Madagascar – A trip full of greatest places, people and experiences by Rosita Luke

 

The past six weeks in Madagascar was just absolutely amazing! This was truly an experience of a lifetime. We began the trip as individuals from all different walks of life, each seeking different things. Some of us came for our internship’s, research, for travelling, and something that will look great on our resumes. Our minds where so focus on the next steps in our lives, but Madagascar changed us. We came as individuals but left as friends. It was such a short time, but we grew very close. We all bonded and came together like a family. I was a thousand miles away, but I felt at home.

Student

A l’Hotel in Tana

I got so much more out of this trip than I ever expected. We got to travel to many part of Madagascar, see so many lemurs, and stay in some very lavish hotels. Some of the hotels we ate at and stayed, made me feel like I was a celebrity or someone rich. We went to so many sites and attended concerts; there was hardly a dull moment. One of the best parts of this trip for me was meeting and making new friends.

Fano& Antso

Making funny faces with Fano & Antso

my peers on the trip where amazing, but it wouldn’t have been the same if we did not have Fanomezantsoa Razafimalala and Antso Razakafamanjanantsoa. If it wasn’t for these two Malagasy students, I wouldn’t have learned so much Malagasy language, music and culture. You guys were the greatest, being back in the US, does not feel right without you. Thank you for making this one of the greatest experiences of my life, for teaching us your culture, your dance moves and for sharing your country with us. The trip wouldn’t have been the same without you.

Now, to all my peers from the study aboard trip, the Staff and people at CVB, My TA’s Katherine and Kate (second moms), Franck, my professor Tharcisse and all the amazing people of Madagascar.

THANK YOU all for making this experience so wonderful.

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A group picture after presentations

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A few days in Mangevo by Natalie Spence

            As a part of our healthcare internship, a few students and I, along with the CVB health team and SBU Med Students, traveled to the remote village of Mangevo to investigate the respiratory health of the villagers and how their environment affected them. It would take a 6 to 7 hour hike, porters, and a guide to get there. On June 20th, we started our trek to the people of Mangevo. Once we reached the village, sweaty and tired, we were immediately welcomed by children yelling “Salama” and the familiar faces from CVB congratulating us on finishing our hike. Before settling in, we surveyed the village by walking around and getting a feel for the overall environment. And finally, it was time to set up camp and head to ‘bed’.

 

Natalie

Mangevo memories and smiles!

While falling asleep in the tent between the wooden houses, it seemed like the village would stay loud all night: children crying, pigs oinking and dogs barking, and the sounds of radios and guitars entertaining people. But it all went quiet and we fell sound asleep. But there it was, 6 am and the village came alive with all the clatter of the night before. It was time to get up and start our first day shadowing and interviewing the people. Interviewing the families involved 20 question surveys and us breaking into teams of two to cover as much ground as possible. But it wasn’t the data we collected that made the experience unforgettable, it was the people. Families ranged from 70-year-old kings with 8 children to young mothers of only 19 with one child. Outside the houses, children were playing made up games with lines carved in the dirt and a scrap piece of wood. And after a few initial surveys, we knew we needed to get to know the villagers and make ourselves at home.

Drawing with the kids and playing soccer and hide and seek, we got to know more than two dozen names and really form a bond with the kids and their families. We even became teary-eyed as we left, and several kids chased after us and were sad to see us go. And while the health team and med students will be back to share the pictures we took with them, I know I will look back on those memories and smile.

The road to the south by Antso Razakafamanjanantsoa

The cross-country trip started on June 12th and everyone was really excited. We left CVB early in the morning for Ranohira, the Isalo national park city. It was not easy to wake up early because of the weather. Our first stop was in Fianarantsoa about 2hours from Ranomafana. While the bus was in the gas station, we bought some snacks for the trip in SOFIA hotel. This place is so cool with a lot of bagettes, bread, croissants, chips and we bought some ice cream there. After that, we took the road for many hours and stopped in Ihosy for lunch. The meal for lunch was too much for us because we had already packed sandwiches from CVB in Ranomafana for the road. We had French fries, beef steak and a lot of chicken. As every day during this trip, the drinks are coca cola and Eau vive. It was amazing to see the difference in landscapes through the bus windows. Just after the rainforest of Ranomafana, we saw another type of ecosystem in the highland from Fianarantsoa to Ihosy. Just before arriving at Ranohira, we saw a ranch just next to the road with a lot of cows. This is the first time for me to see a ranch in Madagascar. We didn’t have more information about this ranch but all we know is that cows are really important in this area. After many hours on the bus, we finally arrived in Ranohira.

