“A Memory Around My Neck”

by Julie Cremer

 

There is a necklace that I wear that may seem plain and insignificant. However, it bears the weight of a dream come true. The chain consists of small metal balls that are linked together; ending in a lobster-hook clasp. The pendant is round and metallic in the back. It is what is on the face of the pendant that means the world to me. A cutout of an atlas page lies underneath a glass casing on the pendant. The cutout is a small, northwestern corner of the island of Madagascar just off the Indian Ocean. “Hell-ville” and “Nosy-Be” can be seen in bold, black type that jumps out at the viewer. Anytime I wear the necklace, it draws the curiosity of friends and strangers alike.

 

“Where is that?”

“Why did you go there?”

“What was it like?”

“Do you want to go back?”

           

            For years, I dreamed of going to Madagascar. Photos of lemurs, giant chameleons and baobab trees discovered in a vintage nature book acted as the kindling that sparked my yearning to adventure into what is known as “The Eighth Continent” as far back as middle school. I wasn’t sure if a chance would come my way since Madagascar is not exactly a vacation hotspot for American tourists. But the chance did cross my path during my junior year of college. A study abroad program in ecotourism and field research methods opened up as I was earning my Bachelor’s degree in Zoology at Michigan State University. This was the opportunity of a lifetime and I was not about to let it pass me by.

 

The majority of our time in Madagascar was spent traveling to national parks, going on hikes and exploring different field research techniques for studying native wildlife. But my favorite part of the trip came when we went snorkeling for three days off the Northwestern coast around an island called “Nosy-Be.” We flew from the capitol, Antananarivo, to a small town called, “Hell-ville” on the southern tip of the island. We left behind blustery winds, cloudy skies and cold temperatures and said hello to a tropical paradise. Our main assignment for that part of the program was to identify and document as many species of marine life as possible. We hopped on a small motorboat early the first morning and headed to a smaller island called Nosy Tanikely that is a protected marine life refuge.

 

 

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I have provided the setting for this venture but now it is time for the best part…the animals! Over the course of our visit, I observed eight sea turtles, a pod of dolphins, an octopus, comb jellyfish and about 20-30 species of bony fish. I was able to swim just feet away from one of the sea turtles; it’s large eyes lazily gazing at me with curiosity. I was an alien and stranger in its underwater world. The octopus I spotted was cruising along the sandy floor; tentacles trailing behind him like flags in the wind. As soon as he saw me, he colored an alarming shade of cherry-red and shot into a hole the size of a tennis ball even though he himself was several feet across. Truly octopi are the Houdinis of the marine world. Box jellyfish no bigger than my thumb stung my arms, legs and back at regular intervals. It was a bit scary swimming through a “float-tilla” (Get it? Flotilla? Floatilla?) of them but our group soon got used to it. Parrotfish and triggerfish that were the length of my body crunched away on coral heard from half a mile away underwater. In the shallows of the island’s beach, lesser barracuda hovered near the surface; a phantom ready to swoop down and steal the lives of its prey. Other species that I had the unique privilege to see were Circular Spadefish, Emperor Angelfish and Lionfish. When we weren’t snorkeling, we were consuming a feast of seafood and saffron rice right on the beach, making friends with the local brown lemurs or hiking to the ancient lighthouse in the center of the island. On one occasion, we snuck close to a flock of flying foxes shrieking and flapping in the trees. After three days of fierce sun, white sands and aquamarine saltwater, we were ready to depart on the next leg of our journey.

 

I wear my necklace in remembrance of this amazing island and all of the unique wildlife that calls it home. I tell everyone I meet to get out there and see the world. If we are brave and bold enough, open our eyes and stretch our minds, we will see and experience incredible things that will change our lives and will forever stay in our hearts.

So go on an adventure!

 

Photos:

(1-4) Taken by Julie Cremer (Nose Be and Nose Tanikely)