By Jenny Carew
It was the early hours in the morning, 3am to be precise; I arrived at Manchester Airport, ready to meet the Chester Zoo team. The airport was somewhat deserted at this hour, silent with the odd squeak of trainers as workers began their day and people sleeping on the benches waiting for their flight.
I met the team at check in, our long trail of luggage snaked the line. Kit bags upon kit bags were piled high and would be our shelter, clothing and survey equipment for the next two weeks.
Our flight was 14 hours in total, with a brief stop in Paris. We flew from night into day, then back into night again. We landed in the Capital of Madagascar, Antananarivo, just before 12am the following day. Eager to see Madagascar, we peered out of the plane window into the darkness, the only thing we could see was the pouring rain, so much that the tarmac was glistening with reflections and the neon green lights of hotel signage near by.
It took nearly an hour to allow everyone to get through security and to collect all of our baggage, then we had to queue to leave the airport as all bags had to be scanned. At this point, it was creeping towards 1am, we had been on the road nearly 24 hours. Tired, but excited we carried on to meet our mini bus that would take us to the hotel.
The darkness draped over the city so we couldn’t see much, but every now and then there was a petrol station that rose out of the ground like something from war of the worlds. Our last hurdle was to take our bags up a steep hill to our hotel. The friendly host skipped down the lane to greet us and help us with our bags. We headed straight to bed – I crawled under my mosquito net and lay in bed ready to re-charge. We went to sleep to the sound of cicadas croaking loudly in the darkness.
The next morning, I opened my rested eyes to sunlight creeping through our blinds. I peeled off the thin bed sheets and snuck through the mosquito net and tiptoed out of the room to not wake my roommate. I was eager to see Madagascar in daylight for the first time – a country I had never seem before. I quietly closed the door to the bathroom and peered out of the tiny window, which was a tiny slit at the top of the wall. Although we were on the top floor – there seemed to be a level above us, as the first thing I saw was rather peculiar. There, in a swirl of dust, were two tiny legs – scaled – with a lot of feathers. My eyes squinted further – pecking in to the soil was a large bird A cockerel! The ball of dark feathers parading around in the dust with the odd flashes of peoples legs walking by… I giggled to myself. Now that wasn’t what I had expected to see as my first glimpse of the country!
I made my way to the roof terrace, which gave a far wider view of the city. And it was gorgeous! Antananarivo is like an artist’s canvas; so colourful and random. Buildings in all different shapes and sizes were built on the side of the highest mountain to the lowest dip with busy roads winding in between. It gave me a change to try out my camera for the trip for the first time, the Olympus TG-5 Tough. Set to be my new best friend over the next couple of weeks, the small but powerful camera was certainly about to be put to the test with the amount I’ll be using it!
We hopped in to the bus again to stay nearer the entrance of the National Park. This time, the journey was long and the tarmacked roads seemed to dissolve before us. The air became cooler and fresher as we left the capital, the green landscape stretched out and the mountains got bigger as we arrived towards Moramanga.
Through the wilderness, towns popped up from nowhere as if to appear from the orange dust thrown up from the roaring Jeep in front of us. Colourful pavements hosted a range of fresh fruit and vegetables; flaps of stringy brown canvas was the shop keepers only shade and brightly painted wooden slats that had seen better days lined the streets.
We drove on for a couple more hours, before arriving at our final hotel. The team spent the evening sorting out kit that we would donate to the local school. My personal bag had got wet as it was on the top of the pile on the roof – luckily though, my clothes were in dry bags so my clothes
were dry – thank goodness! In the morning we were set to adventure into the rainforest for two weeks, so we enjoyed our last night in civilisation.