08/05/2015

Blog from the field - The adventurous journey out of the forest

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We followed the Zebu cart out of camp. Bulbous grey clouds loomed overhead. I tried to fend off my sadness to be leaving with thoughts of an ice cold beer, fresh water that didn’t taste of swimming pools and maybe a steak.

The Zebu cart struggled once we were out of the national park. Deforestation means no tree roots to keep the earth on the hillsides and at times we had to push the cart as the Zebu pulled.

Wind howled across the beach when we arrived. The sea looked grey and choppy and it began to rain. The Zebu cart disappeared and we sat on the wet sand with our backpacks, the cursed fridge and two drums of petrol for the boat- if it arrived. It started to rain.
Guy – the local logistical coordinator for AEECL (the European Lemur Conservation Association) was waiting for us in Antsohihy and we had no way of contacting him if the boat failed to arrive.

It struck me that no one really knew where we were, including myself. The waves crashed up onto the beach. The rain dimpled the sand.
I was about to suggest we head back to camp when a red dot appeared out at sea, tiny and distant in the surf. It was Yves, the skipper of the boat, wearing a red life jacket. I realized how massive the waves were. The boat looked tiny, like a toy.

With trepidation, we waded out into the surf, chest deep with our backpacks held above our heads. The boat was already awash with water. Yves seemed cheery enough as he waded ashore to get the fridge and said something that sounded like cyclone. Grainne asked if it was dangerous to take the boat in this weather- Yves smiled and said in broken English “difficult”.
The boat slammed out through the surf. All I could see was sky and the next wave massing above us.  Andy the skipper held the hood of his coat up by the strings in his teeth. Water smashed over us. Yves bailed it out as best he could. We clung on as the boat crested each wave, dropped and rolled into the trough before climbing the next.
Whenever I glimpsed the shore I knew I could swim back if I had too, but I was regretting reading about the Mozambique Channel being one of the most heavily shark populated stretches of water on the planet.
We breathed a sigh of relief when finally, after 45 minutes or so, Yves informed us that the choppy choppy was over and we surfed the huge rolling waves back towards Antsohihy. The sun came out long enough for us to relax and start to dry out when suddenly, the rain came down in a thick grey veil. Luckily Yves still recognised the bend in the river where we had to remove our hats for fear of offending the ancestors.
Guy met us off the boat. Everything we owned would have been dryer if we’d submerged it in a bath, but my imagined cold beer was waiting for me at the bar and being on dry land was enough to make everyone smile.

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