July 3rd 2013 The Flight to Madagascar

If you are reading the other blogs, this one is from my journal.

Up 6:30 or so. Antje took me up to Omaha. The flight from MSP to Paris, tail wind was 136mph and it was -64F outside.  This was at 37,000 ft. Movie selection was ok, but didn’t feel like starting with one.  Might watch Life of Pi or Argo later, we still have 6:52 to go.

9:00pm CDT
4 hours to go, haven’t watched a full movie yet, tired but unable to sleep.  Back isn’t the most comfortable.  Was getting a bit chilly but got out the airline blanket and that was enough.  This is looking like it will be a very long trip to get there.  There was a guy from India that seemed impressed by my stories.  He works for Honeywell and attempting to do something about the impoverished people there.  He had about the same distance to travel as I, just in a different direction after Paris.

 

July 4th 2013 Still flying.

We had our expected 2 hour layover in Paris and boarded the plane on time, but some connecting flights must have been an issue and we didn’t get off the ground until 11:30, a full hour late.  Looks like we will be in Madagascar about 10:30pm 7/4.  The 777-300 we are flying in is huge.  Each row is 3 isle 4 isle 3.  I am in row 32 with Libby directly in front of me but there are more rows behind me than in front.  The students are all up about row 20.

The dinner they fed us was rather impressive, at least by what I am used to in airlines.  It included water, 2 rolls, chicken main dish, some sort of pasta, small wedge of cheese, and even small bottle of wine.  The girl in the window seat was not happy with the wine because it was cold, merlot needs to be room temperature.

Watching the world go by on a monitor, it is a geography lesson.  Still have 3:30 to go before we get there.    Now over Africa, the plane has a camera mounted and the video is fed to the display in front of me.  The resolution sorta sucks.  It is getting dark outside again and I feel like I have been on the plane forever.  A very pleasant student from France has the window seat and the center seat is empty.  Her English was way better than my French, but I could only catch about half of what she was saying.  Still haven’t watched any full movies.  We are catching a bit of turbulence.  Attempting not to sleep any more, not that I got that much, maybe an hour and a half.

10:00pm Last meal of the day, I am tired of being in the plane.

10:40pm in Madagascar, The bags are taking a long time to get unloaded.  This was followed by another 45 minutes to get money exchanged.  Thirty minute drive to hotel and it is 5:40pm at home and 1:30am here. The room is simple but ok.  I do get a quick shower tonight.

 

July 5th 2013 First Day in Madagascar

 

Up about 6:15, the roosters were making a huge amount of noise.  I am on the 4th floor (5th if you count how we do in the US).  No elevator.  Dragging my book bag and a 43 pound duffle up the stairs last night isn’t something that I want to repeat.  Took a few photos of the bedroom window in the early sunlight.  The haze is actually pollution.  Did breakfast with the team and back up to the room to get ready for the day.  We are spending tonight in the same hotel so I do not need to pack everything up.  Got the internet connected to the wifi, but it only works in the lobby.  Traded a handful of text messages with Antje and even got one from Josh.  His number changed again.  Off to our first destination, picking up solar panels and dropping them off at MBP (Madagascar Biodiversity Project).  Just watching the driving here is insane.  The roundabouts are packed with a gazillion cars, push carts, scooters, and bikes.  I don’t understand why I didn’t see major crashes all over the place.  From there it was off to lunch.  There was a kitten with an eye infection that gave it a very strange look.  It figured out we had food and kept asking for some.  I gave him a small piece of steak.  20 minutes later, I did the same thing to its mother.  After lunch, it was off to a big store, something like Wallmart.  The kids got to wander off, but I was working on getting the cell phone data plan to work with my iPad.  Picked up a SIM card at one store and took it to another store to be trimmed down.  Took it back to the first store and after a bit of confusion and got the data plan set up.  The SIM card cost 1,500 Ariary.  That is only about $0.68 for the card.  The one gig for one month cost 45,000 or $20.46 at the exchange rate we used (1$=2,200 Ariary).  To actually put the plan on the card, it needed to be placed into a cell phone and loaded that way.  Got it working and we headed back to the hotel.  Moving around this place always seems to take a very long time.  Got back to the room about 6pm and traded text messages with Antje.  Joined some of the team about 6:45 and everybody was there by 7:00.  I had spaghetti and meatballs for dinner followed by a bit of chocolate ice cream. Back at almost 9pm for another exchange of text messages and to work on my journal.
A bit more work and to bed about 10:30.

