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.
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.
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 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
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.