Getting There:While there are a lot of great things to see in Madagascar there one was motivating factor for being there.  However one first had to get there and that took a long time.

Went out to the Cairo airport and waited for the flight to Dubai. That wasn’t my final destination; rather it was an airport to sleep in.  There were reclining chairs but I can’t sleep in them and the floor in a quiet section of the airport passed as a bed.

The following day I caught a long flight to Nairobi, Kenya but that was not the end destination either, rather I spent a very long day and night there, sleeping on a hard, tile floor.  Although things were made more comfortable when a worker provided a cardboard that passed as a bed.  The airport was quiet as could be and it was a good night’s sleep.  The following morning it was a flight to Antananarivo, Madagascar, but that still wasn’t the final destination.

Got into the center of Tana (as the capital city of Madagascar is known) and prepared for a few more days journey.  The first thing that struck me about the city was the people.  It looked like I was back in Asia again.  Madagascar people have varied origins but the two primary groups were from Indonesia and the African mainland.  The Asian group tends more toward the north and east and the African groups more toward the south and west.  That’s a generalization and the reality is much more mixed up but it was surprising to see how Indonesian people looked in the capital.

Tana is not a bad place to spend a day or two and I took care of a few things before leaving.  Checked my email and sat next to a guy who typed so slowly you could have mistaken him for being dead.  I met a nice guy in the streets and he asked if I wanted to get something to eat.  About halfway through the meal, I realized he wasn’t going to pay so when the waitress came, I paid for half the bill.  The guy asked me what he was going to do about his meal, “I don’t know.  You’ll figure something out.”  As I left the restaurant, he was wildly gesticulating to the manager trying to explain.  Good luck dude!  If he had asked, I would have covered the meal but to just eat without saying anything is not ok.  I went out to the chaotic, lively market and bus station on the south side of town.  It seemed like everything that could be bought in Madagascar was there for sale.  However, the main purchase was a ticket to Morondava on the western coast and an insulated shirt.  The clothing for Israel and Egypt didn’t cut it in the middle of cool season in Madagascar.

Backcountry VillagesIn the morning, a taxi-brousse (basically any vehicle other than a bus) left for Morondava.  The minivan had extra rows of seats put in.  Enough rows that my knees couldn’t fit if pointing forward without putting a lot of pressure on them.  It was impossible to turn slightly sideways as there was a gigantic, enormously fat woman in our row taking up all the space. We spent many hours on road where the pavement had worn away.  The sand wasn’t that bad, but there was a shudder when we reached a small section where there was pavement and we had to go up on top of that and then down with another shudder 100 meters later.  So the road didn’t have potholes, rather anti-potholes.  With the fat woman and my knees, it was total misery and worse, 32 hours worth of misery.  Sleeping was impossible in those conditions as every time drowsiness crept in, we’d hit an anti-pothole.  The seats only went halfway up your back so my head would snap back and jar me back into an uncomfortable alertness.  To make it worse, the people next to me were sleeping like babies and resting their head on my shoulders.  I didn’t fault them for this, but it just rubbed it in how miserable things really were.  Eventually we reached Morondava and I had to sit on a bench at the station for a long time due to my knees hurting so much and overall feeling lousy.  Of all my transport experiences in all my travels, this was probably the worst.

Avenue of the Baobabs feathersI started looking into transport options as Morondava still wasn’t the final destination.  One could take a pirogue (a small, narrow, open boat) down the coast and be exposed to ocean waves and sun for 2-4 days.  As uncomfortable as the taxi-brousse was, this had the potential to be worse but even more important; I had to be at my next destination in time as events could not be delayed for any person or country and the basic laws of the universe cannot be denied.  The main event was going to happen when it was going to happen.  Getting there on time was critical and was the entire reason for coming to Madagascar.  So a better option was taking a truck.  After buying a ticket, I headed to the Avenue of the Baobabs.  Baobabs are a strange tree with columnar trunks which appear to be upside down. Their branches look more like roots and are kind of symbol of the strange fauna of Madagascar.  Later, I dawdled around the town, headed to the beach for a sunset, got something to eat and even had a decent night’s sleep.

The next morning it was a bright and early 7 a.m. at the bus station awaiting the truck (and waiting and waiting).  I met Brian and Rosie, Peace Corps workers from Tanzania and Vincent from Holland.  The foreign tribes were starting to gather and migrate.  Just before the ride left I went to the bathroom.  I couldn’t find the toilet and then realized that the cut off 55-gallon barrel crawling with maggots is what passed for one.  No biggie but it sure is good not to be the one to have to empty it.  The truck was much better than yesterday. While crowded side-to-side, there was plenty of room front-to-back and the high-backed seats extended above your head.  The road was more of a sandy track through the forest with two ruts for the wheels and actually not that bad.  Periodically we stopped in a village, not much more than mud, stick, and thatch homes, simple but quite livable, but most of the trip was spent in endless scrubby forests.

The FerryCharactersThe truck had a passenger compartment that closed up during the night to keep it warm.  However, this led to everyone’s’ breath condensing on the ceiling and through the night it dripped on us like a fresh tropical rain.  Ach, it’s just water.  So there we were, driving in pitch-black forests, people singing French pop songs, getting dripped on by our own breath.  Not a bad way to pass the time.  We did stop at a tiny village in the middle of the night and what was so memorable about it was the beautifully brilliant stars.  They were as wonderful as anywhere I’ve ever been and seeing (or actually not seeing) a star was the reason for this part of the journey.  We were told that this is where we would be staying but there were no arrangements made to sleep and people weren’t sure what to make of it, so we all just kind of sat around outside the truck.  Then two hours later, as suddenly as we stopped, they decided to move on and the truck started up again.

Dawn came and based on the sounds of the truck, I started wondering if it was going to make it but it chugged on.  We got to a river and the truck was put on a ferry which consisted of three steel boat hulls tied together with railway ties which made a platform for the truck.  When driving onto the ferry, the driver had to make sure his wheels aligned with the ties.  Taking a look at the ferry, everyone thought it best to be outside the truck…just in case.  We stopped for a while in a village on the other side and then it was driving and more driving.  Eventually we stopped in another village and everyone was told to get out and off they drove.  Well, this ride was 28 hours and while not comfortable, was much better than the 32 hour ride.

 We got onto a flat bed cargo truck which was spacious but had very harsh suspension and everyone sat on bags of grain; it was a cargo truck after all.  A woman lay down in front of me.  She rested on my leg, not the outside but the inside and used my privates as a pillow.  I really didn’t know what to say so I just went with it.  A while later, I couldn’t sit still any longer and had to wake her up and remove her “pillow.”  She shot me a contemptuous look of “How dare you.”   After six hours, we arrived in Morombe.  It had been seven full days of travel from Cairo, the longest of all my voyages so far.  This was the destination where the main event would be happening and I was on time for it.