About to go back in the bush, minus a phone

Yes guys i’m afraid our Madagascar mobile phone has been stolen so nobody can call us for the time being. John still has his British phone for texts (07940 513969) but we’re not sure how he’s going to keep it charged as our only charger was also taken. Ah well, these things happen, we’ll see if we can arrange something when we get back from the bush.

Since John wrote we’ve been hanging around town asking passers by about their awareness of AIDS. Azafady are worried about AIDS in Madagascar even though the rate is pretty low in comparison to mainland Africa. The evil mining company John mentioned, Rio Tinto, are planning to bring in hundreds of workers from South Africa where the AIDS rate is about 1 in 4 compared to 1 in 90 here. The workers will be a long way from their families and so it’s not difficult to imagine the potential consequences if the locals are not aware of the risks.

The AIDS rate in parts of Africa, especially Swaziland, is truly incomprehensible. It’s really weird when you look around you in an African internet cafe and know that maybe four or five people you’re currently sharing a room with will die of AIDS.

Anyway back to Madagascar and the surveys: they were pretty interesting and caused much hilarity about town. Most people knew about sticking to one partner and wearing condoms but changing behaviour is a different thing entirely. Many people still don’t believe in AIDS as they’ve never met anyone who’s had it. There is clearly still a lot to do here if we want to stop Madagascar going down the same route as Africa. We’re not scheduled to do any more work on the issue here but Azafady is bidding for some funding to continue.

What we are going to do next is to rebuild some damaged rain forest, build a well and some accommodation for midwives at a remote village further up the coast. The accommodation for the midwives will be invaluable as it means that expectant mothers who get into trouble will actually have some help near by. There is no transport to speak of around there so mothers and babies have died in the past trying to make their way to help situated miles away.

We’re also going to build some more efficient stoves to keep fighting against the need to chop down forest for fuel. More silly dancing for John then!

And finally. The maggot tally is currently 5-0 to John. He is now officially a complete scrubber, don’t worry they’ve all been successfully prised away from the inside of his feet.

Take care all!

Sev/Viv

Back from the bush

Right, expect a brief and badly typed email with lots of typos and uncorrected spelling errors. Blame the french keyboard and wobbly monitor screen.

Madagascar is going well for the both of us and the group is now gelling well and we’ve just come back from our first trip to the bush just up the coast in Hovatra. We had a range of jobs to do while we were there, the first of which was building vegetable gardens for some villagers so that they have better nutrition in their diets and also giving them the opportunity to sell the produce. We spent many hours bashing clay into powder and then using that powder to make cement from which we made improved cooking stoves for some villagers which are 6 times more efficient than their present stoves which means that they have to chop down less indiginous forest. My highlight from the stove building was entertaining about 30 assembled villagers while the stove was being constructed with lots of singing and dancing – they loved watching these strange foreigers dance and found it hilarious. although that could have been my dancing! We’ve both taught a couple of English lessons at the local school and also painted the new school building that was built by the last group of pioneers. Viv also dug herself into a hole, quite literally, by digging a latrine that was as deep as she is tall. Fortunately she made it out before it was put into active service! Our time in Hovatra was rounded off with a bit of health education where we did a play about washing your hands after you’ve had a poo after which I became a local celebrity with many children greeting me by my character name, Rokoto, when they saw me around the village. It was a really awesome place to start off as we felt so warmly welcomed by the villagersm particularly the children and the projects we did had a very clear benefit.

In other news we’ve eaten a lot of beans and rice, drank some moonshine with the local village chief, voluntarily woken up at 5.30am every day and had maggots removed from feet (me).

If anyone wants to call us the number to use is 00261 324 356336 and best times for calling us are from 4pm your time till about 7ish. (from 3 till 6 when the clocks go back). You can even write to us as letter will be delivered to us in the bush – see the a couple of posts ago for the address. You have until next Tuesday night to contact us as that’s when we’ll be back in the bush until the 19th November.

Don’t forget also that Rightee is selling charity christmas cards and limited edition photographic prints on our behalf – get your orders in quick! All the details can be found here.

Apologies for everyone I’ve intended to, but haven’t, emailed. We’re getting very little internet time at the moment and there just isn’t the time. I’ll be hopefully seeing you all face to face come Christmas anyway so can have a proper catch up then.

Veloma!

Quick post from Madagascar

Salama!

Going to keep this brief as dont have much time and this french keyboard makes it infuriatingly slow to type!

We arrived last Thursday and are currently having lots of orientation lessons about the work of azafady and have spent two afternoons carry sods of earth to and fro.

We have a Madagascqr mobile that you cqn call us on. The number is 00261 324 356336. It quite cheap to call through skype apparently. Best time to call is from 4pm your time till about 7ish. (from 3 till 6 when the clocks go back)

Finally, Rio Tinto mining company are evil and want to destroy much of Madagascar’s remaining forests and you should buy stuff from traidcraft as they are one of azafady’s main sponsors.

Veloma!

