Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Car ride from H-E-double-hockey-stick, Part 1

1. I've been a real deadbeat blogger. I blame the microbes. Oh, and the comforts of home, along with Ron and Kitty. I mean, who wants to be on their computer when they could be eating cake and snuggling? Right?

2. Tumblr drives me nuts, so I am back here at blogger for the foreseeable future.

3. I keep meaning to share the epic journey that I have dubbed the 'Car ride from H-E-double-hockey-stick.' The adventure ensues...

I really don't like to spend long periods of time in a car. I half joke but am also half serious that I can only stand 3 hours a day in a car. After that magic 3hr point get uncomfortable, hungry for a real meal, and a wee bit cranky. Realistically, I can do about 6 hours and then like to stay somewhere more comfortable than a car seat or say a Motel 6.

That being said, during my time in Madagascar, every other month I made the trek from Tsimanampetsotsa National Park to Toliara. This journey was necessary not only for my sanity (which is questionable), but also my sustenance, as there are only so many rice/beans/cookies you can fit into a car at one time. This drive takes -get this- 10 hours. And it is a rather unpleasant drive. Only 30km of the "road" is paved and the remainder is varying degrees of "bad." There are, for example, potholes the size of school busses.

We (Mehgan [trusty research assistant], Lanto [world's best camp cook], Mahafe [somewhat questionable driver], and I [odd looking one with an attitude]) left Tolaria at 7am hoping to get to camp at TNP before dark. A reasonable goal. The weather wasn't great- Cyclone Bingzia had touched down on the East coast of Madagascar and was threatening to pass over the West as well. Mostly it was just windy and I was glad to get moving inland. About an hour into the drive I noticed Mahafe, the driver, pumping the clutch. Hmm. A bit disconcerting. Then perhaps two hours in we stopped and Mahefa opened the hood and got out some fluids. Oy. The fluids seemed to help, but Mahafe said that we would need to "fix" the problem once we got to Betoiky (about 5 hours from Toliara). By the time we got there, the clutch was functioning about half the time, such that when Mahafe went to shift the car may or may not go into gear.

We made it to Betoiky and the Mahefa took the car some where to do some thing with it- I shall not pretend that I have any idea where to get a car fixed in Betoiky or what for that matter was done to the car. We went into a restaurant, got lunch and watched some odd fuzzy Malagasy tv. At the table beside us, three gendarme sat, drinking beer and eating something meaty. BTW it is perfectly acceptable to either lean your AK-47 up against the table or lay it haphazardly on the floor. A couple of hours in to our pit stop, it started to rain. Brutal, tropical, cyclone, raining up rain. Finally after 3 hours, Mahafe returned with a fixed car, and since rain had let up a bit, we set off at once. Clearly, we wouldn't make it to camp by dark, but we could still make it at a reasonable hour. Oh, and we agreed to take another vazah, Lauren, to Efotse which is the village nearest camp.

The roads are really bad- intermittent dirt, rock, water, muck, and as noted earlier, with potholes the size of school busses. That and the rain was periodically really bad as well. And now the rain had its friend, the wind, just to spice up our journey. We continued along, slowly, and once we were just a bit too far away to turn around, they clutch gave out completely. Perfect. Mahafe was still able to drive, by ramming it into gear, but it was just making the drive much more difficult. Some of the "road" was like quicksand and slowing to slam the car into gear, even for a few seconds, could get us stuck in the thick goopy mud. And that we did. Mahafe revved and rocked the car and repeatedly jammed it into gear, but we were still stuck. We all got out so he could rev and rock and jam some more, but the car wouldn't budge. We pushed and pulled and dug, but to no avail. At one point we all sat precariously on the hood while Mahefa did the super rev, but no luck. This car was st-uck. It was pouring rain and cold and I was completely soaked and covered in mud. Shivering, while looking and likely smelling, like a wet dog. Keep in mind that I also had a serious calcium deficiency (like a smooth-muscle-won't-work, cardiac arrest, type of calcium deficiency), and had incidentally spent the previous 5 days vomiting and in bed. What we needed was a bit more person-power, but we were in the middle of no where and there simply no people around.


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