into such a prestigious medical program. With the staff being so welcoming, CVB felt like my home in no time.

After lectures on statistics…. by Eddie Syn

After going through lectures on statistics to prepare us for our independent research projects, we visited Talatakely forest in Ranomafana national park, which is just across the street from Centre Valbio. Unfortunately, the area was pouring rain, so we seldom saw wildlife. Most animals were hiding under canopy and inside bushes, performing very little activity in order to conserve energy. We did, by chance spot, a beautiful and rare crested ibis fly by us. After a long hike, through slippery rocks, streaming water, and muddy soil, we arrived at a refreshing waterfall. Sadly, we were all snacks for leeches dropping from trees. A lot of us were terrified by the leeches. I, however, thought the leeches were fascinating, and I took many pictures of them. Leeches are not a widely studied species. There is a researcher at Centre Valbio who collects leeches and analyzes their blood to collect DNA samples from animals the leeches have fed off of.

                            [Waterfall and terrifying leeches]

Following our hike in Talatakely forest, Centre Valbio hosted a culture event. People with original Malagasy artwork sold their merchandise by the lobby. There were many beautiful hand woven pieces of work. We then watched several malagasy performances. These performances were done by malagasy people who were trained and taught to share their cultural heritage. “The People of the Forest” band played several pieces sung in malagasy. The two brothers enchantingly harmonized and played original waltzes and ballads. The “Bakomanitra” were the next set of performers. They were a group of dancers and singers that used bamboo sticks as percussion instruments. The women and men sang very well together, and there were many unique musical dynamics.

[Embracing the local culture with music and dance]

Week 2: First hike through a tropical rainforest by Shan Jin

Last Wednesday, we had a great day at CVB and in the rainforest. That day was divided into two parts. In the morning, we had lectures at CVB, and in the afternoon, we went to the rainforest in Ranomafana National Park. That was the first time we hiked in the Ranomafana National Park.

The first thing we saw in the national park, except trees, was a river. There is a river near CVB, and we can hear its sound day and night. However, we did not have a chance to see it so closely before we go to the park. After the river, we saw an old cabin. A lot of researchers used to live there, but after CVB was built, only few people usually having lunch breaks there use the cabin. I think it is good to live in the cabin which is in the rainforest. You can hear the sound of all the animals in the night. That made me think of the two days we spent at another national park. We stayed in cabins near the Andasibe rainforest. In the morning, the lemurs, especially Indri indri were outside of our doors calling each other.

After the cabin, we saw a lot of lemurs, like brown lemur, woolly lemur, the greater and golden bamboo lemur, etc.


Greater bamboo lemur (Prolemur simus)

They all live in alone, or in smaller or larger groups. So if we see one lemur, we can find other lemur around. At first, we hiked along a stone trail, but in order to see more lemurs, we needed to walk into the forest, which made our hike a lot of harder. It was very hard to walk in the forest. People walked so fast, and I had to try very hard to keep up. It was so tiring. I wouldn’t want to hike again. But it is also hard to stay at the CVB and have lectures while staring at a rainforest from the windows!

The main trails of the park are made of stones. I wonder who moved the stones into the forest, and how long did it take them to complete all the trails. It must have been very difficult for them to do that. There are many building around the world which are made of big stones and people built them with their hands. Their work is so amazing.

Although the hike made me very tired, I had a lot of fun. I hope we continue to have a wonderful trip in Madagascar.


1st Week: Stepping out of our comfort. A valuable personal growth. By Michelle Olakkengil, Khin Oo & Andrea Persaud

Day 1: Travel

Any trip abroad makes me a little anxious because the distance I travel away from the comfort of home. However, venturing out of my comfort zone helps me embrace challenges. These challenges can lead to valuable personal growth. This study abroad trip is my first trip to Africa. When I arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa and transferred to our flight to Madagascar, I had an interesting experience that I never have in an airport. Instead of going through a tunnel to get into the airplane we got onto a bus from the terminal to where the airplane was and walked up and onto it. I found this experience exciting as I got to see the airplane up close before I boarded. The overall travel took around 20 hours in total. I feel very jet lagged. But it was surreal feeling when the airplane touched land in Madagascar. I met Frank and Tharcisse for the first time at the Madagascar Airport. Frank helped us exchange our money. I also met the two Malagasy students who will be joining us on our study abroad trip. Their names are Fano and Antso. They have just recently graduated with their masters. After our introduction and exchanging money. We headed to Tana. Our group traveled in a green mini bus with all the luggage tied to the roof of the bus.