John and Viv

Madagascar and fundraising bits and bobs

Quick post just to let you know about a few bits and bobs prior to us jetting off for Madagascar.

We don’t think we’ll be able to remain in as good contact while we’re there as we’ll be spending a large part of our time out in the bush and the internet is pretty rubbish apparently when we’re near the town. If you do want to get in contact with us while we’re there you can write to us at:

John Hobson/Vivyan Lisewski,
ONG Azafady,
Pioneer Programme,
BP318,
Tolagnaro 614
Madagascar.

Please don’t send any parcels as they are unlikely to get through!

As part of our Azafady fundraising Rightee has set up a website with details about photographic prints and greetings/Christmas cards that you can order from him – all profits will go towards our Azafady fundraising efforts. Go to http://www.rightee.com/charity to take a look at the prints and cards and to get details on how you can order.

Thanks once again to everyone who has donated and helped out towards our fundraising efforts – we appreciate it so much! Could any of you who have donated via the website or sent a cheque to Azafady and haven’t received an e-mail of thanks from us please let us know as some donations may have fallen down the cracks and we’re trying to chase them up.

In other news it’s congratulations to Viv who has had an unconditional offer from Edinburgh University for one of only 14 places to study ‘Plant Taxonomy and Diversity’, well done Viv! The course starts in September 2007 so at some point next year we’ll be moving up to Edinburgh.

I’d also like to apologise to so many of you whom I owe a response to an e-mail, we couldn’t get on the net in Namibia and now we’re in last minute rush territory before we go. Please keep writing, it’s great to hear from everyone and any lack of response on my part in no way reflects that I can’t actually be bothered to pen a reply.

And I think that’s about all we have to say for now. It seems that we’re now entering the last chapter of our travels and doing the voluntary work seems a fitting way to finish up the travels after having been self-indulgantly travelling for over 10 months now.

After Madagascar we will be returning home, we touch down at Heathrow before dawn on the 22nd December. We’re so looking forward to seeing many of you around or shortly after Christmas, until then, goodbye!

From coast to coast

I’ll start this post by mentioning a little from our time in Mozambique a little under a month ago, if I can remember back that far that is. Well, here goes… Our main reason for going to Tofo beach was so that I could get a bit of diving in as this is one of the world’s top dive sites and I was definitely not disappointed. Discovering the world that lies beneath the ocean waves has been one of the major highlights of my travels and the diving off Tofo beach was the highlight of that particular highlight. I dived with Tofo Scuba who I can recommend as an excellent dive charter, but enough about them and onto the diving… In a word it was amazing – most of the sites are deep going down to about 30 metres and the main draw is the the manta rays that drift gracefully into cleaning stations to get parasites and other rubbish removed by lots of smaller cleaner fish. It was quite a sight when I saw my first cleaning station, these two huge (3m across or so) manta rays circling around with a trail of little yellow fish in their wake, it was really beautiful. On a later dive a manta passed right over my head, within about 2 metres, with me just suspended in water agog as this giant creature that was so nonchalantly and gracefully drifting within such close proximity to me. And as if that was great enough most of the dives were also accompanied to the melodies of passing whales singing to one another. This was definitely the first time that I have dived and become so wholly immersed (no pun intended) in the experience. As well as the mantas I also saw many lion fish up close – they’re a personal favourite of mine, the first octopus that I’ve ever seen, a giant whiptail ray, a loggerhead turtle and quite a few massive potato bass and so much more that I shan’t even begin to bore you with. It was such an fantastic place to dive.

From Mozambique we travelled to Johannesburg to stay with my cousin Martin, his wife Joanne and their son Michael. We were so warmly welcomed and had a wonderfully restful week that even managed to encompass seeing lots of lions and a couple of giraffes at a rather lavish and somewhat surreal kids birthday party where the only type of food on the menu for the children was sweets of many lurid colours. I wouldn’t envy the parents after that party with sugar-crazed children running amok everywhere.

I think at the time some home comforts and a hassle free week (dealing with the Madagascar embassy excepted) were just what we needed and it was really great to get to know Martin & family properly.

From there we were with renewed energy to tackle the last leg of our travelling proper in Namibia. We hired a car, an old skool MK1 VW golf with a modern interior installed and duly named ‘Steve’, and set off on the long, straight road to Namibia. Along the way we stopped off for the night at a campsite that had emus and springboks running around everywhere. I found the emus rather scary, especially after what that one that Rod Hull had did to him. I just made sure that I didn’t get up on any roofs and resolved that if I did I check that the area was clear of emus first. It did give me a bit of hassle though when I was trying to get to the car from our tent – I kept getting fronted off and had to take an alternative route and hide from it for a bit. Still, when they’re not being scary they’re pretty funny creatures them emus although maybe best left to the Australian outback where there’s a lower roofs per square mile ratio.

