Being back at camp after two weeks at sea, we the leapers find ourselves at a loss as to what to do in our free time. Within a general sense that is. Naturally the first thing we did back on shore was hike for half an hour to try and get wifi. You may laugh but some of us were exhibiting withdrawal symptoms. While the others where updating Facebook and talking with their friends, I was receiving criticism on my blogs from my loving parents. Apparently I don’t have enough information in them. If you agree with this, you’ll be happy to know that it will be my focus for this blog.
I’ll begin with describing the routine of camp that we, “the boat people”, are trying to ease back into. Everybody wakes up at different times according to the plan of their day, which varies according to which project you belong to. Whether it’s forestry, marine, construction or teaching, almost everyone is required to wake up early. This morning I myself woke up at 5:30 for a dive. Breakfast is from 5:30 till 8:30 so if you have an effective dive you can even have a 2nd breakfast…. so long as none of the staff notice.
Activities are separated by at least a few hours so between them you can find the time to read, write, wash cloths, braid hair, do yoga, perform minor surgery (Kyle had to cut open a spider bite with a giant serrated knife. He’s walking around with what looks like a bullet wound) and even play chess. All of which is done in hammocks or on beanbags. People in marine can usually be found on camp all day except when there is a dive or a beach clean. Foresters and teachers are usually gone all day and are back in time for super. 9 times out of 10 whenever foresters get back, they are tired, sweaty and complaining because they spent three hours climbing a hill to look at leaves. (Marine is so much better than forest and we remind them of it constantly. Mariners are the cool kids on camp and foresters are people who haven’t yet transferred to marine because they aren’t bored of lizards yet!)
We have lunch AROUND noon but in 5 weeks being here, it’s never been at they same time twice. Lunch is almost always rice and beans. The main meal at camp is rice and beans and I mean the MAIN MEAL. We have it 6 out of 7 days a week. On Mondays we have spaghetti to make Monday a bit easier and to stop us going insane. Parents don’t be surprised if you children flip the table and scream next time you make them rice and beans! We do always have the option to order a pizza from the next village over however. After lunch it’s back to chores and activities. They defiantly keep you busy here. If you aren’t on a hike or a dive you either clean camp, clean the beaches, or help with surveys, data entry and turtle watch (a survey on how many turtles are in our cove). All of this data and information is recorded and sent to environmental research and university’s so that we contribute significantly to the preservation of local wildlife.
At three we begin the ritual human sacrifice – just kidding, wanted to make sure you were paying attention. Our day ends usually around 4. After 5 we are allowed 1 beer per weekday, earning it the title “beer o’clock”. The beer is a strong pilsner of about 65cl called “three hours beer” or “THB” for short. If you don’t fancy a brew you can have a fizzy at any time during the day. They have the classics of Fanta, coke and sprite but they have something totally unique to Madagascar. They have pineapple Fanta. It’s amazing. It’s been described as orgasmic on many occasion. A beer at five helps pass the last hour till dinner which is, again, AROUND 6.
For dinner you can expect… (drum roll please) …rice and beans! And coleslaw just to mix things up and make sure we don’t die of scurvy. The most precious resource you can have in camp is sauce for the rice. People buy sweet chilly, BBQ, Thai, brown sauce, and even ketchup. The need for these flavoured emulsions has tuned dinner time into medieval feudalism with food. After dinner we have “board”, which is 5 minuets where a leader (who pulled the short straw) reads out the timetable for tomorrow from a white board.
Beyond that people just chill, listen to music and play games with each other until they decide to head off to bed, usually around 8.
Now as to the projects of forestry, teaching and construction, I cannot give accurate description as I have not yet tried them. All I can say with certainly, is that they are now where near as great as marine. When you go on a dive you experience an alien world, and I mean that in every sense of the word. Kitting up in equipment you’ve spent hours becoming an expert in, going through procedures and signals that a week ago were totally foreign to you, charging across the sea in a boat towards a totally new dive site; it’s hard not to feel like an explorer.
You enter the water and immediately descend down into a new world. At first, it’s unlikely you’ll see anything except the blue haze of the ocean, but when you get deep enough you will begin to see the towers, mountains, caves and canyons of the reef. The twisting shapes of the coral juxtaposed with the barren underwater desert surrounding it, can only be described as a extraterrestrial world.
(Also it has to be said, there is a hilarious amount of penis shaped coral. Kyle made one piece into a neckless. It’s the weenie neckless and I love it, we take turns wearing it. Anyway back to diving…)
As you silently fly over a metropolises of sea life, you feel like a superhero in this new atmosphere of bended physics. Like in space, there is no right way up underwater. I’ve spent an entire dive, doing a scientific survey and communicating seriously with my dive buddy, while being upside down. It really helps when you need to stick you head in some coral or look into a cave (which, when you do Benthic as I do, is more often than not)
I should explain “Benthic”. There are three divisions of study in marine : Benthic, Active Swimmers and Sessile. Active Swimmers are fish and pretty much everything that actively swims: turtles, cuttlefish, etc. Sessile is coral and any underwater plants and benthic is the invertebrates and the most interesting things on the reef. Seriously, who wants to look at fish when you could find a mantis shrimp or a sea urchin or an ornate lobster or a stone fish? (It’s the most poisonous thing here which you are never suppose to go near, yet Kyle, the guy in charge of Marine, takes you up to it and damn near pokes it, he gets so close) Any way all the fish are fish coloured and fish shaped yet there’s millions of different species. Trying to sort them out is a nightmare. Benthic on the other hand is often described as a treasure hunt (which could explain why all the boys do it).
Anyway, back to diving again. One thing that does take some getting used to is the silence between those who are diving. All communication if done through hand signals. I personally find being underwater is the best place to have a song in your head. Just this morning, I did a whole dive with “My Way” from the 1972 Elvis Presley album “Walk a mile in my shoes” revolving in my head. Although Frank Sinatra’s “come fly with me” is also a good choice. In fact all Las Vegas swing music from the 1950’s is great for diving.
My favourite part of the dive however is the end. Not to say that I’m glad it’s over, but rather that the final moments are the so beautiful. You all regroup and silently buzz with all you’ve seen and can’t wait to recount it to each other on the boat back. As we ascend I always look up and see the sun shining down through the ever shifting surface. You see the clusters of pillow-like bubbles charging determinedly to the surface. It’s as if they sky has never been closer. To me, “coming up” or “ascending” are the wrong words to describe the end of a dive. To me it’s more of a transcendence.
Not to get poetic or anything….