Antananarivo (Tana), Capital city of Madagascar

As we travel the roads of Madagascar, it was interesting to see how the cars and people went about traffic without the means of traffic signs or signals. The only sign of traffic was seen occasionally around a roundabout where a traffic officer led traffic. People would walk extremely close to the cars. It’s incredible to see how they navigated with such lack of signs and signals.

Tana is a very populated city. As we drove by the street and cities, it was easy to detect that Madagascar has been influenced by many different countries and culture as we drove by. From what I have seen, there seems to be large Asian influence with many restaurants advertising Asian cuisine. The Malagasy people themselves look like a blend of Asian and African roots. Along the streets of the city were shacks and stands of local vendors selling bits and pieces of spare parts for things used and new. There were also food vendors selling all sorts of Malagasy snacks. Used clothes were hung on racks and sold by the sidewalks.

I found it fascinating how the Malagasy people reacted to the 60-70° F weather. It’s different from that of people in the US. Normally in America around this time, people start to wear shorts and short sleeve shirts or even tank tops. However, in Madagascar, summertime for us is winter for them. The 60-70° F is cold for them and many people were seen wearing sweaters, hats, scarfs, long sleeve t-shirt and pants.

The group is staying at St. Laurent Hotel. I am sharing a room with Michelle and Fano. There is usually only one outlet in each room which I found annoying yet enlightening. It’s amazing to see how little importance electronics are to Malagasy people compared to people in the developed world such as myself. I didn’t realize how dependent I was on my laptop and phone until I came here. Wifi and access to internet was also something that I realized that I was so dependent on.

We had dinner at the hotel. I had chicken and rice for my first dinner here. The spices are different than what would normally be put on chicken back home. Another option for dinner which I wish I had tried because it was something new I never heard of before called zebu meat. Zebu is species like cows. I think in future meals here I will try to be more adventurous with my choice. Rice is a staple here and locals have it 3 times a day. This was evident by the abundance of Rice fields we passed by on our way to the hotel.

Rice paddies

Rice paddies are all over

Overall, the travel and the first day in Madagascar were successful. Everyone arrived safe and sound. The getting to know everyone on my study abroad trip, cultural adjustment and learning the Malagasy language in the following weeks will help me have a successful study abroad.

Day 2:

I woke up early, at around 5:30 AM, and stood out on the balcony. The sun was just rising over the city of Tana. The air was fresh and dewy. We had to be up early and head over to Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, where we’d spend the next 2-3 days. I was excited for what the day would bring. Shan and I got ready and headed down for breakfast. It was pretty delicious–I had a croissant with marmalade and guava juice. Dr. Patricia Wright had joined us to give a brief introduction to the study abroad and her role as director of Centre ValBio. She spoke about how the Centre back to be and the sort of work they’re currently doing, from lemurs to the Global Health Institute team. Listening to her speak made me realize how important it was for me to immerse myself into the culture and really make the most out of my experience at Madagascar and my research project. Once we finished eating, we were on our way. We first stopped at Madagascar Exotic Reserve Peyrieras, a reptile reserve near Antananarivo.

Reptire sanctuary

At the Peyrieras reserve

Once we got there, we were able to see and interact with many Propithecus coquereli (sifaka lemurs), which were recently introduced in the area. We fed them rice and bananas and took a bunch of photos. They were beautiful and soft to touch as well. We also saw Nile crocodiles, snakes, chameleons, butterflies, and frogs that were all native to Madagascar. The diversity of the wildlife present was incredible.

After we finished up, we headed over to a hotel near Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. We had a Malagasy lesson from Frank and Kate, who taught us the basics, such as how to say hello (Salama), thank you (Misaotra), good-bye (Veloma) and so on. It was overwhelming at first, but I was able to ask Fano and Antso for clarification and practice help, which I was grateful for. That night we went on a short night walk in search of lemurs and other wildlife.

