Sorry, but that is the only way to describe the road to Mahambo. All of the guides and literature and everything you read tell you it is still a tar road but potholed. Well, that is definitely an understatement.
I can’t really describe this road other than to say it literally looks like it was bombed out during some war. The holes are, and I kid you not, 3 feet deep and water-filled in many places, sharp crags of broken pavement lining the edges, sudden drop-offs with huge broken chunks of asphalt lining the bottom with large trucks in front of you manoeuvring around the craggy edges, large trucks heading towards you on your side of the “road” manoeuvring the best path forward and all of this in a slow motion 1-3 km/h ballet of finding the path of least resistance.
You usually cannot travel more than 1-3 km/hour. Seriously.
From the tar road at the entrance to Manambato, which at that point I thought I had seen everything road related, it took us 7 hours to travel a total of 131 kms! The only reason it didn’t take 10 hours was because there was the odd reprieve for about 200 metres where you could step on the gas and hit 60 km/hr for a grand total of about 45 seconds!
It was really nuts and to top it off there were literally dozens of minibuses loaded to beyond capacity traversing this route to and from wherever they were going. It was a common site to see these vans stopped on the side of the road, tires flat and the passengers lazing around the grassy areas on the side of the road where they were either (a) waiting for the flat tire to be repaired or (b) waiting for another overcrowded van to stop by and pick them up to probably get them into the same situation they were just in except maybe a few kms down the road.
We didn’t see any tents on the side of the road so we guess most breakdowns get their passengers to their destinations before sun down and we were fortunate enough to travel during the daylight hours thank god almighty and we’re not even religious. We think our Marilyn was watching over us.
We have driven some very challenging roads and this road definitely offered some on/off road challenges and as mentioned in an earlier post, BBC has a series titled “The World’s Most Dangerous Roads” and the RN5 is one of the roads they highlight. Woohoo!
The RN5 gets even worse beyond Mahambo and is more the focus of the BBC series however we are quite proud to say that we tackled 131 kms of this road without a hitch.
The few photos we took don’t really do it justice and I wish I had a picture of the bare tires that we were travelling on which did not offer comfort on these roads.
If the ferry from ISM was on time it would get us back to Mahambo at 8:00 am. We would then have a gruelling 3 1/2 hour plus re-drive through the RN5 pits of hell before we even reached Tamatave.
Tamatave, also called Toamasina is the main city on the east coast which is at least another 3 1/2 hour drive to Andasibe.
In our calculations we were looking at a 7+hour drive on top of a 3 hour ferry back to the mainland just to get to Grace Lodge with several hours of driving in the dark.
This was not going to work so without much fuss we decided we would fly back to Antananarivo and save the hassle involved in our impossible return itinerary.
Roadtrip Africa is the company that we have rented our truck from and they offer a service whereby they will pick up the vehicle in Mahambo and drive it back for you for a minimal charge. I remembered this when we booked our truck so thought this is the way to go. Maybe we can spend another night on ISM, fly back to Tana and pick our truck up again at Susie’s Place where we first picked the truck up. Perfect plan. Well, not quite. We had 4 nights booked on Ile Saint Marie departing the 17th back to Mahambo where we would drive to Grace Lodge. NOT! The only flight out of ISM we could get departed on the 16th. Okay so we’ll cut our stay to 3 nights instead of 4, book an extra 2 nights at Susie’s Place, not stay at Grace Lodge on the 17th as planned and everything will be fine. Luck was not on our side. We booked our flight and then proceeded to the ferry dock near where we were staying and asked for two one way tickets to ISM for the next day, the 13th. “Sorry, we’re full”! OMG! Now what? One more day in Mahambo, 2 nights in ISM then fly back to Antananarivo? This is getting a little out of hand. We begged, we pleaded and voila, we have a seat for the 13th. Now all we need to do is confirm with Susie’s Place in Tana that they can accommodate us for 2 extra nights, the 16th and 17th as we already have the 18th booked. Nope, nothing on the 17th but the 16th is open. Okay, book the 16th and we’ll see what can find for the 17th. Jeez this is getting difficult but we had lunch at a nice place near Susie’s so we send them an email and ask if they have a room for the 17th. NO THEY DON’T but they will keep us informed if something becomes available. At the end of the day we were able to get a hotel near the airport in Tana for 2 nights then back to Susie’s for 1 night where we will pick up our truck with new tires and ready for the next 4 weeks of driving into the south, west and central parts of the country where we WILL have some more hairy driving experiences. Phew, now off to Ile Sainte Marie.