Monthly Archives: February 2013

LEMURS

Just climbing the trees to find large spiders

Just climbing the trees to find large spiders

We chased lemurs through the spiny thicket for 3 hours while avoiding getting shredded by the spines found on practically every growing plant in the thicket. It was probably the best three hours of my life, as I got to watch lemurs eat (which is adorable), scratch their backs on the spines, sleep and spring from tree to tree. Oh-and on occasion, they would jump to the tree above our heads and peer curiously down at us-SO CUTE. They also looked like they would be really cuddly and soft. I’ll let you decide for yourselves from the pictures. We also took a night walk to see the nocturnal grey brown mouse lemurs and other cool fauna. (Note, if you click on the pictures they get bigger).

My french group that also doubles as my lab group and just some generally cool people.

My french group that also doubles as my lab group and just some generally cool people.

After three wonderful days in the spiny thicket, we packed up camp, danced with the locals under the moonlight in the zebu style and headed out to Berenty Natural Reserve to see some ringtailed lemurs and have a spectacular lunch. We also saw our first big boabab trees.

Beth, me, Meredith, Cam

Beth, me, Meredith, Cam

Everything was spiny and dangerous.

Everything was spiny and dangerous.

Lunch time for the Sifaka lemurs

Lunch time for the Sifaka lemurs.

I followed this dude around for three hours. We are bffs now.

I followed this dude around for three hours. We are bffs now.

Finally caught one mid jump!

Finally caught one mid jump!

It took me approximately 57689 tries to get a decent pic of this little guy. He just had so many branches to hide behind, plus is was dark and at night.

It took me approximately 57689 tries to get a decent pic of this little guy. He just had so many branches to hide behind, plus is was dark and at night.

Another nocturnal little guy. We saw him at Berenty.

Another nocturnal little guy. We saw him at Berenty.

Just after eating lunch on our way out of Berenty this little nugget stopped by to say hi.

Just after eating lunch on our way out of Berenty this little nugget stopped by to say hi.

Baby ringtailed lemur! Super cute and very curious

Baby ringtailed lemur! Super cute and very curious

 

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Ifotaka

They didn't quite make it through this puddle. Better luck next time.

They didn’t quite make it through this puddle. Better luck next time.

This past week was LEMUR ECOLOGY!!! We also got a sweet cyclone just before departure so all the roads to the spiny forest (although technically it was recently downgraded to a thicket because the canopy isn’t tall enough for a forest…pfff technicalities) were flooded and at times giant chunks had just fallen away, although I’m not quite sure where they went…we did also have our first super exciting road occurrence: one of the trucks got stuck and we had to pull it out with our truck, but not before we got some funny photos and Marley’s feet got wet.

Anyways, the really cool part of the 75km road trip was watching the landscape change drastically from wet, littoral mountainous forest to dry, spiny, cacti filled rolling hills. Even the color of the dirt changed from a dark chocolaty color to a bright copper that provided a great contrast to the succulent green plants.