We all went outside and turned on our red lights, to not disturb the animals. Our guides were making lemur sounds and shining light into the forest. They had said that if the light reflects back, it is likely the eyes of a lemur or the body of an animal such as a chameleon. We were able to see a mouse lemur, which is a nocturnal lemur. We also saw the Brown leaf chameleon (Brookesia superciliaris), which is the smallest chameleon. It was originally difficult to see, because it was sitting at the very tip of a leaf. Apparently they do this so that they can easily escape predators such as snakes.

Overall, the day was incredibly fun and I loved being able to step out of my comfort zone and interact with the environment in this way.

Day 3

After 2 exciting days spent in Madagascar, we visited a National Park of  Andasibe. The area has been protected since 1975, which is a wonderful testament to the Malagasy people striving to save some of the natural forest that remains. We toured the visitor center and learned more about various lemurs found in the park. I also posed near a life size cutout of a species of lemur that became extinct once the island was inhabited by people. I couldn’t fathom a lemur standing as tall as me.

Lost lemurs

An extinct lemur!

Today our group would be making a trip into the forest on a mission to spot Indri in their natural habitat. We were greeted by our tour guide, who actually grew up in a nearby village. It was very interesting to find out that he was knowledgeable in various languages due to the range of tourists that visited the park since beginning his job in the 1990’s. People from all over the world have visited this park just to see the rare Indri and I could now be counted amongst them.


Indri indri, the remaining largest lemur of Madagascar

We began our trek through a cleared path winding through the trees. Soon enough it turned into quite a hike, as we climbed upwards on steps carved out of the mountain. We reached a bridge spanning across a river and continued on. Eventually we were surrounded by the dense forest and the sounds of nature, as we listened to the call of the Indri. Voices hushed as they suddenly appeared, swinging from tree to tree above us. Everyone was in awe and tried their best to snap a picture of this elusive species. It seemed as though they were observing us, while chomping on their choice of leaves. We followed them further down the mountain and were able to spot four lemurs at once!

In what seemed like no time at all, they leapt out of sight, and we began our hike back. Along the way we discussed the diverse flora and fauna found in Madagascar. The tour guide spoke about some of the plants that are eaten and warned us especially about certain types of mushrooms and how to detect if they are poisonous. In these moments it certainly struck me that I know very little about the environment that surrounds me back home. Nature is not something that I usually consider part of my life, because I am so far removed from it. Yet, here in Madagascar, I am quickly learning how important it is to have a knowledge of the surrounding environment in order to cherish and preserve it for future generations.

Once we left the reserve it was time to return to the hotel for lunch. I would be having zebu and rice, which was usually my meal of choice. I have never eaten so much steak in my life until I arrived in Madagascar. Zebu is a prized possession among Malagasy and is not often part of their everyday meals. We learned from Katherine and Kate, the graduate TA’s who accompanied us on our study abroad trip, that most people eat a meal of rice and beans or vegetables. When we were driving to our hotel in Andasibe I recalled seeing zebu being used to plow fields on the terraced mountain sides, thus it seems they have more value as machinery for farming.

Looking across the table as we ate lunch I saw that some of us opted for chicken, seafood, or soup. The vegetables usually served with our meals included zucchini, potatoes and carrots, which may be in season now. Eating food only when they are in season is an issue we usually do not deal with in America, because many of our produce is imported. It was refreshing to eat fruits like bananas, and oranges and have guava juice, most likely picked that day or bought from a local vendor.

Later in the evening we went on a night walk, and were able to spot a tree frog nestled in some leaves. Our original aim was to spot mouse lemurs, but we were able to only locate their yellow eyes shining back at us a few times in the distance.


Spotting a tree frog at night

Aside from the many creatures lurking at night, I constantly found myself staring up at the sky amazed by the plethora of twinkling stars, that would usually be drowned out by light pollution where I’m from.

All in all, the joy I received from something as small as staring up at the night sky or ,on the other hand, the rare sight of an Indri, encompasses my experience in Madagascar thus far.

There is beauty to be found in all places.