[From rainforest through the grassland to L’Orchidee Hotel in Isalo]

We settled down in L’orchidée hotel for three nights. The hotel is just so beautiful and is right next to the main road to the National park and has a nice swimming pool. Some students swam there but personally it was too cold. Before dinner, we had free time to walk around the town. I like walking around this town because people there are different than people in Ranomafana. They wear differently and they have another dialect from Bara tribe. And of course, the way they build a house is different compare to houses in the Eastern part of Madagascar. But Ranohira is also a touristic place so everything seems expensive.

My independent project by Lauren Medina

On the 21st, I started my independent research project. I’m studying red fronted lemurs (Eulemur rufifrons), and had travelled to the site of Vatoharanana (Vato) in the primary forest site of Ranomofana National Park the day before. We set out at 7:30 to find the first group of lemurs. It ended up taking us about an hour and half before we spotted one. I was the one to spot it, which was surprising because the guides are much better than I am at spotting lemurs. I only happened to see it because of its long and fluffy tail hanging down. From there we waited and watched to see how many were in the group with him. There ended up being four individuals in the group. It’s difficult to study lemurs already, and the terrain at Vato isn’t helpful at all. Lemurs will move quickly and can disappear if you cannot keep up. Vato is one hill after another, with thick rainforest vegetation. It’s very difficult to follow lemurs even a short distance when you have to fight your way through vines. The lemurs at Vato are also not very habituated to humans, and stay high up in the trees.

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High and thick primary forest foliage

This can make observing them difficult due to their height and the amount of foliage that can block your view. Since the lemurs aren’t used to humans, they started making alarm calls and barking at each other to communicate. They also would wag their tails in an aggressive display meant to scare us off. After a while the lemurs I wanted to observe settled down despite my continued presence. They would split their time between eating and watching me. I was able to finish my observations with that groups and we went to lunch. After lunch, my guide and I set out to find another group. Unfortunately, we were unable to find a second red fronted lemur group. However, we did see two Milne-Edwards’ sifakas (Propithecus edwardsi) from a distance. It was the first time I got to see them because they tend to be shy of humans. Even though the afternoon was a bust, I’m glad I got to see the sifakas. Our day ended with rice and vegetables for dinner at camp.

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Our fancy forest kitchen!

Coming back to CVB after the first part of independent project by Fanomezantsoa Razafimalala

Today is Friday, 23rd of June. We return to CVB after the first part of our project. Basically, it was a good day for me because I had a good time even though I was still tired. I feel relieved after the hard work that we did and the isolation at Valohoaka’s primary forest during the last three days. I’m looking forward to telling about my adventure (hike, sleeping in the tent, socialising with my colleague etc.) to the students and my family because I didn’t have a cellphone signal in the forest. So, after the breakfast we (Antso and I, our guides Geroges and Josylin and the cook) left the camp in the morning to go to the Ranomafana’s town. It was pretty tiring for me as we walked there for two hours and there have been a lot of leeches on the trail. In Ranomafana, Antso and I walked around the town and bought some snacks. I bought some souvenirs and Antso cut his hair at the hairdresser.

Fano

[Ranomafana primary forest and Ranomafana’s town]

Then we took a “taxi-brousse” in the afternoon to come back to CVB. Most of the students are coming back today. When I arrived at CVB, all I wanted to do is sleep for a long time and take a shower because the bed at CVB is more comfortable than the sleeping pad and the sleeping bag. I think that this break will help us to finish with excellence what remains of the work that awaits us next week.

My Favorite Moments of the Cross-Country Trip by Chrissy Mirabito

One of my favorite parts of our trip was during our first stop, where we completed a 19.2 km hike at Isalo National Park. We learned that the park was established in 1962 and it was the country’s third national park. The hike took several hours, allowing us to see many different sceneries. We started in the grasslands and worked our way up to the bottom of the plateau where we traveled through the dry forest looking for lemurs. Though we didn’t find any, we went on, crossing streams by walking on rocks surrounded by greenery. As we continued our hike upward, the combination of steepness and heat was a challenge. We took many water breaks wherever we found shade. The view from the top was incredible making the effort worth it. We then descended into the middle of the park where there were natural pools and waterfalls. The tropical looking plants made it feel as though we were traveling through a jungle. The water was freezing, but jumping off the small cliff into the waterfall pool will forever be one of my favorite memories.

