15 February 2012

The train from Manakara - for REAL


If you've been following this blog, you may remember our post about the train trip from Manakara on the east coast to Fianarantsoa in the central highlands of Madagascar.  Well, the trip was hot, dirty, bumpy and amazing.  We rolled across dozens of bridges and chugged through countless tunnels, all on the railway it took French colonial engineers ten years to build.  The trip took us 10.5 hours and we were some tired at the end.  

We got to see a side of Madagascar that was off the beaten path, even by Malagasy standards.  The stations on the line are in the hills well away from the national highway we've been traveling.  We could quickly see how much the people rely on the train which shuttles between the two terminal stations on alternate days of the week.  



We stopped in each small station for about ten minutes, even 30 minutes, to load and off-load freight like  bags of rice, lumber and corrugated roofing, and charcoal.  There were unhappy pigs in the baggage car, a bicycle tied to the engine, and everywhere we stopped, the station filled with food vendors. We bought bananas and roasted peanuts through the window of our "premiere classe" coach. The station that offered cold beer and pop did a really brisk business.



Sadly, the railway line is in dreadful shape and without work, it won't last long. Having grown up on the railroad, Rob could recognize the signs of disrepair and he felt sad that this essential piece of infrastructure could be lost to the rural people for want of work, materials and effective management.  We passed this derailment that happened some months ago. Fortunately it was not a passenger train, although the two men driving were hospitalized.


The typical interactions between travellers made things fun.  Rob loaned his knife to the group next to us (to cut the limes for their Malagasy cane rum) and joined in a drink. Their toddler loved his knife and it wasn't easy getting it back!



It was an adventure, exactly the kind that drew us to Madagascar.  


PS. This post is for Holly H so she will know we survived! 

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