This is a Ride report of a motorcycle trip I made recently. I travelled from Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar to Nosy Be, the holiday and sin capital of Madagascar and back.
I am a missionary in Madagascar. I teach at a theological seminary of the FJKM, that is Ny Fiangonan’ I Jesoa Kristy eto Madagasikara. The Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar. The FJKM is a reformed church of the presbyterian fold.
Why did I go on this trip? (I am trying to be philosophical.)
There is something romantic about the whole road trip thing. Something mythical and mystical.
You are also challenged to face your fears and doubts, well at least some of them. Can I do this? What if the bike breaks down? What if I crash? Do I have the skills to face the challenges? En n klomp ander vrae.
The 19th I had a million good reasons for cancelling, but I did not! haha!
Packed and ready. The odometer read 19229.8km and I added 1807.5km by the time I got back here.
Day One I travelled from Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar to Ambondromamy to the west. Only 399.3 km. But it took me a while.
The roads in Madagascar can be called many things, but not straight! Imagine the Olivier’s Hoek Pass. Now imagine a much narrower road that is not nearly as straight, level or well maintained. Don’t forget to add the odd goat, zebu, chicken, duck or crazy pedestrian. But most of all, remember that ALL other vehicles, two or four wheeled, will treat you like SA taxis treat someone from a warring taxi faction!
In Madagascar roads only have one side, and that is the center! Everybody sticks to the center, straddling the white line (if it is actually painted) like a thief that got stuck on a barbed wire fence.
If you approach a blind corner, you stay away from the centre, even if that is the best line, for the guy coming from the other side WILL be on your side of the line. And as far as I know, bikes tend to lose fights with four wheeled vehicles!
First stop was in Ankazobe (At the Big Tree). Had a cup of Malagasy coffee. This coffee is used by to render nuclear waste inert. It is that strong. But after 5 years I’m getting used to it. Also I haven’t slept for the last 4.99 years.
I have not been on this road before. The RN4, Route Nationale 4 runs east west, from Tamatave to Mahajanga. And it is one of the busiest roads on the island. And by the time I got to Ankazobe, I have used up my quota of swear words for 2009.
Dodging trucks and taxis.
I stayed over in Ambondromamy for two nites, visiting a American missionary. It’s hot. With a humidity of about 7 000 000% And from there on it got just worse. (I don’t deal well with heat and humidity. Sweat like a pig in a rubber suit!)
A picture of me and Daly. It was her birthday. Malagasy kids are either scared of big white people, or very scared of them. Daly and I became friends quite easily. Her grandmother is a doctor in Ambondormamy, and my missionary friend lodges with them.
The next stretch was from Ambondromamy to Befotaka (Lots of Mud) about 340km to the north.
I crossed quite a few single lane bridges.
In Mampikony I had coffee and rice-cakes.
The lady on the left works at the local hotel. She told me that they don’t serve coffee and then led me across the road to a coffee vendor. She kept me company and walked me back to the motorbike.
This guy was fixing cellphones. I do not know why he heated them over a coal fire. You know the expression “‘n Boer maak ‘n plan’ (A Boer finds a solution), well let me tell you the Malagasy are light years ahead in that area. They can fix anything with a piece of wire, cracked wood and a brown banana. I kid you not. Poverty, and not neccesity, seems to be the mother of invention.
The road to the north has recently been re-tarred. It is wonderful now. The 80-something stretch between Mampikony and Port Berge could take anything from 10 hours to a week or more if you got stuck in the mud. (No this is not a story. I know of a truck that took four months from Ambondromamy to Diego in the north. Mud, mud mud.)
Now there is only about 40km of bad road. And it was pretty muddy. I had only one aim: Don’t fall! And that made me forget about the camera. The mud was not deep mud, but as slippery as can be. You lose traction just like that. This picture does not do the mud justice, but believe me it was slippery!
You must always be on the look out for cattle. The zebu is actually a kind of water buffalo.
Rice is the staple food in Madagascar. Rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And rice cakes with you coffee as a snack. Most people grow rice.
Kids doing their best Ninja impressions. To impress me or scare me? You decide!
At the Hotely Aleloia I had some coffee. This is also where I noticed that I lost my 5L jerry can! It just fell of!
