Monday, June 13, 2011

You Can Check Out Any Time You Like

"Are you sure a taxi brousse will come by here and pick me up?"

The small, winding road in front of Ranomafana National Park was not exactly full of transportation options.

"Yes, we do this all the time," said my guide. I had no reason to doubt him, aside from the complete lack of vehicles.

"Of course, it's a holiday..." His voice trailed off.


In the end, we sat with my backpack by the side of the road for an hour, hoping for a taxi brousse to the crossroads town of Fianarantsoa, where I'd transfer for the taxi brousse north. I'd planned to reach Antsirabe with Green Park Hotel's little bungalows and had high hopes for them, given that this morning I'd had an ice-cold shower in the shared facilities at Centrest Hotel (not on purpose) and yet-another-baguette for breakfast. I like baguettes but between the French influence on West Africa and the French influence on Madagascar, I was really at the end of my baguette-tolerance. Don't the French also make croissants and good coffee?

Two taxi brousses passed us, their drivers shrugging that they had no seats. All the Fianarantsoa-bound transport was full. Which makes sense, given that transportation leaves towns when full here.

In time, I got kind of bitchy.

"I should have left my bag at the hotel and gone back to town from here. There's a better chance of catching a bus from town." Several taxi brousses had passed heading back to Ranomafana center. They were crowded but could fit me.

To my surprise, my guide completely agreed with me.

"You're right." He hailed the next van that came barreling along and we piled in for the seven kilometers back to town.

Back in town, the guide sat me down on a wooden bench by the side of the road. As part of the holiday, people were everywhere and the roads were full. The guide called over the town's transportation coordinator and told him that I wanted to go to Fianarantsoa

"You will get there eventually," said the coordinator. "But today, because it's a holiday, the only taxis are from the coast, and when they stop here, they are already full. But at around five, lots of them will be here. They travel all night to Tana." 

Ugh. Five? That was four-and-a-half hours from now, and I still had to journey six hours once I got on the bus.

"I have to go do some things at home. I'll be back later," said my guide. I laughed at him, and he didn't know why. I laughed because I knew I'd never see him again and that he had no intention of coming back to check on me. Which was fine. I'd had enough of this guide the minute I'd smelled banana at the mouse lemur-spotting. 

I sat, bored and keeping an eye out every time a van pulled into town. I bought a few cookies from a nearby kiosk and nibbled them in between staring at the wall and staring at the wall. An hour went by and then another.

A French doctor I'd met in the forest saw me and stopped by for a chat.

"Come to lunch with me."

"I can't...what if a taxi brousse comes by while I'm gone?"

"What are the odds of that?"

"Almost none," I admitted. "I will probably be sitting here for days. But still, I have to wait."

Right then, the transportation coordinator waved to me.

"Come on, come on!"

A van had pulled in. I rushed over, handed my bag up to the roof, and we were off.

Three-and-a-half hours to get out of Ranomafana.


We picked up two backpackers back by the park, where I had been waiting. And they looked familiar. And when one of them started talking about Africa, something clicked.

"I met you guys in Andasibe in Hotel Orchid's restaurant," I said. "We were talking about mountain gorillas!"

We continued our conversation all the way to Fianarantsoa, where we pulled in at dusk.

I wasn't getting to Antsirabe today. But there was one more chance, a taxi brousse heading to Ambositra. I bought a ticket and after dark, trudged into the gates of Hotel Jonathan. It wasn't a quaint bungalow, but I'd be relieved to head the oinking pigs in the morning, because it meant I was back on the N7 road, and could easily get back to Tana from here.

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