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Africa » Madagascar » Fianarantsoa
October 6th 2009
Published: December 29th 2009
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I've wangled a front seat again for the taxi-brousse trip to Fianar, but the vehicle as a whole only has one person per seat so comfort would not have been a big issue wherever I was. The young woman next to me seems to know the theory of being surreptitious but not the practice, as she stares at me for a couple of milliseconds too long after I turn round to discover her doing just that, before she jerks her gaze back to the road ahead.

We're heading down Route 7, a magnificent stretch of tarmac that winds its way south through the Central Plateau. The rice paddies and terracing are the key features of the landscape and, though the topography of the region means we're never going to be doing the ton, progress is steady and it would appear we'll hit Fianar in a quick five hours.

Then it starts to rain. I soon learn that the adjacent window has quite a nice leak, which deposits a steady stream of water on my arm and lap every time we take a right. Still, I guess there are worse things than simply being wet.

While rounding an uphill bend, there's an all too familiar sensation as I see the driver's hands turning the wheel but our direction doesn't change. He jams on the brakes and we halt inches from a ditch. A quick inspection reveals that the direction is en panne. I wonder if I'm the victim of some transport curse.

The driver hitches a lift with a passing vehicle and disappears off in the direction of Fianar to find us a new taxi-brousse. He returns barely 1.5 hours later, with a set of helpers to transfer our luggage over and then fix the stricken taxi-brousse. One of the helpers is mad or drunk or both and decides that chatting to the lone vazaha is a good use of his time, despite me telling him that I don't speak French. He repeats endlessly statements about Madagascar's beauty, his own poverty, and his happiness at seeing me here. I eventually excuse myself, saying I need to take my seat in the new taxi-brousse. He then appears at the window, wishing me "Bon voyage" multiple times. After I have said "Merci" multiple times, he starts a tuneless song about "Merci", to the amusement of the other passengers. I wish I knew what it was about me that attracts these people.

We finally roll into Fianar late afternoon. I'd begun the day hoping to make a connection to Parc Nacional de Ranomafana, but shortly after leaving Antsirabe noticed that there'd be a zebu market in Ambalavao the next day, so instead I try to head for Ambalavao. Unfortunately the only remaining transport won't be arriving there until well after dark, so I decide to overnight in Fianar then hit Ambalavao early morning.

My 14 hours in Fianar give me a low opinion of the place, starting with the Westlife poster adorning the wall of the taxi-brousse booth where I buy an onward ticket for the next day. I stay at a hotel that's described as being like Chez Billy, but it's nothing of the sort. The town is a series of hills, traversed by paths of cobbles and mud that are slick and slippery after the day's rain. I need money and, after getting rough directions from the hotel reception, head into the afternoon gloom. I'm immediately joined by a guy who I recognise, as I'd rejected his offers of a tour when I first arrived in Fianar. He gives me another spiel about what trips he can do and I repeat twice more that I have no interest in a tour. It's irritating to be trailed by someone like this but once I have my money then I can return to the hotel.

He accompanies me back to the hotel and I attempt to take my leave by saying I need a shower. He then asks for money for showing me to the bank. This is one of the most disappointing things I've heard in a while. He's clearly not poverty-stricken, wearing clean, fashionable clothes and sporting one of those Cristiano Ronaldo haircuts that looks as though the barber only dealt with the sides and nothing else, yet he's expecting money for a service that I neither asked for, wanted, or needed. I tell him this, and suggest he might want to bear that in mind when approaching future vazaha.

A couple of hours later I come down from my room to have dinner, and find he's still hanging around. He tells me he's just about to leave so would I mind giving him money for showing me to the bank. I remind him that we've already had this discussion, and expand on my earlier reasons for not giving him anything. It clearly goes in one ear and out the other and I have to explicitly tell him to go away before the penny drops.

I'm approached by three other touts at different times during my brief Fianar visit, none of whom will take no for an answer. This is unlikely to be my favourite place in Madagascar.


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