One morning we awoke very early with the plan to drive to Mangily, a town north of Honko, to go whale watching! We hurriedly got dressed as dawn was breaking, and, as we must always do when it is cold in the early morning, pushed the car along the dusty track outside the Honko centre in order to start it. Here we encountered our first problem, as the car would not start. We kept trying to start the car, but by 8am, we knew there was no hope of driving to Mangily in our car that day, and it was too late to catch the boat.
As we had gone to the trouble of getting up so early, the three other volunteers, Nina (the project manager), Lalas (the volunteer coordinator) and I decided to try and catch a taxi brousse to Tulear instead. Taxi brousse means bush taxi, and they are either big lorries or small pick-up trucks with benches in the back. We hurried down the dirt track to the nearest village, Ambondrolava, as it was already after 8am and taxi brousses go past very early here! We waited by the side of the road for around 20 minutes, watching zebu carts meander by and children play under the nearby tree, until we heard the characteristic clanking sound of a taxi brousse coming around the corner. It was of the small pick-up truck variety and when we flagged it down, it looked completely full – which indeed it was – but like a lot of my travels to and within Madagascar, this journey again took me by surprise. The driver jumped out and said that everyone in the taxi brousse was getting out at the village of Belalanda which is a 15 minute drive from here, so if we could fit in until then he could take us all the way to Tulear. We weren’t exactly keen on the idea, but we didn’t know if we would get another opportunity like this that day…
So the three other volunteers, Anton, Jes and Annastiina, along with Lalas had to hang off the side of the taxi brousse (the seats were all full as was the floor, and the back was also full of people hanging on). Nina didn’t think she would be able to hang on all the way to Belalanda and neither did I, especially as I had been very ill the week before and was still recovering. When we told the driver this, he said that I could sit in the cab, which it turned out already had two women sharing the passenger seat, meaning I had to sit in the drivers seat with him. As I was sitting in his seat wondering how we were both going to fit, Nina came walking over looking bemused because the driver had told her that she could drive the taxi brousse! The driver hung onto the side of the car with the others, Nina got into the front seat with me, and we set off for Belalanda at a very cautious pace, as Nina was very aware of how many lives she was responsible for at that moment! We also had to make sure we kept away from the prickly bushes at the side of the road as so many people were currently clinging to the side. The drive was uneventful except for Nina grabbing my knee a few times looking for the gearstick (I was very glad at that point that I wasn’t sharing the drivers seat with the original taxi brousse driver!), Annastiina getting soaked with water from a bucket on the roof carrying octopus tentacles which was sloshing violently over the sides as we drove along the rocky road, and a brief stop while the taxi brousse driver ran back down the road for his straw hat.
When we arrived in Belalanda, contrary to the taxi brousse driver’s assurance, only one or two people got out. Unfortunately, Nina and I had to get into the back of the taxi brousse as we were due to pass three police check points before we arrived in Tulear and I don’t think they would have been happy to see two vasa (foreigners) driving a packed taxi brousse. So Nina, Annastiina and I folded ourselves into the back, and Anton, Jes and Lalas remained clinging onto the sides for dear life. We arrived in Tulear 20 sweaty minutes later, but after having a very exciting journey quite unlike the one we had expected when we woke up that morning. The best adventures, especially in Madagascar are always the unplanned ones!