Waiting for Lychees
‘Waiting for Lychees’: Passengers aren’t always the most important things on public transport in Madagascar as I found out on when I took the taxi brousse between Fianarantsao, a city 420km south of the capital Antananarivo, and the village of Ranohira right next to Isalo national park. I arrived plenty early for a 7am departure but still found myself sitting on a bench at 8am at the rough and ready ticket office. I found myself in the same situation at 9am, 10am and 11am.
Passengers booked on the same transport as me came and went, questioning, complaining and arguing with the man at the ticket desk but none of this ended in us boarding the bus and departing. All conversations were conducted in Malagasy so I really didn’t know what was going on but at one stage the man at the ticket desk did say to me in French we are running very late today. An obvious enough update in my opinion but nonetheless I thanked him for keeping me in the loop.
Some people clearly frustrated about waiting for lychees stormed out to find another bus only to return later and take a seat near the office in the hope of the imminent departure of ours. I on the other hand decided to stick with the bus I was booked on thinking that I had waited this long and looking elsewhere may present the same problems. It looked as though our bus was already full or very near to it so I kept telling myself departure can’t be far off.
The good thing about the larger taxi brousse stations is even though not many buses seems to be departing they are all action and I was not lacking for things to observe going on around me. Sellers of scratch card tickets, runner bean cutters, cutlery, children’s toys, bread and more all made their way in and out of the office numerous times during the morning sometimes stopping to give a demonstration of whatever item was on offer.
Outside, buses crammed into an area the size of many football pitches with a little route down the middle for buses to come and go. This is where the real action was with men loading and unloading cargo and baggage to or from the top of buses, ticket sellers trying to get fares and all other sellers busy promoting their goods.
Around the square where the buses park there are kiosks and little hole in the wall cafes where it is possible to buy a pastry and a coffee in a tin cup and sit on a bench outside while you kill time during these delays.
At about 11.30am while I was calculating if it would have been quicker cycling to Ranohira more lychees than I have ever seen before arrived. Lychees are a small red shelled fruit with sweet tasting flesh inside. Large bulging baskets were deposited on the floor of the ticket office taking up most of the space. No quicker had they arrived when they were loaded up on top of our bus and our waiting for lychees was finally complete. We rolled out of the bus station just before midday with a cargo so important it caused a 5 hour delay.
Waiting for lychees was my first real delay on public transport in Madagascar and would not be my last. The type of waiting was initially a bit frustrating but I found after a while I grew into it and by the time I spent 6 hours waiting for a ferry to be fixed on my trip up the south east coast I felt like practically a pro. Hery, my guide for the Makay massif said if he suspects a long delay he gives his number to the ticket man in the office and tells him what bar he will be in and to be sure to call him before the bus goes.
As frustrating as these delays can be they also provide the opportunity to look at life in the action packed stations or on tranquil river banks where day to day life goes on away from the more glossy tourist areas and gives an idea of what the country is really like.
The reality is goods need to be transported and who knows next time it could be bananas or coffee I am waiting for so it is best not to get too annoyed at the lychees!