On two wheels through magical Madagascar
A 1,100km motorbike trip across the Indian Ocean island was the perfect way to savour its stunning landscape, writes Donal Conlon
Photograph: Donal Conlon
Photograph: Donal Conlon
It is 6am. The majestic mango tree in front of my door is struggling to wring shape from charcoal grey light. In the shower the water is refreshingly cold. The small wooden bungalow – with its bed, mosquito net, one-channel ancient TV set – has been comfortable enough. With dinner and a large beer it has cost me all of €10. It’s expensive to get to Madagascar but cheap when you get here. I pack my small bag and am ready to go.
The caretaker is wiping down my motorbike, he’s hoping for a small tip which he gets. I strap my bag to the carrier, the bike is reluctant to start the day. I don’t mind, I need a little more light before I face the road – 300 km today. The gate of the compound is opened, the streets of the small town are already busy with school-going children and people heading for the market.
It’s cool and fresh – the nicest part of the day to ride. A traffic policeman on the outskirts of town has his hand up. I speak only ‘un peu’ French, I say and he is forced into his little English. He’s courteous, though, and seems to like it when I say I’m a teacher. He smiles and shakes my hand and wishes me goodbye.
In my 1,100km trip to the north of the island I pass through 20 checkpoints. There are police, traffic police, gendarmerie, military, all with different uniforms. Some lay spikes across the road, some booms. I don’t get stopped at all of them, just enough to make me slightly paranoid of uniforms.
A little outside the small town I stop for breakfast at a small wooden shack with a raffia roof and a small bench for customers. The woman gives a surprised smile to see a white client. I have two strong black coffees and small cakes she had gotten up at 4am to bake.
I say goodbye in Malagasy which brings a delighted chuckle. Breakfast has cost all of 35 cents. I feel slightly guilty that she works so hard for so little.
The landscape is stunning – I’ve been through plains and high plateaus. I keep lifting my eyes to the vast dome of sky which is now turning little by little from pale to deep blue. The mountains are shrouded in hazy distance and I feel a great liberty as I ride towards them, free at last. The delicate green of rice fields is everywhere, on the plains, in clefts in the hills, on terraces stepping up the mountains.