When we finally arrived, we were given time to set up camp and relax before a field lecture on the spiny thicket. The following morning, I had milk for the first since leaving the states, and let me tell you, it was ridiculously delicious. Just after breakfast, while we were organizing, Anna returned from the squatters a bit shaken because all the termite damage finally took its toll: one of the boards gave way while she was standing on it and her leg took a plunge towards the rather disgusting contents below. Luckily, her leg didn’t reach the bottom, but she is now sporting several lovely cuts up and down her leg from the shredded wood. Once everybody recovered their wits from her close encounter, one of our professors N’iana came over and asked who wanted to be on lunch duty. This was the first time that we had ‘lunch duty’ and it really means who wants to be the executioner. I knew going into this program that students were asked to kill the chickens for their dinner, and I had accepted the fact before arriving, with the mindset that if I eat meat, I should have the full understanding of how it gets from walking around to my plate. Needless to say, it is one thing to read about it in somebody’s blog before coming, and another to have the task set before you. In total, there were seven students who said they would kill lunch. Of those seven, I was the first to go (I’m jumping in headfirst to everything). What surprised me was that it wasn’t a chicken as I expected, but a large turkey. I won’t go too much into the details of how one kills a turkey, as a favor to my vegetarian friends and those with gentler souls, but I will say that it was a very big learning experience for me since the next largest thing I have ever killed was a frog while driving. If you are squeamish, do not read the next few sentences. I was expecting maybe a hatchet, but instead I was handed a dull flat knife. The hardest part was starting through the gobbler and continuing to saw away while I felt the turkey gasping for breath. Literally, I could feel the muscles ripple in the neck and the beak open and close rapidly. I continued blindly hoping to quickly end the pour turkey’s life without much suffering. When it was all over, only two students had managed to watch and everyone, myself included was quite shaken. Beth, the only other student willing to go at that point, then bravely stepped up for her turkey (side note, the next day, three more students bravely faced the same ordeal only with chickens, and a freshly sharpened knife-I’m a trend setter?). As I walked into the spiny forest a half hour later to study lemurs, I hadn’t yet fully mulled over what I had just done. Yes, the turkeys were going to die anyways and they certainly had a much better life than those commercially raised in the states, but it was still impactful and hard. Thankfully, the lemurs quickly took all my attention from lunch duty.

The SIT Family

The SIT family on our roadtrip to Ifotaka just after a dance party to Thrift Shop.

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Maybe Next Time

I'm wearing the red jacket and carrying Alyssa to safety on the other side of the normally dry path

I’m wearing the red jacket and carrying Alyssa to safety on the other side of the normally dry path

On Feb 19th we were supposed to leave for St. Luce, a conservation zone 30km north of Fort Dauphin. However, when we all showed up for the trip at 7:30 am, it wasn’t quite clear what was happening. The confusion might have had something to do with the cyclone that was predicted to hit us head on. So, the combination of a legit cyclone and the horrible roads meant that the profs weren’t so sure that we could make it back from St. Luce if we happened to make it there in the first place. So, we (the SIT kids and the Centre Ecologique de Libanoana students) all waited for 3 long hours only to be disappointed when Jim told us that we would be heading to Mandena instead of St. Luce and we wouldn’t be camping. I’ll be honest. We were all crushed, mainly because we had been anticipating and looking forward to the camping and hanging out together portion of the trip all of the previous week. However, we did still get to do our field research on a littoral forest, so that was quite fun (no sarcasm). We spent all day whacking through the dense forest while it poured on our heads. Probably the funniest part of it was when they told us that we had to move an 8-meter pole through the forest upright for 50 meters to measure the vertical plant structure. It had been a struggle to get ourselves through the forest, let alone an unbendable giant pole…so we attempted that for all of two meters before they decided that it would be easier to use a metal pole that broke down into four 2-meter sections. Never-the-less, it was still exhausting work and we must have had at least 15 liters of water dumped onto our heads from whacking all the tree branches.

The second day ended up being much nicer, so we were able to camp that night, which was superb. Anna and I set up shop next to each other so for about five minutes there was the concentrated smell of the L. L. Bean store, as we both have the same Beans tent. After a night of swapping stories between the CEL and SIT students, we woke up to a group of bamboo lemurs near the latrines. Let me tell you, everyone suddenly felt the urge to use the restroom once word spread around. It was also our first wild sighting of Madagascar’s finest, Hallelujah.

Kelly and me on our way home in the taxi

Kelly and me on our way home in the taxi

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The Drunker Side of Life

Family after the carnival

 

Saturday I went to the Carnival at Irinstoa’s school, which basically involved all the little kids dressing up in costumes and then performing several songs and dances for the families. My brother went as Spiderman, which turned out to be a popular costume as there were a total of nine Spidermen. I discovered that my bold brother at home turns into a meek little mouse at school, along with his whole class apparently. Their class was the only section of students that didn’t sing and dance the entire time. All the teachers kept coming over and moving their arms about, encouraging them to dance. Alas, no such luck. But it was probably one of the cutest things I have seen since being here. I have a great video of the whole school singing and dancing the If You’re Happy and You Know It song, in three versions: English, French and Malagasy. Unfortunately, the internet is in no way capable of loading a video, pictures take long enough as it is.

