Ah, the taxi-brousse, the punishment I must endure for being able to see Madagascar’s marvels on nobody’s but my own schedule and trying to absorb, though not suffocate in, the local culture all at the same time. I kid myself, of course, I am bound, if not imprisoned, by the schedule of the taxi-brousse. My time here is not infinite and I must move on when it obliges to peel its over-packed self off the bus terminal’s sticky asphalt and waddle for days to my next destination.But then, there is the taxi-brousse spécial – a private car that will take you wherever you want for a price.
Eager to get to the next patch of Madagascar heaven, I left Aye-Aye Island early enough to catch a ride. There was no taxi-brousse going in my direction that day, but the owner of the island was nice enough to find me an alternative, a private extended-cab truck loaded with PVC pipes, bags of rice, a TV set, and countless boxes, which was going to where I needed to get. For the same price as the taxi-brousse the driver squeezed me in the back seat. I would have ridden in the back, on top of the rice bags (there was more leg room there), but as a respected vazah (white person) I couldn’t.
Luckily, I didn’t need to be confined to the narrow back seat for too long at a time. Numerous river crossings made me come out every few kilometers and engage in the mind boggling task of bridge repair. Tearing off a plank here, shoving it to reinforce a decking segment there, plugging up holes with palm leaves and sand. The truck prevailed every time, moldy boards giving off wet squeaks and nearly buckling under the truck’s weight. I crossed these bridges on my tiptoes.
It took us over fourteen hours to drive just 65km. My behind had just made its peace with the padded plank I had for a seat, and I thought we’ll be driving like this through the night, when the driver stopped in the middle of what looked like a ghost town. There were shacks and houses all around, but not a soul in sight. The driver explained this is where we all will be spending the night, chased everybody from the truck cabin and stretched out in his seat. Soon I could hear him snoring.
I was so tired. Every muscle ached. I found a concrete stoop, threw on it my mat and sleeping bag, generously smeared myself with bug repellent, and crawled in.
I woke up together with the town. Sleepy women strolled back and forth with buckets full of water, their children gawking at me from behind their mother’s skirts. Stores were opening, and men stood in doorways brushing their teeth and spitting, in a very manly manner, onto their own doorsteps and passing chickens.
I was the town’s bum. The sleeping bag pulled over my head felt like a newspaper sheet, and the mat beneath me like a cardboard box. As fast as I could I gathered myself, had a breakfast of fried dough and coffee, and squeezed in to the back seat of out taxi-brousse spécial.
Half a day later I was at my destination. It will be 115km I’ll never forget.
Born in Ukraine, raised in Israel, and acquiring her higher education in the US, Sarit Reizin is proud to call herself a citizen of the world. However, to stay worthy of the title, she felt a nomadic lifestyle was in order, and in November 2005 left the comforts of the first world with no desire of coming back any time soon. http://HopStopTravel.com