There are lots of things to do at Honko in your spare time. You could spend months here and never feel the need to leave. There are books to read in lots of languages, and games to play together like Cluedo and Yahtzee and Settlers of Catan, as well as card games like Rummy. You can even put on some music and share stories and jokes over some warm Cokes and beers from the village. There are plenty of things to learn – you can learn languages from the other volunteers and Malagasy from the staff, and there is plenty to read about the ecosystem we are in, about all the different parts and how they work together. There are films to cuddle up and watch, and if you buy a little credit you can get online well enough to reply to emails and messages. You can go swimming, or kayaking, or bird watching, play football or Frisbee. You can watch the sun rise and set and see the stars stretch across the sky at night, or walk the couple of kilometres over the dunes to the sea. Far from the tourist areas and the villages, on this beach you can feel like the only people on Earth. And you can do anything else you feel like – try some yoga or meditation, draw or paint. There is time here to pick up old hobbies, and to find new ones.
But sometimes, you might want to explore beyond our little area. Head to the village and wait by the road until you catch a taxi-brousse or hitch a lift and there are many things to do.
If you go south to the nearest town, Toliara, you will find lots of restaurants where you can get good food, ice cold beer, and delicious cocktails. Fresh croissants, tasty pizza, and delicious ice cream all feature regularly on our trips to town and you can pick up fresh fruit from the side of the road, whatever is in season. The fruit is fresh and full of flavour, and often so juicy it runs down your fingers and you have to slurp it up. There are a couple of bars and clubs too, and there’s nothing quite like trying to dance along to the fast, bouncy Gasy music, or hearing an old pop song you’d half-forgotten being played on the other side of the world. People are friendly but like anywhere there are risks, so watch your stuff and don’t wander round alone at night. There is also internet, which (when it works) is good enough to Skype and do whatever else you like. There is a small museum to get a taste for the culture, and 12km outside town there is an arboretum for the unique flora of the spiny forest, both of which are well worth a visit.
Head the other way along the road and you reach Mangily, a large village set in a beautiful bay with crystal clear waters. From October to February the waters are filled with hundreds of harmless jellyfish, and when the conditions are right you can see a line of surf breaking along the reef. Stay the night and you can eat dinner watching the sun set into the sea, and if you want there are clubby-bars on the main road where you can dance the night away. There is small spiny forest reserve here too, with some huge baobabs so large it takes several people to reach around the trunk. You can go snorkelling, or surfing, or scuba diving (my personal favourite). Mangroves exist with one foot on the land and the other in the sea, and exploring the world beneath the waves helps you appreciate their uniqueness even more. And to relax you can get a massage on the beach for the price of a supermarket sandwich, and enjoy the sun and the sand and the sambosas (Malagasy samosas, another favourite of mine).
All of this can be done in a day trip, or with a night at a hotel – you can get a reasonable room for just a couple of quid each. Life here is often very peaceful. It’s the ‘mora mora’ (slowly, slowly) Malagasy lifestyle, and it is such an antidote to the hectic pace of life in the West. But if you want to go further and find some excitement it’s definitely out there! And when you return, sweaty and dusty from the taxi-brousse and with a pocketful of new memories you will have that ‘coming home’ feeling. You can settle down on the sofa with a cup of tea and listen to the wind blowing through the trees, and be grateful for the welcoming and calm way of life we have at Honko.