Guillame Marchais, French, 28

Guillame joined an expedition in Madagascar on a career break. During his time in Andavadoaka, he helped with an “open day” to share the results of our marine research with the local community.

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5.30am. I can hear the sound of a bell ringing some distance away. I open one eye and look at my watch. The sun is rising and it’s time to wake up and get kitted up for the first dive of the day. While the men from the neighbouring village are preparing their pirogues and nets, I meet up with some of the members of the expedition to set up our scuba diving equipment.

6am. Time for a dive briefing. Now that we have passed all tests on the benthic stuff (coral, sponges, etc), the field scientists brief us on the fish point-out dive. There are lots of fish to learn and we’re aiming to pass the fish tests by the end of this week so there’s no time to lose! Fortunately the weather is perfect – no rain and light wind make for good visibility underwater.

6.30am. Off we go with the boat on a flat and peaceful sea towards “near shore half moon” – a dive spot opposite our beach-front bungalows. We all get geared, carry out a buddy check and after counting to telo (three), we all fall backwards into the water with a temperature of around 29 degrees. We go down to the sea floor for a 45-minute dive looking for all sorts of colourful fish that we need to learn. This morning we have seen the Schwenk’s sweeper, a black spotted sweetlips, jewel damsels, orange-spined unicorn fish, Madagascan butterfly fish, three-spot dascyllus, peacock grouper, skunk anenomefish, big eye snappers, bicolour parrotfish, semi-circle angelfish and bloodspot squirrel fish amongst others!

8.45am. We’re back at Coco Beach (our hotel-restaurant base), put our equipment away and have a quick shower before tucking into breakfast; freshly baked bread with scrambled eggs, and some tea or coffee. Back at my bungalow, I chill out a bit in the hammock, looking over a reef fish book to check out the species that I wasn’t sure about this morning while underwater.

10.15. After a bit of a rest, I head down to Nosy Cao (our classroom) to see what people are up to, including the Malagasy staff writing their reports on their respective research projects. It’s good to discuss with them about their work as it provides an instant insight into how valuable the data we gather during our surveys are for the locally managed marine protected area. This gives me even more motivation to practice the fish test on the computer with other members of the expedition.

13.15. Time to head up to the restaurant and fill up my bottle of water. Three litres of water is usually what I drink for a day because of the heat. On my way, I spot a Namaqua dove and also a dimorphic egret on the shoreline. Lunch and dinnertimes are always a good opportunity to catch up with other members of the expedition and BV’s conservation staff, including a couple of independent researchers working on a seagrass study.

14.30. I go for a well-deserved nap in the shade of our bungalow, overlooking the sea.

15:00. We all gather in Nosy Cao to work on the organisation of an “open day” for the villagers of Andavadoaka. We’re preparing various posters and animations, translated by the Malagasy staff, which explain BV’s research here.

18:00. Time for our duties – tidying the classroom and diving room, survey data entry, and gathering weather data.

19:00. We all meet up at the restaurant for vaovao (news), when volunteers and staff tell everybody else what exciting things happened today and what the schedule is for tomorrow.

19:30. Dinner time! Rice, pasta, fish or meat, and vegetables, with fruit or something sweet for dessert! It’s our rest day tomorrow (no diving) so I treat myself to a nice cold beer.

20:30. Chill out time, when everyone chats about how they are going to change the world and we debate about anything and everything. Others play cards or sing along to a guitar.

22:00 Bed time! It’s been a long day full of interesting things. I wonder which fish I’m going to be dreaming of tonight!?

Emily Lishak, British, 18

Emily did a 12-week expedition with us in Madagascar on her gap year, and received her PADI dive master certificate before going on to study zoology at university.

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There were a number of specific things that I wanted to get out of my gap year: experience of field research in a remote area, an idea of possible career paths for after university using my zoology degree, the chance to really experience a new culture, and scuba diving! I looked around a lot of organisations offering various packages in various exotic parts of the world, but I chose Blue Ventures because I felt that they were a relatively small and focused organisation with clear values, which seemed to be genuinely involved and interested in making a real difference in Andavadoaka. And of course the opportunity to go to Madagascar seemed like a dream come true!

Over the three months I was in Madagascar, I had such a wealth of experiences it’s hard to know where to start! I really enjoyed learning how to conduct underwater transects, including all of the fish species which felt almost like old friends by the time I left. More profoundly, the experience of being completely apart from ‘home’ and of being almost completely isolated in a small community of fantastic people gave me a whole new perspective on life, and on what really matters. I learned that it is possible to come up with new fancy dress themes every week when all you have to work with are palm leaves and sarongs, that you haven’t seen a night sky until you’ve been to Andavadoaka, and that cheese triangles and peanut butter can be a valuable commodity!

