Operation Wallacea 2023

Hugo Varela

Embarking on a 3-week journey to Madagascar was undeniably transformative – an experience that, speaking on behalf of the entire group, has left memories that will never be lost. 

The expedition kicked off with 3 harsh days of travelling, setting the stage for the formation of a bond that, by the end of the trip, felt like family to me. A week in the forest, isolated from the rest of the world, initially felt like a shock. However, shortly after it became one of the most enriching aspects of the trip. Our days were mainly dedicated to supporting scientists with data gathering and research through surveys alongside learning and expanding our understanding through lectures. Besides the scientific realm, in the forest we were forced to adapt to the new environment and rely on each other to make it through the week – enduring vast number of obstacles such as losing our bags, which turned out to be a valuable lesson of resilience for all.  

Of course, I couldn’t forget about the social experience we had beyond just our group. From being able to meet, play cards and learn from university students and scientist from all around the world, to interacting and helping the local community that live with much poorer conditions than us has most definitely left a mark in the trip but most importantly has expanded my horizons and taught me to value what I have.  

Transitioning to the second week in Nosy Be, we explored and learned in depth about our oceans through diving and lectures. Again, beyond science, the stay in this island was a relief to many due to the easier living conditions and better food. However, as for me, I saw this week as a continuation of the challenge that the first week presented. Meeting new people such as the dive masters or camp managers that were all extremely welcoming, even playing cards and going to the beach with us. I even learnt how to backflip with one of the managers.  

At the end of the day, this venture was more than just a volunteering opportunity; it was a deep dive into Wallace’s research ideas, leaving an enduring impact on my life. All the new experiences, new friendships, new memories gifted to us make up for all the struggles we had to embrace. Honestly, describing such a profound trip in a brief text is impossible. While I could write a book recounting each detail, one thing remains certain – I will forever cherish these memories and am truly grateful for this experience. 


Sofia Vilarinho

It took 3 planes + 14 hours in a van to get to our camp in the forest, where we spent a week without any contact with the rest of the world (and half of the group without suitcases). A week of going on two 5-hour walks a day and studying the beauty of the Mahajanga forest. A week of finding spiders and scorpions in our tents and staying up late to see the night sky full of stars. A week spent with children who live in poverty compared to our own childhoods, but always with the biggest smiles we’ve ever seen on their faces. Seeing these kids’ pure joy when receiving a simple t-shirt or playing football, will be something we will never forget. After leaving the forest, we drove another 8 hours and finally had wi-fi to talk to our parents. The next day, we drove 17 hours straight. As we were all cramped, tired and sweaty, our only salvation were the songs from the playlists we made and the ones we invented along the trip. We arrived at Nosy-Be and were welcomed with normal bathrooms, showers, comfortable beds and a stunning landscape. We lived 30 meters away from the sea, and every day at 7 am we were jumping in the water for our morning dives. We spent the day learning about all the different types of animals and corals we would see on our surveys and helped scientists collect data for their research. At sunset, we went to the water and after dinner we would play a game of cards with the funniest of staff members. In a nutshell, life had never been this good. We saw beautiful things that will forever remain photographed in our memories. We lived through experiences at the age of 16 that many people never even get to experience during their whole lives. If I were to describe this trip in a few words, I would say it was simply the best decision of my life. 


Matilde Cardoso

I was always curious about going on one of these biology expeditions as I knew I could learn a lot about the experience. I didn’t know most of our group and was excited to see how we would embark with each others. We arrived in Madagascar after some long hours in airplanes and airports and finally ready to start this journey. Until, as some will say, a “small” problem occurred... Our bags hadn't arrived with us. In the moment, we just laughed it off but after some while things started to feel too real. After arriving at our remote camp with one week ahead of us living in tents with no connection to the outside world, we were excited to see where it would take us. The first few days were rough, without our bags which had all our needs, it made it harder to adapt but with the help of Mrs. Loureiro and Mr. Ferreira and the group it became easier. I experienced one of the most heartful experiences, playing football with the children from the village. While I was playing, I remember nothing else mattered and I wished that time would just had stop. After having all of the village seeing us play and the smiles on the kids faces, every effort until then was worth it.  

