It couldn’t get any worse could it?
Antonio, the pisteur of few words except “okay” implied no, just some rocks and sand, not too bad. The last leg was really quite bad and we started to lack confidence in his words. Maybe this is part of the psychology they use to ensure you don’t just throw up your arms, say “screw it” and call in the rescue team.
We departed Tsiandamba on the 28th where we had a one night pit stop at Five Senses Lodge, another french run lodge where no one spoke english. It was like pulling teeth to get any information on what the english translation was for the menu offerings, what came with what and I could go on and on but I’m sure you are sensing the frustration that has been building so far with our experiences that, although I haven’t really touched upon yet has become a very big sore point for us to date. In most counties we have travelled, the hosts go out of their way to accomodate you, the french don’t seem to share that sense of hospitality. If you don’t speak french you are ignored most of the time and you wait forever for service. We’re from Canada, an english/french speaking country. We don’t speak french but everywhere else in the world, english is usually on the menu. Not Madagascar. They are influenced by the french and I’m sorry, but it really pisses us off. Anyway, we continued on to Andavodok where we could hopefully unwind with a two night stay at Laguna Blu, what a lovely sounding name and it was a lovely setting but again, french run, for french speaking people with a scatter brained french owner. She did however speak italian, we don’t so c’est la vie! What a mess!
The drive was treacherous to say the least. I don’t have words to describe the condition of the pathways that lead through no-mans land, through small, dirt poor villages, the people probably having lived this way since day one, sustenance farming, raising Zebu (our equivalent of cattle) and getting by. The children and adults were always smiling and we would wave as they would as we passed slowly through the sandy pathways winding through wooden and thatched huts in a dusty sand landscape surrounded by brush or sea side with the sounds of “bon bon” (candy) shouted by the children as we passed.
We estimated our travel time to be about 5 hours and were thrown off track by taking a wrong turn through a very sandy track to eventually be met by a fallen tree blocking our way. I was able to do the turn around dance once more and we headed back to the village where we took the wrong turn and then proceeded in the correct direction.
The road wasn’t too bad and we estimated about 45 minutes until we would make our destination. The land was barren and the surface of much of the area looked white and hard. The gravel road seemed to come to and end. Antonio looked forward towards a far sand dune and said the “lodge is right over there, probably about a 15 minute drive”. I asked if I should go straight, it looked like a decent hard surfaced dried salt pan and he agreed so off we went, for about 3 minutes, maybe 500 metres and then bam, deep mud hidden under the innocent white surface and we were stuck. Really, really stuck. OMG!! So close and yet so far, the last thing you want to happen and the one thing that is always in the back of your mind just before you reach your final stopping point. The time now was about 1:00 pm and in the distance we could see two people. Antonio proceeded towards them and they came to assist. Let’s push us out. Bad idea. We sunk even deeper. Now what? On the horizon, somehow through telepathy a few more men from the nearby village heard the distress call and came to assist. Then several more, then a few women, then some children with their chickens.
For the next 5 hours they walked several hundred metres back and forth to collect rocks, carrying them on their shoulders, the women carrying them on their heads and we dug, and dug, and placed the rocks and tried to get out but there was no way in hell we could get out of the quagmire. The original 7 men and 3 women were eventually joined by what seemed to be the whole village. They argued amongst themselves on the best way to handle this. The hours passed and I kept telling Antonio to call the lodge and have them send a 4×4 to maybe assist. I finally called the truck rental company and they seemed rather nonchalant. Finally, 25 people and chickens and a zebu cart joined in. I pulled out the heavy duty jack and I jacked up each corner of the vehicle about 4 times (12 times total I think but it seemed like 112), each time placing flat rocks under the wheels until the truck was finally level with the original track. The sun was beating down, we didn’t have anything to eat since breakfast, Joyce was feeling faint, I was feeling a little pissed off because after 12 times of jacking up the truck I was sweating and shall we say a little tired and the men and boys were laughing at me because of my sweat and red white face I imagine and my white hair was not so neatly in it’s oh so white man ponytail. I wasn’t too pleased with the situation but we were ready to give it another try. It was now 6:05 pm and the sun was just below the horizon. One of the men who joined the party late and suggested the jacking up solution was a driver/guide who works in the tourist industry. He asked me if I wanted to back the truck up or should he? I said go for it, I didn’t need any more of this. He did and the final solution worked! We were out, but not quite out of the woods. We of course realized that this would cost us, not a problem but with the original 7 turning into probably 27 people this was really going to add up. It added up to probably $250.00 and it was impossible to please everyone with the payment we gave them, 40,000 Ariary each, about $14.00 CAD or the equivalent of about 7 days of income for the average Malagasy. If we had to wait until the next day who knows what the outcome would be. We figured the truck would have been swallowed up by the mud/quicksand and we would be facing a very large bill and a big change of plans but, it worked out. Hallelujah!
We finally arrived at our lodge, 5 1/2 hours later than planned. It was, take a guess, french run with another scattered brained owner (seems to be the norm here because WTF would want to run a lodge in the middle of nowhere). We had a small dinner and went to bed early looking forward to a relaxing next day. Our morning breakfast was typical, bread, jam, bread, sweet bread, fruit, juice, coffee, bread and an egg fried and rolled so it could be called an omelette. Very typical and we are getting really sick and tired of bread and jam for breakfast! Speaking of sick, after breakfast we went for a walk along the beach. Very remote and pristine and my stomach was becoming very bloated and not so pristine. I was sick for the rest of the day and Joyce also had to visit the upchuck hotel as something she ate hit her also. We had a small pasta dish the night before for dinner and bread and jam and bread and coffee (and some very thin yogurt) for breakfast so I don’t know what hit me but my gut ached to the point that moaning made it feel a little better. Just like a little kid. Fortunately the next morning I felt better because there was no way in hell that we would attempt the 9 hour drive that would follow. Joyce did feel better in the evening and took a few good pics of the area and sunset while I lied in bed moaning and groaning.
Well that was quite the experience and not one we will soon forget. Next stop, Manja.