Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Plant Earth: The Live Version - Kelsey Shaw


*Kelsey Shaw is studying primates in Madagascar for this semester, and has given us permission to copy posts about her trip from her personal blog.
We just got Internet today for the first time since the first couple days we were here. This is actually the first time we’ve had non-generator powered electricity too. It’s crazy how much you take things like Internet and electricity for granted at home.
Anyways…for our first couple days here we sight saw in Antananarivo, known locally as Tana. We went to the zoo, the chocolate factory, and just walked around one of the main hills of the city. Everything is so different than anywhere I’ve been, the city is crazy disorganized and there is no such thing as a straight road. Then, not even 5 minutes outside of Tana, there are villages with houses made of sticks and clay or all sticks. The difference is so stark it’s amazing.
But for the last 10 days we’ve been camping in this amazing rain forest called Maromizaha and then staying in really basic bungalows at a park called Analalava, which is currently run by Missouri Botanical Gardens (MBG). At Maromizaha we were taught how to survey and sample the wildlife of the park, primarily the lemurs, by a woman named Jody doing her phD research on two of the lemur species in the park. This was by far one of the most incredible experiences of my life. We went on diurnal and nocturnal hikes (so 2 hikes a day going from about 1000m elevation to about 1200m) through mud and brush and I must admit, I feel like I’m in pretty good shape now, even though we only did that for 5 days. It helped that the food was amazing. As part of doing research in Maromizaha, Jody had to hire guides, a guard, and cooks, which is the parks way of helping the local economy, and everyone she hired was so good at doing their job! The guides all know the forest like the back of their hands and can tell you the name of any plant you ask them about. They also would go out in the mornings we were practicing sampling (basically following a group of lemurs around and noting what they do all day) and do circuits of the trails in order to find the lemur groups for us. The cooks made the best camp food I’ve ever had…maybe even some of the best food period, even though it was similar every meal. It was always rice, either curried beans or lentils, and stewed vegetables. I have no clue what spices they used but everything was so yummy. I should have asked so I could make it when I get home! That is one thing I want to buy, a Malagasy cookbook. One thing about Maromizaha I wasn’t too fond of was the weather. It was so cold and rainy. I guess I should have assumed that seeing as it’s a high altitude rain forest but still, when I think tropical mid- 40’s is not what I would guess.
From Maromizaha we went to a small beach town called FoulPointe, which looks weird in English but is actually a French name. Taking my first shower after 5 days of hard hiking was nice, but I didn’t have any clean clothes to change into so it didn’t really make a difference. After one night in FoulPointe we went to the park called Analalava where MBG is working on botany related things. The botanists are working on cataloging all the plants of the park and there was a British guy named Simon working on ecological restoration experiments. I can’t say I like botany…at all. It was so hard to learn a semester’s worth of knowledge in 2 days and get tested on it. But I think it went well (knocking on wood).
After a 10 plus hour bus drive, we were in Tana for a night, fighting over Internet access. We didn’t get much down time though because the next morning we were on another 10+ hour bus ride to go to Centre ValBio in Ranomafana. This is a our ‘permanent’ home while we’re here and its absolutely gorgeous. They just built this amazing building with dorms and labs and a library. The dorms are awesome because we don’t have to camp for the 2 months we are here. But we have just enough time to get settled and then we’re off on our 10-day cross country journey. I’m so excited to see all the different ecosystems Madagascar has to offer and to get some beach time!
Sorry I feel like this is a very insufficient post for everything I’ve done since I left but I can’t think of what to write, so ask me questions!!

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