Getting Around

From Taxi Brousse to Pousse Pousse 

Private car/submersible

Pirogue

Taxi Brousse 

Pousse Pousse 

Taxi 

Car owners in Madagascar, who at a wild guess number about five per cent of the population, often get around in pre-loved 1960s and 70s French vehicles. If it’s lemon yellow, then it’s automatically called a taxi. Peugots and Renaults are common; not many Citroens though – hell, sometimes beggars CAN be choosers!

If you travel short distances on water, it will inevitably be via pirogue, which is a dugout canoe propelled by a sail, paddle or pole. If so, be prepared to help bail out the water which quickly accumulates by your feet/bag/non-waterproof valuables.

Likewise if you travel with hired car and driver, also be prepared to bail out water, especially if your driver intends taking you through large puddles without checking the depth first.

For the more rustic/farmer experience, try riding on a zebu cart – a simple cart towed by a pair of zebu. These carts are so historic they actually predate the wheel – or at least round wheels, so it’s not an especially comfortable ride. The zebu mustn’t enjoy the experience much either; encouraged to walk with a couple of healthy whacks from a nailed stick, and, failing that, a barefoot is lodged aggressively far up its rear. (I haven’t seen a thong ride that far up a crack since my house-mate experimented with male g-strings on Albert Park beach last summer).

Then there is the Taxi Brousse: A minibus which transports live people, chickens, geese, and even donkeys, most of which are still alive by the time they arrive. With each journey on a taxi brousse you’re bound to pass the overturned wreckage of another similar looking taxi brousse. On these occasions, it is customary for the driver to stop and all passengers to offload and marvel at the accident scene, shaking their heads as if to ask ‘how can this have happened?’ Then everyone shrugs, squeezes back in, and the driver continues his 17-hour drive.

Inevitably if you’re travelling between any two towns you’ll encounter a police roadblock. In fact, about every three kilometres you’ll encounter these. They are manned by Gendarme military police who, wearing vintage French Gendarme uniforms, look like extras from a Yoplait TV ad. They check for vague papers, hassle ‘vahazas’ (white people) for passports, and, if in a Taxi Brousse, they’ll count the number of passengers inside, which should always number less than the number of live chickens strapped to the roof.

And, of course, there’s the ubiquitous ‘Pousse Pousse’: Operators hire these person-drawn rickshaws for about $2 per day, and then compete against each other to see who can earn back that $2 before the next day, at which point they have to re-hire the rickshaw for another $2.

For the authentic French colonial-style human degradation experience of locals, hire a Pousse Pousse for that five kilometre journey to the bus stop at the top of the cobblestone hill, (rather than taking the taxi which is much faster, if not cheaper even), and then haggle mercilessly over a few cents. You’ll feel great afterwards, and the operator is usually simply too exhausted to argue.