We headed to the second week in Nosy Be where 10 lucky ones had already received their bags throughout the week. Me and Mariana on the other hand, were surviving by washing our clothes and asking our friends for some new clothes. Arriving in Nosy Be felt like a reward. The accommodation was VERY improved and having a beach a few steps from where we slept made everything better. We met amazing people who guided us through our dives and made this experience much better. We saw some landscapes that were breathtaking and one of the clearest waters. Our days were spent swimming with turtles and playing cards. I was beyond happy at this point and my only worry was who I was going to ask for a bikini. Some days into the second week Mariana’s bag arrived but mine was still with the French. Heading back to the mainland to sleep the night before we left in the morning, my sweet little bag arrived. It was the same as I had neatly packed 19 days ago. I had experienced two and a half weeks without my bag in the middle of Madagascar and honestly it didn’t feel that hard. With the help of my friends and being in one of the most beautiful countries I have visited, I could not let that interfere in me enjoying this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Even though I see myself as very adventurous and comfortable in adapting to different situations, this trip challenged me but that’s why it was unforgettable. A HUGE thank you to Miss. Loureiro and Mr. Ferreira who had the courage to look out for 10 students during so much time away from home and experiencing some tough situations. Not every teacher can do that and still do an amazing job. A big thankyou to all my friends who made this experience the most unique. Beyond grateful to have experienced this journey.   


Diana Freitas

Embarking on a journey to Madagascar was like stepping into a realm where nature’s canvas unfolds in vibrant hues and untamed beauty. The biodiversity present in that forest was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Imagine waking up, looking out of your tent, and seeing a lemur not 10 meters away from you, just perching on a tree. That was what our life looked like for a whole week in Madagascar. Just us and the wildlife, which albeit was a little scary when I saw something crawling in the corner of my tent in the middle of the night.  

The best part of the trip for me, however, was the second week. After the exhausting yet fulfilling, first week isolated in the forest, Nosy Be was a welcome reprieve. Scuba diving is something I have always dreamed of doing, but it was the kind of thing where it was just some other unattainable activity on my bucket list that I probably wouldn’t get to experience until much later in life. I never expected to have had the privilege to take the course and be swimming with fishes in the stunning waters of Madagascar, of all places. It was surreal, to say the least. Some of my friends even saw a shark, which I’m insanely jealous of them for. But, who knows, maybe next time! 

Mariana Melo

Before leaving for Madagascar my expectations for the trip were all over the place. I tried to picture several times how it would feel to be so isolated from the world on the first week, with only each other’s presence to fill the longing we felt by being away from home. I also dreamed of how the second week would be, surrounded by the Indic Ocean and the comfortable lifestyle we would have, never expecting the challenges we would have to face along the way. I left Portugal with great hopes of an amazing trip, I just didn’t expect the 3 weeks away from home to be so impactful. 

When arriving to Madagascar, our bags were left along the way, leaving us to wonder whether they were safe in an airport, or sinking in the ocean. The first few days were ruff, with long car trips and just the 12 of us cramped up in small vans.  

When arriving to the camp, with no bags and no hope of them arriving, we had to be strong and believe that life there was going to be wonderful, and it was. After meeting other people that were there, such as the Malagasy guides that helped us through our surveys, we lived long but exceptional days full of surprises along the way. There was a village very close by the campsite in which we ended up spending most of our free time by playing football with the children or dancing with them, and just getting to know their life a little bit. My heart never felt so full and the pure joy in every kid’s faces when we were with them was just unexplainable. I carry this feeling whenever I visit those memories and I smile each time, knowing how those kids have no idea of how impactful their smiles were to me, in a time where my mind was all over the place. I spent my 16th birthday with who now I call family, and the effort they made to for me to have a special day was memorable, making it impossible for me to ever forget it. 

The second week started with a 16-hour trip to our final destination, where our patience and strong bond, we built over the week before, were challenged immensely. Nosy Be ended up solving all our problems and our life in that small island was perfect, I would say. Our days consisted of dives and just laying down on the beach eating banana chips and drinking World Cola (Madagascar’s Coca Cola). This week was filled with games, walks along the beach and sunset swims in the most beautiful place on earth.  