Halloween and camping in Madagascar by Sarah Stalerman

So after four weeks of lessons, one weeks of dodging leeches (also known as camping in Mangevo), and two weeks of cross country we have finally arrived at weeks eight, and my turn to write a blog post. So for this week it’s been kind of a whirl wind. In the four days following our eight-hour bus ride back to Ranomafana we had Lemur Festival, a debate, Halloween, and of course the starting of our independent projects. With so much going on it would be nearly impossible to talk about them all, so I am going to talk about the two things closest to my heart, my project and …Halloween.

For those of you who know me you know I LOVE Halloween! And celebrating Halloween in Madagascar was no different. That may be hard to believe, but the feelings of celebration and fun were alive and well and it was a pleasure to share those feelings with our Malagasy friends. By trading clothes, improvisation and a lot of creativity, we all managed to pull together some pretty impressive costumes. Below are some of the pictures of my favorites:

halloweenCiara as a very “scarf-y” scurvy pirate

untitledHaving fun on Halloween

Where these ridiculously cool cat costumes (there was a pusheen) we danced O’ Hollow’s Eve away to America and Malagasy music alike, my favorite Malagasy song being Magneva Magnevaaaaaaa. We danced, sang, and even got candy.

Now a few days after that I began my Independent project, but not without much evolution and speed bumps. For those of you who didn’t know this (including pre-project me) surveying children is hard! In the beginning I had open answer questions, and had to keep rephrasing and restating to convey my intended meaning, driving my poor translator, Montia, crazy! But those frustrating, hair pulling, rat waking (me), first few days gave me the information I needed to create multiple choices for my questions making my data a lot easier to analysis and both my and Montia’s life so much easier.

If you what to hear more about my findings fill free to shoot me an email, but what I really want to talk about here, is my amazing camping experience. I’m going to be honesty, I wasn’t really that exciting about camping, see previously mentioned rats and leeches. But I actually really enjoyed myself. At night Montia would give me Malagasy lessons! He was a strict but great teacher, not letting me forget a single “no” or “ny” (infinite articles) or miss-pronounce katsasaka (gecko). Thanks to him I am now capable of a three to five-minute conversation about a house or food. I can also ask what is your favorite animal and understand some of the responses. After finishing early on our third day we went swimming! Having come back from swimming with us and being bored by 1:00, the children of the village proceeded to stare at me. Feeling a need to entertain (and also wanting to see them smile a little) I put my newly learned Malagasy to work. I introduced myself, asked them their favorite color, understood most of their responses, and somehow started a game that involved them hitting my hands…hard. Having won the children’s affection through excessive high fiving, I taught them how to dance like a lemur and eat (people) like a dinosaur. Oh and our cook made min sao (pasta and veggies) for us our last night! It was matsiro (delicious)! All and all I had a really fun and rewarding experience camping in the villages for a few days. I wouldn’t change I think, (exact maybe learning how to say not so hard!).

matanzakaThe Children of Antaralava

Beyond the fishbowl: Finally fitting in and independent research projects by Rachel Wilson (week 8)

During the last few weeks our study abroad program has been devoted to our independent research projects. Everyone was able to choose a biology or anthropology-related area of study to explore for about two weeks. Since taking a class on “Exploring Wilderness” last spring, I’ve been intrigued by the concept of wilderness (versus nature, natural, wild and wildness) and other culture’s conceptions of these terms. Throughout the course of the term we periodically discussed how we would define wilderness, and whether or not humans can be part of wilderness. It was fascinating, and our discussions only left me more conflicted. I ended up leaving the class more uncertain of my definition of wilderness than when I had stepped in originally. But it was a welcome confusion.

I’ve carried those conversations with me here, where the people literally live in and surrounded by rainforest. The rainforests are a source of food, of income and building material, it is where the ancestors can be found. The forests are a sacred space, and very much in danger. Due to this intrigue I decided to explore the conception and definition of wilderness here in Ranomafana. I was curious to learn why the people here valued wilderness, how they defined it, and whether these things varied based on factors like age, occupation, gender, and education level.

