The Workhorse of Public Transport: Taxi Brousse
Taxi Brousse: The Workhorse of Public Transport. The single most important vehicle the public use to move around Madagascar is the taxi brousse. When I was researching how to get around independently there wasn’t actually that much information available but one mode of transport kept cropping up, the taxi brousse and during my time in the country I became more than acquainted with them. These minibuses which carry roughly 12-16 passengers on routes between cities work the highways in the north of the island right down to Tulear in the south east and even go over as far as Morondava in the west coast and past Tamatave in the east. Roads which aren’t paved are often worked by 4x4s which carry passengers or cramped taxi be style buses (cramped local buses) which are also seen in the routes of the capital. If you really go bush then the beast of the road and my favourite mode of transport in Madagascar, the camion brousse will get you round.
Relatively few people own cars in Madagascar so public transport is relied upon for every kind of trip longer than walking distance and the taxi brousse companies do great business with most full before they leave the station.
Using these types of minibus in other African countries I have been to like Malawi or Mozambique means you are often packed in to the point of restricting your circulation so imagine my delight when I took numerous taxi brousse and found it was one person one seat. A very comfortable experience indeed. The intercity taxi brousse must not be mistaken for the urban taxi be which is also a minibus but covers city routes and those around towns as well as some unpaved rural routes. One some of these you almost need to be a contortionist to find somewhere to sit and they are nearly always packed to the roof.
The argy bargy of the ‘taxi brousse: the workhorse of public transport’ station is relieved by sitting into the bus and having your own personal space with the more high end buses even having wifi and a little snack.
Abundant personal space aside there are some drawbacks to the these buses. If you are tight for time or lack the patience to wait for hours for them to go then they may be best avoided. A wait of 2 hours is often standard on many and this can extend up to near double digit waits. I always asked how long until departure when buying a ticket but the ‘half an hour’ standard answer very rarely proved to be true. They generally only go when full and most passengers don’t wait on the bus for it to go so it difficult to say when it will be off. It was kind of a taxi brousse lottery at times and you could end up waiting for only an hour or so, which was a real bonus when it happened.
These disadvantages pale in comparison to the advantages of taking these reliable workhorses. A trip between big towns or cities is a fraction of the cost on the bus compared to hiring a car or taking a taxi and in the end I always got where I wanted to be, sometimes many hours later than planned and often with a really interesting story to tell. The people on the buses were another big plus for me because I was alone most of the time, being able to speak to people along the way helped me get the know the country and people a bit more. I found people were often keen to talk and as I was there during the presidential election of 2018 I got a bit of an insight into the candidates and politics in general but unfortunately came away with the overwhelming feeling that all of the candidates were corrupt. Taxi brousse: the workhorse of public transport, and a place of political debate!
On the longer trips we usually stopped in villages for something to eat and I got to try some of the local cuisine but my favourite taxi brousse food were the samosas sold at the stations and at the roadside stops along the way. Triangular shaped taste sensations was what they were and often lunch consisted of these washed down with some delicious lychees for dessert while sitting in the shade by the side of the road.
As with many other aspects of Malagasy life I found the people on board the buses had a very laid back attitude and this extended to the drivers who were very helpful on more than one occasion. Madagascan local rum is popular throughout the country and gives a bit if a sting on drinking but this doesn’t stop its widespread production, which is illegal. There is one such production facility on the side of the main road before the city of Tulear which has freedom to operate and sell its produce from stalls near where it is made. The driver on this leg of the trip stopped on request for me to take photos and have a quick look at where this rum is made. Production takes place in an area back from the road under the protection of a roof with clear plastic bottles of rum sold to passing traffic.
My most memorable trip on a taxi brousse was also my scariest. I took a bus on 23rd December 2018 from the town of Farafangana on the east coast to the capital Antananarivo which is about a 24 hour trip. What I forgot to take into account is that travelling overnight on the main roads of Madagascar can be a dicey prospect with buses occasionally being robbed by bandits, sometimes resulting in passengers being killed. I was seated beside a pastor called Honora directly behind the driver and after we left about 3pm I asked if there are bandits on this route. The pastor spoke to the driver who said it is one of the worst for banditry in the whole country but not to worry as we will be joining a convoy further on in a village called Ranomafana. Try as I might not to worry I felt tense as darkness fell and even more so when we drove on into the night with many convoys coming the opposite way and us on our own. The roads to Ranomafana are twisty and hilly with ample places for an ambush. Were still on our own after midnight and now everyone else was getting a bit tense too and I felt we were definitely in the witching hour. At 1am we finally pulled up behind a convoy in the village and were guarded by an armed member of the gendarmerie, who are attached to the national police force, and were safe for the night.
This is just one of many interesting stories I have from getting about by taxi brousse and without them my time in Madagascar wouldn’t have been the same. Yep! Taxi brousse: the workhorse of public transport