I can tell you that after these 19 days away from home, my life was never the same. After being consistently challenged by the people around me and by myself, I came back home like a different person, knowing how this trip changed my life in ways I never knew possible. I write this with tears of joy streaming down my face but I couldn’t end this without saying a huge thank you to the 11 people that put up with me along the whole trip and that guided me to be a better person. I love you all so much, this trip would not be the same without you.  

And finally, for Mr. Ferreira and Mrs. Loureiro. Mr. you were the greatest dad I could have ever asked for during the trip. You handled all our problems superbly and helped us tremendously with our issues even though you were struggling yourself, making me have so much respect for you. 

Mrs. Loureiro, I miss you more than I thought I would. You were the best mom ever and I don’t how we would’ve survived without your calmness and reassuring way of making us all feel safe, when circumstances didn’t allow so. Thank you for showing us how we can handle so much more than we think. 


Bia Pereira

Embarking on this trip, I think I underestimated the impact it could have on me. I knew there would be good and bad days, but I could have never imagined the things I would learn and the amazing memories I would make. Looking back, not only was it an eye-opening experience, it was also a lesson about life.  

If I had to describe the first week using a single word, I would use gratitude. Staying in the middle of the Mahajanga forest and being only meters away from the local village, meant that we could experience the culture and be with the people of Madagascar every day. The forest itself was a place of wonder too, where we learned about indigenous species and the environment, they live in. We got to experience the forest as a whole, exploring it during the day and night, and many times seeing it through the lens of the local community-which could walk through it blindfolded. My favourite surveys were those during the night, where we would look for lemurs’ eyes using our flashlights, finding them amidst the vegetation and on top of trees. When we weren’t trailing through the forest, we were learning with local and around-the-world scientists as well as Malagasy people. With them, we learnt about the species we saw, the culture of Madagascar and even their language. We got to spend time with the children too, with whom we played football, danced and exchanged signatures with. For me, these were the moments that made my day; moments which taught me to appreciate life in its simplest form, and which I will carry with me for years to come.  

Coming into the second week, we were hopeful and excited for the beach and diving. The journey to ‘Nosy Be’ wasn’t easy, but this only made our arrival more special. After one week surrounded by green, we were now immersed in the blue of the ocean and sky. We now had running water, flushing toilets and potable water. Only a few steps away from the beach, our days consisted of either diving, learning about marine life, or relaxing under the sun. It was like holidays. After diving in Porto only, my expectations were surpassed by the clarity of the water and colourful scenes we got to see. It was a surreal experience to be surrounded by colourful corals, fish of many different sizes and even turtles-when we were lucky. The sunsets were beyond beautiful and spending the entire day fully in touch with nature, made me feel the most at peace I have ever felt; it many times felt like we were living in paradise.  

Immersed in a remote location surrounded by nature in its purest form, we spent some of the best two weeks of our life. We lived a life of simple pleasures and learned to appreciate a starry sky and meat for dinner. We isolated ourselves from the world we know so well and became fully involved in the culture and knowledge surrounding us, almost becoming a part of our surroundings as a whole. It was the most purposeful and fulfilled I’ve ever felt, and the group of people I got to spend my time with only made every moment more memorable and special. Without them, nothing would have been the same. We faced challenges as a group but also got to celebrate as one, we found ways to laugh even during a 17-hour long car ride, we danced, we sang, told stories, and most of all, looked out for each other like family.


Marcella Albuquerque

Scuba diving in Madagascar was one of the best experiences of my life. When I took the diving course in Porto, I did not expect it would become one of my favourite hobbies. I learned so much about the biodiversity in oceans and reefs, as well as the variety of research methods, but most importantly I enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere I found 18 meters below. It is truly a different world, things you only see in movies, the beauty of the aquatic nature left me astonished. I saw so many different fish of all colours and sizes, meter long corals and huge green turtles. In my opinion the highlight of the diving week, was seeing a shark up close which was one of my life long dreams. I realised how wrongfully depicted they have been through the decades by the media, when in reality they are beautiful peaceful creatures. I can still remember how it felt to feel a rush or adrenaline vibrate through me as I saw the large animal. In addition, the diving instructors and marine scientists were beyond just friendly, they were proven to be perfect companions for our group, as they turned learning into a engaging and fun experience for all of us. The sunsets were sheer paradise, and the group spirit was heartwarmingThis experience was life changing and will forever be etched in my memory. While I recognise replicating this one-of-a-kind journey may be impossible, I am certain that I will pursue scuba diving more extensively in the future.


