We made it!!!!!

After an entertaining hour or two in the Cathay Pacific lounge (thank you so much to my wonderful brother) we climbed aboard the delightfully palm tree covered but very cramped Air Mauritius flight from Heathrow to Mauritius. Even the cups, sugar sachets and spoons were bedecked with palm trees.Air Mauritius takes palm trees very seriously!!

Scrumptious food, fresh fruit and lovely lemon flan and then a pretty rubbish attempt at sleep contorted into the oddest of shapes with a swollen knee making for a limit to the possibliities but eventully waking for perfect breakfast pastries and a spectacular view of the bluest of blue sea out of the window, and the really glorious descent into Mauritius airport. Such a tantalising view of the coral fringed lagoons and dramatic mountains and forests. Much greener than I had anticipated and so beatuiful.

27 degrees, bright, cleanly vivid sunshine met us as we got off the plane to go through the transit process – all very simple. 55 minutes later, and with ooodles of legroom. It seemed only moments after that we were flying over very different terracotta coloured hills, terraced hillsides and little ‘fortress’ like villages, circled with ditches and dykes. Then WOOOO HOOOO touch down in Tana.

Almost the first news on landing was that Heathrow had been closed down due to the ash cloud … the smug feeling that we had beaten it on this occaision is still strong!!!

Arrivals was a fabulous affair – about 8 kiosks with nonchellant officials watching the bemused travellers; we were informed we didn’t need a visa as staying under 30 days but then had to go to another counter to get the non visa, visa stamp … all very good humoured and compelling to watch; the absortion of the men with the little stamps, the calmness of the pretty lady signing the non visa, visa … luggage was obviously the last off the plane, so by the time we emerged blinking into the sunlight to meet Brian Donaldson the patron of the Madagascar Development Fund (and chairman of the grants committee of KTCT) and his colleague Nicole, I think they were about to head off thinking we’d been sucked in by the ash cloud.

Brian drove the Landrover to Tana – past butchers stalls with all the meat hanging over the road, people weaving in and out of the very slow traffic on ancient mopeds and bicycles with chickens on the back. Zebu cattle wandered aimlessly by a little confused by all the hubub and children darted to and fro across the road. Colour everywhere – clothes, bouganvillia flowers, painted Coke adverts, red poinsettia bushes, orange dust. We passed a rugby match – thousands of people watching from alongside the road, and a chaotic looking motorbike scramble, clothes drying alongside grubby streams and then the winding streets of Antananarivo, children playing in open drains, shops selling random bits of piping, signs for wifi and pot holes that would fit well into the array in Cambridge. Children with no shoes drying rice on the side of the road, little boys with huge stacks of plastic bottles carried in baskets on their head, optimism, desolation, poverty, a shop sellng video cameras, everything along that one stretch of road.

Through all that we pulled up outside a dark and unassuming hotel on a bright sunny Malagasy evening – our home for a couple of days before Tuesday and project visits out in the countryside.

Proud, overwhelmed, shellshocked, shattered, excited and so determined to do all I can to help in some tiny way – and sticking my toungue out at the dust cloud and saying “ha, beat you this time!”…



Big hurrah for Air Mauritius who have been extraordinarily helpful … flight rebooked for Sunday 15th May.

So – volcano – start behaving please, simmer down and stop with the whole ash cloud thing – thank you.

Brian Donaldson has been so helpful on the ground in Madagascar and is replanning the schedule of visits to projects – and has fitted in a weekend break at Vakona Forest Lodge to look at some lemurs which will be exciting (if a little expensive but hey this really is a tremendous opportunity) … I have totally self funded my trip and pay for own accommodation out there … all the money raised (now £925 – on the justgiving page) goes directly to the Kitchen Table Charities Trust (and has gift aid added to it – so all the more reason to donate).


So strange sitting here on a very windy blustery blue kind of day in Cambridge knowing that as I type Brian is at the inauguration of the Water treatment centre with all the villagers and so on… I hope it is a glorious day there and so look forward to seeing all the photos.

Map of the ash cloud taken from the MET office website - illustration of volcanic ash dispersion up to 20,000 ft, issued at 7 am on 18 April. Advisory charts are issued every six hours, for up to 18 hours ahead, by the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre.

The unpronouncable Icelandic volcano continues its eruption (and according to the MET office the eruption is ‘possibly intensifying’,  and the vast dust cloud has  thickened over England – and most of Europe – 20 countries have closed their airspace now … quite remarkable when you think about it all; all that glass, sand and rock wafting around in the sky high above and down here all this mere mortal is aware of is an impossibly blue sky and slightly itchy eyes.

So – this morning I will endeavour to rebook flights for 14th / 15th May in the  hope that it will have settled down again by then.

http://www.nats.co.uk/ is the website to watch for airport updates – the National Air Traffic Services site for UK, the MET office is also helpful http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/corporate/pressoffice/2010/volcano.html

In the meantime all the mosquito repellent and water purification tablets have gone  into a large box ready for departure hopefully now mid May (volcano permitting).

In the meantime donations to KTCT at http://www.justgiving.com/elliestoneley have gone up to £900 – which including gift aid is a hefty amount … target is now £5000 so keep spreading the word and clicking the Donate button.

Sadly now time to email Brian Donaldson to break the sad news that we won’t be at the village water purification plant inauguration on Tuesday morning.


airline just phoned – flight cancelled – unless volcanic ash cloud changes course over night …

fingers crossed but seems unlikely

will just have to reschedule … more time to raise money for KTCT

please click the big donate button
thank you

Just spoken to Air Mauritius;  the flight is still scheduled for 9pm Saturday night – blow away dust cloud blow away out to sea …

all being well we will take off at 9pm, have 5 mins transit in Mauritius and then arrive in Tana at 1.30 on Sunday to be met by Brian Donaldson the chairman of the grants committee for KTCT and also director of the Madagascar Development Fund – and former British Ambassador to Madagascar.

So … fingers and toes crossed.

If all goes according to plan then this is a flavour of what I will be doing in Madagascar (taken from an email just now from Brian):

As part of your programme we have arranged the inauguration of a clean water project in a far-distant village on Tuesday, (early start) which it is now too late to change (villagers and local authorities informed; plaque – with date of inauguration already made). It would be a great pity if you were to miss it. The scenery is breathtaking.

Please ash cloud blow in the other direction …

volcano and very large ash cloud throw spanner in works …

just have to wait now and see what happens I guess … fingers crossed that the flight will / can go – otherwise I guess change plans for later in the month, Air Mauritus and KTCT willing


totally awed by the beauty, the impact and the drama of the eruption (but I hope the wind picks up and takes the cloud somewhere else)