Armed with a handful of Malagasy phrases and a smile I set out with my guide and translator Hery to conduct our interviews. Initially my goal was to interview at least 30 villagers so I could run some statistical tests, but I was unsure how long interviews would take and how approachable the people would be having a tall, white vaja (Malagasy slang for foreigner and a word I’ve become well acquainted with) with a clipboard randomly walk up to their houses.

the-tree[Three boys I interviewed]

The first day in the field was a bit nerve-wracking. I had no idea how the questions would go over, if people would be able to understand them. There was also the fear that I’d accidentally make some locally obscene gesture accidentally or say the wrong word and end up offending someone’s ancestors, but as far as I know I managed to dodge that bullet.

I was blown away by how gracious and welcoming all of the villagers were. Thankfully Hery is well known throughout Ranomafana, so everyone welcomed us into their homes with open arms. I always felt a little uncomfortable stepping inside these people’s homes, despite their smiles and eager faces, I was afraid to seem intrusive as a stranger in their home and probably one of the first foreigners to ever set foot in their homes.

The interviews started a bit slowly. Hery prompted me to introduce myself in Malagasy and explain that I was a student (“Ni anarako Rachel, pianaratra aho“), but then I would pass the torch over to her. I’d read the English version aloud and then Hery would translate and relay back the information to me in English which I would record. After each interview I would thank the interviewee, give them a gift I’d been supplied from the Centre (generally salt, sugar and candles, sometimes batteries) and then would ask permission for a photograph (“Afaka maka sari anao ve aho?“). Everyone was always very grateful for the gifts and eager for their photo. Several people changed clothes or posed with important objects. Photos are pretty rare for many of the people, so I had to promise to send printed photos back.

Thankfully the interviews themselves went well, and besides adding a couple extra questions or possible responses changes to my project were minimal. Hery is also a wonderful teacher, so after the second or third interview she started having me ask some of the questions in Malagasy. It was a bit of a mess at first. She’d written them down for me to read but I butchered the pronunciation countless times so she’d have to repeat it after the blank stares. But she kept pushing me, and by the end of the first day I was conducting about a third of the interview myself. I even started being able to catch phrases they would respond with so Hery didn’t have to translate what they were saying to me. Oh I forgot to mention, many Malagasy people are illiterate and have had very little formal education, which is why we had to read my survey aloud versus giving it to them to fill out. It was wonderful watching how the villagers responded to me speaking their language. Everyone was very taken aback and several laughed outright. It was obvious that they were touched by my efforts, even if it sounded horrible.

I loved my days with the villagers. Each day I would walk through town and see more and more people I had interviewed. They all smiled and waved, and for the first time in two months I finally started feeling like I belonged a little. I started walking alone for the first time too, that was quite a change. Up until this point, each time we’d go to town we were inevitably in a massive group, clearly tourists, and stuck out like a sore thumb. It was nearly impossible to just sit and watch the people, because you’d be stared down and cat-called at constantly. Now alone, I still stuck out, but much less so.

I remember the first day the car dropped me in town, all alone. I was supposed to meet Hery in town, but we had somehow forgotten to actually pick a place to meet. Once the car pulled away and I realized that I was truly alone, I decided to try to retrace my steps and find her house, which she had taken me to the day before. Keeping my head up high, I strode through the center of town and tried to ignore the stares, but I didn’t blame them considering I was also hauling a massive garbage bag of gifts for the interviewees. I was actually quite proud of myself for finding the way alone, smiling at the people I passed and greeting them with “Akoriabi!” and “Salama! Vavao?“as I passed. The children gave me a wide berth as I neared, probably remembering some Stranger Danger lessons they’d learned when they were little, but I wasn’t too offended. Heri ended up not being at her house, but I went in anyways and dropped of the gifts while I talked to her son in French. I found Hery later on, she was looking for me on the other end of town, but I was appreciative for the feeling of autonomy I’d been given for the first time since I’d arrived in Madagascar.

Each day was more fulfilling, with more Malagasy spoken by me, more smiles and warm handshakes. I loved feeling like a part of the village. In the afternoons Hery and I would wander throughout town and wait for the car, chatting with her friends and eating street food. Other villagers would come over and introduce themselves to me and try out their English. It was very sweet. I would watch the waves of tourists meander by, guide book in hand, baseball hats, cameras, and all, and laugh a little, knowing I was no longer the person being stared at.

