I had wanted to visit Madagascar for two reasons: the first was a biology professor who inspired my interest when he said, “If you want to see the animals and plants that exist only in Madagascar, you have to go now before they disappear forever.” The second was that I was craving seeing a world that was the complete opposite of mine. So I traded a summer of hiking through glacier-capped mountains and swimming in freezing cold lakes in northern Canada for walks in the dry spiny forest and swimming in the warm mangrove-lined river channels of southwestern Madagascar.
While geographically opposite, I did very similar work here at Honko as I did back in Canada. Since I have experience working in a National Park, it was decided that the best way I could help at Honko was to work on their ecotourism offer, one of the many projects that Honko maintains in conjunction with the local community. Specifically, I worked with the two local guides to transcribe and improve upon the tours they offer, helped increase local advertising, and reviewed past years’ visitor statistics. Honko is expanding their offer for visitors by soon offering lodging and food, which will give visitors even better access to this amazing corner of Madagascar. It was fun and rewarding work in a beautiful setting.
My first thought when I arrived and went on a mangrove tour was that I was really impressed at the level of service offered by the guides and facilities here. For a small organization with just two guides, the tours are educational and fun, and really showcase the unique landscape. All of the volunteers are really well versed in the projects that Honko is working on, and the visitors that I had the chance to interact with seemed equally impressed with their visit.
I was also impressed with how much the area reminded me of home. How could a small cluster of buildings in the middle of sand dunes, cactuses, octopus trees, and mangroves feel like home?! But somehow it did. I had been looking to spend some time off the beaten path, and was craving the small-town vibe that I know and love. I found that instantly at Honko, a small, tight-knit NGO situated one kilometer down the road from the small (less than 100 people) community of Ambondrolava. I welcomed the torch-lit walk to the outhouse, the cup-and-bucket showers and the spotty cell phone coverage.
Life at Honko started to truly feel like an adventure when I swept gecko poop out of my bedroom (surprisingly a welcome activity, because geckos eat mosquitos!), ogled the large spiders, hissing cockroaches and praying mantises, and successfully rescued my cellphone when it fell into the outhouse. Each day brought a new sight, smell, and lesson – Madagascar gave me much more than I expected to receive.
I am thankful that I decided to spend more than one week’s vacation on this beautiful island that my professor spoke so highly (and urgently) of. Living and working somewhere like Honko allowed me to experience more of Madagascar than the typical tourist, but what I found during my time here surprised me: with a goal heading off in search of something so different from home, I realized that even the farthest, most unique corner of the world can become exactly that – home.