I gained a variety of useful skills (scientific data collection, PADI dive master certificate, etc) that I can build on in the future. Blue Ventures demonstrates how responsible research and conservation in a variety of fields can be carried out, and proves that it is possible to make a real difference to fragile ecosystems and the people who depend on them.

Will Proto, British, 43

Will, a biologist from Liverpool university, joined one of our expeditions in Madagascar to broaden his research experience and learn how to dive.

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The memories of my time in a Madagascar are as wonderfully diverse as the country itself. I can highly recommend spending as much time there as is possible! Whether you travel independently or work with an organisation, you cannot fail to be impressed by the country.

I decided to join a research expedition for numerous reasons, although I suppose the main factor was a desire to broaden my field experience. I was keen to take part in a project that I felt was more than just a holiday. However, as an experienced independent traveller, I didn’t want to feel like I was being “restricted and controlled” 24/7. Following lengthy investigations, joining a Blue Ventures expedition seemed perfect for me – and it was.

The immersion into Malagasy culture starts right from the word go. The journey from the capital, Antananarivo, to the meeting point of Toliara on the southwest coast is a good introduction to everyday life in Madagascar. That is, assuming you join the overland tour as opposed to flying! It’s an unbeatable way to see the country, from the highland plateau via rainforests and lemurs down to the beautiful coast.

Arriving on site, I was blown away! Andavadoaka is one of the most breathtaking areas that I have ever been to. Perfect sandy beaches, stretching as far as the eye can see, broken only by small isolated coves. A short walk to the north or south will find you discovering dramatic rock cliffs plunging into the warm waters of the Mozambique Channel. Looking out to sea, the stunning azure blue is only punctuated by offshore rocks and islands.

The landscape is not the only thing this location has going for it. The field site is very comfortable despite the isolated location, with everything from a well-stocked bar to a flushing toilet! The camp is situated just on the edge of the village, which makes for frequent interaction with local villagers in both work and social capacities.

The expedition starts with an intense training course. Dive training runs simultaneously to the marine ecology and species identification programmes. There is a lot to learn, both above and below the water, and the standards are high. But that’s why people are there, to take part and contribute to the research. So yes, it isn’t easy, but I found that reassuring, as it was good to see the research we would be undertaking was of a sufficiently high standard to be used. It’s also worth noting that you’re not alone when trying to take in all of this information, there are plenty of other volunteers in the same boat, and all the staff are there to help. The research team were all very knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and created a great learning environment.

Following the initial training, the underwater surveys start and you get to put all that you have learned into practice under the guidance of Blue Ventures’ research staff. I had never dived before joining the expedition and was completely amazed by the underwater world. I have since dived elsewhere and can honestly say that the diving in Andavadoaka compares very favourably. The diversity on the reefs is mindblowing! It was an amazing way to spend six weeks.

When you’re not in the water there’s still plenty to do. Whether it’s helping with general camp maintenance, teaching local school children English or entering survey data into the computer, the variety of tasks is diverse. While you’re encouraged to work hard, using you own initiative is key.

When the evening comes, enjoying a cold beer and watching the sunset is a great way to unwind. Considering the remote location of the site, I was really pleased with the quality of the food. During the working week, evenings are fairly relaxed as early starts for the best dive conditions are to be expected. The end-of-week party night is a lot of fun, with the occasional fancy dress theme testing our resourcefulness!

Steph Remion, Belgian, 31

Steph joined one of our expeditions in Belize, and loved it so much that she decided to stay for a while longer!

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Less than two weeks to go in Bacalar Chico Dive Camp (BCDC)… a magic place where you live according to the rhythm of nature. Once the sun has disappeared behind the palm trees, stars become more and more visible… and most of us are naturally attracted outside to sit and contemplate their majestic beauty. There is no light pollution around here… the closest big lights we can see are from Xcala, a small village on the Mexican border.

Waking up in the morning is one of the most beautiful moments of the day, with the sun rising out on the horizon in front of us. Think about the most beautiful postcard you’ve ever seen… well, it is BETTER than that! Imagine the sea, the mangroves, the birds, Azul (our boat) in front of you… now imagine the red colours of the sun rising… get a cup of tea or coffee, sit there, and enjoy pure beauty. That’s how our days start here!

