One More Week in the Rainforest

I now have just 7 more days in Ranomafana before we head back to the capital, Antananarivo. We’ll stay two nights there before flying to Johannesburg, South Africa, and then back to New York. This trip has been filled with many different activities and projects to enjoy as well as some unique challenges. It can be tough to organize schedules and logistics of anything compared to how the same processes work in New York. This is a tradeoff for some good things too, though. The lack of structure of upcoming plans often leads to some really great opportunities to be completely present in the current moment and to fully take advantage of what’s happening in real time. It’s something that I always appreciate about Madagascar. Daily life is not dominated by social media and nobody is being judged here by their online presence. Nobody is really being judged at all, and the community is extremely supportive of one another. I greatly enjoy being able to interact with so many different and interesting people. Everything important is accomplished on a very personal level. All of the connections I’ve made here are strong and will last going forward even though I am leaving for a while. I’ve learned a lot on this 2 and a half month trip, just as I have the 3 previous times I’ve come to Ranomafana. I know I’ll be back here to offer what help I can to this land and its amazing people.

A film team from ABC news is coming to Centre ValBio tonight. They are going to be here for a few days to document various projects that are currently going on here. They’ll also be going out to a remote village for 3 days to film some of CVB’s drones that are used to deliver medicine. Khen from Varibolo is also going to go on that trip with them in order to film the big drones with our smaller Phantom camera drone. It’s possible that Khen’s footage could wind up on the special ABC is making. I’ll probably also be on some film to show the essential oils project and possibly the kayak tours. I’m going to make myself accessible and if they want to talk to me I will be happy to. There’s no way to know what footage they will end up using but it’s still exciting and will be good exposure for Ranomafana however it comes out. Then on Saturday they will film some of the celebration for the 25th anniversary of Ranomafana National Park. That should be a fun experience to be here for as that is a huge milestone for everyone that has worked so hard to establish the park and keep it running.

I’m looking forward to seeing everyone when I am home in New York. I have pictures, videos and stories to share from this trip. I will also put some more of it online when I have some better internet access. Thanks for taking the time to read my posts on this trip, I’m glad to be able to share some of my thoughts ands experiences while I’m so far from home. If anywhere else feels like home to me it is certainly here in Ranomafana. I’ll miss the people and I’m sure I’ll be missed as well. I’ll assure everyone that they will see me again soon.

-Trey

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Drone Video, Parties, and More

We have been flying our drone here a lot recently. Thanks a lot to Gavin for bringing his drone here over the summer and teaching Khen how to fly it. Our kayaking promo video was filmed in July while Gavin was here to take some really great film. He also spent time flying around Varibolo and showing the local children themselves on the iPad controller. It went so well that we got our own drone to use permanently here, even when Gavin is not able to be the pilot and videographer.

At Varibolo, we have probably one of only a handful of camera drones in all of Madagascar. This has led to interest from many different people and groups who would like to use the footage for various purposes. One of our first projects with the drone was to create a video of Ranomafana National Park to show everyone entering the park what they might see inside. There is also some kayak video mixed in, and the kayak tours have also been generating a lot of interest and business. We just installed a nice screen that is now looping this video, and our goal is to continually take more footage and update the content.

Khen was also called to take drone video about 7 hours away from Ranomafana for a big event. There is a Malagasy ceremony that takes place every few years where a large congregation of people gather at a tomb of their ancestors. People travel from all over the country to pay their respects to relatives that have died recently or even long ago. It is not exactly a funeral, and it is generally a happy event that takes place over 3 days. Musicians perform, animals are sacrificed, and a lot of Malagasy rum is consumed. The tombs are opened, the bodies are carried around for a while, then they are returned to their place of burial. Everyone puts some new things into the tomb such as drinks, snacks, clothes, or a bit of money. There are a few different ideas in Madagascar about the afterlife, but they generally believe their ancestors are still present in their daily life in many ways. The drone video from this came out great, I’m sure the organizers of the event were so happy to be able to see everybody celebrating their heritage from angles only the drone can reach.

The drone was used next in a Malagasy church service both inside and outside of a big chapel in the city of Fianarantsoa. Famous Malagasy musicians have our phone number and will probably be interested in using drone footage for their music videos.

In collaboration with Centre ValBio and the commune of Ranomafana, we have done a few extractions now of essential oils. I acquired 60 small bottles that we’ll use to start selling some samples locally here. The park entrance, the village, and CVB will all be locations for distributing our products.