From there the road became increasingly straighter, dustier and deserted. As if to emphasise the fact some tumble weed really did blow across the road in the front of the car! Our first stop was at fish river canyon – a pretty damn impressive canyon formed by geological activity and, less surprisingly, the fish river. Next up was the town of Luderitz, a place that looks much like a traditional German town (Namibia is an ex German colony) stuck right on a windy coast at the end of 300km of desert and wilderness. The Diaz peninsula was the real highlight here – a landscape that looked more like the moon than the Earth and that also had an abandoned Norwegian whaling station slowly turning to rusty ruin, great for some decay photographs! One of the really fantastic things about Namibia is that there are so few people so it’s possible to enjoy so many of the country’s great wildness locations as just that – it’s rare that you see another person while out and about.

Just outside Luderitz is the long abandoned diamond mining town of Kolmanskopp. We had a fascinating wander around all these buildings that were slowly being reclaimed by the surrounding sand dunes. I have a real thing for derelict places and was in my element here, snapping away at the decay.

Stifling dry heat aside, travelling in Namibia is almost as much fun as the places you stop and see. Most of the travelling is done on dirt roads through these amazing desert landscapes past a smattering little mountain/large hill ranges. Before visiting Namibia our impression of the desert was of a vast expanse of shifting sands, what we hadn’t appreciated was how wonderfully diverse and beautiful desert landscapes can be as we travelled through 100s of kilometres of hardy pale desert grassland, desert scrub, karoo and dunes, and all of this without another soul in sight.

From Luderitz we stopped off at the most remote wilderness spot – a farm (Namtib Biosphere Reserve) 30km from the nearest road on a campsite with nobody else on it and 3km from the farm. All around we could see nothing but hills and desert. As night drew we witnessed one of the most amazing sunsets of our travels as the dust turned the horizon a thick red once the sun had ducked out of sight. Gradually as the sunset faded the stars started to come out in force until the sky was overflowing with tiny points of light tightly packed into the expanse of sky all around us. The number of stars that you can see when there is no light pollution is really breath taking – the milky way looks like a grey slash running across the sky, always pointing to the southern cross – an ever-present star formation from our travels, one that you cannot see from the Northern hemisphere.

Next up was my original raison d’etre for wanting to visit Namibia – the shifting red dunes of Sossusvlei. I had wanted to go since seeing some amazing photos of the dunes and wanted to see and capture something similar myself. Well, I wasn’t disappointed as on our first day there we drove out to the dunes just before sunset when the low sun lights the towering dunes from just one side leaving the other side in heavy shadow and accentuating the carefully sweeping form of the dune’s ridge. It was a beautiful and majestic sight. The next morning we up before sunrise to get to the dunes for sunrise. Again, the dunes looked really beautiful in the low light and went on a few walks over and along a few dunes and saw a couple of dried up lakes – now just baked and cracked salt-whitened earth. We were glad of being up early as by 10am the temperatures has become stiflingly hot and we had to retreat back to the (overpriced and shabby) campsite to take refuge in whatever shade we could find.

I should mention now that our diet for the last week had been rather limited due to the scarcity of supermarkets (there are none, except in the big towns which we were a long, long way from). Coupled with the cooking facilities being just a braai (BBQ) at every campsite all we ate was braaied boerwors sausage sandwiches for dinner and cheese sandwiches for lunch. Fortunately the sausage was very nice and readily available at every campsite and I had lots of fun perfecting my fire making technique every night.

Next up we visited the nearby Namib Naukluft national park that had far better camping facilities, friendlier staff and was reasonably priced. We spent a couple of days here and did a couple of pleasant walks totalling about 28kms through dried up river beds, down steep sided gorges and over hills. Back at the campsite I had to chase off the ‘very naughty’ baboon who came marauding through the campsite now again. we didn’t fancy taking a baboon damaged tent to Madagascar with us!

On our way back down to South Africa we stopped off at the ‘Quiver Tree Forest Restcamp‘ in Keetmanshoop to take a look at the quiver tree forest and Giant’s playground – bizarre piles of rocks for miles around. The real highlight of our time here though was the wild meerkats who lived on our campsite and would scamper around digging in the sandy soil here and there looking for grubs. We have both longed to see meerkats since seeing the famous wildlife on one episode “Meerkats United” and was simply awesome to be able to see them in the wild for real, and to have them so close to where we were staying was such a bonus. They were fairly tame as well and a nursery of young meerkats came right up to Viv to investigate her. The bloke who ran the campsite had a menagerie of other animals that had been rescued for various places including three cheetahs, a huge warthog and a week old springbok.

From there we had over 15 hours driving in 2 days to get back to Johannesburg where we are currently back at Martin and Joanne’s house. We both enjoyed Namibia hugely and would love to go back in the future. For pure beauty of landscapes we think that it rivals New Zealand, it really is a spectacular country.

We do have lots of pictures from Namibia but unfortunately there was no decent internet cafe to upload them so for the time being you’ll have to live with the just the words.

Only a couple of days left in South Africa now, we’re flying Madagascar on Thursday for the start of our voluntary work and currently getting very excited by it!