July 6th 2013

 

 

DCIM100GOPRO

 

DCIM100GOPRO

 

Up 5:30, breakfast was waiting for us at 6:00, on the road by 6:35 This time I took a seat in the back of the van to let someone else have a better view.  Between the motion and exhaust fumes, I got queazy rather quickly. It didn’t go away till we got to our destination Andasibe 3 hours later.  The driving is still a nightmare.  I am curious about how many people are seriously hurt or killed on the roads.  There are these mini buses that pack just as many people on them as they can. Rides on the mini buses are 400 ariary or $0.20.  We got out of the van at Andasibe and took off on a 3 hour hike through the forest.  The temperature was just fine, much less of an issue than in Florida.  Even the humidity wasn’t that big of a deal.  The first thing we saw was large spiders spanning a small stream.  We were told they hurt if they bite, but are not poisonous. It took a bit of looking at first but we started seeing them in many areas.  In one spot they were on the ground and walked within 12 feet of us.  I shot a 150 pictures on the Canon and a bunch more on the GoPro.  We got done with the walk about 1pm and headed back to Hotel Restaurant Feon’ny ala.  This time we are in cabanas.  I have one to myself, it even has mosquito nets over the bed.  This isn’t roughing it much yet.  Lunch was vanilla chicken with rice.  It was ok and the desert was a crepe filled with jam.  By the time we got done with lunch, it was already close to 3.  Just taking it easy for a bit and trading text messages with Antje, we got back together for another meeting about what parts need to be picked up.  It was very dark by 6:30.  I was a bit tired, but we haven’t even had dinner yet.  We met up for dinner at 7:00.  I had the beef kabob and the banana nuggets for dinner.  It was after 9:00 before I was back in my room.  Much cooler here.  Sleeping will be fine but it is chilly in here.  Got to bed about 10:30.

July 7th 2013 Andasibe

 

Woke up at 3:00, took awhile to get back to sleep.  Other than the toilet in the other room everything is totally quiet.  Very odd sensation.  The rooster fixed that.  Managed to get back to sleep and got up at 7:00.  Spent 30 minutes or so packing things up.  The staff picked a couple of papayas off the tree outside by cabana. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, bread, and jam.  I don’t remember the juice, it was light pink but nothing I have ever had before.  Loaded all the bags up and got out of there about 9:00.  We were headed over to the island with the lemurs on it, but you need to take a canoe over and all of them were already on the island.  To kill a few minutes, we went over for the crocodile instead.  They were all brought in for the tourists, they don’t exist in this area.  But the displays and bridges we needed to cross to get around were fun.  There were 3 cable bridges, all had issues and some were down right a challenge.  The first was long but the cable rails were not high enough and you felt like if it moved much more than it was, you would go flipping into the crocodile pond.  Surviving that, the second one was also long but only 8″ wide.  The guide suggested we only have one person on that one at a time.  At least it wasn’t the croc pond at that point.  The third was just a couple of boards with one rail, it looked worse than it was.  We did see a fossa, kinda looks and moves like a cat but is related to the mongoose.  After that, just the usual assortments of creatures and plants.  The bamboo plants are huge with maybe 8″ diameter or so.  After that it was a very short drive back to the lemur island.  That was fun, the lemurs wanted the bananas that we had and would jump onto our backs to get them.  The critters were very friendly and I never felt like they would bite.  I was taking pictures and suddenly one jumped on my back and started licking my hat.  I started to grab my Canon, but the strap prevented me from even handing it to someone else.  I switched on the GoPro and took one photo before starting video mode.  The video came out rather nice, but it is about 400Megs so I will need to wait until I am home to upload it.  From there it was over to the hotel on the grounds.  It is a nice place with rooms that run about 250,000 ariary or about $100 a night.  We didn’t stay there, but it was much more like a nice hotel in the states.  We did do lunch, nice selection and I had these miniature stakes, they were good.  Back into the vehicles and on the road again for the 3 hour drive back to Tana.  Attempted to film part of the drive.  Got back about 5:20 and carted everything to room 302, one less flight of stairs than last time.  Texted Antje for a bit and headed down for dinner about 6:45.  They messed up my order, but got it all figured out.  Back to the room, I Skyped Antje for about 40 minutes, first time I got to actually talk with her since I left. By the time I got done playing with things, it was 11:00 and time for bed.

