Prendre les vessies pour des lanternes.
Didn’t understand that? Same.
#1: it’s in French
#2: literally translated it means “to mistake bladders for lanterns”
Here’s the deali-o: Unless you are French enough to understand that there phrase, Madagascar is going to be rough. It’s used to describe something that is cooler or more beautiful than it really is, something I will not be doing for my trip here.
THERE SHALL BE NO COATS OF SUGAR.
I didn’t see a single lemur, baobab tree, fossa, or even a sign that says ‘Madagascar’. I need you to know that I tried my hardest. Five days of trying led to one of the most ridiculous adventures I’ve ever experienced..
So in order to see the quintessential Malagasy things, you need multiple weeks at least to explore. The island is about 44% larger than California and has poor transportation infrastructure. That means if you want to visit another part of the country, you have to fly (which is expensive) or take a bus (which takes multiple days).
I landed in Antanavario (the capital, Tana for short) and figured I would wing it. After Seychelles, anything I did was going to be the best thing ever. It took about 45 minutes to realize I was in over my head.
You see, until now this was me speaking to myself:
“I know English. Not everyone in every country knows English, but some people do. People in the tourism industry will know, and I will be fine. I can order food because most menus have English translations. If they do not know English, I can communicate with German, Chinese, or hand gestures.”
I have never been more wrong.
I came to Madagascar with a mission: see some lemurs, and not even because of the movie Madagascar (I did it for Zoboomafoo). The closest ethical lemur-viewing site is called Andasibe National Park and it’s a cool 250km (155 miles) from Tana.
Time to bus! Here’s where that “you know English” voice in my head got me in trouble. I speak zero Malagasy and my French knowledge is 100% food-related, but these are the languages spoken by ~99.9999999% of the population. Instead of ordering foie gras I had to buy a ticket for 7am the next day on a bus that was just passing through Andasibe on its way to another city five hours away from the park. Challenging stuff.
Here’s where it gets interesting…
I got the 7am bus. I said, “Andasibe?” (I know that word) to the driver – he shook his head “oui.”
We did not stop at Andasibe.
The bus stopped at a pretty huge traffic jam about four hours in. I recognized that there was a village around thirty minutes prior to this stop, so I again asked the driver “Andasibe?”. He takes a look at the paper with passenger names, sees mine (which has nothing written next to it), and laughs. Mr. Driver points in the opposite direction and says “passe”. I had eaten a small packet of breakfast crisps at 7:00am and it was noon so hanger made my next decision.
I grabbed my backpack, opened the minivan/bus door, and started walking the opposite direction.
- I had a ticket booked back to Tana at 6:00pm from Andasibe, so I had a way home.
- There were small huts along the way that I saw selling things.
- I was prepared. I had dressed in layers, had a 1.5L bottle of water, and walking shoes.
- Literally everything else. How far was Andasibe? Assuming it was that village.. 15km? 20? That’s like 12 miles!!
- It ended up being mostly uphill because mountain.
- The last time I walked 12 miles I didn’t exist because it was never.
- Do people get murdered here? Can I hitchhike? If I hurt something do I just scream until someone gets annoyed and helps me?
- Near a national park. That means animals. Violent ones? Rabid ones??
Long story short – I made it to Andasibe about fifteen minutes before the bus arrived. My legs had turned into a gelatin-like substance and I was ready to eat any edible animal or plant after four hours of uphill trekking.
The night actually did get more crazy: the bus made a pit stop for people to use the restroom and left me on the side of the road at 8:00pm.. Still not sure how that happened, but I Google translated “PLEASE HELP ALL OF MY STUFF IS IN THAT BUS” and one of the best humans I’ve ever met pulled out his phone, called the driver, and got them to turn around.
I arrived back in Tana late but alive and fed (I bought food at that pit stop, which is why I was left).
Madagascar was exhausting.