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6 Pack for the Road- Brousses and Beer

June 1, 2013

The horrors of the taxi brousse had been relayed to me time and time again during training. After 3 months in country I had built nightmare scenarios of flashbacks to a terrifying trek through the desert I took through the middle of the night in Egypt, complete with the driver falling asleep as the bus’s one working video screen blared an Egyptian version of the 3 stooges and the horn was honked repeatedly by the driver to keep himself awake. My 1st taxi brousse ride up to Diego Suarez (or Antsiranana) from Ampondralava was a cake walk comparatively.

The drive along RN6 took us north through the Ankarana park, one of the large reserves in Madagascar. The fields are still green, with gorgeous views of the mountains and prairie. Aside from the awesome viewscape along the way, I got hooked up with an awesome chauffeur, M, who is the man to talk to when going to Diego from Ambilobe (the large town close to my site).

M’s bright red van is in fantastic shape (cleaner than my car in the states for damn sure- and this is not the case with all taxi brousses here), and though we were crammed in, it was a fairly comfortable ride. After all I had heard I was almost disappointed that there was no close call, near break down, or 6 hour delays. We left on time (almost) and had a fairly uneventful trip. After all the rumors, my guard was still up. As kilometer after kilometer rolled by without incident, I could feel my heart starting to beat a little quicker- it was too good to be true, both by the universal laws of travel karma and from everything that we had been told about the brousse system.

Then M pulled up to a roadside epicerie (think roadside convenience store of sorts) nabbed a cold six pack of Three Horses Beer (the Budweiser of Madagascar), and started chugging away. This behavior today in the states would send most people looking for another brousse. Ironically, it put me at ease. What fun would a brousse ride be if something unusual didn’t happen- amIright? Plus I felt like I was really in a different place, maybe even another time like back in the US in the 70’s pre seatbelts, radar guns, and open container laws. And the ride was still less scary than barreling through the Sinai Peninsula at breakneck speed on a bus whose driver had someone making coffee for him on a camp stove in the aisle for the entire 12 hour trip. I could tell that M was enjoying himself- the music was going, he had the window down to let a nice breeze in, and he handled the potholed road like an expert.

My favorite part about my 1st brousse experience with M was pulling up to police checkpoints along the road. M would wave at the police, open beer can in hand. They’d halt him, say hi, he’d finish his beer and leave them with the empty can. Safe to say this wouldn’t fly in the states, but it made me happy- seeing these 2 very different ways of road safety. On one hand there is the American version, with very strict laws and regulations, and then there is the Malagasy version where restrictions, if they do exist, are more guidelines anyways.

So it was with speakers bumping Malagasy pop tunes, M done with his 6 pack, and me smiling at my fine luck, that we rolled into Diego after a wonderful tour of RN6 from Ambilobe to Diego.



*I would like to note that at no point did M appear drunk, or even near buzzed. He was a very cautious and courteous driver. Had he been drinking toaka gasy or moonshine, my reaction would have been different. See Mom, I am being safe.

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