Montag, 4. Januar 2016

Time to say goodbye

Bonjour everybody
The year is coming to an end and so is my time in Madagascar. This time it wasn’t that long that I have lived over here, but still it was a time of experience and adventure. Hard time and good ones, love and hate, I have seen dark and light sights of this country.
Still it is hard for me to sum up my experience here, it will always be a controversial country for me.
The last weeks kept me busy, as always at the end you do what you never found time for.
We needed to analyze a lot of faece sample of the chameleons and I went outside more often, trying to find some nice animals which I haven’t seen at all during my time.
Because Christmas was getting closer, however I haven’t felt it at all with all the heat and in the forest, I tried my best by backing Christmas cookies. It cost a lot of improvising and patience, at the end they didn’t taste quite well, probably because they belong to the cold, dark winter evenings.
I climbed up a Boaobab, the famous trees in Madagascar you probably have seen in Africa documentations before. Massive tree trunk to save the water in dry season and a unique leave construction.

Not that easy to get on top of this trees because there is actually no branch to step on. But I found one with a lot of vines hanging down from the tree. Nice feeling to sit at the tree crown. Looking over the forest, sunset at the top of the world.

Falk and me organized a small Veloma Party. Its always interesting to see how alcohol can change people. Some I haven’t talked with all my time there started talking and dancing up to one point where everybody was shanking their asses and dancing to madagassi music. There is one traditional dance style, the people are running in circles and the one in front is doing something, which the others try to imitate. At the end a nice evening.

Last time with our chameleons, they have grown up so fast, nearly to adulthood already. Chameleons are really fascinating animals and in my opinion one of the most beautiful. They can be mean but mostly they are just stupid, lazy and cute.

Yes and finally I left the forest, slowly adapting to society again. After two days traveling we arrived in the capital again. Its nice to see how rain can change the landscape, everything seemed nicer and more beautiful with colours. Even the capital I wasn’t really a fan of, was nicer and I made peace with this place.

My way to the airport was an adventure. I got stocked with the Taxi in the traffic rush. Already thinking I will miss my flight because there was 2 hours left and nothing went forward or backward. A critical situation but I said to myself I am not gonna get stocked in this place now. I went out of the car and with the help of a local friend we found a man on a motorcycle who said he can take me.
A bit like a movie. Me on a back of a motorcycle of a man I never have seen before I do not know and I do not understand. All my luggage stored between our feet and on my back and belly we drove fast passing the carline. The clouds were so dark it could have stared raining every second.
But finally I got to the airport on time, rain was starting when I entered the building. This man saved me a lot of troubles – Perfect goodbye experience and a perfect summary of my time- Everything can go wrong and don’t expect it to happen like you want it to, but always be flexible and open and it will work out somehow.

I say goodbye to a country full of mystical things, of unexplainable situation and people and wonderful animals.

Samstag, 19. Dezember 2015

Animals in the forest

Time is passing by, but it goes different here. Days can pass without even noticing and others never want to end.
And so people are passing by now there is just Falk and me left, all the other students are gone. The more people leave the more chameleon pop out of their places.
I recently checked my pictures and figured out that I have about 700 chameleon pictures…in all sizes, places and angels.
But of course you can find are also other animals here so I gonna give you a small view in the biodiversity of the Kirindy forest.

Probably one of the first association you have with Madagascar are always the Lemurs. They are the only primates here convergent to monkeys everywhere else. They do only exist on this island, about 100 different species.
In our forest you can find 8 different one, most of them are nocturnal and the only thing you can see is two shining eyes, reflecting the light at night, so its quite hard to take pictures of them. Here is one nocturnal lemur, the fat-taled Lemur.

These are the two daily active Lemurs, the Sifakas and the Gidros, quite sweet fluffy and the noises they do are really lovely, grunting like a pick.
Always funny to watch when they steal the garbage or kick our water bucket to drink.
Gidro male
Giro baby, carried from the female

Gidro female

One of my favorites here are the flower bug. They are cicadas in they first stadium do they look like little wings dressed in a wedding dress, When reach adulthood they shed themselves and get this lovely red colouration.

These are two different Kingfisher species, a Paradise Fly-catcher and a giant Coua.