I also spent a day at one of the local schools, doing my questionnaire with the 4th and 5th graders from Ambatolahy. After the kids finished my survey I had time to kill while one of the other study abroaders conducted her interviews. The kids were fascinated by me, and as I sat in the shade dozens surrounded me and just stared. That’s how life has been here the last two months, living in a fishbowl. I smiled at them, asking their names and how old they were, and they all giggled at my efforts to communicate. They also found my name ridiculous, which I guess is understandable considering that in Malagasy there is no “ay” or el” sound that is in the name Rachel. I think they all thought my name was Rahchol. Oh well. Another thing they fixated on was my light hair and my freckles. I ended up encouraging them to play connect the dots with my freckles, which I should have known would leave me absolutely covered in pen lines and drawings. But they loved it. They also drew me pictures, one boy drew me a portrait! It was so so sweet. They loved the photographs too, they all wanted their picture taken again and again. I was very happy with them.

with-kids[Trip to Ambatolahy school]

As much as I loved my day with the kids, my favorite moment from my research took place my second day of interviews. Hery had graciously invited me to eat lunch with her and her family for the second day in a row and I was very eager to spend more time with them. Her sisters also speak very good English, as well as her son, and they all have the best sense of humor. I’d spent some time with the family before and so by now they were pretty comfortable around me. The moment that hit me most happened part way through lunch. Everyone was digging in, Hery, her two sisters, Tsanta, and one of the other CVB guides. They were all laughing and teasing one another and had abandoned trying to include me in the conversation. Malagasy pop music was blasting from upstairs, and I could hear kids running around and giggling outside. I was so happy in that moment, no longer the center of attention, no longer being catered to. I didn’t feel like the outsider, even though I didn’t understand a word they were saying. They made me feel at home, people that were complete stranger just days and months ago. It was very powerful and incredibly moving. I never expected to feel so at home in Madagascar.

family[My wonderful Malagasy Family]


Week 7: Alexandra Rose and Mickaella Anas Ratovohery’s adventure


We know that the blogs have been done individually for a while, but this week we wanted to do something a little different. We have decided to combine our blog, as we journeyed closely together over the course of the cross-country trip.

But let Mickaella start us off…

First of all, I will never forget my first day in this program. Being one of the Malagasy students in this program, I met our friendly American friends for the first time this past September. I am so thrilled to be here! Now we are in the second week of our cross-country trip. Normally, I would tell you about just this week, but first I want to tell you of a couple of highlights I have had thus far. Just a week after arriving in Ranomafana, I participated in kayaking. It was amazing! Alex was my kayaking partner, and we spent three hours on the river Namorona. It was my first-time kayaking, and within just a few minutes, Alex and I went overboard into the river. Despite starting off the kayaking trip a little soggy, it was beautiful to see the landscapes and people as we went cruising along. Also, my roommates spoke so fast and sometimes I had a little difficulty in understand what they said. But they have helped me a lot. I’ve come along way with my English since then. Finally, during the cross-country trip I was very excited because I was truly discovering the beauty of my island, Madagascar. Anakao is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited on the island.Misaotra!!!!


[At Anakao beach]

Now, let’s cover our blog week that began on October 23rd. We had already been traveling for a few days by the time we begin our story. Having the opportunity to enjoy the beach at Anakao was a treat. But after spending our first day on the beach, Tharcisse and Franck were eager to show us the spiny desert! We took a ride in the back of a pickup truck, and began our journey to Tsimanampesotsa National Park. About halfway to the park, we had an unplanned stop courtesy of the “gendarme”, or police. One car sailed through with Franck’s witty sense of humor, while Tharcisse paid our fines for not having passports, and we waited and waited to continue on. We finally reached the park, and learned that Thierry (the other Malagasy student) had spent three months working there in the past. We filed out of the truck to visit Tsimanampesotsa Lake, which was absolutely breathtaking.

img_1582[Common mode of transportation in the area]

The translucent turquoise waters with flamingos snacking about was mesmerizing. This park is incredibly special as the limestone rich waters are only found in the southwestern part of Madagascar. We were encouraged to find a flamingo feather to………….(find out why this is important). We piled back into the truck to continue on. We then stopped to visit one of the 25 caves found in the park, and to catch a glimpse of the blind cave fish. We left the cool, damp cave to walk through a section of the spiny forest. We encountered many mosquitoes, small lizards and were in awe of the beauty of the baobab. Some students began to make their way back to the vehicles, while others continued on to find a troop of ring-tailed lemurs.

