By Kelly Barker, Durrell's Head of Marketing
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The festival & Travelling to Alaotra
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Friday 28th October
The carnival section of the festival this morning was so vibrant. The Malagasy love to sing & dance & wear really bright colourful clothes. There was traditional Malagasy music and people reading poems they had written themselves talking about the changes with the environment and traditions, (so Hasina tells me), obviously I couldn’t understand a word! I enjoyed the entertainment however and have lots of pictures & video.
Then we went for a traditional Malagasy lunch with all the officials. The people sit on the floor on mats. There was seriously enough rice to feed an army, with guess what? Beef! There was a speech and Hasina told me that the chap called me a red eared person! I have been called worse, this is what Malagasay call white people.
I was impressed with a smartly dressed team who were dressed in Durrell logo caps and shirts. This team is the CFL (Comités Forestiers Locaux) who are funded to monitor data in the forest and report back to the Minister of Environment & Forestry.
Saturday 29th October
Last night was nice. We had a beer at a little bar called Hotel Laurence and one of the bands that had been playing at the Songatana festival were playing in the bar. Frankly, Hasina and I even had a little dance! There was supposed to be a dinner for all the officials but it didn’t happen, just like the 2.00pm meeting failed to materialise! Madagascar is so chilled, if it wasn’t so hilly it would definitely be horizontal, the people are quite shy but happy. They laugh a lot.
We stopped off for some fresh honey. It was 1.5 litres for 5000 Ariary (£1.50). It would be nearly double that for a little jar of honey in Jersey.
We have been travelling along the difficult road for 2 hours and unfortunately we have reached a big obstacle. A Toyota Land cruiser full of sugar and rice and other equally heavy goods is hanging off the tree trunks that are laid down to get you from one side of a big trench to another. So, we have been stuck here for over an hour whilst the men try to fill the trench with rocks, then jack up the back tyre to give it some support. Then the Durrell Landrover will try to pull it across. I did say I am a Jinx when it comes to travel! My advice would be never travel with Kelly Barker if you can help it.
Whilst sat here writing this in the jeep, I can hear such amazing noises around us. We are sandwiched between luscious green hills and I can hear the sound of a waterfall flowing down the hill, the current of the gushing river, loud crickets and birds.
Part of me is a little frustrated that I set off last Sunday (7 days) and have still only seen plougshare tortoises in quarantine and yesterday 3 types of endemic fish (in a tank) that we are helping to save. But this is life in Madagascar. These difficulties, obstacles & frustrations are part of what our team and the Malagasy communities face all the time and that is what I am here to experience.
We are trying to head for Lac Alaotra where we have been working to save the gentle lemurs for 21 years. Hasina says unless it rains whilst we are there, it will be almost impossible to see them, so I am facing the prospect of going home having seen no wild animals at all and certainly no lemurs, which is sad but there’s nothing I can do. It will take all day today to get to Alaotra, which is in a town called ‘Ambatondraza’. At this rate it could even take longer.
Hooray! We have done it.1.5 hours later, we are on our way. Fingers crossed no more problems.
Right.. I spoke too soon. Three minutes down the road, wooden logs from another trench had come loose and we had to all get out and leave them back onto the top of the branch. Now, two minutes after getting through that one, there is a huge wagon.. stuck in the middle of the track. I am not saying anything else about anything else.
We are here! We carried on to the next town at Vatomandry and I am really glad we did because the room is 1 star by English standards but 5 star by Malagasy standards. When I saw that it had a fan, it’s own shower & toilet and you won’t believe it but a TV, I actually did a little skip. Even better for dinner there was Chinese so I have had some vegetables for the first time in a week. Hasina and I had a real laugh and put some of the problems of the world to rights.
Day 5 - The festival