Journey to the Pangalanes Canal
Journey to the Pangalanes Canal: Sometimes the real adventure is the journey and not the actual destination itself and nowhere was this more true than going from Andasibe national park 160km east of Antananarivo to the Pangalanes canal which runs for 650km parallel to the Indian ocean on the east coast. The canal comprises a number of lakes, rivers and man made waterways running from the town of Farafangana in the south to Foulepointe in the north. A series of lakes populate the stretch from the village of Ambila Lemaitso up to Tamatave 100km further north and this is the section I visited during my time at there.
Ambila Lemaitso is an isolated place which is connected to the rest of Madagascar by train and also by terrible track between it and the town of Brickaville about 20km to the east. My original plan was to take the train from Andasibe into the Ambila which was a very exciting prospect and had me imagining glorious views of the forested countryside on the way there which open out into this lengthy waterway only a stones throw from the Indian ocean. Madagascan public transport being what it is the train had not been running for a few months and this is when the question of how to visit the Pangalanes canal became more complicated.
I was left with no other option but to travel by road to the town of Brickaville and try and get a transfer to the lakes from there. To get to Brickaville the advice of my guide for Andasibe, Hermann, was to stand at the side of the main road waving down vehicles until one stops to going my direction. Sceptical about this but not having any better option this is what I did. A few 4x4s and full taxi brousse passed but I had no luck. Shortly after that a truck came round the corner and up the hill so stood up my from seat on top of my backpack and waved my right arm up and down in the hope it would stop. The driver and his assistant looked at me, then each other and then then truck started to slow. The passenger door swung open and I took this as a sign that they were happy to give me a lift.
I half ran half walked to the truck and someone jumped out. “Brickaville,” I said to the to the man who had just dismounted and he chatted to someone inside.
“It is 10,000 Ariary (about 2.50 euro) to Brickaville,” he said to me, after some discussion.
“Great,” I said and jumped in. What I did’t expect to see was four other people, three men and a woman, sitting on the bed behind the driver. They made some space for me and we drove on.
I didn’t know that trucks were also used by people as public transport, but if they are going your way on Journey to the Pangalanes Canal then why not as long as your get to your destination safely. The number of passengers on the bed varied between five and me alone on the way to Brickaville. People were constantly getting on and off and we must have had at least fifteen different passengers on my three and a half hours on board. There was also the driver and his assistant who occupied the two seats, with the assistant negotiating prices for people getting on.
This is a pretty handy sideline as each passenger pays and if they are picking up passengers all day it could really bring his wages up a lot while also providing valuable services for stranded travellers like myself. I am not actually sure he intended to pick me up because he was leaving someone off at the village anyway and I may have just gate crashed a lift.
Journey to the Pangalanes Canal: We rolled along nicely and while were not going as quickly a good taxi brousse we were not going as slowly as the local ones either, and it was a very comfortable and smooth way to go. The truck dealt with the bumps in the road better than a taxi brousse and provided a great view of the surrounding countryside because were were up so high. I could see over the bushes on the side of the road to the forested hills beyond and thought to myself, I certainly have come up trumps here. Even the police stops which are sometimes a real nuisance were quick and they showed no great interest in us. We arrived in Brickaville at 10.45am which was about 3-4 hours earlier than expected so I was delighted.
The transfer I found in Brickville turned out to be a battered old 4×4 which ferries passengers over and back to Ambila. Even though the trip is less than 20km between the two it still took us two hours along the very battered and difficult track.
Before leaving we drove through the market, which is much busier and livelier than the main street, making our usual stops for essentials such as cigarettes and small notes to possibly be used at police stops. The driver, Tsiory, lit one of the cigarettes and put the small notes into the vents of the air conditioning.
While were driving through the market we started to chat. “I am from up north near Diego but have come here for the rainy season, because I can’t drive on the roads up there for the next few months,” he said, telling me his reason for being in this part of the country.
“How long have you been here?” I asked.
“I got here last night, it took me two days to drive here from Diego.”
“So this is your first day on this route?” I replied.
“Yes, but I have another driver with me today who will show me the way,” he said, pointing to a man sitting on the back of the vehicle.
“Wow, that’s a long way to drive and you are starting work today. You must be tired,” I commented.
“I was tired this morning but I had a tonic and now I feel ok,” he said, and I did’t ask about what kind of tonic it was.
As the conversation went on and I had to applaud his neck for what he said next.
“So, what will you do when you get to Ambila?” he questioned.
“I’m not too sure, I will stay in Ambila tonight and look for a boat north tomorrow. I am hoping there are passenger and cargo boats that bring locals around and I would like to get on one,” I said of my immediate plans.
“Do you need a guide?” he inquired.
“No, I will just see what happens when I get to Ambila,” I replied.
“I can be your guide for the lakes,” he said, taking me completely by surprise. I didn’t see where the conversation was going as he just told me he arrived here yesterday and he was now offering to be my guide for the local area. I probably knew more about the place than he did because I did some research on the lakes before deciding to go there but didn’t say this to him, I just thanked him for his offer and refused politely.
We crossed the bridge out of town where there was a police stop on the other side and before we have even come to halt the money has disappeared from the vent and I assume it is in the drivers’ hand. A quick handshake with the policeman and we were on our way.
Two hours later after lots of bumping and bouncing on the rocky road we made it to the side of the canal and took a left driving alongside it towards Ambila whereTsiory dropped me off. I walked along the train track which stretches over the canal towards the accommodation options for the village of Ambila.
At the other side I veered left on a sandy track past some cows grazing just off the beach who look like they are having a day at the seaside and towards where I stayed for the night in a nice canal side hut in the grounds of The Tropicana. What good day of travel on my journey to the Pangalanes Canal