First Steps in the Jungle

Posted on 28 September 2006
In the Malagasy forest with our guides
© Corinne Eisenring
After one introductory week, in which we volunteers were informed about the WWF projects in Madagascar, we finally get to enter the wilderness for the first time. In the early morning hours I am saying goodbye to my host family. In the glow of my flashlight, I am walking over to the meeting point of the «Amis des Lémuriens» (French: Friends of the Lemurs). Everything is still quiet in the hamlet Ambodiasina. Its 2600 inhabitants are fast asleep in their wooden shacks and cabins that are built on wooden posts as a protection in the rainy season. The trails, which are usually filled with playing children, are still deserted.

I am the only one who gets to the meeting point on time and I have to wait for almost an hour until all members of the «Amis des Lémuriens», mainly teenagers, have arrived. I am not surprised though. There are no watches in Ambodiasina. Madagascans judge by the sun how late it is. What about it at this time, in the dark of the early morning? Usually, people get up at the break of dawn (around 6 a.m.) and go to bed shortly after sunset.

As we finally set out, I realise that «moramora» (Mad.: slowly, unhurriedly) may hold true for the common daily routine but not for their pace on a hike. They swiftly stride up the mountainside, giving me a hard time catching up. If only I had not mentioned that we had numerous mountains in Switzerland and that I was used to mountain paths. This trail, which is often only about a foot wide, can not be compared to the ones in our Swiss Alps!

Having reached the other side of the mountain, we finally enter the real jungle. There is no longer anything resembling a path. If it wasn’t for the person in front of me, I would get lost in the jungle for good. As shortly before I was whining about the smallness of the mountain path, I am now longing for something at least resembling a small trail. Each moment that I am telling myself «No, it can’t get any steeper and tanglier», I’m proved wrong and it actually does get worse. In the end, I’m crawling on all four from one tree trunk to another so I don’t lose my footing. I’m not even dreaming about taking my hiking boots off any more. I simply hope that I can rely on the sales woman telling me that these boots were quick-drying. The locals, on the other hand, don’t bother with shoes – they hike the whole way on their bare feet.

So far, there’s not even a trace of a Lemur to be seen. Instead, I got to know another animal very closely: leeches! The small worm-like creatures are all over the jungle and suck themselves onto every exposed patch of skin. But I soon forget about this nuisance because I’m completely overwhelmed by the sheer perfection of nature. Everything is of a very dense green, everywhere intertwined exotic plants, and all seems completely untouched by human hand. Seeing this, it is unimaginable to me, how any human being could possibly destroy such a beautiful piece of nature. Marie-Hélène Lène, WWF staff member in Andapa, explains, «If the WWF hadn’t come here three years ago, there would be no forest left!»

Years ago, more and more land was recklessly deforested, while vast bushfires contributed to the destruction of the rainforest. Nobody felt responsible. This is why the WWF has assigned parts of the corridor Betaola (a 20,000 hectares wide stretch of forest between the national park Marojejy and the reservoir Anjanavabe) to nine communities in the area. Each single community is now responsible for the preservation of particular zones in their allotted piece of land. In other zones, cutting down a tree requires a special authorization. Thanks to this division, many members of the communities grew have grown aware of their responsibilities towards nature.

At the end of our trip through the jungle, we still haven’t been able to spot any lemurs but at least we have found a lemon tree with ripe fruits. The suitable refreshment after an exhausting hike through the wild. Since it is far too late for a return to our village Ambodiasina, we decide on spending the night in the sixty-soul hamlet Andahovueli nearby the rainforest.

Having taken a refreshing bath in the river, I’m more than looking forward to going to bed. I’m so exhausted that I’m certain to drop right to sleep wherever I lay down. However, after the meal (consisting of rice – as any meal here) I realize that something is more powerful than my exhaustion: the cold. In my entire outfit, this is in my raincoat and pants over my regular clothing, but without blanket, I’m suffering heavily from the sudden cold. I’m trying every possible position to finally find some sleep – mummy, embryo, feet-in-hand – but nothing helps. In the middle of the night I’m moving over from my sleeping place to the kitchen hut. There, I luckily manage to fall asleep next to the crackling fire – plunging into a dream of seeing some lemurs tomorrow.

Text: Corinne Eisenring
Translation: Sandro Trunz
Published by Limmattaler Tagblatt (2006)
In the Malagasy forest with our guides
© Corinne Eisenring Enlarge