Words and photos courtesy Coral Chell (6 week dissertation student)
This summer I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to go to Opwall’s Madagascar forest site for 6 weeks (That’s right, 6 weeks without internet! And you know what? It’s the best detox, honestly!). I was carrying out research for my Masters thesis, looking at the impact of human disturbance on two diurnal lemur species, the Coquerel’s sifaka and the Common Brown lemur (the two best lemurs!). So, what’s the average day like for a dissertation student in the dry forests of Madagascar I hear you ask!? Well, it’s different…. Yeah different. But I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.
How and what time you got woke up very much depended on which camp you are at. I’m going to go through what a day in base camp is like, because let’s be honest base camp is where it’s at! It’s the central hub and its basically home for 6 weeks. So, because base camp is the busiest with the most people, if you didn’t get woken up before 6am you were lucky! The usual alarm calls would include: chicken, turkeys, general camp construction, the phone alarm from the tent next to you, sifakas pooing on your tent (Seriously! See picture below), the tree phone calling numbers (yes, a tree phone…) or sometimes depending on where you tent is people brushing their teeth. Once you’re up you usually need the loo, because hydration is key and you’d usually drunk your body weight in water the previous day!
So, I was part of the diurnal lemur team so we set off for survey at 7am, which would give me some time to grab some breakfast. Breakfast was usually some form of fried donut and condensed milk, which sounds odd but I don’t half miss them now! Once that’s done and you’ve got your day bag and water (remember hydration is key!), you were ready for survey!
Once you were back from survey, around 11-11.30am you’d have a bit of down time. Usually I’d spend this time either having a shower, reading some papers for my dissertation or chilling in a hammock. Then at 12.30pm it was lunch time! Lunch was the same every day, rice, beans and some veg…. It’s actually a lot nicer than you would think and you start to like it. Once lunch was over and you’d caught up with everyone you’d have a hour or so before your afternoon survey that was usually around 2pm. Afternoon surveys were hot so guess what? You’d need lots of water!
You would get back from afternoon surveys at around 5pm, giving you enough time to catch up with people again, grab a cold (if the ice had been delivered) drink from one of the shops on camp, before dinner at 6pm. Dinner was always fun, you would just never knew what you were getting! It also gave you the chance to catch up with other volunteers and staff. Because base camp was the hub, you’d get the chance to talk to so many interesting people from all across the world, learn about different cultures and people’s experiences. As a dissertation student your nights would vary, sometimes you chill with other volunteers, sometimes there’d be guest lectures from staff and other times you sit and do some data entry.
Whatever you did you’d always have a great night as once the generator went off you’d look up and see they milky way light up the sky and remember
‘Wow, I’m in Madagascar’.