how many trees? part four.

July 17

Last night was madness. Our tent is set up on a bunch of chopped up roots and sticks, with a sizeable stump in my chest region and another one in my back region, and I had to contort and meditate to try to avoid extreme discomfort and rage. Also, it rained like the world was coming to an end – Jamila said this morning that she was actully afraid that the tent was going to collapse under the pressure! I listened to both Feist albums on my iPod and managed to sleep for a few hours.

sun coming up over the waterfall

sun coming up over the waterfall

Oh, and Ryan is sick! This is worrisome – he’s supposed to be the rock when it comes to digestion. I guess he’s human after all.

this guy, wrapped in a blanket because his clothes were drying, was carving a huge log into a rice-pounder for his wife

This porter, wrapped in a blanket because his clothes were drying, was carving a huge log into a rice-de-sheller for his wife. Women spend hours every day pounding rice in what looks like a giant mortar and pestle to get the grains out of their little shells.


Today was a wild introduction to real forest inventory. The forest is really quite dense here, with lots of twisty vines to climb over and under, and it’s extremely humid. Charles and I, along with two porters, were in charge of setting six or seven placettes. Florent was up ahead with a GPS and a machete, hacking a narrow path along a straight line through the forest, and we were using that path as the centre line. I’d stand in the middle with one end of the tape and the porter would take the other end and walk 10m into the forest, and mark a tree to identify the edge of the placette. Charles and the other porter were doing the same thing on the other side of the path. It was slow and steady, definitely mora mora.



There were lemurs to be heard overhead all day, though I didn’t manage to actually spot any today, and the leeches here seem to be of a particularly large breed. After a few hours and some great conversations, we were on our last placette of the day and the sky completely opened up. You know when you’re driving on hte highway and it starts to rain so hard that you need to slow way down so that you can regain visibility? This rain was unlike any downpour that I’ve ever seen to date, and it was hard to even walk, because a) I could only see about 5m in front of me and b) it was completely flooding the forest floor, instantly creating rushing streams for us to navigate, while we dove over and under thorny vines at the same time. To get back to camp we unavoidably had to walk for about 45 minutes, and we took off at a trot, broken up by sliding on our butts (accidentally) down most of the mudslides that were formerly hills. Walking behind Charles was an extra fun challenge, because he wears these enormous mountaineering boots with gaiters (he’s really not into leeches) and doesn’t go around anything – he plows straight through like a rhinoceros. So, while I needed to strategically pick around some puddles and tangles of vines, he would stomp and kick and slide through, leaving me to deal with the slick, bare mudslide that he left in his wake. The rain didn’t let up at all, and I was absolutely loving life. Water was running down inside my raincoat and sort of puddling at the bottom where it was cinched, and my disgusting forest pants were absolutely plastered to my legs. I was also sweating like mad, because it was like 30 degrees, and had mud and blood and sticky liana (vine) sap all over me. It was an incredible adrenaline rush, and I was laughing in disbelief pretty much the whole time.

me, in awe of the forest, before nearly drowning in the rain

me, in awe of the forest, before nearly drowning in the rain

When I slid back into camp, the rain slowed down almost immediately (of course), and I burst into the tent, where Jamila and Sarah were waiting, also soaked. I started raving about the experience as I peeled off my raincoat and grabbed my towel, to go shower in the waterfall. I stepped out of the tent, still in my dripping wet clothes, and one of the porters looked at me in horror, pointing at my neck. This isn’t something that you usually feel good about. “WHAT? WHAT??” I sort of flapped my arms helplessly. He approached me with his index finger and thumb pinched together, and pulled off my collarbone an enormous leech, who had obviously been feasting for quite a while. “Ahh!! Zakabe!” I cried (“Ahh! It’s huge!”), and went over to say hi to Ryan, who had been reading in his tent pretty much all day. He looked at me, caked in mud and with blood steadily dribbling out of my neck, and was like, “OH man! How was your day?”




July 18

Today I am paying dearly for my reckless adventures of yesterday. While trying to follow Charles at a run, I often slid down muddy slopes and to catch myself, instinctively grabbed for whatever plants I could reach. The problem is, pretty much every plant has a razor-sharp edge or an armour of thorns, so my hands are absolutely wrecked, to say the least. They’re so bandaged right now that I’m having a hard time writing, actually. But it was worth it. Yesterday will be on my life’s highlight reel.

