Getting around (and getting lost!)

Today is my first day back in Tana (Antananarivo) after a two week stay in the coastal town of Mahajanga and a visit to the farming town of Marovoay and the Ankaranfantsika national park on the route back. I have many fond memories of my stay in Mahajanga, some of which relate to my adventures with the public transportation system  getting lost.

There are five methods of public transportation in Mahajanga: Taxi-be, taxis, badajaja, posi-posy, and my personal favourite, mandeha tongotra.

Posi-posy are like rickshaws – colourful wooden carts pulled by men. In Mahajanga they’re used to transport people or goods. Taxis in Madagascar the same as one might think of in the US, except they have no problem with filling their car beyond official capacity – the first time I took a taxi there were 7 of us in the car! Badajaja are three wheel bright yellow little vehicles with roofs but no walls. Like taxis, they will drive you wherever you ask in the city, but are cheaper and smaller than normal taxis.

The streets of Mahajunga - see the yellow badajaja in the center and the posiposy parked on the right of the photo (Photo credit Anna Dieter)
The streets of Mahajunga – see the yellow badajaja in the center and the posiposy parked on the right of the photo (Photo credit Anna Dieter)

Taxi-be (“be” means “big” in Malagasy; some people also call them buses) are mini buses that do continuous circuits of the city, and the main type of transportation I use. They are colour coded and numbered based on the route they follow, and cost only 300Ar (about 10 US cents) per ride. Each Taxi-be has a driver and someone at the back door who collects the fares from passengers and uses a system of whistling to let the driver know when and where to stop to let off passengers. I haven’t completely figured out all the whistling patterns it yet!

One thing that is impossible not to notice about Taxi-be is the incredible amount people they can hold. Once all the “actual” seats are taken, the man at door hands out wooden planks to balance between benches, creating new temporary seats in the aisle. If after that there were still passengers who want to board, they just cram into the “space” at the back of the bus or even stand on the bumper, hanging onto the back of the bus. Whenever the bus passes gendarmes or policemen the extra passengers duck so that the officials won’t see that the bus is exceeding its capacity!

The particular taxi-be I was supposed to take to class was always bursting at the seams by the time it got to my stop, so after a couple of days I resorted to taking a different one and just walking the last few blocks to the program centre. I didn’t always manage to navigate the system so well though. Once on the way home I boarded the taxi-be at a different location than usual. I had never taken this particular one before, so I wasn’t familiar with the route it took, but I knew it ended in the neighbourhood where I lived. As the ride went on the roads got smaller and smaller and bumpier and bumpier, and none of them looked familiar, but I kept hoping that any moment the bus would turn and end up back on the main road. Of course, it didn’t, and it turned out I had taken the bus in the wrong direction! Luckily the driver was friendly and noticed me looking lost, so I got right back on the taxi-be and rode all the way back to my neighbourhood. And so what would have been a 30 minute walk turned into a 1h30min bus ride – but on the bright side I wasn’t late for anything, and I did get to see more of the city!

The last form of transportation is, of course, walking – mandeha tongotra in Malagasy. I walked to and from the program center on a few occasions when I wasn’t pressed for time – and only got lost once! 😉 That time I asked a girl I saw on the street for directions, and she ended up walking all the way home with me – a 45 min walk! It turned out she was a first year university student at the school of tourism, so it was fun chatting with her.

Now I’m in Tana, and I have to get to know my way around a new city, and quite likely I will get lost again… but I’m kind of looking forward to it – who knows who I’ll meet in the process?!

The group of SIT students from my program during a visit to the port (minus Anna - she's taking the picture!)
The group of SIT students from my program during a visit to the port (minus Anna – she’s taking the picture!)
My host mom in Mahajunga!
My host mom in Mahajunga!
My sisters in Mahajanga :)
My sisters in Mahajanga 🙂

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