Now wake up for real… because hard work is starting: three dives planned. The first one today is a fish point out, the second one is a coral point out, and the third one is a practice for a point intersect transects. Afternoons are usually dedicated to science classes: in less than two weeks we learned to recognise about 50 fishes and around 40 different kinds of corals! We are now ready to start the surveys, and a few of my fellow volunteers, who have never dived before, have successfully passed their PADI Advanced Open Water… well done all!

Leda Smith, American, 26

Leda spent 3 months with us in Madagascar as an expedition volunteer. She writes beautifully about her vibrant experiences in Andavadoaka.

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The ocean comes to me when I think of my time with Blue Ventures; the lyrical Latin names that float through my head, the thoughts of bioluminescence surrounding my body as I dolphin dove in the mild surf at night, the sounds of muffled breathing through a regulator deep among the reef. These things, and many more, stay with me.

What impressed me most was the might of the sea. Living on the beach, it surrounded us. I remember waking in the middle of a stormy night and wondering if the noise I heard outside was the bending of palms, fronds crossing and cutting at each other outside my window, or whether it was the sea licking further and further in, raspy against the rocky shore. The land and sea became one habitat there. We lived with both ecosystems there: not on, or against, but right alongside, together.

To live with something that is inhuman is to make concessions, I believe. Living in Madagascar, makes one realise how much of our lives are indeed human. By human, I suppose I mean easy. Made to suit a consciousness that wants to know, manipulate and ultimately control everything. Computers allow us this capability, as do smaller things like toasters, electric ranges, adjustable seats, climate control, maps and GPS units, and a host of other everyday gadgets. We surround ourselves with things of human invention, things to make life more pleasant and bearable, things that cost money, energy and resources to produce. From the distanced vantage of a place like Andavadoaka, it became fully clear that these items were the controllers rather than the controlled. What a relief, I heard more than one volunteer say, not to be tied to the computer or not check email every 10 minutes. As days turned to weeks, the inconveniences of lacking things in life faded, and conversations turned to the ludicrous costs of living back home. Living in a shared bungalow with only a few hours of electricity each day, made us live far more in the moment.

We woke to the sunrise over the small village of Andavadoaka. Even when I woke for a 5:30 am dive, the local fishermen were always out before me, tying on the sail and outrigger for a pirogue ride out to the best chances for fish. We all looked to the sea and looked to the sky for direction: would there be waves, was a storm brewing, what was the tide? All of this affected our days more than schedules and planning. We dove twice a day on most days. We would identify fish, collect data and hungrily take in the colours, textures and beauty of the reefs. We spent afternoons hiking to the baobab forests with GPS units and data sheets, walking the beaches with binoculars to keep a running tally of local birds, visiting a local school to teach a few words of English, or to take a Malagasy lesson from a local teacher.

Each volunteer found his or her own niche in the ongoing research projects, or else developed one of their own alongside the daily dives and walks. I cannot overemphasise the beauty of the physical and cultural landscape in Andavadoaka, nor the importance of this sort of work. I felt, in simple terms, to be of use. Living as a Blue Ventures expeditions volunteer mixed the intense beauty of Madagascar’s coast with some of the harsh realities of day-to-day life in a rural village.

Along with the beautiful aspects of Andavadoaka, we also surveyed the destruction in some areas and grew to wish we could reverse it. We measured bleaching events and found physical damage to corals. We heard stories of sea turtles caught and eaten in the local village and listened as villagers told us that they catch fewer fish than they caught five years ago. We found ourselves quietly vowing that the trend will not continue. I remember spending a week of afternoons at the weigh station on the edge of the beach, counting and weighing octopus and squid as women and children brought them in to sell. I had been diving and snorkelling those beaches for a month and had never seen one, then watched as hundreds and hundreds of kilos came in a day. One of the research roles that I had been allocated was to weigh each one, logging where each had lived on the reefs, from the 50 gram juveniles to the 6 kilogram monsters. Immediately, I became aware of how little I knew as a visitor to the sea, and how adept the Vezo people are at their craft.

I do miss the varied days and nights in Andavadoaka. I have not seen such pristinely clear, starry skies before or after my stay there. Or appreciated a cold and carbonated Three Horses Beer as much as I did at the canopy dining area overlooking the lagoon at night. I think back of dancing with the governor of the region at his inauguration party held at the site, and walking for an hour at 4am to help launch a huge new transportation boat in the next village. We had to arrive when the moon was fullest at the highest of high tides. I miss the vary (rice) at every meal, with omby, ovy, tongolo (zebu, potatoes, onion), and of course, fia (fish). I loved the satisfaction that came with learning a new phrase or question and using it correctly, and I laugh at some of my mistakes (trying to tell a man that I did not understand, I once told him, repeatedly, that I have no bananas, I really have no bananas. Akondro and azoko, amazing they can mean such different things.)