At the end my favorite spider over here. They hang on one string close to the ground and wait there for little insects to pass by. They prepared a small net which they gonna use to put over their prey.

Finally, our babies grow up, this is a Labordi female nearly reaching adulthood. They grow so fast, two month ago they weren’t bigger than 3 cm

Sonntag, 29. November 2015

One week off

It’s time for visual and mental change, so I took one week off and went on a small trip to discover the island…and believe me its much harder than you might think.
Everything starts with transport to get from one location to another.

“ One day, one bus, one seat one goal…to leave this bus as soon as possible.
We arrive at the bus station looking for one with “Fianaransoa” written on it. It isn’t hard to find. We are surrounded by people trying to convince us to get into their bus. Finally, we choose the closed one. Our luggage is stored at the roof of a small bus with other stuff like rice-bags, coal-bags, buckets of vegetables and on top of everything at least 20 chickens. The tower on top is at least the same size than the bus itself. We are asked to take a seat, the bus will leave in 10 minutes..
3 hours later we haven’t moved at all, our mood is a little less relaxed and the tower on top twice as big. It’s incredible how people can waste their time. Our ass already asleep the bus starts to move. The driver turns on the music and with incredible high volume we are forced to listen to malagasy songs and charts probably 10 years old. The highlands of Madagascar are passing by, dry land, rice fields and burned patches is what we see, no surprise anymore. Our bus driver stops a few times, to buy some food, to change a wheel or to pay some money in one of the random “police” controls we pass.
We are already 6 hours on the route, everything hurts by now our ass and ears, and the neck because we do not have a real seat back. Sun burns our skin, temperature inside is probably 35 degrees because every possible space is filled up with people.
We are more than happy by the time the bus enters Fianaransoa, it’s dark by now we spent in total 12 hours on this one seat. Again humans are crowded surround us looking and trying to help for a little money. White = rich, that’s what most of the people think here, even if we travel by normal bus and not like others with a personal driver.
This bus drive gets on my top ten of worst transport by now.”

Planning here is impossible, I learn for new to be spontaneous and not to aspect anything to work out. We decided to stay in this area for now and not take another day bus drive to get to our final location.
It’s better to discover the surrounding, than traveling again and loose time.
So we arranged a 3 days hike in the Andringitra National Park with two nights camping inside. This was actually the best choice we could make.

“Walking higher and higher, with every step we are leaving the human shaped landscape behind us. Still there is no nice view because a grey cloudy ash bubble is covering the highlands, caused from all the burnings in the surroundings. We reach the platform of the mountains 2200 meter high. Night is coming soon and we are still walking. Our guide pushes us to move further, and within the dusk we reach our camping place. On a small fire is our food cooking. Its cold here at night, with filled stomach we are getting in our tent, above us an incredible night sky full with stars and galaxies.

Next day we wake up with dawn, our plan is to climb on top of the second highest mountain Madagascar with an attitude of 2658 m . It’s quite a steep ascent but worthies to get there.
For the afternoon we need to walk further to our second camping area. Walking trough different ecosystems, leaving heathland behind us, crossing highland forest, plain grass areas and on the other side of the mountain strange tropical palm and stone formations.
One of the nicest walks I ever did, a little surreal and unique.
We reach the second night place again within the dark, tired and fascinated do we fall asleep.

 The morning we take a short swim in one of the ponds and after it we start our way back, down to reality. Smoke is welcoming us, two nice days in human isolation. Where humans haven’t settled down yet, Madagascar’s beauty is still alive, in small places still hidden from human influence.

Our way back home, isn’t much different than the bus drive before.
Traveling in Madagascar is definitely not easy, there is no real infrastructure for travelers and not many people you meet during your trip. We spend 4 days in bus, to have 4 days adventure, not a fair balance.
A country so controversial, dark and light, beauty and destructions, kindness and ignorance, everyday it shows me a different side, you never know in what face you gonna look tomorrow.”

Donnerstag, 26. November 2015

Face the truth

Madagascar an island of beauty“ full of incredible wildlife and richness of endemic species.
That's the subtitle of the Madagascar documentary from I am holding in my hand right now. This is exactly what is spread in the world, what people think about this island how they picture it and I would bet probably you do so too.
To be honest I thought the same, an island so different, untouched, a miracle I am going to discover.

