Friday, 1 June 2012

Two weeks at KAFS

Rice fields on the way to Kianjavato
 Hello again! It has only been two weeks but it feels like I've been here forever. I am in Fianarantsoa now, the city where we come to upload our data. The hotel is pretty nice and they have ice cream here. The ice cream was totally worth the six hour taxi brousse ride. It is usually four hours but our taxi brousse had a flat tire. And needed more oil. And ran out of gas. And the starter didn't work. The driver tried to stop on hills but we had to push it twice to start the engine. The trip is probably less than 200 km but the road is all hairpin turns and huge potholes and several places are only one lane wide because the other lane washed away in a cyclone a few years ago.

The people who have been here a few months just drool over everything, but I don't think I have been here long enough. Food is a popular topic of conversation at KAFS. They feed us rice at almost every meal and a little bit of something healthy like beans or meat or veg, but mostly rice. Everyone has condiments to put with it to make it edible, like soy sauce or ketchup or sweetened condensed milk. I got some chicken stock cubes and vinegar in town today and I have high hopes for it. Sometimes there is salad and the vinegar from it really improves the rice. We talk about food a lot, the things we miss from home, and I dreamed about pot roast the other night.

I was going to take some pictures but I keep leaving my camera at the top. KAFS is built on a hill, with the main buildings at the bottom and the tent platforms scattered across the slope. Mine is almost at the top, so if I forget something it is a bit of a trek back up. The tent platforms have a wooden floor and a ravinala roof with room for clotheslines underneath as well as your tent. My tent is great. It has lots of mesh for ventilation and I brought a full twin-size air mattress so I have a real bed. It is winter here so it gets cold at night and I am really glad I brought my warm sleeping bag. It is really nice and cosy in there and sometimes I don't want to get up in the mornings, but when I do the view is amazing. In the mornings I wake up to the mist rolling across intensely green hills of rainforest dotted with the huge fans of the ravinala trees. There are a few houses and farms but they look very picturesque from a distance. Closer up you see the inescapable poverty: the houses are shacks and the kids and chickens and dogs are all too skinny. Everybody seems very friendly though.

A pomegranate tree in Tana
The rainforest is really something. There are large trees but also a lot of small saplings and a lot of bamboo. My impression might be biased though because my study animals spend most of their time in bamboo areas. The big bamboo is tree-sized, about 10 cm thick and maybe 20 m tall. The lemurs eat all the parts of the bamboo plant, and they make quite a racket eating the large woody stems. They also like fruit. One of the fantastic things about the tropics is the progression of amazing fruits. I missed lychee season, sadly, but I arrived near the end of orange season and near the beginning of pineapple season. Soon the jackfruits will be ripe and I am looking forward to trying that. A jackfruit is bigger than your head and they dangle from the tree branches on stems about a foot long. They are kind of yellowish with little blunt points all over the outside. The lemurs are eating them now but people have to wait a bit longer for them to be ripe. Oh, and a few jackfruits went mouldy at an early stage of development and they look an awful lot like a dead mouse.

George is not too sure about the spider tortoises...
On Sunday night there was a big party at the hotely in Kianjatvo so we went into the village. I never liked rum at home but the rum here is really good, especially with coke. It is also ridiculously cheap, one or two dollars for a 300 mL bottle. There was a live band and everyone was dancing. The roosters were crowing when we left and it slowly went from dark to light out on the walk home. We were late for breakfast and slept most of the day, since it was a holiday. I don't know what the holiday was but they have a lot of holidays here, several every month. People don't get paid very much but at least they get lots of time off.


  1. I would love to see a photo of the view from your tent!!
    Can you put the fruit on the rice? Does the fruit get cooked at all, or just eaten raw?

  2. The adventure continues. The description of the taxi brousse ride shows that you're really "not in Kansas anymore".

    Keep writing, please.