I find it difficult to write one day in the life of a volunteer, knowing full well that every experience is different. Each of my days was different. Emotions run wild in new environments, and I simultaneously savour and hate this. Living in Andavadoaka, I was able to make the experience rich and rewarding and to get out at least as much as I put in. So I think back now, as I often do, and I see a sunset over the rocks and sand. In my mind, the last pirogue is coming in for the evening, perhaps full of fish and perhaps full of hopes of more tomorrow. The fisher’s stance is comfortable and free, standing on the bow of his canoe, and his face is quiet and serene. What is it that I love about this face of the sea? Is it that it seems to know, when I do not? Or is it the quiet resignation, the capitulation to unknowing? There is such beauty and grace to knowing exactly where you are within the context of your world, who you are, and where you stand. Perhaps that is salvation. Perhaps salvation is no more than the look of contentment in the mind. Perhaps it takes the ocean, so large that many of us are overwhelmed, to allow us this peace. After living in Andavadoaka, I have learned many things. One is that to look at the horizon like that is to look at the space between water and air and infinity. Here goes with my account of a day in the life of my time with Blue Ventures…

So, you wake up as the horizon is just warming. It seems like the sand just cooled down from the day before, and here comes the sun rising over the horizon of trees, grasses and sand, over the village of 2,000 fishers and gleaners already rumbling about their work, getting hot boko-boko doughnuts out on the street to sell and tying the pirogue sails on to the dug out pirogues for a day on the lagoon. But you woke to the sounds of the “waker-upper” (another volunteer) letting you know that it’s time to dive.

You put on your wetsuit and get your kit together and haul it all down to the boat, and head out of the cove. With GPS and memory, your team locates the dive site, maybe one you’ve been researching all week, or maybe doing a new dive on less-studied terrain. And on the first of the three dive, dive, dive! commands, you plunge backward into the water and together descend to the colourful reef. There, you will be proud to collect usable data, you will try to recall all of those fish species you memorised the week before, and will hover silently over a measuring tape carefully identifying the benthos. Hard coral and soft, tunicates, branching, mushroom, digitate and submassive, turf-algae, sand, gorgonians, rubble… All surrounded by two-toned chromises, snappers, butterflies, angelfishes, sweetlips… You record your data underwater on a slate knowing that you will later enter it into the camp computer, adding to the ever-increasing mass of local information.

You may dive twice today. Perhaps a night dive, or a late afternoon dive before dinner. You will fill the rest of your time with other sorts of tasks. You may walk to the mangrove forest and snorkel in the leaving tide, spotting a young fish that will soon inhabit the reefs that you study. You may walk out to the boabab forest to catalogue birds along the way and continue mapping the trees. You may lay down quadrats along the beach and look at the invertebrates of the intertidal zone at low tide. You may study for an upcoming exam to get your rescue diver or divemaster certification. You may take a break between these things, sit on a hammock in the shade and look out at the sea. You may practice yoga on the beach with some other volunteers.

You will see so much life in Andavadoaka. You will live the now-Western cliché of trying to “eat locally”. You will forecast weather by looking at the sky. You will see so much culture in Andavadoaka. The actual village of Andavadoaka lies less than 200 metres from your bungalow and you will hear children singing on the bluffs in the afternoons. You will probably be invited to a local party in town. You will constantly try to learn more and more Malagasy phrases and be proud to converse, at least a bit, as you walk through the village. You may teach English to children and practice your Malagasy as you do.

You will finish your day in the hotel restaurant, having dinner and discussing the day. Rice and pasta, fish and meat, some vegetables, and a slice of pineapple or fried banana for dessert. You will be full in belly and mind. A day well spent. You may forget which day it actually was today, but you will feel it meant something real. You will fall asleep ready for more.

Andrew Ritchie, Australian, 31

Andrew took part in one of our first expeditions in Madagascar, volunteering for 6 weeks.

