10 things to pack for a trip to Madagascar

by Abi Blandon, Honko’s Social Media Coordinator

Abi's trip planning on a 2015 Honko calendar. (Photo credit: Abi Blandon)

Abi’s trip planning on a 2015 Honko calendar. (Photo credit: Abi Blandon)

The count down to my Madagascar trip has gone into single figures and I’m busy getting the final items on my packing list together. After a year or so of helping to run Honko’s Twitter and Facebook accounts from the UK, I’m finally going out into the field to meet the people that I post about and get to see some of the projects that I regularly report on. It’s going to be a short but exciting trip with a lot to pack in! I’m particularly excited about Honko’s up and coming music project, which plans to raise funds to send a local band to a studio and record some mangrove-conservation-related songs. I’ll be helping make some of the promotional videos for this campaign, so watch out for these on Honko’s Facebook page! The campaign is due to kick off on the 26th June and I hope all our followers are ready to support some great traditional Malagasy music.

Local music group, Kintana Dimy, performing a song about temporary fishing reserves at a recent Honko awareness-raising event in Ambotsibotsike, SW Madagascar. (Photo credit: Nina Hamilton)

Local music group, Kintana Dimy, performing a song about temporary fishing reserves at a recent Honko awareness-raising event in Ambotsibotsike, SW Madagascar. (Photo credit: Nina Hamilton)

I previously worked out in Madagascar for a year so the last time I packed for the country, I had a lot more items on my list! It’s a weird sense of relief mixed with disappointment going to the pharmacy and realising I’ll probably only need one pack of plasters! This time around, I feel relatively confident I have everything I need and none of what I don’t, so here are my top 10 items to pack for any future volunteers visiting the country (apart from the obvious things. Like sunscreen. And anti-malarials):

1) Antibac hand gel
Especially if you’re new to the country, antibacterial hand gel is a must. The beginning of your trip is when the most tummy upsets can occur, so it’s important to make sure your hands are clean before meal times, especially when the hand-washing equipment isn’t quite Dyson airblade standard. It’s good to make keeping your hands clean your new obsession, so no nail-biting, or touching your face with your hands (amazing how often people do this!). It’s also a good idea to take nail-clippers to keep your nails from getting too long so dirt doesn’t get stuck underneath.

2) Adventure sandals
This was the one thing I didn’t take last time around that I ended up really wishing I’d taken. Walking boots are great if you need foot protection and are walking through forest, flip flops are great when you don’t need foot protection and are just wading through the sea….but what if you do need foot protection, but also need to wade through water – like walking through swamps where loads of roots could be sticking out under the surface? Then adventure sandals are life saver!

3) Waterproofs
Bit obvious maybe….or maybe not? I say Madagascar and you may think of sun and white beaches but it does have a rainy season, and when it does rain, it rains hard! Especially on the west coast, you will be in danger of cyclones (cyclone season is around Feb-March) so it’s best to be over-prepared. I’d suggest a good raincoat and a pair of waterproof trousers, and if you’re going when it’s wet, maybe even some wellies – even the best walking boots aren’t completely water tight! One thing to note is that if you use your waterproofs regularly, some of the waterproofing may have worn out (yes, I didn’t know waterproofing ran out either!) so it’s worth getting rewaterproofed before you go out.

The occasional cyclone in Ambondrolava, SW Madagascar. (Photo credit: Nina Hamilton)

The occasional cyclone in Ambondrolava, SW Madagascar. (Photo credit: Nina Hamilton)

4) Resealable plastic bags
You may laugh, but I remember finding some of these in a bunch of things my friend had left me and getting so excited! For those of you who have been before, you’ll know the plastic bags in Madagascar aren’t the best out there, and if you’re particularly looking for something that’s relatively water and air tight, the resealables can’t be beaten! They’re particularly useful for packing away all your food treats to make sure ants won’t get to them – a problem you never seem to get back home.

5) Savlon dry antiseptic spray
Out of all of your first aid kit, I would say the Savlon dry antiseptic spray is one of the most important. Not sure you can get the brand outside the UK, but any dry antiseptic spray will do the job. What’s particularly great about it is the fact that it’s dry. One of the most common maladies I saw out in Madagascar were infected wounds and the best way to stop this happening to a cut or graze is to dry it out. This is really hard in a humid country like Mada, so the dry antiseptic spray is the perfect solution. (On the same note, I would recommend against buying spray on plasters – I tried these and it’s like spraying PVA glue to your skin… not the nicest experience and it will lock in any infection into the wound. It’s best to let a wound breath.)

6) A GOOD headtorch
It’s surprising how much of a difference a good head torch makes. So if you’re investing in a new one for your trip, make sure you read reviews and get some advice before you make a decision, and don’t just go for the cheapest! Remember, most rural places of Madagascar won’t have electricity, so after sunset (5-7pm ) you’ll mainly be relying on your head torch for your light source – it’s important!

Headtorch-lit dinner at Honko. (Photo credit: Annastiina Ali-Lekkala)

Headtorch-lit dinner at Honko. (Photo credit: Annastiina Ali-Lekkala)

7) Non-DEET mozzie spray
As well as your anti-malarials, you’ll be taking some anti-mozzie spray and no doubt you’ve been recommended to take DEET based products. However, if you want to be handling frogs or snakes during your time in Madagascar, it’s best to pack some natural-based mozzie spray as well. DEET is poisonous and can kill frogs instantly through their porous skin – not surprising for a chemical that melts plastic!

Mangrove mud is also a slightly messier, yet also effective, solution! (Photo credit: Liz Ashworth)

Mangrove mud is also a slightly messier, yet also effective, solution! (Photo credit: Liz Ashworth)

8) Condiments
If you’re going to be out in Madagascar for a long period of time and/or like particularly flavoursome food, I’d highly recommend taking some condiments with you. I’m thinking spices like garam masala and things like garlic powder. Not only will these make you the new favourite person at meal times, it’ll mean you can break the sometimes monotonous trend of rice and beans (although I’m yet to taste the meals at Honko so I may need to eat my words, or should I say, food). That said, a sprinkle of cinnamon can only make the delicious Malagasy breakfast of doughballs and wet rice even better!

Fresh catch for dinner at Honko. (Photo credit: Tess May)

Fresh catch for dinner at Honko. (Photo credit: Tess May)

9) A journal
If you’re umming and erring about taking a journal – DO IT. For many of you, this is a once in a life time experience and you will learn a lot about yourself and the world around you in a short space of time. When you get back home, you won’t quite believe everything that has happened and you’ll need some way to live the experience back. Films and photos will help, but nothing cuts it like reading what you wrote at the time. And if you’re worried about having the time, don’t. There’s plenty of down time in Madagascar, and it makes for the best journal entries.

It’s moments like this that you might want to relive through your journal. (Photo credit: Liz Ashworth)

It’s moments like this that you might want to relive through your journal. (Photo credit: Liz Ashworth)

10) A good sense of laid back humour
A bit of a cop out for the last item I know, but you really will be needing this. Madagascar is a disorganised and frustrating place but it’s also beautiful and full of exciting, amazing things to discover. If you can just get over the first bit of that sentence, you’ll be able to fully embrace the second part and really enjoy your time there. You’ll have to be ready to go with the flow and make a laugh out of every situation, but it won’t take long to settle into the Malagasy way of thinking, and take everything slowly slowly, or “mora mora” as they like to say over there.

Moramora taxi-brousse style on Tulear's RN9. (Photo credit: Tess May)

Mora mora taxi-brousse style on Tulear’s RN9. (Photo credit: Tess May)

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