Being a tree enthusiast, naturally my next favorite activity was learning about the Baobabs. There are eight species of Baobab trees located in Madagascar, six of them cannot be found anywhere else. Only one of them grows in parts of mainland Africa and the other in Australia.

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Me hugging a 1,200 year old Baobab in the Baobab Spiny Desert Forest of Ifaty.

I even got to hug a 1,200 year old Baobab! We were shown a two year old baobab which looked like a twig sticking out of the ground; apparently it takes them an extremely long time to grow!

Lastly, my third favorite part of the trip were the cultural aspects. In Isalo we learned of the Bara tribe and their Maasai ancestral roots. As soon as our guide had told us about their respect and worship of cows, I was reminded of my time living in a Maasai village in Tanzania last summer. I had wondered if any East African peoples had traveled to Madagascar, so when this was confirmed this I was very excited. There was also a lot of dancing! We watched groups preform in Isalo and later in Ifaty. We even got in on the act when they invited us to dance with them. In all, I think we were pretty bad compared to the dancers, but we had an amazing time regardless. Our cross-country trip was an adventure from start to finish, filled with learning new things and having a ton of fun while we did it.

 

My highlights of cross country trip by Michelle Ou

Sapphire City

On the way to our first destination, we drove through a place called Sapphire City. We didn’t get to go out onto the streets to explore because we were told it was dangerous. But I couldn’t help but find myself intrigued with the activities that I saw happening on the other side of the big glass window I was leaning on. The words, ‘gems’ and ‘saphir’ were imprinted on almost all of the washed-up billboards and rundown buildings.

Saphire

[People mining in Sapphire City]

I remember looking into the buildings and seeing people with funny looking magnifying glasses on their heads, examining what I’m assuming are minerals and rocks that people found in the river that passed right across the middle of the city. There were even stations made to examine gems situated outside on the sidewalks as well. Buyers and sellers roaming the busy streets. Crowds of people, both young and old, mining in the brown river below. It truly was fascinating to stroll through a city fueled by the search for sapphire and other gems.

 

Long Hike in Isalo

 

Finally after a long week of pouring rain and dark clouds, we have arrived to a place with sunny blue skies and dry warm air, Isalo. The geographical transition from Ranomafana to Isalo was interesting to watch. It went from foggy green forests and mountainous roads to yellow savannahs and paths that drove straight through. Our first activity for this trip was the long hike in Isalo, the 3rd national park of Madagascar. 20 minutes into the hike, I took a steep step down from a rock and landed on uneven grounding, causing me to sprain my ankle. Whoops, only 7 more hours to go!

Isalo

Energized after the lunch break in Isalo

Though we waited in the dry forest at the foot of the mountain, there were no Verreaux’s Sifaka (Propothecus verreauxi) lemurs to be spotted. The hike up the mountain was difficult with constant uphill paths and the beaming sun shining right on us didn’t help. After reaching the peak, the rest of the way was flat ground. My ankle was gradually getting worse, but I didn’t fall back once. I had to make it to the waterfall and natural pool. Although it was a bit on the chilly side, the natural pool was phenomenal. There was a waterfall that flowed down into the edge of the pool from above. One by one, we jumped into the black and blue pool!

Snorkeling in Toliara

Toliara was our 2nd destination. Located in the Southwestern region of Madagascar, the place was pinned with baobabs and palm trees everywhere we went! I had almost forgotten that I came here to study abroad. La Mira, the hotel we would be staying at ran right along the shore, just a few steps away from the beach. Paradise. Early the next day, we put on our bathing suits and walked to the shore, where men with traditional wooden sailboats were waiting for us.

Snorkeling

Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef of Toliara

Our sailboat traveled right and left, left and right until goose bumps have risen to its maximum potential all over our bare skins. After approximately 2 hours of ups and downs, we had finally reached the coral reef that would be swarming with fish of all colors and sizes. We scrambled quickly to put on our snorkeling gears and jumped into the water. Despite having swallowed a generous amount of saltwater for the hour we were there, I’ve made new fish friends and couldn’t be happier with the footage I caught on my GoPro. First snorkeling experience… Success!