The bridge over the Sofia river is 800m long. Quite a long bridges, longest in Madagascar by far.
A while after crossing the bridge, I spotted this gecko! Poor guy probably got onto the bike in Ambondromamy.
In Befotaka I noticed my weird tan. I wore elbow guards all the way and not a jacket. And I forgot to put on sunscreen. Big mistake! Blisters!
Christmas Tree – Befotaka style
As I already mentioned, work at a theological seminary here in Madagascar. Once our students graduate after four years of study, they become pastors. Then they are sent to tine out of the way villages. Pastor Narisoa and his wife Voahangy, also a pastor live in Befotaka. IT seemed like a good idea to visit them, seeing that I will pass through Befotaka.
I celebrated Christmas with the Christians at FJKM Befotaka.
Malagasy Christians often use palm branches to signify a important feast
It is typical that everyone will greet the pastor and then form a line and greet one another after a church service. I like this practice.
There are always millions of kids in any church service. And they are amazingly quiet and well disciplined. But the adults are also much more lenient with them if they do make some noise.
The congregation gave me a gift for Christmas. IT was quite unexpected. The Malagasy people are gracious, kind and humble. They considered me to be an important visitor who should be honored, and therefore the gift. Although I appreciate their token of love, it is often very humbling. They go out of their way to make you welcome, honour you and help you. And all I did was drop by unannounced and uninvited.
This lady is one of the Christians in Befotaka. She does not live in the town itself but in one of the surrounding villages. She stopped by just to chat with the pastor. And as a farmer, she could not just leave the weeds growing in the pastors garden. So while talking she weeded the garden. It was such a natural act. I did not get the impression that she was trying to ‘score’ something or impress. The weeds weren’t supposed to be there and she removed them. Her humility was refreshing.
I think that she is a recent convert. (I cant remember if it was her or one of the other women.) She was what we would call a witch doctor or sangoma. She used spiritual means to heal diseases. (In Madagascar there seems to be a link between sin and sickness.) She got ill and could not heal herself. Nor could others heal her. And western medicine had no effect. Out of desperation she went to the church where the pastor and other Christians prayed for her, and she was healed.
In the Acts of the Apostles we read how people burned their “medicine.” This still happens here when someone becomes a Christian.
They just could resist posing for the resident photographer.
The morning of the 26th I set of for Ankivy to cross over to Nosy Be.
The moment I arrived the “responsable” for the Zarga approached me and “forced” me to go with them. Initially they wanted 25 000Ar (approximately R125) for the crossing. I then negotiated this down to 20 000 Ar. The waiting and loading process took 2 – 2:30 hours. It was hot and humid. I was tired.
Then they told me, “Remove your bike. We cant fit it and 4 vehicles and the bike.”
Then we had a huge fight. I arrived first of all the vehicles. But seeing that they get 4 or 5 times more for a vehicle I don’t count. I really was upset with this guy. I realised all along that I’m fighting a losing battle and that they will not change their minds. So I demanded my money back. They promptly gave me the 20 000Ar back.
But then I got confused and told the guy that I paid 25 000Ar, he still owes me 5 000Ar. And he gave me the extra 5000Ar.
I truly and honestly made a mistake. But when I realised it later the afternoon I did feel a little better. I am the only guy in the world who got the better of the Transporters in Madagascar. They are very good at abusing your trust and taking advantage of you. I still smile when I think of it! (Hope my pastor doesn’t read this! ;-)
On the next ferry I found out that the correct price is 15 000Ar for a person with a bike.
Various modes of propulsion.
A tug towing a barge out to the deeper water were containers will be offloaded. The container ship cant come in to the shallow harbour.
This should be big enough for the rice for a family of four!
Some Malagasy snails. Big hungry bastards!
The Fig-tree Hotel
Beach party every Sunday afternoon
Prostitution is a massive problem in Nosy Be. I counted close to thirty “working girls” at this party. It is disgusting to see this bald, fat old (white) men with young girls.
Local Fisherman’s catch
Sign at the harbour
(I did not take many pictures on the trip back. But if you want to get a feeling for the trip back, I suggest you read this report from back to front.)
I wish you all a 2009 where we experience and recognise God in our lives in a way that will bring honour and glory to his Kingdom.