I am happy with the success of all these different projects. This coming weekend there will be a celebration in the village for world lemur week. Today I received an invitation to a Malagasy Halloween party that is a benefit for the tour guide association of Ranomafana. Then in a few weeks, just before I leave, there will be another celebration for the 25th anniversary of the national park. Malagasy people love to have parties. It brings many different people together and it’s always really nice to see everyone interacting with each other and having fun. These next few weeks will be busy in a great way. I’ll be home before Thanksgiving to share all of my stories, pictures, and videos from this productive and enjoyable trip.

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Varibolo’s Cat
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Devin and I on our trip in July

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Centre ValBio

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Good Food

Having been to Madagascar four times now, I’ve eaten a lot of different food that might not be available in New York. Last week I posted about the whole eel that I had. Since that was so good I started feeling adventurous with my choices at meals. Centre ValBio does serve three meals per day, but I tend to eat most of my food at Varibolo. They have never made something there that I didn’t find delicious. This past week I’ve eaten frogs that were fried in a homemade batter, big crayfish from the river here, and grilled rabbit. It was all so good and I’m trying to find more interesting dishes I can try.

I took a trip on Monday to the city of Fianarantsoa, the second biggest city in Madagascar. It was about a 90 minute drive on a road that is in pretty good condition compared to some others here. I went with Khen and Patrick from Varibolo and their father. We got some new cooking equipment for the restaurant and a few other things we needed (like the rabbits). We also picked up a video screen and we’re working on making a video with some drone footage for Ranomafana National Park. The screen will go in the park entrance and it will loop the video for the park as well as some kayak footage. When that is completed I will try to share it online as well for other people to see that haven’t been to Madagascar (yet). Soon we are also hoping to be able to bottle and sell samples of essential oils at Centre ValBio, in the village of Ranomafana, and at the entrance to the national park.

It’s almost halfway through my trip, I’m having a good time here. I’ll put up more pictures and videos when I have more to share.

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No Rain

It hasn’t rained here in Ranomafana in 2 weeks. This has to be the longest stretch of time that I’ve spent in the rainforest without a drop of rain. The weather is usually between 70 and 80 degrees, so it’s been great conditions for kayaking, and for the researchers who are studying animals in the forest. But the ecosystem here also depends on rain. The river is more shallow than usual, and I’m sure many of the crops and any other plants growing here will need water soon. Outside of Centre ValBio, very few people have access to hose systems, or any running water. They filter the water here so it’s safe to drink, but outside CVB the water would probably be dangerous for me to have. Malagasy people here often drink water sourced straight from the river.

This week, Varibolo was pretty busy, with a few kayak tours running in the mornings and tourist groups eating at the Resto for lunch every day. In addition, the study abroad students from Stony Brook have taken a liking to the great food and relaxed atmospshere at Varibolo, and they frequently take the 5 minute walk over from CVB to take a break from their lectures and coursework. Varibolo needed some extra help to handle all of these people, so I spent time working at the restaurant, taking food orders from the English-speaking visitors and bringing out food and drinks. The Randriamamonjy family, who live and work at Varibolo year-round, were also missing Khen and and his father this week as they visited family in their hometown of Antsirabe, which is a 5 hour drive from Ranomafana. I worked with Khen’s brother Patrick and their mother as they took over the food preparation duty for a while. It was a great experience, I’m glad I was able to lend a hand. Their family has really made me feel welcome with them and with Madagascar. As fortunate as I have been to have made connections with Stony Brook and Dr. Pat Wright, I feel extremely close with the Randriamamonjys. Their actions and acceptance of me have been nothing short of familial, and their mother has introduced Khen, Patrick, and myself to people as her “three sons”. This connection means a lot to me and I know these people will be in my life for a long time.

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This eel was amazing!  I split it with 3 other people and it wasn’t enough for all of us. This was the smallest eel I’ve seen here. Sometimes these eels get huge and can feed up to 20 people. They are caught locally in the river.

Week 2

This past week has been busy at Centre ValBio, with more researchers, students, and teachers joining the group here. Talking to each person reveals a wide variety of occupations and interests that have traveled from all over the world to pursue their goals in Madagascar. There are many students here from Stony Brook, starting out on the same program that I first did on my trip in 2014. Researchers here mostly focus on lemurs or other aspects of the biodiversity of Ranomafana National Park. There is also a number of people working on improving education for local children. A children’s radio show is being developed here, and CVB regularly hosts kids for group activities to teach them about the importance of preserving Madagascar’s unique environment from harmful practices that are too common in this region, such as slash and burn agriculture. I’ve really enjoyed interacting with all of these people and will continue to track the progress on various research and community outreach projects.

