Then an old Peugeot 405 pulled up and a familiar face from the camion brousse peered out the window and asked where I was going. “Jump in we can all share the costs,” he said after I told him my city centre destination. My backpack safely in the boot and my little back on my knees in the back seat off we rattled towards the centre via streets so tight the could easily double as alley ways. They seemed extra tight due to the lack of street lighting and it is only when all of the other passengers had been dropped off that we get back onto the wider roads which point towards the centre.
As we pulled back onto the main road the driver stalled the engine but couldn’t get it started again. No panic needed here as he just rolled down the window and shouted across the road at 3 men standing outside a restaurant who came across and give us a push until we get up enough speed to bump start the car. A few notes were passed through the window which the men shared, happy with their few seconds work. We stalled a second time not far from the hotel but this time we on a decent incline so I was able to jump out and push us to get us going again.
Safely at my hotel for a fraction of the cost of a taxi I was a new convert to this way of getting about. Taxis can be seen at nearly every taxi brousse station in the country but more often than not people tend to share them and once I found this out I always tried to team up with a few people to make things much cheaper.
My favourite of all taxi collective trips was between the town of Amboasary which lies along the RN13 about 10km from Berenty reserve in the southwest of the country. I took a taxi brousse to Amboasary from Fort Dauphin to reduce the expense of getting a private transfer. The problem was I didn’t have any contacts to take me the rest of the way and there were surprisingly few cars around to take me further. At the dry and dusty town I took refuge in a roadside shop where I enjoyed a cooling fizzy drink. The shopkeeper happened to know someone with a car and that was how I was introduced to Frank, the owner of a surprisingly well preserved Peugeot 504 pickup truck which doubles as a taxi collective.
Frank is a slim man with a youthful face and spiked hair. He looked about 40 there is a very good chance his was younger than the car he was driving. We struck a deal whereby Frank took me into Berenty like a taxi and will brought me all the way back to Fort Dauphin after Berenty carrying passengers, like a taxi collective.
Before we set off he took 4 large water bottles filled with petrol and put them into fuel tank. We crossed the bridge out of town over the river and after about 3km turned right towards Berenty.
As we sped down the sandy track it became apparent Frank is not one to spare the throttle. The taxi collective champion.
It was such a great feeling tearing down this sandy track in an old French car with the breeze in my face and the sun beating down that I didn’t want the drive to end.
The way back was just as good and we left Berenty after my visit in a blaze of dust and Frank confidently declared, “We will be in Fort Dauphin in three hours,” and I believed him, especially going at this pace.
He seems to want to drive everywhere as quickly as possible but is also able to take remarkable care of his car on these terrible rutted roads.
“So you definitely want to go to Fort Dauphin today?” Frank asked, on the way out of Berenty.
“Ah…….., yes I want to go to Fort Dauphin today,” I replied, not really sure where the conversation was going.
“I know a hotel in Amboasary that you could stay at,” he said.
“No, its ok, I would prefer to go back today but thanks anyway,” I replied.
“No problem,” and with that continued to do a good impression of a rally driver.
In Amboasary we drove around for a while near the taxi brousse station picking up passengers and stopped outside a shop near the edge of town to wait for some more. As we waited Frank saw the beads of sweat on my arms and said, “Very hot, thirty nine degrees today.”
“Yeah, this must be one of the hottest places in Madagascar,” I commented.
“Yes, but it will cool down once we get towards Fort Dauphin,” he assured me.
“I hope so,” I replied, and was very glad I didn’t take up Frank’s offer of a hotel for the night as it might have resulted in severe dehydration in this weather.
Full of passenger and back on the road again it was much fresher now that we were driving because there was a breeze coming through the window. The taxi collective breathed.
As we went along Frank pointed out the window and said, “Very bad,” referring to the road.
“I agree,” I said, starting a conversation I have had many times before. In the front seat low down in Franks car there was a unique view of the hills and holes of the road and it looked just like a dirt bike track where it is easy to imagine bikers going over it at speed and flying into the air at the apex before coming back down again using all their skill to stay upright. As it had been raining over the last few days there were many pools of water on the road with some deeper than others and one point we passed some women washing clothes in one of them. I suppose water is water no matter where you find it and it saves a walk to the river.
Frank was good company and as we chatted away it turns out he is a bit of a businessman.
“Did you see the two cars for sale in Amboasary?” he asked.
“Yes, the two Peugeots?” I replied.
“Well they are my cars. I also have a few cars in Tana which I have people working with,” he explained.
He told me the price of the ones for sale in Amboasary and I would love to have bought one but getting it home would have been the problem so I put it out of my mind.
Frank continued his weather reports and after we left Amboasary he said, “In 30km the temperature will go down and it will be more comfortable.”
“Nice one. That will be better. Didn’t you try to sell me a hotel room in that heat?” I asked, and laughed.
“It is a nice hotel,” Frank answered, giving me a wide grin.
We made it to the outskirts of Fort Dauphin and stopped briefly at the taxi brousse station to let Frank’s passengers off and then went on to my hotel. I thanked Frank for not only driving me but for his company and humour at the same time. Taxi collectives are a really good way to get around and also help to save a little money so if the opportunity presents itself to take one I would highly recommend it.