If you’ve been reading this blog for the last two weeks, and are frustrated with how long it’s taking me to get around to talking about actually being at Beza, well now you know how we felt waiting to GO to Beza. But, finally, after almost two weeks of ‘traveling’, we left for Beza at 8:00 am on June 9th. For an idea of our route, we drove from Toliara northeast on Route Nationale 7, until it intersected with Route Nationale 10, at which point we turned back southeast, crossed the Onilahy (Own-i-la-hee) River, reached Betoiky (Betuke, rhymes with Duke), and from there took the road to Beza. I say “road”, but keep in mind that in Madagascar, outside of Tana, there are no paved roads, and in lots of places, it’s not exactly what you would call a road. It is 190 km from Toliara to Beza, or 118 miles. Not really that far. Well on those “roads”, it’s an eight hour trip if you don’t want to rattle every single brain cell in your head, and just think, the first hour (or 40 km or so), is actually paved! After that, nothing but sand and boulders. Listening to Frank and Michelle talk every day about how bad the roads were, they definitely were not as bad as I had imagined. It was a lot like off-roading back home in Kentucky in a SUV or regular car, except it lasted for 8 hours. For your viewing pleasure, I’ve uploaded some videos I took from the back of the car of what the drive was like. Try not to get motion sickness watching them!
Driving on Route Nationale 7 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyyr0pyXgjs&feature=youtu.be
A drive through a Malagasy village – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTnpWZiQRrk&feature=youtu.be
Driving from Betoiky to Beza – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GI7Xz2XbwT0&feature=youtu.be
The roads were actually in really good condition relative to their usual when we drove through. Normally, everyone has to get out of the car several times so it can go over giant boulders. If you take public transportation in Madagascar, the taxi-brousse, the Malagasy version of a Greyhound, you drive this road in a 30-person bus with over 50 people in it, and baggage and animals strapped 6 feet high on the top, or tied to the sides of the bus. The Route Nationales 7 and 10 were actually big enough for two cars to pass side by side, or with little offshoots where one car could go around another. Once we passed Betoiky, however, no such luck. The road was two very rocky tire tracks through fields or spiny forest. Around every turn, Andrina would honk his horn to signal any oncoming traffic. We were on that road for 2 hours, and all we saw was one zebu cart coming in the opposite direction. The best part about the drive is going through the villages. Whenever the kids heard a vehicle, they would all run to the road shouting “Vaza!” and waving like mad, and when you wave back and they all run away laughing.
The other best part about the drive was actually getting to Beza! We even had daylight to set up tents since we got there at 4 pm. It’s winter in Madagascar, so the sun is completely down by 5:30 and it’s dark by 6:00. Once we arrived, we rushed to unpack, put up the tents, and set up our sleeping stuff inside the tents. Jackie and Andrina had put all the gear we sent down in the car into the museum building for storage, and Frank and Michelle actually leave all of their tents and most of their gear in the back room all year. So we pulled everything out and got a lovely surprise! Apparently, the museum had become infested with rats over the last year, and they had chewed holes in EVERYTHING. The bags Michelle and Frank store there were covered in rat feces, and several rats had actually nested inside. The bags we sent from Tana in the car were in much better shape, but had definite evidence of investigatory nibbling. We also discovered just how much of the food the rats had gotten into. Luckily, almost nothing was destroyed, but some things definitely had to be thrown out. Finally, the night ended on our first dinner at Beza, only a little rat chewed and we rolled into our sleeping bags.