We were given a break from national parks on the 24th, when we spent the day snorkeling near the island of Nosy Ve. We spent a few hours in the morning enjoying the reefs and finding creatures such as eels, pufferfish, and many other beautiful tropical fish. We then took the boat to Nosy Ve, the most beautiful island we have ever seen. The sand was incredible, the water was perfect, and the company was even better. Many of the students played in the water or laid out in the sun before lunch. Some of us also spent time observing the red-tailed tropic bird, an endemic species known for nesting on this island. Even though most of us were getting a little burnt, we weren’t done with the sun yet. We decided to make our way back to the mainland, but stopped to snorkel for a bit on the way. The 25th was another day in the water, sailing to the island of Nosy Satrana. We visited a natural pool that swells as the tide rolls in, but we reached the island at low tide so the pool was shallow and quite empty. We were told we would take a six-minute walk across the island, but we must have forgotten that that was six minutes in Malagasy time. In other words, we had a lovely twenty-minute walk across the burning sand with spines of plants poking us in our bare feet. We passed many goats on our treacherous journey, but made our way to a large tree where we enjoyed shade before some more time snorkeling. There were more fish here today than what we saw yesterday, but the water was very rough and our snorkeling trip ended quickly. We spent our afternoon enjoying lunch under the tree, and students explored the island, napped, played cards, and worked on resumes. It was finally time to pull us away from the beach, so we left Anakao to spend the 26th in Tulear. Once we were settled back in town some of us took the opportunity to walk around and look at souvenirs. Being along the water meant that the town had a strong emphasis in maritime history, and we visited the marine science museum to learn more about it. Thierry then showed us his town and brought us to a cultural museum to learn about the Bara people. Leila and Ariel got more than they bargained for going to the museum, as they performed a marriage ceremony! They were good sports, and everyone enjoyed the visit. Some people were ready to rest after a long day, but some of us enjoyed town before dinner. The two of us girls met up with Mickaella’s aunt, who lives in Tulear.



[Under the shade]


[At the museum after the wedding simulation!]

As we left Tulear, the next two days were less eventful. We spent the 27th driving all the way to Ambalavao, and the morning of the 28th we were ready to head back to CVB. Before we left Ambalavao, we toured a silk factory and saw how the silk cocoons were turned into beautiful scarves. It was fascinating to learn of the different natural dye colors that gave the silk it’s incredible coloration. But it was time to continue on as we needed to get back to Ranomafana by that night, so the search was on to find a winery on our way back! After stopping at a couple of places, we finally found a winery that was open for tours. Wine in Madagascar is not processed like in the US or Europe, so when the season is over, many wineries go quiet. But we were excited to experience Lazan’i Betsileo winery, and enjoyed a tour. After the tour, we had a short drive to Fianarantsoa for pizza and walking around Madagascar’s second largest city. But we think the most memorable part of the day for me was seeing the signs leading back to Ranomafana National Park; knowing that we were finally getting close to being home. When we passed the entrance into Vohiparara, the students as a whole began to get very excited and antsy. But once we saw the official entrance to the park and Valibolo, the whole bus was filled with laughter and excitement as we made our way back to our home of CVB. Our excitement of returning to Ranomafana quickly shifted as we found out our car to town the next morning was going to be at 6:30am. With Saturday the 29th being Lemur Festival after the annual World Lemur Week, we knew we would be in for a treat joining Dr. Wright in town. Little did we know we would be face painting for many small children before 7am. We enjoyed face painting for the kids, and then joined them for a parade through town. After the parade, we listened to speeches by the mayor, Dr. Wright, Madame Josiane, as well as others before Ben performed his beat boxing for the town. We went as a group for lunch at Hotel Manja, before most of the students headed back to CVB after a long and hot day back in town. Those of us who stayed took in the soccer game that CVB staff played in, and then went to enjoy the local music and dance.

img_2286[Local festive music]