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When I first mentioned the idea of joining an expedition to Madagascar among my family and friends down here in Australia, most responded with a fairly perplexed look. It seems that everyone had heard of Madagascar, but no one actually knew where it was. When I intelligently informed one of my best mates that Madagascar was in fact the chunky island off the east coast of Africa (after having only worked that out a few minutes earlier myself), he was even more confused. “Oh. And I thought that we were the chunky island off the east coast of Africa?” he said. Well, whatever tickles your fancy. Fairly typical of the insightful and rigourous analysis one can expect from an Australian!

And ultimately, this was what drew me to Andavadoaka, the tiny seaside village on the west coast of Madagascar. I wanted to get away from it all, to experience a way of life fundamentally different to the one I enjoy each day at home, while also contributing positively to a local, and ultimately global, community. To capture my experience in Andavadoaka in a few humble words is a difficult task, made more so by the fact that individual experiences in Madagascar can vary as much as a pousse-pousse fare in Toliara! But, in an effort to satisfy the curiosity of the reader, I’ll give it a crack…

I flew to Madagascar, flippers in tow, prepared for everything. Or so I thought at the time. For most of you, Madagascar will be unlike any other country or region you have travelled to. It is hot (everywhere) and hectic (in parts). Wherever you go in Madagascar, you will be presented with its rugged charm, be wrapped in the feeling of adventure, and be struck by the genuine hospitality of Malagasy people.

Volunteering in Madagascar will enable you to fully appreciate these underlying qualities in a country where the word diversity should have originated. Aside from diving almost everyday (which was an incredible, awakening experience, immersing myself in the reef alongside countless beautiful fish), I was able to teach English in the local primary and secondary schools, and get involved with some of Blue Ventures’ community conservation initiatives.

A trip with Blue Ventures is not just a diving expedition. It’s an opportunity for you to further your understanding of yourself and the world around you by helping and engaging with others. In the process, you’ll make great friends among the community members, staff and of course the volunteers that share this experience with you!

Dr Clare Watkinson, British

Clare joined us for 6 weeks as an expedition medic in Belize, providing basic medical advice to our volunteers and relishing the beautiful scuba diving in Bacalar Chico.

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05.30: I wake up to the sound of Samos (the boat captain) and his radio, roll out of bed and get kitted up for our first dive of the day!

06.00: As part-staff / part-volunteer, I join in with the fish and coral monitoring programme; a bit of a learning curve to get all of the species committed to memory! We start the day with a fish belt transect; firstly laying the 30 metre transect tape, and noting down all the fish along it.

08.00: Breakfast of beans and tortillas, expertly prepared by Desi, the on-site chef. Time after breakfast to review any poorly healing wounds from Bacalar Chico Dive Camp, and try to think of new ways of covering them up underwater (to date nothing has managed to last a whole dive).

09.00: Every dive there’s a boat marshall on the boat with Samos to watch the surface marker buoys and be in communication with the shore marshall on base, should any emergency arise. It’s my turn this morning, and in addition to watching out for the volunteers in the water, this is a good chance for a chat with Samos – learning some random facts about Belize!

11.00: I’m back in the water for another monitoring dive. This time coral bleaching and disease; identifying, measuring and looking at the health of 25 different corals along a transect in buddy pairs. Awesome end to the dive when we saw loads of big ocean triggerfish on the safety stop!

13.00: Lunch at camp.

14.00: PADI rescue diver course; search and rescue skills in the mangroves, followed by lifts and different ways to exit the water with a casualty back at base.

17.00: Time to chill out in my hammock and catch up on some reading.

18.00: Chance to have review any ears or sinuses, and compare insect bites.

18.30: Staff meeting; plan for the following day, and discuss any incidents from the past day.

19.00: My turn to present Weh di gwan? (the plan for the next day) to the volunteers, explaining which dives will go out, and any other scheduled activities. Also an opportunity to amaze with my lack of artistic talent, as demonstrated on the schedule board!

19.30: Dinner is “chicken in sauce”, one of Desi’s best dishes, with possibly the least imaginative name. Tomato and coriander sauce with veg and chicken, stewed. Very good!

20.30: Quick game of cards before heading to bed.

Jess Jambert-Grey, British/French, 20

Jess volunteered with us for almost 6 months in Andavadoaka, where she became actively involved in developing our social programmes, as well as participating in our marine research.

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The days in Andavadoaka always start beautifully. If you’re part of the group that’s on the early morning dive, you wake up just before sunrise, put on your diving kit and head out over the crystal clear water on the trusty speedboat ‘Alo Alo’.  Behind you is the rising sun over Andavadoaka village, and just as it comes over the horizon you dive into some of the most amazing sites in Madagascar. Once all of the science data has been collected from the dive and you’ve woken up in the most spectacular manner, you’re ready to head back to camp to join the rest of the group for a well-earned breakfast.

