I have always been entranced by maps. I lose myself just staring at them, poring over place names and imagining the adventures they hold. And so when I first learned of my Peace Corps site placement midway through Pre-Service Training, I quickly looked up Vangaindrano on the map at the training center. I pointed at my new town to one of our volunteer trainers, remarking “oh look, I won’t be that far away from Fort Dauphin” [a popular large-ish city on the island’s southeastern tip, located on a beautiful bay]. And then she proceeded to laugh hysterically.
|Map courtesy the Bradt Guide to Madagascar|
You see, in Madagascar, sometimes maps lie. In this case, what the map says is a road is actually more of a “road”. It uses the term very loosely. She explained to me that not only is the Route Nationale 12A unpaved, but it’s notoriously treacherous, and just plain mind-bogglingly bad. What’s more, it includes 10 ferry crossings where inland rivers spill out into the Indian Ocean, like the teeth of a zipper. Given how terrible the road has always been, and the vast plains of emptiness that lie between Vangaindrano and Ft. Dauphin, it’s no surprise that bridges have never been built. So as a result, this 230km (143 mile) coastal stretch that should be a straight shot from Vangaindrano to Ft. Dauphin takes at least 2 days in a 4x4, more if you’re in a taxi-brousse (if you can even find one taking the trip.) The paved road heading south from Irondro, the Route Nationale 12, ends in Vangaindrano, giving my site what the Bradt guidebook calls “a frontier town feel”; any road venturing further south is just mud, rocks, and dirt. But on the map it looks like such a straight shot down Madagascar’s arrow-straight east coast. And all throughout the first year of my service, Ft. Dauphin sat on the map on my wall, taunting me, beckoning me. It was so close, yet so far away. I had to find a way to make the trip. And I decided to do it on a bicycle.
|But it looks like such a straight shot!|