I am here now, open eyes and ears discovering this country.
Already the first impressions and things i saw made me guess that this is more an fairy-tale than truth nowadays. But still I was thinking that with time and new places this image will come back to me that this island will overwhelm me with its beauty.

It's time to face the truth for you and me it's time to realize in what time we live now. Nature is not anymore what it was, human are overflowing this planet and even this country is not protected by it. Destruction, pollution and poverty is what rules the world. Let's open our eyes and mind and realize the incredible damage this country experienced and still is.

I was talking with a tourist from Europe coming here now the 5th time in over 20 years. „It's a sad story what this country is facing, a story of lost, every time we get here more is destroyed, it's impossible to recognize it any more. You are driving trough land where i have seen trees, flowers and live before, now i only see empty and dry land. It's our last time here now, we get old and can not take this anymore. 
We love this country and everything with in it, the animals, the diversity and what we experienced. But now this are not more than stories to tell. Talking in past talking what was there where now is nothing but ash“

They were not the only person telling me this. I can see it with my eyes, not sure they are wed from the picture they are facing our the smoke from burned trees in the air, probably both.
90% of the former existing forest is destroyed already. What is left is separated in a few patches of land keeping alive trough national parks. And even in protected zones the density of animals get less and less.

Every day I see ranger and guides of the forest I live in, the forest they are supposed to protect cutting down trees, to burn or construct something. People have lost their understanding of nature and its importance.
I am working with chameleons which are probably not there in less than 50 years. Even the scientist working here are loosing their hope. 

A story of lost and damage, to deep and rapid to repair.
The island of sun and life will be dead and covered in ash.

Sonntag, 15. November 2015

Colours and Cameleons

Sorry to let you all wait, always not an easy thing with internet here.
One month is over, it actually feels like I am longer here. I got used to my life somehow really quickly. 35 degrees in shadow, sunrise at 5am, sunset at 6.30pm. I spend 10 days in the forest and usually have 4 days off after this, which I spend in the close village.

Rainy season already started, a little bit too early, but weather gets crazy here since a few years. I really enjoy it, I started loving rain in Osa, it belongs to the forest to a place where life is at every place and everything starts to explode because of rain. And here you can see the change. Dry forest turns into a green place, animals start mating or come out of their holes, where they hid.
And also the babies of one of our chameleon species ( Furcifer labordi) started to hatch. So tiny, so hard to find..
Labordi baby, 1cm=blue/white
I work basically at night looking for chameleons. It's nearly impossible to find them during the day, but at night they lose their colouration so they are a little whitish.
For anyone who thinks that chameleons do change their colour trough the change of the background, that’s not true. They have one basic colouration to camouflage themselves. To communicate with each other, they change colour due to their mood. They easily get angry and colours turn into  black or dark within seconds.
Labordi female adult normal
Labordi female angry
Labordi male adult normal
Labordi male angry

When we found them we measure and weight them the next morning and release them afterwards. We have a few chameleons in cages to compare they aging and life cycle in captivity with the ones in the wild. So the study focuses on the aging of one species which lives usually 6-8 month, they are the shortest land living vertebrates in the world.
 We also compare this life history with the one of two other longer living chameleon species in this forest. 
Furcifer nicosiai
Furcifer osteletti

When my day is not busy with catching flies and feeding chameleon,  Falk ( the guy I am working with) me do some crazy things together. This was for example our Halloween celebration.  We painted our faces with UV- colors, which are normally used to mark the animals.

The animals in the forest can keep you busy, also awake at night. The mating season of the Fossas (Cryptoprocta ferox) got to an end by now. Nowadays, they are the biggest native mammals in Madagascar, really similar to a wildcat. Every day they showed up at our camp, where lying around, fighting and screaming to mate. The female climbs up a tree and calls for males to come. The one who wins the fight gets up ready to mate. This spectacle can least for 2 hours. Mating season is about 2 weeks long.

Yes, that's my life by now. Still have a lot of free time, which needs to be filled. Hope to take some nice pictures, paint a little, and make a small trip to discover the island.