 

July 8th 2013

 

Up at 6:30 with alarm. Ian came down for the expected 7:00 breakfast and didn’t look well.  He had been throwing up most of the night and it was decided that he should just stay at the hotel for the day.
We were on road by 8:15.  First stop was MBP, the Madagascar Biodiversity Project.  We went over the crates that came up with us to see if everything was as expected.  There was a bit of confusion about a couple of items and before we head out to get more of the things we need, we need to review what we had.  We thought we were missing part of the mounting brackets, but later figured out that we do have them.  Stopped at a parts supply house and picked a few things.  By the time we got back on the road it was 11:45 and we stopped at a pizza place.  Driving from point A to point B is very slow.  After lunch, off to another place to pick up the batteries that we ordered.  We also stopped at something close to a Wallmart, but I got distracted by the phones that were for sale.  I picked up a Nokia 105. I had read about the phone as built for the 1st world. The material cost to make the phone is less than $15 and was expected to sell for close to $20.  Here there are a bunch of taxes that bumped it up to 89,000 ariary or $40.45.  I put 10,000 credits on it and it cost me another 2,000 for a SIM card.  The phone should be able to be on standby for 35 days!  Back to yet another hardware store and I think we got almost everything figured out.  Back to the hotel about 5:30 and dinner at 7:00.  I had the chicken fricassee, but they just cut the chicken into parts with a cleaver.  The bone fragments are not nice.  Service was the usual very slow and with dessert, it took 2+ hours before we were done. Back in my room about 9:10 to work on this journal and trade text messages with Antje. Tomorrow we pick up a couple of bigger things, then we hit the road on Wednesday very early for the trip South.

July 10th 2013 The drive to Kianjavato

 

Up 5:00 packed up, breakfast at 5:30, on the road by 6:15.  Stopped at 7:40 so the drivers can eat.  The country outside of Tana is much nicer.  The mountains and hills with the staircased rice patties are right out of a picture book.  We did see another two taxi busses on their sides.  Hope no one was hurt.  Did lunch after about 3 hours. The architecture of the buildings is interesting with very small two story buildings.  The upstairs is for people, downstairs for animals.  Lost service on the iPad by the time I got to CAS.  It was also dark by the time got there.  There was confusion about where we were to put the tents.  We ended up upstairs in a building so the tents are more of privacy issues without protection needed from the elements.  Of course there are no lights in the building either so tents were setup with our head lamps on.  After the tents were set up, we were back down to the eating area.  It is just a roof with 5 12V lights.  Dinner was rice and beans with a few things thrown in.  It was simple but actually rather good.  Played a few card games before calling it a night.  The toilet is just a hole in the floor.  Figures, as I unbutton my pants, the button pops off and almost into the hole.  The belt will be fine and I do have a spare pants, maybe even a spare button. No shower tonight, just a wipe down with a baby wipe.  The whole thing was made worse by no Internet connection.  After dinner, Libby said hers now had a signal.  I checked and got a weak one from where we pitched the tents.  I got my mail and traded just a couple of text messages with Antje.  Even got a text from Josh.

July 11th 2013 KAFS

 

 

