The big bus trip: An inferno of sweat, mud and rice (part 2)

To read the first part click here

In the morning people were walking around the car we were sleeping in, making it ready to start. This truck was actually going the same direction as we were going, but unfortunatley it was fully booked. Instead we had an hour of strolling in town to find some breakfast before the departure with another car.

The first hour, the car almost flipped over a dozen of times which made our faces bleached.  Every 10-15 minutes everybody had to jump off because it simply was to dangerous to keep passengers inside. After the second hour the bus was stuck in a one meter mud hole. Joel cheerfully said: “this might be the worst road we’ve been traveling with so far!” :). The third hour….. we had to do this continuously, only that we also had to queue for 10 other cars trying to pass the same road. One truck had fallen over on the side and was lying abandonned since a week or so.

A big truck that had fallen over
A big truck that had fallen over

Erik Patel, the researcher we were about to meet up in Sambava, warned us early for the bus trip to Sambava . He said it would take about 4 days of traveling for us. We giggled inside, believing this was a major exaggeration, when the driver said that the journey between Ambilobe and Sambava would take twelve hours.

However, by this time it started to slowly dawn upon us that 12 hours was probably an optimistic estimation… It gave great exercise to jump out and push , pull and struggle with the big car – and it was nice to stretch your legs occasionally but by the late afternoon everything stopped. Stalled trucks stood as motionless giants deeply bogged down in the mud, blocking all “traffic” both ways. At every attempt to get out of the mud , they just dug themselves deeper and we started to realize that we would be forced to spend the night right there on the spot. A small village was located about a kilometer away, so rice for dinner and beer for dessert made our mood rise a little before walked back to put up our tent and go to sleep.

Trucks blocking the road
Trucks blocking the road

Day 3:
Having camped in the middle of the muddy road, we were awakened by loud voices . There was no time to eat your packed beans for breakfast! “Pack the tent , quickly, quickly ! Stop dawdling , now let’s go ” . At a slow pace we made ourselves ready.. fully confident that they would not really be able to go on for quite a while . The trucks stood still and we still had plenty of cars ahead of us in the queue. Still of course they had to yell at us.

Ahead of us in the caravan of stalled cars,  traveled a Muslim party of eight huge bearded Pakistanis wearing nightgowns (or something like it..). A little unexpectedly they started talking to us in perfect English. Joel , who had just taken a bath in some muddy pool nearby, was dressed in shorts and discussed the meaning of life and the theory of evolution while Wilhelm tasted strange fruits the Muslims had found in the woods. They were pilgrims out on a world tour to meet ‘their Muslim brothers’. They were open and friendly but their outlook on life were bizarre to say the least:

All they did in their life was simply to get a good afterlife in paradise. For example they “only had one wife”. Their goal was to get a palace of gold and silver with as “many virgins you like” in paradise in their afterlife (yes..its quoted). And while you are n paradise – you can get exactly what you want to infinite quantities, but if you ‘re the last or the first person to get into paradise, you will get all that x 10. Infinity x 10…


So…now. How do you multiply  infinity x 10?  When we asked their leader.. he simply replied “You see – we do not question that kind of stuff, we  just follow the Koran. Allah knows, we don’t need to know”. Anyway , they were alright and the leader was two meters long and had a big white beard in class with a Greek god (=cool).

The long hours on a bare, hard wooden bench began to slowly but surely take its toll. Our long legs needed to be bent in a large variation of less comfortable angles to simply fit among 20 others on a tiny space, and the convex backrest with pointing screws screws did a comfortable sitting position impossible. After a while the car got some speed on longer distances without water-filled holes spreading out before us.SONY DSC

The nuns car

However, to go one day on the road Ambilobe – Sambava without problems is impossible. The rule applied between the drivers is “one for all , all for one” , and if not followed , it can be an expensive when your own vehicle is stuck in a mud hole, tipped over or broken. We came across a landrover full of nuns with a broken wheel. For three hours we tried to help them in the scorching afternoon sun, but unfortunately it did not go well to fix , not even with machete :(. So we left the nuns to their fate and saw them later continue on foot….

Meanwhile , we continued involuntarily with our high-carbohydrate diet. Rice, rice and rice again . The food in Madagascar is not very imaginative , usually it consists of a mountain with rice and a little chicken wing on the side.  Some road side restaurants offers most of the times also a strong chili paste which usually makes the rice a little bit more fun to eat. However, if you go to Madagascar, check before eating! On one occasion Joel discovered that he had been eating mouthfuls a of tiny tiny, tiny insect larvae.

With the darkness, the rain came and with the rain lightning slipperiness did to0 . Uphill slopes that previously had been easy for the Landrover became more and more problematic , and more frequently we had to jump out and push again. This almost killed Wihelm. Yes. Jumping out of a muddy uphill behind a car that spins around.. is not easy . Especially when the driver doesn’t use his mirrors . Wilhelm jumped out of the back of the car and slipped in his 1$ slippers with his head half a meter away from a wheel spinning on max speed as the car slowly slid backwards towards him. While Wilhelm were fighting to get up from the mud and save himself, the driver released the throttle…people were shouting loud on Malagasy, and just before the car was about to crush him, he slid down a few feet before he managed to throw himself off the mud road to the grass on the side. Full of adrenalin we continued walking a group of 5-6 cars was fighting to get up the slope with ropes.13

For several hours , long after midnight , we sat soaked and freezing in the wet , tall grass. By this time we had been traveling more then 65 hours by bus. Packed like sardins all the way. The landrover made for 10 persons, was packed with 20. It’s like sitting 10 in a normal car! The Muslims who had a better car and helped by trying to pull up our car out of the mud with a steel winch, but it broke. The Pakistanis continued to preach their faith, and we listened politely, just until we finished up the coconuts they offered. How our vehicle finally came out of the hopelessness mud hole, we have no idea of but journey could at least continue one hour more hour before we slept on the concrete of some house by the road…

Day 4:
The road began to slowly get better and at noon we came to a paved road and got to refill our batteries with rice. At this time, we had gone half-way. It felt strange to go on asphalt without the extream shakes and everyone except the driver fell asleep. By this time it went fast on the road, so it wasn’t much lets. Of course we got a flat tire then meaning wheel change and a few hours more. 81 hours after we left Bealanana, with the sorest butts ever, just when we thought the trip would never end , we reached our destination at last!! Sambava! How nice!! The misery was over and we celebrated with spaghetti!!4

To be honest, there are a lot of things that happened during this bus trip which we couldn’t include. Like that time when the driver backed full speed towards Joel and he had to run for his life, or another time he almost killed Wilhelm when we were pushing the car out of a mud hole. What about that time Wilhelm tasted a poisonous fruit? The endless times the driver was shouting on us, blaming us of stuff…Or what about all the other people we met during this time? Yeah, it could fill a book but we did our best describing what happened and how we felt during all this time without making an endless list of things to whine about. It was tough – but we came out stronger and we learned a lot about travelling from this.

Fixing the wheel of the nuns
Fixing the wheel for the nuns

The bus trip called a few days of recovery for us, but no..resting had  to wait. Instead, we set out right away to see the Silky sifaka in the jungle of Marojejy! Along with animals like the mountain gorilla and the kipunji it is one of the world’s 25 most endangered primates. And this is another blog post which you can read here!


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