 

Last Sunday I was able to take the group of students from Stony Brook on a kayak tour. Together with our terrific Malagasy guides, we set off on a 4 mile paddle, beginning in the village of Ranomafana and being picked up by a car at the conclusion of our 2.5 hour tour. The kayaks travel only one direction, downstream in the river, so even novice kayakers were able to take some rests and still float towards our destination. The students had a great time taking a break from all of the lectures they’ve been enduring so far. I’m sure in their free time going forward many of them would like to try the other kayak circuit, which is more surrounded by rainforest (and animals) than the village route, which is more open, and provides wide-ranging views of Ranomafana and the mountains that surround us here.

 

This week I also took a car from CVB with Pascal, the national director of the facility to the east coast of Madagascar. The town we visited is called Mananjary, and is located about 100 miles from Ranomafana. On the roads in Madagascar, this drive took us about 3 hours each way. There is a long span of beachfront just behind the main road of Mananjary, though we didn’t go to play in the sand. Pascal and I arranged a meeting with the CEO of a local essential oils business to see what things are working for them and what is not. The man we met with, who is also named Pascal, was very accommodating and happy to show us around and speak with us for a few hours. We also brought two technicians who work on our steam distillation machine in Ranomafana. They were able to gain valuable insight into the process of extracting the oils from plants by assisting our host’s technicians during our meeting. After lunch and a very quick stop to take a look at the beach, we returned to the place of business, where Pascal and I were presented with a sample of essential oil produced from ginger. It was a great day and I gained a good connection for myself and my oils project.img_5414img_5450img_5453img_5433img_5428img_5378img_0307

Back in Madagascar: 2016

This semester, my studies at Stony Brook and my business ideas have successfully been merged. I’m staying in Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar at Centre ValBio (CVB). CVB is also currently hosting students who are in the same study abroad program that I was here for in 2014. This fall, I’ll be participating in the first business internship approved by Stony Brook for doing work in Madagascar. My focus is on essential oils that are produced from local plants. I’m going to be developing a business plan and helping to implement it over the next 10 weeks. I’ll also have time to continue working with my friends at Varibolo Resto on kayak tours in the rainforest.

I arrived on Monday in the capital of Antananarivo after flying from New York to Johannesburg, South Africa, then switching planes to reach Madagascar. I stayed for one night in a hotel before departing for the rainforest early on Tuesday morning. The time in Madagascar is seven hours ahead of New York, which I am still adjusting to after completing the journey. Our bus arrived at CVB Tuesday evening and I was happy to see many familiar faces. A few local bands played music to welcome the study abroad students. As this is my fourth time visiting Ranomafana, I feel comfortable here, and I’m looking forward to seeing even more people in the village soon that are my friends here.

I typically do not use my phone or computer much in Madagascar. The best way to communicate here is to interact face to face with people. Relationships become more meaningful this way, as everyone is fully engaged and present in their surroundings. There aren’t nearly as many distractions, technological or otherwise, as I find in New York. I’m going to be traveling to a few places in Madagascar on this trip that I’ve never been before to see how the essential oil industry is doing in locations where they have been established for a few years. I’ll do my best to post updates occasionally and I’ll include pictures when I can. I know this is going to be another great opportunity for me to learn and grow.

Trey

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Productive Trip

I’m back home now and my trip went very well. I got a chance to talk to a few landowners and other business owners in the area. I also looked at some of the hotels that are in the region to see what kind of rooms they offer, and ate some of their food to see what sort of offerings are standard. I’m very glad I got a chance to go back to keep pursuing my business ideas. It was also really nice to see Khen and his family. They are very hard workers and they’re really excited to have some new projects we can work on. In the next couple weeks their restaurant is going to get some small renovations. Their porch for outside seating is going to get expanded and fixed up to fit more people and look nicer. Some of the paint and floors will also get redone. This will let Varibolo be able to accommodate a lot more tourists each day, as thousands of people come to Ranomafana between July and December.

We also are going to get some good inflatable kayaks to Ranomafana and offer 2-hour excursions for about $20 per person. It would be great if we can incorporate a few hours of kayaking into an entire “fun day” for tourists. This could include activities such as a tour of a medicinal plant garden, swimming in Ranomafana’s natural hot spring pool, and a performance from a local Malagasy band or dance group.

I am looking forward to accomplishing some of these smaller ideas before starting such a large project as operating a hotel. I still think a nice hotel is a big need for the area and it can definitely be done at the right time. I am happy to be home now, but I know I will be back in the rainforest before too long. I really enjoy everything that the lifestyle of Ranomafana entails and I have made a great connection with Khen’s family. I know they were sad to see me leave after my 3-week visit.

Below is a link to an album of some of the pictures I took on the trip. Thanks for taking a look at this site.

Trey

Ranomafana National Park