Written by Hank Woolley.
One of the many views of Madagascar’s central plateau we saw on our journey from Tana.
And we’re back! We’ve finally figured out how to get internet out here in northwest Madagascar, and so after a week on hiatus we can finally fill you in on all that’s been happening!
First things first, the entire team has arrived safely from their various starting points: Joe, Carol, and Hank from Denver, Eric and Emily from Ohio, Ray from Minnesota, Colin from California, and Mike, Simone, and Dorien from New York. Everyone touched down at the airport in Tana at various points during the day last Sunday, and the next morning at 6 a.m. we met up with our Malagasy counterparts from the Université d’Antananarivo (Willio, Nadia, Liva, Miary, and Bakoliarisoa) and began making our long trek northwest to our field area in Berivotra (pronounced bay-REEFT).
Our field vehicles outside our hotel in Tana.
The approximately 14-hour drive northwest from Tana was inexplicably beautiful. The road ahead of us twisted violently over the rugged mountains of Madagascar’s central plateau, a backbone of Precambrian basement rocks that run north-south up the center of the island. Each turn (there were many) revealed a new landscape out our windows, from jagged peaks and verdant valleys to high flattops crowned with red and gold grasslands. With each new view and each new landscape, we are beginning to understand how immense – and truly wild – Madagascar is.
Before long we found ourselves dropping off of the plateau and into the lowlands lining the northwest coast of Madagascar. During our descent, the temperature jumped from a chilly 55º to an almost unbearable 90º (coupled with intense humidity). In the sweltering heat we followed our road through forests (and shade), over rivers, and through towns bustling with activity despite the extreme outside temperatures. People smiled and waved at our vehicles as we whizzed through each town, showing once again the incredibly friendly and welcoming nature of the Malagasy.
When we learned that the bridge that took us across the massive Betsiboka River would be closed for construction until the evening, we stopped for lunch in a large town with incredibly crowded streets near the banks of the Betsiboka. We killed time after lunch exploring the local market- Ray was insistent on having grass mats to sit on at camp (something that would end up improving nighttime hangouts at the research facility tenfold). Having obtained our mats after bartering a fair price with our savvy shopkeeper, we wound our way through a maze of crowded nooks and alleyways lined with booths that sold everything from fancy straw hats to mangos to cell phones. No matter where you looked or where you walked, it seemed as if you could find anything you wanted for sale.
The Betsiboka River- in the dry season.
When we were done exploring the market, we headed out of town to cross the Betsiboka River- a behemoth of a river that is as wide as the Mississippi in areas but flows much more violently over an exponentially smaller distance. The crossing was at dusk, and unfortunately the Betsiboka was the last landmark we were able to see until we arrived in our camp at around 9:30 p.m. Under nearly a full moon we ate our first of many meals consisting of rice and beans, and after a bit of relaxing on our grass mats (again, excellent planning ahead by Ray), we all headed back to our tents to rest before our first real day of fieldwork. More updates on our discoveries coming soon!