New and Improved Packing List, by Alison

Honko is in a beautiful place, but it’s not what I expected. I’m not sure what I expected, but in the month I’ve been here, I’ve found myself beginning to worry about running out of some surprisingly needed items.

First: Bug spray. My project, comparing bird diversity between protected, degraded, deforested, and replanted plots, takes me in to the mangrove forest quite often. After two trips, I’ve already judged plot 26 as the most likely to kill me, and plot 33 as the most likely to not see any birds- because I’ve scared them off stepping on loud branches. What these two have in common, other than sticky mud, flooded areas, and harmless but prolific spiders, is mosquitoes. Lots of mosquitoes. Even back at Honko, the little buggers are sure to be found- not as many as a humid Massachusetts summer, but enough to make bug spray a necessity. I brought more than I used last summer in Massachusetts, but I still worry that it won’t be enough. Itch cream is another thing I use quite often.

Second: Hand sanitizer and wet wipes. Honko lacks running water, and nighttime bathroom runs aren’t the best time to try and pull water from the well. Hand sanitizer seems the best alternative, for those worried about staying clean, and as I adjusted to the new environment in the first few weeks, I worried I would run low. Now, I’m much more comfortable and can effectively pull water from the well, and this is less a concern. But staying clean is still important.

Third: Flashlights. It can get very dark at night, which is truly beautiful for a stargazer- I can’t think of one night I couldn’t see the Milky Way, even with a full moon. But trying to maneuver through the darkness can be a challenge without a good light. My headlamp lasted me about three weeks before the batteries gave out, and I began to worry about its reliability. You can get them in town, certainly- but you can probably get better ones elsewhere.

Last: Batteries. I mentioned my headlamp gave out- so did my GPS and camera. I’ve used over half the batteries I brought, and had to borrow some from Honko for the headlamp. Thoughtfully, I brought along rechargeable batteries, but have now lost the charger, so it’s back to buying more. You can get them in town… but I’d rather have my charger.

Other items I’ve found useful are my watershoes and sturdy flip flops; other items I’ve used less than I expected include my hiking boots and sneakers. The watershoes are perfect for tromping through the sticky, muddy mangroves, and good flip flops are all you need around Honko or in town.

As much as I complain, I also must say that I would not give up this experience for the world. The mangroves are beautiful, and my project is off to a good start. I love nothing more than hiking out to the plots, even the dreaded plot 26, to work on my project and find some birds. I have yet to go kayaking, but this week I plan to go diving nearby, at a town up the coast. Next month, I will get to Isalo, the lemur forest, and find a momento for a very young friend back home. Within a week of my arrival, I made it with the other volunteers to Reniala, the baobab forest. This place is amazing, and I wouldn’t trade my experience for the world.

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