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Peter Hansen - Rainforest Conservation in Madagascar

Arrival in Madagascar

I arrived in Antananarivo airport late in the evening and making my way through the airport took some time because of organising my passport, visa and luggage. The people in the airport were helpful, but most of those who wanted to help me asked for money afterwards. Fidi and Philbert from Projects Abroad were at the airport to help me when I arrived. Together, we drove to the guesthouse where I stayed my first night in Madagascar. The next morning, after eating a quick breakfast and exchanging money, we left Antananarivo and drove to Andasibe.

A hibiscus flower

I think it’s crazy how many people live near the roads in Madagascar. In Antananarivo, the roads are packed with people. Even when you drive through the less populated areas, you see people using the road for various things, such as selling fruit and vegetables from small stands.

The currency in Madagascar is called Ariary. 1 Euro has the value of about 3,300 Ariary, but this can vary. A good meal in a hotel costs around 30,000-40,000 Ariary. It is incredible how much food you can get for such a small price. On the road to Andasibe, we stopped for some lunch. I tried Madagascar rice soup with sausage for the first time and I liked it. The small café where we stopped had an open fireplace outside and a small kitchen inside with a lot of smoke. It is normal to use an open fire when you make food in Madagascar. It was an eye-opener for me to see how the Malagasy people can make a good meal on an open fire. At the same time, this way of cooking is a problem as trees are cut down.

In Andasibe, it’s only safe to drive in the day time because the roads are in such a bad condition. All electricity is temporary and there is a constant problem with stable power supply. In the mountain region, the electricity comes from waterpower plants. Some hotels and other businesses use generators as their main power supply or back-up power supply.

Conservation volunteers sit down for a meal

After a long drive, we arrived at Hotel Voritsara at midday on Sunday and were welcomed by Mame Busy and the family. Hotel Voritsara is close to the road, train and church. If you walk 700 meters, you’re in the centre of Andasibe.

When I arrived, it was mid-April. I had to get used to the weather. The humidity was high and there was no wind. It could rain one minute and the next minute there was sunshine. I could feel these constant changes on my body and had to adjust to the weather conditions.

Living in Madagascar

Madagascar has a big celebration in Easter. That meant no work on the first day that I was at my placement. Instead, we went to the National Park, which is 1,500 meters from Hotel Voritsara. There are many parks with guided tours around Andasibe. Fidi is a really good guide and he has many stories to tell. The National Park was very big and while I was at the park, I saw a lemur for the first time. There are also other amazing animals and plants there.

A lemur clinging to a tree

The unique nature is one of the reasons I chose to do volunteer work in Madagascar. On the Conservation Project, you mainly work in the rainforest. I had some fantastic experiences there and enjoyed being one with nature. At night, it’s recommended that you use a mosquito net to keep insects out of your bed. In the bathrooms, it’s normal to see smaller animals like geckos, frogs and even chickens! I like animals and was surprised to see that many animals in our area. There were chickens on the streets and cows, goats and dogs around the village.

Many people have their own field to grow vegetables and rice. The Malagasy are good at utilizing the resources of nature. It is nice to learn about living in a totally different way to what I’m used to. In Denmark, most of the food I eat is processed. I really like the way the local people in Madagascar live and I learned a lot from the Malagasy lifestyle. One lesson I learnt from the Malagasy is to enjoy life with friends and family, relax and have a good time. In Madagascar, they call it “mora mora”!

Volunteers in a forest in Madagascar

My Conservation placement

I volunteered in Madagascar for six weeks. We started our work early every day. After breakfast, the volunteers and staff met in the office for a briefing. The work tasks varied from day to day. We worked from 8am until 12pm. Some of the work that I did included a bird census, rubbish bin creation, a lemur census and path maintenance. After a long lunch break, we started work again at 2pm and finished around 5pm. In the afternoon, I mainly worked in the tree nursery, with medical plants, and on Malagasy lessons and rubbish removal. On Fridays, we had a community day.

I especially liked to do bird and lemur censuses. These days were fantastic. Just walking through the rainforest was amazing. When we spotted a lemur, we needed to document its species, gender, group size, GPS coordinates and activity. The biggest lemur in Madagascar is an Indri Indri. It is easy to locate due to the loud, recognisable sound that it makes. Other species were more difficult to spot. The lemurs vary in size. They can be as small as a mouse and as big as a small dog. Lemurs are unique to Madagascar and they attract many tourists.

Local staff with a Conservation volunteer

The birds in Madagascar are a crazy experience. Most of the birds are really colourful with amazing feathers. One of our work tasks was to take pictures of the birds in the rainforest. Because most of the birds are small and fast it can be a challenge to get a good picture. It helps if you have the right equipment. However, being in the right place at the right time is more important. There are many insects in the rainforest, which is why there are so many birds.

An interesting part of the Conservation Project is the rubbish bin creation and removal initiative. In Andasibe (and the rest of Madagascar), there is no rubbish system. Most of the people just throw garbage on the roadside. It is a big problem throughout Madagascar. Projects Abroad is trying to come up with a solution for Andasibe so it can show other villages how to manage rubbish. Projects Abroad helped start up a new way to get rid of the rubbish. Other villages will also learn how to handle, reuse and recycle rubbish. I had an idea to kick-start the project by cleaning the local football field for plastic and other rubbish. This idea was realised on a community day where locals and volunteer worked together to clear the field.

Volunteers building rubbish bins

My free time

There are many things to do during the weekends. Most of the volunteers wanted to explore more of Madagascar. If you want to go travelling while you are in Madagascar, you should expect a long travel time. That’s why it is a good idea to plan ahead.

A great adventure was visiting the Indian Ocean and staying at “Les Acacias Bungalows”. The fastest way to go there is by a 4x4 pick-up. Philbert drove us (me and four other volunteers) to the coast and we stayed for the whole weekend in a bungalow. It was amazing to swim in the big waves, but one has to be careful of the waves.

The food in Madagascar is always served with joy. The Malagasy often pray before eating. Rice is the main ingredient in most Malagasy meals. At Hotel Voritsara, I had many good meals with rice, vegetables and meat like zebu, fish or chicken. At some points you can get tired of rice and then it’s good to try other restaurants.

My overall experience

All the work we did through Project Abroad is benefiting the local people of Andasibe. When I was there, the Conservation Project was still new and I hope the future will be great for the Conservation Project and the other programmes there. I have many good memories from Madagascar and will always remember my new friends from this amazing place.

Peter Hansen

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