To Anakao…and Beyond!!

In February of 2019, Jake Bulman and I received the news that we were going to be sent to Madagascar for a cartography project and the trip of a lifetime. We had been selected to go and create a map of the cavern zone of Aven cave. Having seen the videos and heard first hand from our colleges how cool this cave actually is, we were eager to get going and see the wonders of the Madagascar caves for ourselves.

Our trusted comrade and all-round great guy Nelson dropped us off at Cancun International Airport at 4am on Wednesday 22nd May and we began our long journey to Madagascar. We had a nice short flight to Atlanta, where I got my first taste of southern hospitality. We spent 5 hours in Atlanta waiting for our connecting flight to Paris and met Zachary Klukkert, one of the scientists on the expedition. After a smooth flight to Europe and a short layover, we found ourselves on Air France. Next destination – Madagascar!

Arrival in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar

We arrived in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar just after midnight. The immigration process was way smoother than I expected and the lady at the immigration desk was such help she gave me a great first impression of the Malagasy people – one which would stay we me for the rest of the trip. The taxi ride to our hostel, Madagascar Underground, was a little under half an hour. Squinting as hard as I could whilst looking out the window I could still not make out much of the landscape. A lot of the roads have very limited street lights and many of the locals live without electricity so to get a good view of your surroundings in the dead of night is a lot to ask for. After a couple of hours of sleep in the hostel, we were up at the crack of dawn to head back to the Airport and catch a plane to Toloari. Once we arrived in Toloari we had one more leg of the journey to complete. A picturesque 1.5-hour boat ride along the coast to our final destination. Complete we Zebu cart transfer to the boat waiting in the shallows, this was one of the most memorable boat journeys in my life!

Arrival at Ocean Lodge in Anakao, Madagascar

Arriving at Ocean Lodge Resort in Anakao I was blown away by the sheer luxury of the place. We stepped of the boat onto pristine white sand and were greeted with a fresh pineapple juice which went down a treat. After settling in we would spend the rest of the evening getting to know our colleges for the next 2 weeks.

Each day after we found ourselves in a wonderful routine, one of which has been immortalised on many divers t shirts and coffee mugs – Eat, Dive, Sleep, Repeat. Every morning we would wake up at 6am to be ready for breakfast at 7am sharp. After a breakfast of fruits, eggs, pastries and lots of coffee we would go and analyse our tanks and load up the trucks for a 1.5 hour drive to the park. The first day we went to the park I spent the whole drive with my face glued to the window, taking in as much of my surroundings and possible and getting a glimpse into how some of the locals in Anakao lived. We would pass through several villages on our way to the National Park and I would get a small glimpse into their day to day lives. You would see young boys working together herding goats and zebu. Women and children would be collecting wood or preparing fish for an early lunch. There always seemed to be something to do in the villages, unless there was rain. The rain was the only thing that seemed to stop the Malagasy in their tracks.

Tsimanampetsotse National Park

Just before we entered the park we would collect the porters from the neighbouring village. Each day we would meet new people, see new faces, and they were some of the happiest most helpful people I have ever seen. Always a smile on their faces, never a job too big or small. It was a real pleasure to meet them. Depending on the site we were diving on the day we would drive 20-30 minutes into the national park. Some days we would split up, some days we would dive together depending on the job in hand. The only certain thing was that no matter what we would be doing some of the best dives of our lives!!

As each working day went by we found ourselves becoming more and more acclimatised to our routine, I was even enjoying being without my beloved Coca Cola, and for anyone that knows me will understand how huge that is!!

We did manage to get a couple of non-working dives in. One of which has gone directly into the top 3 dives of my life. Malazmanga is by far the biggest cave I have ever seen. I have never felt so small and insignificant in a cave in my life. The sheer size of some of the passages is unthinkable. You could literally fly an airplane through some of them. It was breath-taking.

Mixed Emotions

As the project came to an end we experienced a lot of mixed feelings. We were extremely proud and excited as to how well the whole project went, but at the same time saddened knowing that we were about to leave this amazing place. We were able to spend a day in the capital, checking out the local markets and I finally got to see Antananarivo in all its glory before the long trip back to Cancun.

This truly was the trip of a lifetime (although I hope it’s not 1 per lifetime!) and it was a pleasure to work with such an amazing group of people. Special thanks goes to Laurie Godfrey, Zachary Klukkert and Ryan Dart for all their help and guidance during the project, and Patrick Widmann for helping us get this amazing opportunity.


Learning to Create Beautiful Cave Maps is A Course Away

ProTec Dive Centers has been teaching cave exploration and cave cartography for more than a decade.  If you want to learn how to survey cave and draw beautiful maps, visit us at

1 comment

1 Zach Klukkert { 07.29.19 at 10:51 pm }

You and Jake were a great help this year, thank you both and thanks very much to Patrick and Protec for the critical support that you lend to the important research underway.

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