Even before setting foot on the red soil of Madagascar I knew one of my greatest adventures would be taking a trip on a camion brousse. These beasts of transport are like normal trucks but instead of carrying goods they are fitted out to hold passengers. Long steel seats with padding to make them more comfortable are lined up in rows in the body of the truck. This is not a one person one seat job like the taxi brousse but more of slide along the bench and make room for some new friends kind of transport.
The total journey time ended up being 57 hours between the two cities and started with us rolling along with views over red landscape and across plains with green shrubbery but quickly descended into crawling along the route at times no faster than walking pace. As we bounced along on the first day the cramped conditions made it very uncomfortable and when we got off to eat that evening I fed myself standing up to encourage blood flow in my left leg which had become numb.
That night about 11pm we got stuck in wet mud that resulted in a 17 hour layover before we were free again. Nobody on board really seemed too bothered when the delay stretched through the next day and towards the afternoon. I even managed to get a few hours sleep on the truck as there was more space due to some of the passengers sleeping on the ground outside. After my few hours rest on the truck I felt surprisingly good and clambered out the window, which was the easiest way of getting on and off due to passenger numbers, to see what is going on. At the back of the truck a lady who works for Mafio called me over. She had a large box of mangoes inside the back door and handed me two. Having not eaten a lot the day before this was a very welcome sight. I thanked her and got into the first of the mangoes peeling the skin with my mouth. In the course of eating I was spotted by a man in uniform who turned out to be from the local military who pointed at me and my mango eating technique and said something in Malagasy. There was a crowd around by now and they had a good laugh. I did’t understand what has been said so I removed the mango from my mouth and said loudly, “Matsiro Be”, which means very delicious and this brought on further laughter from the crowd and the army man. Everyone was in good spirits after the nights events and its always better to try and find humour in a situation like this than not.
After we got underway again it too a mere 27 hours to reach Fort Dauphin where I had a cold shower and a long sleep.
For the independent traveller there is not a whole lot known about travelling on public transport in rural Madagascar and even in Antananarivo some people said it was a dangerous prospect taking the camion brousse down south. The ones I spoke to in the capital had never actually taken this trip. As I went further south and spoke to people who had done it I got the overwhelming impression that it was it was either a big party or a very uncomfortable couple of days but certainly not dangerous. It turned out to be a mixture of the two as the day we were stuck in the sand had a festival feel about it and rattling and rolling over the terrible tracks while hopping my knees and head of protruding bolts in the bodywork was not all that comfortable.