We start out early this morning since we still has the second half of our off road journey through Western Madagascar left. It isn’t a huge distance – only a bit over 300 kilometers or a little more than 200 miles. But it will be slow going through dessert tracks and crossing four major rivers along the route.
We start out driving and we don’t see any cars for hours. We do see a few people and zebu carts. The zebu carts seem to be the preferred local transport since nobody has a car and the closest gas station is 300 kilometers in either direction. The zebus out here in the wilderness are different from the ones we have been passing during our journey along the main highway. They are scared of the cars so when we pass a zebu cart the zebus will be jumping and moving around trying to get as far away from the car as possible – which isn’t very far since the track is very narrow only with enough space for one vehicle at a time – be it a car or the much more numerous zebu carts.
The landscape is really dry and the only crop people seem to grow in a relative large scale is kasawa. The people in this area clearly just do subsistence farming having troubles getting water to drink not to mention for personal hygiene and washing dishes. The houses are only very basic clay huts with a straw roof.
After a bit of a drive we reach a river of some sort. We have no idea how deep the water is – but there is clearly no way around the river so we have to go through it. The driver step out of the car and walk into the water to determine which route he can take through the water which will not get the car stuck in mud or drown under 3 meters of water. After walking across the water he has decided on a viable route and we drive into the water. After the drive yesterday we don’t have much faith in his off road driving abilities but we have no choice but go through the water. Fortunately he manages to drive through the water without getting stuck and we make it to the other side. One river down three to go.
We continue the drive and then the road is blocked by a branch. Apparently the local charge a toll fee many places from the passing cars – not that they will make that much cash this way considering the limited traffic – but I guess this is the only monetary income the local community is able to get to actually occasionally buy some things in the towns a day’s journey away. We pass several road tolls and make it across another couple of river pretty much the same way as the first. We reach the river the driver walks across the river and back and when he has found the best route we drive across. And fortunately we don’t get stuck.
After we passed the river we drive a couple of kilometers down the road and then suddenly in the middle of nowhere a tree have fallen across the road. The tree has fallen victim of some slash and burn farming and is still smoking a bit. The tree definitely has fallen during the day or night since we met a car at our hotel last night which must have driven pass this spot yesterday. The tree is dry but still really heaves and there is no way we can move it by hand. There is no obvious route across the tree so we have to turn back. We drive back to the last river – we sort of remember passing a village a little before the river so the driver hopes he can find somebody with an axe to chop down the tree. The driver is scared of driving through the river again so he decides to walk across the river to the village while we wait.
We wait for about an hour before the driver finally returns with two men with an axe and a knife and we drive to the tree. Maybe the men have been driving on the back of a pickup truck before – but I am pretty sure this is the first time at least one of them has been inside a car. When we get to the tree he has to open the door – but he can’t open the door. At first I think it is because he might have locked the door – but it isn’t locked – he simply does not know how to use a door handle in a car. We help him to open the door and the men start chopping up the tree. It takes them maybe half an hour and then the road is cleared again. We pay them a total of 15,000 Ariary or just under 4€ for the work and then they have to walk back.
Apparently the route back to their village is actually shorter if they get a lift a little bit further down the road from where the tree had blocked the road. So they get into the car – and now there is trouble again – the one man holds the door handle when he tries to close the door so he cannot shut it. We manage to help him close the door and we drive down the road. After a little while they get off and we give them a little water for them to drink when they walk back towards their village.
We continue our drive across some more toll gates and after a while we come to the biggest town we have seen all day. It almost look like civilization there is a building which call itself a hotel – I am not sure how nice the hotel is – somehow I think that the water supply in the hotel is limited. We drive out of the town.
After the town we drive down the track towards the last river of the day. And as we drive along this track we see not one, not two but a total of three cars driving the other way. We haven’t seen cars all day and when nobody showed up for the about two hours we spend clearing away the tree and now we are almost stuck in a traffic jam. We get down to the river – it is the biggest of the rivers we have to cross but unlike the others there is a clearly marked route across the river with a lot of branches stuck into the river indicating the way to go. So we easily get across the river without the driver getting his feet wet. After the river it is only a little drive on dirt road – and then we reach a sealed national road. We got asphalt and we drive the last 30 or so kilometers to Morondava after another ten hour day of driving through the wilderness.