Seriously, I've got to get serious about finishing the Car ride from H-E-double-hockey-stick story. Where was I? Oh, last time I left off, there was a cyclone rolling across southern Madagascar, my car was stuck in a lake, it was 2am and I was having a wee (in the lake) and trying not to get permanent ear damage from the screaming frogs. Sounds about right.
The next morning, ever resourceful Lanto (my amazing field cook), walked out of the lake and into the forest looking for help. She came back in about 7 seconds, which is a miracle because there are no villages around. The men she brought came and looked at the car (and laughed) and said that they would help for 40000Ar (around $20 US). This is a bit pricy, but it was not exactly time to start bartering.
After about an hour, during which time I continued to wallow in stagnant mud and water*, they got the car to move a few meters, but it was then just stuck there. We then needed to completely unload the car in order to lessen the load for the final push. By this time, 3 young boys had also appeared and joined in. Then... we finally got out of the lake!
Piling back in.
Once everything was piled back into the car, we (Mahafe, Lauren, Meghan, Lanto, the two Malagasy men who helped, and I) got back in and drove up the "road" a ways. We stopped where the Malagasy dudes wanted to get out and I handed them the previously agreed upon 40000Ar. There was clearly a problem. I thought maybe I had grossly overpaid and perhaps the price was 40000 Francs (Madagascar's pre-2005 currency), not Ariary (40000fmg = 8000Ar). That was not the case. They were now wise to the fact that we are vazah (foreigners’) and wanted to charge vazah rates. They would not get out of the car and demanded 200000Ar (which is $100 US)! Insane. Recall that a cup of coffee costs 100Ar and a village house costs 100000Ar. Things got heated really quick and it was apparent that they meant business. I hadn't seen an AK-47 on either of them, but you honestly never know. I am not cool with being extorted, but I am less cool about being shot and/or robbed in the middle of a cyclone, in the middle of nowhere.
I said I was out of money, and I was in my wallet, but of course I had more in my suitcase. I was hoping to stall them a bit and not act like and atm. Plus its not like there actually is an atm. The money that I did have needed to last for the next two months. However, others whipped out their cash and by the end of it we paid 100000Ar and a package of 'Good Look' cigarettes. Still $50 US and EXTORTION. Bastards. But, we were then free to get moving again.
We soon stopped at a village in search of a hot drink. There was this tiny little shack with a cut out window and some women preparing foods. We stood at the little window and got coffee for 100Ar (5¢). It was really good. And the boboka (deep fried breakfast cake) from another shack and was outstanding. Again, the boboka were 100Ar (5¢) each. Not bad- breakfast and coffee for five people for 1500Ar or about 75¢.
We did make quite a spectacle of ourselves, and as usual drew a rather large crowd. At one point I was in the car and at least 20 people were crowded around and sticking their heads in my open car window. I had no idea what they were saying but Lauren (the poor French dude we picked up yesterday) told me they were saying I was beautiful. I could have cried. I had been feeling so old and ugly. Not to mention being stinky, filthy, sick, and exhausted. I took a photo of some kids and then they wanted a gift. Fair enough. I passed out two empty water bottles, which are highly are prized, and that nearly caused a riot. My goodness. Must remember about userpable items next time.
By 3pm, we made it to about 40km (a really loose guess) from Behelok (a large village) and were yet again at an impasse as the "road" was completely non-functional. Lauren and Mahefa chopped down a tree in an effort to fashion an alternate route for the car. The alternative was a route that Mahefa said was 'very dangerous' and he wasn't sure if he would make it through without rolling the car. He told me this and then was about to go give'r the ol' college try. I said absolutely not. The only thing worse than being stuck in a cyclone out in god knows where with a semi-functional vehicle, is being stuck in a cyclone out in god knows where in a semi-functional-rolled vehicle. And a dead driver. Forget it.
I began to realize that I would likely sleep in the car again that night. It was pouring raining and I had been running back and forth between where the tree was being chopped down, and the car, where I was sat phone messaging Jacky about car parts. I was soaking wet, cold, hungry, sick, and a wee bit miserable. Ron sent me a message saying "where are you?" Yeah, about that…
TO BE CONTINUED...
* Everyone knows the rules about wading in stagnant water- you don't do it! EVER. Especially in Madagascar, where there are 19 million people, give or take, and very little public sanitation. Perhaps more poignantly, in Madagascar, there are more cows than people. That's a lot of cows. And the cows carry heavy loads of cestodes (tape worms), which once the rains come are happily released from their dry cow turds and awaiting a lovely foot to penetrate. In addition to cestodes there are a plethura of other wormies, such as nemetodes (eg schistosomiasis), and trematodes, and a slew of other skin penetrating parasites that you don't want.