Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve, Madagascar – The Camp

As remote as Beza is, the camp is pretty amazing.  Camp is south of the Reserve, situated a little east of center.  There is a very small welcome (Tonga Soa! in Malagasy) sign to the left of the road, you turn right off the road, pass between two buildings of cinderblock and the road opens up into a large empty space.  Of the two buildings you have just passed between, on the left is a building with the offices of the Reserve staff, including the Madagascar National Parks Park manager, and the ESSA manager from the University of Antananarivo.  On the right is the Beza Mahafaly Museum, which includes our storage room and the “lab”.  The lab is actually a tiled counter, with a sink, desk, and cabinet, with a microscope and some American plugs (huzzah!), and disposable lab supplies spread out everywhere when Cora is working.  It looks like a mess, but I promise Cora has it all under control.  Just watch out for the rat droppings.

Past the offices, Camp opens into a large dirt area, with a few decoratively planted cacti, and some very large kily trees.

Immediate across from you is the Lapalapa building, which is essentially the center of camp.

The Lapalapa!

The Lapalapa looks like an open-sided picnic shelter in the USA, complete with metal picnic tables with wooden table tops.  Underneath the thatched roof of the Lapalapa is where all lemur processing is done, including physical exams.  The tables are supposed to be for dining when there are too many people to sit in the dining hall, but cover them with garbage bags and they make great exam tables for unconscious lemurs, as long as  you don’t mind the uneven planks, the wobbly table, and the lemur poop where you’re could be eating tonight.  That stuff just wipes up off the plastic, though, right?

Past the Lapalapa is a large wooden building, mostly eaten by rats.  I’m really not kidding, all the walls are essentially hollow from rats, and at night, we would eat dinner and listen to the derby races they would hold up in the roof.  This building houses the dining hall and several closet-sized bedrooms for the Malagasy staff, including the cook, and the maintenance guys.  I say maintenance loosely because there really isn’t any maintenance to be done as there are only four buildings, but they do empty the trash, dig pits for the trash, and sweep the main area of anything that might dare to grow. This ensures that instead of the central area being grassy and beautiful, it’s dusty all the time and every morning while they’re sweeping portions of it, it looks like an Afghani sand storm.  Also inside the main building is the “kitchen”, which is really just a closet with counter space, a sink for washing dishes, and cabinets for storing the 10 sets of dishes and 5 pans that are the entire cooking apparatus of Beza; however, lest you be confused, no actual cooking happens in this kitchen.  Cooking is done behind the building, on a counter with two little fire pits built into it.  It is sheltered by 3 walls and a tin roof, which is new since just a couple years ago it was just a counter with fires but no walls.  It is still open on one side, and the lemurs LOVE this al fresco design for cooking.  It affords all sorts of opportunities for “helping” by stealing food, drinking the water used for cooking, etc.  Near the “kitchen” is the concrete well, one of my favorite places in camp because the lemurs stage daily battles over access to the well and the buckets around it.  The rope to pull the bucket up also makes this really awesome motor noise at 4:30 am when they’re pulling up water to make the breakfast rice.  Great alarm clock.

Several meters to the left of the Lapalapa, is the fourth actual building in camp, a small house where resides the MNP manager, Miandrisoa (said pretty much how it’s spelled).  He was … helpful… but that is a story for another blog.  Behind his house is the camping area for foreign researchers, complete with tent pads and a cement path to the outhouse!  There are six tent pads of varying sizes, from 2 x 3 m up to 3 x 3.5 m.  The camping area is grassy and somewhat uneven, so it was nice to have tent pads, which are concrete blocks filled with sand.  To the left of the camping area is a concrete path that led to the shower building, and the outhouse, which is awesome because when the lemurs walk along it, the cement catches and holds all the little presents they leave.  In other words, watch your step on the way to the toilet!

Researcher tents

Both the shower and outhouse buildings are cement, painted white with a tin roof.  As you enter the shower building, you go left or right into the shower stall of your choice, hang your portable shower bag, and Tada!  The floor is tiled, and there is even a porcelain basin funneling to a hole for the water to drain out.  Of course, it drains right into a giant pit in the back of the building, so bring biodegradable soap because sewage systems or plumbing are totally out of fashion here in the woods.  There is even a bar on which to hang all your clothes and towel, and a dirty cracked mirror!  It is the height of luxury, trust me.

If you think think that could rival the Hilton, just wait until we tour the outhouse!  It’s concrete, which is an improvement over the wooden outhouses I’ve used at other field sites.  Believe me, nothing makes you appreciate a nice, open air tree better than a wooden outhouse that’s been absorbing outhouse ‘stench’ for the last 50 years or so.  The outhouse at Beza is relatively new, as apparently, when the long-drop pit underneath the outhouse fills up, they just build a new one somewhere else.  The old one is still there in case you ever feel the need to experience a filled up outhouse.  In the new one, there are two stalls, one on either side, and the doorway literally opens right into the ‘toilet’ area.  The floor is tiled, the walls are concrete, and there is a porcelain basin with raised places to put your feet.  We’re pretty sure there was a “Mens” and “Womens”, as the basins on either side were differently shaped, but no one could figure out which sex used which side.  The porcelain basin is shaped like a

The long-drop in all it’s glory.

long-neck gourd (or a short-neck gourd on the other side) and has a 3 inch wide hole at which you must aim.  At 3 am, this is no joke and could actually be considered an Olympic sport if you catch the Betoiky plague.  There is a trashcan for toilet paper, which shall not be thrown down the hole, and a bucket of water to wash down any mess you create.  There is no way to NOT make a mess, it’s more a question of how hard the mess will be to clean up.  We even had an old Katadyn water filter with a spigot to wash your hands, but that didn’t work as well as one would hope, since the rats kept stealing the soap.  And always remember, when using the long-drop toilet, make sure to put the gauze-wrapped rock across the entrance so others know not to enter!

If you’re curious, here is the site for Beza from the Madagascar National Parks Service –  http://www.parcs-madagascar.com/fiche-aire-protegee_en.php?Ap=8

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