Had to get up in the night.  The stars in the sky are brighter than I have ever seen them.  The Milky Way is not just visible but dramatically so.  You can see the structure of it all.  Slept just ok, up at 5:30 for a 6:00 breakfast.  We waited until all the lemur research teams had headed out before having a meeting to plan how everything was going to be done.  Started off by organizing the tools cases, they were packed for shipping, not for use. I went tot the top of the hill to get a signal so I could get a few emails and text messages sent. Tested all 4 solar panels (open circuit) for voltage, each tested from 20.3 to 20.6 flat on the ground with overcast skies.  The back of the panels were painted black to help with heat dissipation.  The aluminum rails were cut and two people were busy cutting the 16 L brackets.  Lunch was rice and something, tasted fine.  It had carrots and onions along with zebu (beef).  We then had a couple of hours to kill.  I played frisbee with a couple of the guys while the other students kicked a soccer ball back and forth.  About 2:00 we headed over to inspect one of the schools we are installing.  It looks like it will be ok.  There were several dozen youngsters playing with the Erik, all giggling and laughing.  I photographed both the building and the playing kids.  The second school we visited was taller, but I think won’t be a problem.  From there we went to the school that EWB installed lights in 14 months ago.  They still worked well, but one light bulb looked like it was near the end of its life.  This was the first day I got to actually meet the people of Kianjavato.  They seemed happy to meet with us.  We then dropped off care packages to a couple of peace core people.  One, (Ann) was from Hawaii and had been here for a year but still had another year to go.  Back to the camp and had my first real experience with a squat toilet.  Dinner was rice, potatoes, and some meat all mixed together.  It was beef again but they tend to leave lots of bone and bone fragments in it so you need to be careful.  It is dark here by 6:00.  The drivers and some of the other help broke out a guitar and sang while we ate.  Had yet another banana for dessert, but they are good ones.  The very small ones are very sweet.  Some of the group broke out a deck of cards while a few others just talked about some of the issues with endangered lemurs ending up on dinner tables.  I headed for my first shower.  Not bad, they had a place setup for it, but you basically filled a bucked of water from the well and used a cup to pore it on your self.  Felt much better after that.  I continued on the journal while everything was sorta wrapping up for the night but every body was in bed by 8:30.  I am writing this from inside my tent.  Internet access sucked today and I only got a signal at the top of the hill.  With it drizzling, it didn’t seem safe.  I do miss my daily talks with Antje.

July 12th 2013

DCIM100GOPRO

 

 

Up 5:45, down for breakfast by 6:00. Rain last night sounded worst than it was.  Rain was rather light by the time we got up.  Moof balls for breakfast.  They are about 4″ diameter bread deep fat fried, slightly sweet.  They gave me 3, managed to eat 2 and a half.  The team started some of the planning stuff and I headed to the hill for an Internet connection.  Signal was good and Antje was still up so we texted a while.  I think that was the longest period of time in which we hadn’t talked with each other.  It started to rain (lightly) so I started to head back down and met with Ian on his way up to get me.  We went down to join the group to plan the day.  Not being able to be in the schools yet, we were attempting to get as many things done as possible.  They managed to create the mounts for the 12V sockets that will be screwed to what they are calling the battery box.  The battery box contains in addition to the battery, the circuit breakers that are used as switches for the lights.  We did put together the breaker boxes also.  There are two schools getting the solar panels installed on this trip so everything is doubled.  There is an issue about when we will be allowed in the schools so next week might be difficult for any forward progress.  Lunch was zebu and rice with shredded carrots.  You also need to be careful with the rice, it sometimes has some sand in it.  I had a bit of a headache so after lunch it was cool enough in my tent that I took an aspirin and took a bit of nap.  Felt a bit better.  We all jumped into the vehicles about 2:00 and headed into Kinjavato proper to talk with the mayor.  Nice guy that just wants to be included in what is going on in his town.  From there, back over to the original school to talk with the guy that is in charge of the schools.  We wanted permission to get into one of the schools early, the other school has national exams next week.  Back to KAFS (where we are staying) by a bit after 3:00.  Things were winding down a bit so I pulled out the iPad and managed to get a connection from the loft (where the tents are).  I exchanged several text messages with Antje and even managed to clear out my mailbox.  Libby came up with a problem about her macbook charger, couldn’t fix it but she does have other ways to charge it.  Went down to the lunch area and played a game of ping pong with one of the locals.  Dinner didn’t serve zebu, it was beans and rice.  Tasted fine, but was too much.  We also had fresh bananas again.  We all chatted after dinner for a bit and headed back to the loft. Sounds carry so well here, I can hear a movie playing somewhere. Might take another bucket shower yet tonight, but maybe not.  It is 7:15 and already feel like I am getting tired.