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!”…



Packing not going well!!!

Absurdly long day today starting with the total nightmare of hugely swollen knee joints – big ouch and very miserable…

limped down the stairs in the manner of a wounded bod and went to physio. The lovely Nick looked at me and said humph, we chatted (he also had big trip disrupted by the ash cloud) and he fiddled with my knees and then I went over to the Rheumatology clinic where a very nice nurse (under instruction from the even nicer Consultant) stuck a needle full of steroids into me … my Olympic dream ruined!!!! Steroids and an anti inflamatory called narproxin – both apparently rot your stomach in due course and one of them weakens your bones (not good in my case!!) – but if they get me through the next month I’m well chuffed.

However, I was assured later my own GP that it was a ‘vetinary’ dose and would render me cheerful for weeks and help allergic reactions to everything and help the knee issue in as far as anything could.

So – day finally started in ernest at nearly 3pm – frenetic fingers skimming over worn out keys, work done around 9pm and time to have a quick dinner with my brother – over from Hong Kong for one night only – checked in, printed off tickets, photocopied passports etc etc etc and now thougth I’d bid you good night this last night before the adventure begins.

I have a schedule which includes inaugurations of water treatment plants, opening of blocks in primary schools, assessing possible new projects and hopefully seeing a few leemurs – it is pretty relentless but very exciting. A challenge with sore knees but hey life’s too short not to embark on adventure.

One of the highlights of the day was being given my own #hastag on Twitter for the trip – thank you @willperrin for coming up with #MadasEllie … so if you want to follow the adventure on Twitter use that as a search term.

Busy morning tomorrow – hunting for suitcase, clothes, ribbon cutting type dress, spider proof outfits and of course nipping out to have legs waxed – a girl must look her best before a former Ambassador!!

Please click on http://www.justgiving.com/elliestoneley – it’s all in a hugely important casue as I hope to show over ocming weeks with this blog.

Night then … oh and thank you for all the phone calls and other messages of support on Twitter and Facebook and elsewhere hugely appreciated – now give some of your money!!