After a 12 hour drive – if they’re lucky – on a bumpy, dusty and muddy road – our team will arrive at Lake Sofia where they will set up camp.
As they gear up for the release of the Madagascar pochard, they will share their time between the lakeside and a small town nearby, Marotolana.
Marotolana is a town so remote, that even few Malagasy visit, as it’s literally at the end of the road on the map.
Given its inaccessibility, camping by Lake Sofia is no picnic.
There is no electricity. There is no running water. H20 has to be fished out of the local well.
It will be back to basics for the happy campers, who will stay in tents, with shelters, tarpaulins and trees providing extra cover.
A cook will prepare meals however most of the dishes will be made up of rice, rice and more rice with sides of chicken, fish, beans or eggs and the occasional vegetable. Dinner is washed down with ranampangu – boiled left over rice water. Our group have been advised to bring along their own teabags.
There is a Glasto-style long-drop for a toilet. For washing, there is a bucket, the lake and the open air.
Naturally, white people are unusual in rural Madagascar, and especially around Sofia. WWT were the first white people in some of the villages there though many are now used to our presence. Outsiders – all foreigners to Madagascar – irrespective of race – are ‘Vahaza’ (vasa). White people stand out attracting stares and the endless fascination of inquisitive children.
Our conservationists will have to observe a number of Madagascar customs, and beware of taboos known as fady, (fad). WWT have discovered a few over the years: working on a Thursday isn’t permitted, neither is eating pork, and number two-ing in the lake is an absolute no-no, so nothing too controversial.
There aren’t many monsters in Lake Sofia, however according to locals, crocodiles can be counted among the residents. Thankfully our staff have never encountered a giant man-eating reptile yet, nor met anyone who has. They will practice being wary.
As the sun sets over the camp at 6pm, the campers will retire to their tents early to read or take notes about life by Lake Sofia.
It’s a far cry from 9 till 5 at Slimbridge. But a once in a lifetime experience that few people will get to share.