Florent and the porters walking on water, with camp in the back

Florent and the porters walking on water, with camp in the back

I’m at camp today, healing and sewing. Charles has ripped through most of his clothes, and I happen to be a barely-competent seamstress, but that’s better than no seamstress at all. So people left me a pile of things that needed mending. I’m hoping that the sun’s going to bust through the clouds so that everyone’s clothes will dry and so that they can all work faster in the forest and come back to keep me company. Ha!

"the kitchen"

I also discovered a breathtaking bruise on my shin this morning. I don’t recall that particular incident from yesterday, but it must have been an impressive display of clumsiness on my final sprint out of the forest or something, because it really is enormous, and includes every colour of bruise that I’ve ever seen, plus a few new ones. And it has a leech bite in the middle. Charles also had a notable leech yesterday – has anyone seen the movie Stand By Me? Let’s just say underwear is not effective at keeping leeches out, no matter how tightly cinched your belt is. Yowza.

July 19

Holy crap, I’m going home in a month! Ugh. Is it too soon, or too distant? I have mixed feelings. Today, though, I have to say that it sounds frighteningly soon. I am incredibly happy here. Last night was the full moon, so some porters took us on a middle-of-the-night moonlit lemur-spotting excursion in the forest. It was so exciting, and we actually saw a bunch – Eastern Avahys, I think. So cuddly. We’re heading down to the village today, which is sad. Who wants to leave a gorgeous waterfall?

laundry at the top of the world

laundry at the top of the world

July 20

No zoning today, in a fun twist. It’s raining and extremely cold, so we’re all huddling together in the hut, doing paperwork and hopefully drinking coffee soon. (Did I mention that we’re also doing a bit of zoning in this terroir?)



Also, a word on café fary – sugar cane coffee. We’ve been incredibly lucky throughout our fieldwork in Anarasoa, drinking coffee in the morning and then again in the afternoon, after the day’s work. Café fary, though, uses sugar cane juice instead of water! It’s very sweet and flavourful, and we get to watch the whole process. The beans are roasted in a dry pan over the fire, then ground using a mortar and pestle. The grounds are put into a sort of stocking through which the boiling sugar cane juice is poured, and voila! A delicious sugary boost. The sugar cane juice, too, is super fresh – someone will disappear into the woods and come back with two or three eight-foot stalks of sugar cane, which get chopped into six-inch pieces. The pieces are pressed one at a time in this neat wooden contraption, using a lot of elbow grease (and a lot of pressure – they actually usually use their knees to press), and the juice is caught in a bowl under the press. I don’t suppose I can repeat this at home, but I will daydream about the half-hour labour of love that went into each precious cup of coffee that I enjoyed atop this waterfall. Sigh.

Today we lounged, drinking tons of coffee to stay warm, reading and writing and teaching the porters how to play card games. This was a total riot – we all had too much fun. At one point, I felt particularly enraged after having publicly lost to Charles at Spit, and I tackled him to the ground. The wrestling match was swift and I ended up in a head lock, but I think I put up a good fight, and the porters were definitely entertained. Crazy vazahas.



Filed under Madagascar

2 responses to “how many trees? part four.

  1. Vay

    So I’m hoping that this works, because for some reason wordpress remembers me from when I left a message on someone else’s blog months ago, but I never heard back from them.
    I had no idea you had a new blog! Until this morning, that is, when I randomly went through my junk folder in hotmail and found your message with the link to here (now I have to remember to add your gmail account to my list of contacts so that the next mass email that is sent gets sent to me and not my spam).
    I’m loving the recaps of your trip, especially since you’re making it sound like you’re still there now! Sounds like a fun, amazing, and wild time, and I’m super jealous (of parts…not so much the parasites and leeches…). I can see how it would be a world-altering experience.
    How did you guys manage to charge your ipods/cameras, though? Was there electricity at a lot of the base camps you stayed at, or what?
    I shall send this link onwards to Heather, Josef, and others, so they can be wowed too. Also because you asked in an earlier post.

  2. fireandrain

    Yeah yeah yeah!
    Super to hear from you.
    I actually ran out of camera battery like ten days into inventory, so most of these photos are from other members of my team. In Vondrozo, sort of our home base, there’s a generator that provides the village with electricity from 5pm to 11pm every day, and from noon to 11pm on weekends. Most homes, I think, just have a few lightbulbs, but the WWF office has a few plugs, so we could charge our things there at night. Though, now that the village has a cell phone tower, more people will probably get plugs installed in their homes, so they can charge their phones.

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