As the second group heads out for yet more beautiful dives and more data collection, there is plenty of work do be done on site! With an endless amount of projects to be started up/continued/completed, there is always work to keep volunteers more than busy. Some of the projects and studies have included baobab and mangrove forests, birds, the education and social research in the village, and more specific studies of seagrass, nudibranchs and the minuscule life within intertidal zones! The ‘classroom’ on site is probably one of the most beautiful in the world, with views overlooking the coastline of white sand and turquoise water. Failing that, extra study is always possible from a nearby hammock!

Then it’s time for the ravenous volunteers to congregate for lunch and demolish ridiculous quantities of rice, beans and fresh barbecued fish. In keeping with this tropical lifestyle, there is a well-earned siesta after lunch to give you time to digest all that food. Once the heat of the midday sun has subsided (although still over a blissful 30 degrees), work gets underway for the afternoon. This can mean a lecture on marine ecology, teaching English to Blue Ventures’ local conservation staff, or being taught Malagasy by a local teacher. Then those who were on the early morning dive go out on their second dive to spot even more fish, measure coral and if you’re lucky, any mega fauna.  Not such uncommon sightings have included whales, dolphins, turtles, sharks and manta rays.

Once the dive is back and all jobs on site have been completed, the best way to finish the day is to jump into the sea and watch the sky turn red with the arguably the most impressively stunning sunset in the world. Then, you guessed it, it’s time for more food! To finish off a beautiful day, you can watch the shooting stars accompanied by a little local rum and know that you truly are in paradise.

Daniella Sachs, South African, 27

Daniella joined a 6-week expedition to Madagascar, and recounts a typical day in Andavadoaka as well as reflecting on the richness of her experiences.

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As I sit on the porch writing this, the almost full moon casts it light on the waves crashing gently on the shore in front of my hut. In the background I can hear the vibrant Malgasy music playing at the epibar, as I search for the words to describe my experience in Andavadoaka.

Many people have spoken about a typical day here, which involves waking up to a sea so blue that you think your imagination must be playing tricks on you. Typically after a breakfast of coffee and freshly baked bread, it’s off to dive the reefs and practice the skills that you have been learning, with benthic and fish transects. Then it’s lunch and well-deserved hammock time, followed by science lectures covering the reefs, marine ecology and Vezo culture. The day ends with the hot sun meeting the sea in yet another legendary Malagasy sunset, and a fresh fish grill.

This typical day in the life of a BV volunteer however does not nearly convey the experience of being here. The feelings, the meanings, the taste, the smell is lost in the description of a schedule. What is Andavadoaka about? Andavadoaka is the sea and the sun. A warm sea of blue that no camera seems able to capture. An ocean that leaves a salty algae taste on your lips and a brush of sand on your hips.

Andavadoaka is also its people; the Vezo. A people connected to the sea like a tree to its roots. A people filled with colour and pride like the butterflyfish, angelfish, parrotfish and wrasse. The Vezo are the laughter of a wave breaking on the shore, living for the moment without worry of the next.

Andavadoaka is its wind that blows relief to hot skin, and carries the salty smells of baking sand and braziers of frying fish and doughballs. A wind that kisses a perfect sky and clears away the promise of clouds to reveal the breathtaking stars which flood the sky each night.

Emily Carroll, British, 18

Emily joined one of our Madagascar expeditions during her gap year, before going on to study biology at Edinburgh university.

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Andavadoaka is probably the most beautiful place on the planet! The coral reefs here are stunning and just this week I’ve seen well over a dozen families of fish.

My best dive so far included coming across the a huge pufferfish! It was around three feet long and had a cross-section the girth of a dinner plate. Huge, glassy, puppy-dog eyes, spaced far apart. Cute little fins fanning continuously to keep it hovering in one place, a dusky black colour, faded and scratched like an old whale. Completely unphased by us, it bobbed off into the blue. The dive continued to provide us with extraordinary fauna, right to the last minute, with immense shoals of rabbitfish weaving their way around us. The diving has been extraordinary, I’m completely hooked!

There is so much more to tell, like our walk to the baobab forest crossing bright pink salt flats and stumbling over fossilised coral, tremendous views at the top of the hill by our beach-front bungalows, learning to sail with local fishers, the children’s amazing singing performance at the village church, and the wonderful friendships I’ve made with my fellow volunteers and expedition staff. The six weeks are flying by and I’m having the time of my life!

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