“This’ll be adventurous and totally not dangerous at all,” I sarcastically texted my friend as we made plans to bike the 60 kilometers from my town to the pleasant highland city of Antsirabe one afternoon.
“Yes, so adventurous that I’ll hum the Indiana Jones theme song the whole way down,” he responded.
I may have to bring headphones, I thought.
Yet, jokes aside, I was jumping with anticipation. Biking the hilly highway between Antanifotsy and Antsirabe has been on my Madagascar bucket list ever since Peace Corps handed me the prophetic piece of paper describing my future town, but once I witnessed the road in person, the speeding cattle cars and propensity for chicken busses to be lying upside down by the side of the road made me realize it would be a fairly harrowing experience.
What changed my mind? Sitting on the side of the road waiting for a bus, and realizing how infrequently cars actually do pass and seeing over and over again bus drivers expertly dodging the ever-present bike traffic on the side of the road. Unlike American highways, drivers are used to sharing the narrow, winding expanse of highway between Antananarivo and Fianaratsoa with wooden cattle carts (known as saretys), bikes, rickshaws, and cattle herds.
When we finally set out, in the autumn-esque sun of a cool June afternoon, the sun was beginning to dip behind the rolling highland hills, illuminating the landscape and all its shadows. Small figures still dotted the fields of carrots, rice, and potatoes. As it was the height of carrot season, the produce Antsirabe is most known for ($0.25 USD per kilo!) every few kilometers pairs of people sat roadside washing hundreds of carrots by pushing them back and forth in water-filled tarps, a rhythmic see-saw like motion broken only to shout “bonjour, vahazah!” at us. Children rushed to the side of the road to scream whatever French phrase they had stuck in their head at us. A group of old women decided it was important to inform us what was growing in the fields we stopped to stare at. 30 kilometers in, someone shouted my name, a teacher from my school that I had eaten lunch with earlier that day, reminding me how small the 4th-largest island in the world can sometimes be.
17 kilometers out-of-town, the sky grew darker than we would have liked, and we hitched a bus half the way, until we were in the safety of street lights and urban, pre-Independence Day traffic (the Malagasy Independence day is June 26th). With the promise of the best pizza in Madagascar (Green Park / $5-6 USD) to satiate our hunger, we finally arrived at our “ hoteles en bacalar“, butts aching and stomachs grumbling.
Photos: (1) Rice fields (2) Antsirabe’s mosque at sunset (3) Merina men walking on the highway (4) Roadside carrot stand (5) A row of colorful Malagasy eateries — known as hotelys (6) The flattest part of the journey (7) Hotel de Thermes in downtown Antsirabe