Blog by MBP Volunteer, Sierra
I have been in Madagascar for just over three months now and have, somewhat, adjusted to the language barrier, change in culture, and overall chaos. There is one thing, however, I don’t think I’ll ever get fully use to, the dreaded taxi brousse.
No matter the adventure you are planning to have, if it requires you to ride a taxi brousse, you are in for an entirely different and separate experience each time. The ride is an adventure in itself. Whether I’m traveling to one of the closer towns to get internet to send the bi-monthly report or attempting to travel from Manhajanga to Diego, I sometimes wonder if I’m going make it.
Before I dive into specific stories, allow me to set the scene of what constitutes the brousse taxi system.
The time: Unimportant- we run on Madagascar time here where things happen when they feel like having them happen and stop when they feel like it too. The temperature, 99°F, 99% humidity, and muggy.
The people: A few vazah (white foreigners), the chain smoking driver and his doorman, whose motto is, “there’s always room for one more!”, and half a village (and their chickens).
Finally, the most important contribution to these blood rushing experiences, the brousse itself: Picture with me, a dented-up, Mazda van that looks like it has somehow survived a bombing, yet still has its original paint job from 1981, and can be heard blasting the top 15 Malagasy songs of the month from its jerry-rigged speaker system on repeat. Now, please add to this image of our tiny little Mazda, a pack job any moving company would be impressed by. Stacked so high it doubles in height with varying supplies which can include anything from lychees, mattresses, furniture, baby zebu, and most recently a live goat (we will get to that).
Now that you have that image in your head remember it because no matter what time you are traveling or where you might be in Madagascar, this will be your brousse don’t try to fight it. Just accept it, and enjoy the ride.
Getting there: Part the challenge of brousses is acquiring them. Like most things here, there isn’t really a schedule kept for them and things just appear to flow in their own rhythms.
Two volunteers and I attempted to catch a 6 hour brousse ride up to Fianarsoa. We had finished work and were out on the main road by 2:30 pm. We waited for about 30 minutes until we decided that maybe if we walked to the main village, Kianjavato, we would have a better chance of finding one. The 40 minute walk went by uneventfully without a single brousse driving by. We stopped and asked people along the way if they thought a brousse would be heading that way soon. The answer was always, “Oh yes. One will come by 3 O’clock.” I would, of course, look at my watch and see it was already 3:15…. Thanks…. By 3:30pm, I began to worry we wouldn’t be getting one. Whenever one of us would ask this question the answer was always the same, but considering it was always past the time they would tell us to wait it didn’t help our confidence in getting one. We even had two brousses stop but our flood of relief was quickly washed away as they laughed and drove away when we said we were going to Fianarsoa. This went on until nearly 5 when finally we managed to hop on to what I assume was the last one heading that far.
Getting Back: One Sunday, I had hopped on a typical brousse to go into town to report. Getting there was uneventful, but we hadn’t thought about it being a Sunday. We waited too long to get a brousse. By the time we had left the internet café at 1pm the last brousse had past. At that point we had to tickle the idea of staying overnight and attempting to get back in time to start work in the morning. Considering none of us had really brought the money for a hotel this option was not appealing to anyone. With some help and after a few hours, we luckily were able to secure a ride on a truck hauling empty lychee baskets. It was a complete relief and actually pretty comfortable.
Me, the Brousse, and a Goat: The rest of the volunteers and I recently went on a 3 week holiday for Christmas and New Year’s. We decided to spend the time traveling the northern areas of Madagascar. After a 12 hour trip to Tana, we managed to get one of the nicest sprinters I’ve ever been on for our trip to Manhajanga (which only took about 12 hours). After having two days of smooth and happy traveling, I naively thought that my days of brousse adventures had been traded in for modern forms of transportation… how silly of me.
The first hint that the North was just as wild as the South was when we showed up to the Taxi Brousse station to ride to Ankarafantsika National Park. They had conveniently “lost” our reservation, but fortunately had a brousse available for double the price it had originally been. After several minutes of bartering back and forth, we finally managed to get the brousse to a similar price to the original.
If I had known what the next brousse would bring, I would have gladly taken lost reservations and bartering, but still I hoped things would be better.
The biggest test of my will so far would have to be the next brousse. It was a long 18 hour ride starting late at night from Ankarafantsika to Diego Saurez. When we got on, we were lucky to find it was comfortably packed and most everyone had begun to fall asleep. We all tucked in for the night hoping that we would get a good night’s sleep and be halfway there. That thought was quickly destroyed when our brousse driver proceeded to spend the next 4 hours falling asleep at the wheel while we all watched terrified as the brousse slowly swerved back and forth until he woke himself back up.
Once it was light out, he decided he was too tired to drive so he traded his fare to a different driver. This new driver, after seeing the vazah, decided we hadn’t paid enough for our brousse and wanted more. We refused… we should have just paid because his revenge was much worse than we could have imagined. He and his doorman then began to fill the brousse one traveler at a time. With every village we passed, more people piled in. The roof was packed higher and higher and the brousse got hotter and hotter. By the halfway point, I was looking at the doorman with angry eyes, mentally screaming, “DON”T YOU DARE ADD-“, as another person was loaded on board. By hour 18 my angry eyes turned to eyes of pleading, “Dear Lord, please!”. Everyone was tired. Everyone was hot. No one was happy.
The cherry on the top was at hour 20 when we stopped at another village to add even more people. I hopelessly looked outside wondering whether I’d ever step out of this brousse again and saw that they were loading a live goat onto the roof. A live goat. There he was with a little collar around his neck tied up by my backpack just hanging out on the roof. Me and the other 29 exhausted people, the fighting chickens under my seat, and a boxed up goose spent the next 6 hours swaying back and forth on the pothole riddled road listening to the goat hop around the roof calling out to any other goats he saw along the way. We all eventually made it to Diego. When I saw the goat being unloaded I wasn’t sure which one of us looked more haggard.
Well this is Madagascar and we know how to travel in style.