Travel...a frustrating/frightening experience

Trip Start Feb 12, 2006
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Trip End May 12, 2008


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Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Need to Travel 45 Miles, Sounds Simple...Right?


Travel...a frustrating experience (& frightening!)

Okay, we need to get to our banking town to do a few things. So Wednesday we go to our counterparts office and ask if any trucks are going to Moramanga. "Yes, on Wednesday and Friday." Great, we will go with them on Friday. "What time are they leaving?" "Not sure check back on Thursday."

Thursday: To the office, the guy we spoke with is gone, he will not be back until Saturday! Fine, we look for someone else. Yes, there is still a truck Friday, but we need to talk to yet another person to see if there is space. She is at the school in a meeting. Okay, we head to the school (this whole time it is raining and the town is coated in a slimy, clay mud). We get to the school, my pockets are starting to fill with water, and the lady we need to talk to is not there. We decide to meander around and eventually we see her drive through town so we run to catch her. We discover the truck is leaving too late and tell her that we will just take a taxi instead (it can't be that bad, right?).

Friday: 6:30am Aaron trudges down the muddy, green slime covered hill to the taxi brousse station to see when they will depart (no schedule, they go when they're full- last time we missed it by minutes & had to wait hours!) We cautiously descend down the narrow path, careful not to fall in the filth that days of rain has created. The brousse is almost full, they pack our luggage on top and soon we are off! Yeah, it's 7:30 we will get to Moramanga before the office closes. The green van with fuzzy, red velvet seats slides through the mud and we reach the edge of town. We stop, the driver gets out. This usually happens- there is a barrier and we need to wait for someone to come open it.

Well, we waited and waited and waited. The patience wore thin, the crankiness started and then the irritation. The guy next to Aaron suggested he go talk with the man, tell him we (the foreigners) have important business and we need to get to town. Aaron tried it- NO- they won't lift the barrier until it stops raining, we can't go unless we have papers. (Don't try to make sense of it.)

After an hour and a half, we got our luggage off the roof, strapped it on our backs and started sloshing through the mud and rain back to town. I won't go into details, but after going to our counterpart's office, the school, through town three times, having half the community ask us of our travels, meeting the English teacher and visiting the authorities for a stamped letter saying we can pass in the rain, we left town in a 1960s-70s era Land Rover Defender 3 hours after our previous attempt. Imagine throwing a hand-grenade in a truck, closing the door and burying it in an avalanche of mud and what you have left is our sweet ride!

Here is where the excitement began. No longer were we on a taxi brousse, now we were in a private vehicle and we had "papers" (with a stamp). The driver tore out of town, leaving behind a thick cloud of black smoke streaming from the exhaust. As we started off the adrenaline in my body wouldn't allow my brain to decide if the driver was insane, if I should be fearing for my life or if I was having fun! (People in the states would pay good money at an amusement park for a ride like this). The road is comparable to a really bad dirt, farm road in the States full of potholes after a week-long torrential downpour.

We rode in the back on grubby, sideways bench seats, with a dirty spare tire, 2 Malagasy guys (one of which held the door shut the entire ride), filthy jerry cans with the remains of gasoline and our luggage. The driver apologized for the state of the truck, it is usually hauling cement, not passengers. We flew down the road, fish-tailed around corners, increased speed over bridges (causing the broken logs to fly in the air at one point, making it impassable), mud spewed in waves over the truck, and the narrow wipers continually smeared muck across the window. Those walking on the side of the road didn't have a chance, they were covered by mud & road filth before they could even leap for cover and then it was topped of with a foul blast of black exhaust.

The ride became a physical workout. I gripped the side window with my right hand, held tightly to the luggage with my other and had my left foot anchored on the tire. It was pointless to try to hold onto any part on the interior, the wire that was holding it together would break off. My kung-fu grip wasn't strong enough though, at one point I came completely off the seat landing on the spare tire while Aaron cracked his head on the roof. The frame shifted and the rattle of the glass windows was deafening from the multitude of potholes. The driver did slow several times which was nice- when the ladder fell off the back, quite frequently when his door sprang open and of course to stop for the rain barriers and to show our "papers." It is absolutely amazing how tough these vehicles are and surprisingly sturdy- I almost felt safe.

When we arrived in Moramanga, I wasn't sure if I was going to puke, scream for joy or collapse from fatigue.. Our heads were pounding, we were covered in dirt, but happy to be on solid ground. As we stumbled away from the truck, I forgot to check the grill for any chicken carcasses.

Well, I guess we can't complain, this 74 km ride used to take 3 days on a TRACTOR
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