I spent all of Sunday in town doing homework and lazing about on the beach (yes, I can do those simultaneously). Before I knew it however, I had 30 minutes to get from the beach to my bus stop in town…so Cam and I rushed to get there on time, hurrying especially quickly because neither of us had credit on our phones to call a cab and we both live outside of the town. Lucky me, I still managed to miss the bus by several minutes. We stopped by the hotel we frequent for Internet access and borrowed a phone to call Cam’s father, who has a car. He assured up that he was on his way and that he wouldn’t mind dropping me off. Around 7:45pm Cam’s dad shows up in his large grey van and there must have been 8 drunken Malagasy men in the back, but they saved us two seats so it wasn’t an issue (seat belts don’t exist here unless you’re traveling in QMM buses). We pulled out into the road, and when I say into the road, I don’t mean casually into one lane, but into the center ‘lane’, i.e. weaving back and forth across the two lanes so that nobody else really had room to drive on the road. It quickly became apparent that Cam’s dad was Schwasty Faced when he turned almost completely around, while driving, to start a conversation with us. He proceeded to fist bump us and say “Hallelujah” several times before looking at the road again. The next 15 minutes went something like this: drive, look behind and chat, swerve suddenly to avoid something or someone, chat some more, slam the breaks, look at the road, look behind and chat, casually slip into the conversation that somebody slammed a key into your head and that you got stitches this afternoon, keep driving. So. After an altercation at a bar he frequents at 11:30 am, Cam’s father decided to drive around town with his “security”, i.e. all the neighborhood men, and then self prescribe the only known remedy for being keyed: Three Horses Beer. Along the way, it become slightly apparent that we were not in fact, going to turn left onto my road, but continue straight ahead to the same bar as mentioned previously. Cam and I were issued beers from Papa and then chatted with by several of the men. We also were slightly worried because his father kept saying something along the lines of “it’s the night of revenge” and then “tomorrow’s the night for revenge”. So it wasn’t totally clear to us whether we needed to have brought our pitchforks for that night, or wait another day…needless to say, there was tension and lots of testosterone in the air. Which may explain why the next thing we knew, Cam and I were being nodded at and talked about amongst all the men. They looked knowingly at us and smiled really big. Then Cam’s father made our statements of “Evelyn’s my friend” and “Cam’s a nice guy” mean “LET’S SLEEP TOGETHER”. So. I was cordially invited back to Cam’s house, i.e. Cam asks “Can we take Evelyn home?” father says, “NOOO, we’re going home”. So. I met Cam’s mother and had a completely awkward dinner that included Cam’s 14-year-old brother smiling knowingly at me, and then his father shooing us into Cam’s bedroom. Why didn’t I call a taxi or insist on going home? probably because my phone was dead and another car ride with the security squad and Cam’s dad would end up with the van upside-down in a ditch. It was safer just to crash the night at Cam’s and accept the awkwardness and hilarity of the situation. So, Cam and I spent a cozy night together romantically huddled under his bug net watching beetles crawl all over it. If you want an awkward fake ‘walk of shame’, try walking 15 minutes down a muddy dirt road and then asking your other friend’s Mom for a ride into town with her daughter, then showing up at school in the same clothes as Sunday and none of the appropriate school things. Needless to say, I will probably remember this for the rest of my life.

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Carnivorous plant

Carnivorous plant

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My attempt at an artsy photo…jokes all around

My attempt at an artsy photo...jokes all around

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Almost the whole family

Almost the whole family

I don’t actually have a photo of the whole group, but this is everybody minus staff and four students

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Evatraha

Evatraha

The beach were we interviewed the fishermen

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So much delicious fruit

So much delicious fruit

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Passable

Passable

We made it…barely
New version of duck boats anyone?

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