Carlota Coutinhas

Madagascar, the 4th biggest island in the world, where I spent 19 days exploring and studying it's terrestrial and marine life, while being welcomed by the most heart-warming of communities, and I did all of this with the best 12 people I could ask for. Before the trip I crippled with fear as well as curiosity, I tried to envision how these 3 weeks away from home would be, however I never imagined how much fun and fulfilling it ended up being, it's hard to express into words how rich I felt afterwards. I felt rich of culture, knowledge and friends that I never thought I would have a connection with before.  

As soon as we stepped foot in Madagascar we were welcomed with the great news that our bags had stayed in Paris, unlike others would react, we laughed, possibly because of the sleep deprivation. Mariana picked up her ukulele and we sung in the baggage claim, while our literal and “fake” parents (Mrs Loureiro and Mr Ferreira) tried to solve this issue. We then left the airport with no bags in hand and no hope of receiving them any sooner. The trip to get to the jungle camp was intense. After 3 flights, a 14-hour bus ride and finally a 4 hour bumpy and dusty jeep ride, we managed to reach what we would call home for the next 6 days. These trips, I believe, was what made our group click. There was nowhere to escape it, it was just the 12 of us and our deck of cars, having to deal with each other, complain, laugh, and cry. This connected us in unimageable ways.  

After already 4 days of no luggage the saga continued. We didn’t have the needed materials to make the best out of our basic condition in the camp, but we managed together and had so much fun. We spent our days watching lemurs jump from tree to tree as well as spiders crawling away into the darkness while being accompanied by the most qualified Malagasy scientists. We were fortunate enough of being 2 minutes away from the most cheerful local community, they brighten our days after our long walks with their contagious smiles and unexpected football skills, they manage to make me forget of any dark thought I would have whether that would be not having my luggage or a slight home sickness. Their pure innocence touched me in a way I never expected, it filled my heart so much and created an extreme core memory I hope to never forget. For me this week ended greatly with my bag in hand, excited to hop into the next adventure but sad to leave this place I was already so comfortable in. 

To arrive at Nosy Be we had to go through an extremely tough 17-hour car ride where we were all cramped in a small van with only a downloaded playlist on repeat, and ourselves for entertainment. To reach the island we had to take a small boat ride where we saw beautiful green mountains and crystal-clear waters. This week we called holidays. Our days where spent diving deep in the ocean and spotting the most amazing marine creatures and corals. We were welcomed by the sweetest camp managers and dive master. In our breaks from diving we had the privilege of immense freedom, we could go to the beach and enjoy the weather or spend our days playing cards. One of the best nights for me was when we went for a night swim and sung together all our favourite songs. 

This personally was the best experience I ever had. I couldn’t have asked for better teachers to accompany us in this trip, they made sure everything ran smoothly and that above all we here always happy. These 19 days helped me to understand many things, mainly how grateful I am for everything I have, but above all, I got to experience all of this with the best people that I now call family. 


