For the select audience that actually follows my blog, the ‘elite’/bored with nothing else to do, I apologize for the long delay between postings. Madagascar took its toll as you’ll soon learn. I was so rundown that by the end of the trip I required almost a full month to recover. However, tottering back to my feet, I feel a little more confident to continue.
To whet the appetite, perhaps a brief look into the future.
Ile ste. Marie, just a 40km by 20km island, and at its Northernmost point, the natural pools. “They’re magnifique!” The German hostel owner bellows, his mix of French, German and beer a quixotic mélange that left me straining my ears to understand the fellow. “Is it far?” I ask. He rummages through is addled thoughts and manages to string together a semi-coherent answer. “Oui, c’est pas far. You need to aller almost 30km from here”. I ponder a moment thumbing the bills in my pockets with dread. “What’s the best way to get there?” “Well, you can go by taxi…expensive. By 4×4. Or by motorbike. Motorbike most cheap”. No contest. I may have neglected to share that I had never ridden a motorbike before as a passenger let alone the driver, but it’s just a bicycle with a motor, right? The following day arrangements are made for the motorbike, and a young Malagasy swerves expertly around the serpentine road leading to the hostel. He hands me the keys, helmet and registration and looks up at me expectantly. “Well, aren’t we going to go?” “We?” I ask. “Yes, you need to drive me back to the bike shop. Don’t worry, it’s along the way”. I strut up to the bike confidently, turn the key, and hit the ignition. We jutter forward several metres, and threaten to fall into the rice paddies before the clutch is released and the bike motor dies with a cough like wheezing laughter. “I have a confession. I’ve never driven a bike before”. The Malagasy bike owner looks at me with rolling eyes, though it was pretty obvious that he had already determined that I’d never ridden a bike in my life. And he probably had doubts as to whether I had even mastered a tricycle based on how I wobbled to keep balance of the heavy bike. “Get off” he said a little harshly. I promptly lower myself shamefacedly. “It’s very easy, you turn the key, release the emergency brake, keep the bike in first gear, press the ignition and hold the clutch. Now slowly release the clutch as you accelerate. The guy twirls the bike around like a fucking ballerina and stops in front of me. You see, simple”. “Okay…”. Well, shall we skip ahead the monotonous hour of failed attempts, near misses, falls and lots…lots of cursing until I finally get the bike partly under control like some barhouse bucking bull and we drive off.
“Ignition, release clutch and accelerate” I mutter under my breath. “YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!” I scream, echoed by the Malagasy as we take off down the road full throttle. Out of the corner of my eye I see the German wincing and shaking his head. “Gear down, gear down!” come the frantic pleas from behind me ripped from his mouth by the 90km winds. I kick at the gears haphazardly. I’m no religious man, but God I prayed! Fortunately after several attempts my flailing legs hit the gears and we slowed, and slowed, and slowed still further. Petrified, I heard the motor croaking on first gear, begging to go faster. “Beg all you want you Bastard” I cursed at it.
Several minutes past as we puttered along. DRING, DRING. I look around to find the source of the sound and the bike, following my torso, following my shoulder, following my head, nearly takes us off the road. I quickly jerk back into the centre of the lane from the perilously close edge. DRING, DRING. “Use your mirrors” the Malagasy says helpfully. So I glance at my mirror only to see a little girl on her bike, tassels streaming in the wind, a pink bike…it was the full on Barbie experience! complemented by a whimsical smile on her face. DRING, DRING. She smiled patiently, signalling that she wanted to overtake. My guide, a wide grin on his face while I…I pull the visor down to mask my embarrassment.
I drop the Malagasy off at his shop and wave goodbye. “Au revoir”. Ummmm… I release the clutch, accelerate, move 1 meter and stop. Embarrassment. This is a word that hugs me close like a best friend and has already followed me since the beginning of the trip.”Au revoir” I say again, hope and dread in my voice. I must have said goodbye 4 or 5 times before I actually left, flying with my bull out of the gates a few hundred metres before I see a police checkpoint in front of me. “Gear down, gear down!” I kick like an epileptic as I see the policeman signalling for me to pull over…