Luca Colombini

I wouldn’t know where to start when describing the most amazing experience of my life. Before going to Madagascar I was filled with nerves and emotions, worried with the prospect of going to the other side of the world and being off the grid unable to contact my parents scared me. However, the second I arrived at the airport all of that disappeared. Surrounded by the company of the most amazing people I have ever met in my life, the fun started there and only ended once we landed back in Portugal. The amazing times we shared are truly unforgettable, from the days spent traveling by boat, plane, and bus, to the countless hours spent joking around during the day and late at night, it was all perfect. The experience also showed me some of the most beautiful animals and landscapes. Seeing animals I could’ve only dreamt of seeing like lemurs and zebus, whilst also learning immensely about them. The local population showed us a truly different perspective on life, being so incredibly happy and positive with little means and the difficult situations they faced had a massive impact on my life and humbled me a lot. Getting used to sleeping in tents and the rough bathroom situation in the first week proved challenging but got easier over time. It made us real men! This together with the absolutely amazing people we met in the camp made for an unbeatable forest camp experience, which left me deeply saddened once the time to leave this first campsite had come. Once we were on our way to the next camp, and we got to soak in more of the beautiful Malagasy landscapes, I felt truly grateful to be granted the opportunity to go to such a wonderful country with these amazing people. As we arrived at the marine site and settled in, I must admit it felt nice to be able to reconnect with my parents although I largely waited for the trip to be over to talk to them as I didn’t want to spend time online when I was on one of the most gorgeous beaches I’ve ever seen in my life. Aside from being incredibly spoiled by the beach and all the things the sea had to offer above the water, we also got to go diving. The diving was magical, being able to dive for the first time in my life in such a wonderful place, is something I will never take for granted. I was lucky enough to be allowed to finish the diving course on-site, meaning that I got to train on the gorgeous shores with great dive masters and enjoy my open-water dive certificate right away. The unmatched game-playing and storytelling we got to enjoy made for an all-out very memorable experience. An experience I will never forget or get over. 


Raquel Carvalho

Thought writing this article would be easy, but here I am struggling to find the words to describe Madagascar, now I realize that describing Madagascar in one word would be diminishing the experience it was. Madagascar was simply the most life changing experience I've lived so far in my 16 years of life filled with lots of emotions and ups and downs. It wasn’t only an expedition but indeed a place where I grew as a human being, where I learnt to live with bear minimum, nourished with unforgettable moments, it's the kind of camaraderie that weaves hearts together and most definitely a tapestry of shared laughter. It tested the group's resilience and changed our spirits, but every obstacle we faced became a steppingstone, every detour became a new story to tell. In the shared meals, long bus rides, spontaneous detours, and the quiet moments of reflection, I found a treasure trove of memories that I'll carry with me for the rest of my life.  

It all started off with three very long harsh flights taking over two days, as soon as we landed in Madagascar, we found out our bags were missing. In that moment, I started laughing in disbelief thinking it was all fun and jokes, until I realized it was actually true, that was the true moment our group transformed into a support system and most importantly a family. Rather than dwelling on what was lost, we focused on what we gained, a deeper connection born out of adversity. We became a makeshift family, ready to lend clothes, share toiletries, and adapt to the situation with an unexpected grace. Being honest I wouldn’t change it for anything, the small things are what made this trip so outstanding, with the bare minimum we had we learnt to share, we stepped into the feet of other people’s realities around the world. Being grateful for simple hygienic items would've have never crossed our mind until that moment, we were so used to having those ‘basic items’ we never appreciated them.  

What touched my heart the most in this trip was the local community, roughly 50 meters away from our base campsite was located a humble village, where time seemed to move at its own pace and simplicity painted the landscape, I found myself immersed in an experience that transcended the boundaries of material wealth. The air was filled with the warmth of genuine smiles and laughter, although they had what was to be seen as nothing the children were happier than ever, I was stunned by their ability to find joy in the simplest of moments. As we walked by the village to our terrestrial surveys, we were greeted by curious eyes that reflected both curiosity and a quiet dignity. Although we didn’t speak the same language, we connected with the kids in the village on a different level, by playing football, at first they were very confused but shortly after the whole village was surrounding us sharing their love for football, that moment was truly unique, it showed us that language isn't the only form of communication.  

The days we spent in Madagascar consisted of exploring and learning about its terrestrial and marine life with the scientists and dive masters, laughing, playing cards with the locals, dancing, singing songs, playing the ukelele, boat rides, stargazing, sharing stories, snorkeling, scuba diving, catching birds, and much more... Leaving Madagascar, I carried with me more than photographs and souvenirs; I carried the heartbeat of an island that had woven its way into my soul, a lifetime experience, a new family and friends I will stay in contact for the rest of  

my life. I truly felt like I was living my life to the maximum, I would repeat this trip in a heartbeat with what I call now family.