From Russia with love

It is the last day of 2013 and we are in the train. Squeezed in between cry­ing babies and teenagers with blar­ing phones, we wait patient­ly for the next breeze to caress our sweaty faces. Once again, I pick up the Lone­ly Plan­et and read the text on the back: … half the fun is get­ting to all these incred­i­ble attrac­tions. Trav­el­ling in Mada­gas­car is indeed colour­ful and chal­leng­ing. Dur­ing this hol­i­day we spent half the time trav­el­ling. But at this moment I don’t see why it would be ‘half the fun’

Ear­li­er this month, the sec­ond round of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions took place. The choice was between two men, one of which is sup­port­ed by the cur­rent pres­i­dent (head of the ‘tran­si­tion­al gov­ern­ment’ since his coup in 2009) and the oth­er by the pre­vi­ous pres­i­dent. The peo­ple we heard about it, thought it was a choice between “the plague and cholera.” In a hotel on the way we saw the pres­i­dent vot­ing on TV, and heard that EU observers were sat­is­fied. But if there is no trust from the pop­u­la­tion in any pres­i­dent, it’s all a show that has lit­tle to do with democ­ra­cy.

President op tv

Andry Rajoeli­na, still president.

The final des­ti­na­tion of our trip was Île Sainte Marie, an island off the east coast. Here we had a good time, thanks to the friend­ly guest­house (Le Bon Endroit). The sun, the sea, a canoe and a snorkel kept Fred­dy busy for hours. I read Anna Karen­i­na, a book full of dra­ma and devel­op­ment issues from Tol­stoy. After enjoy­ing trop­i­cal par­adise for a week we went back by boat, bus, and now train.


The day goes by slow­ly. The train runs emp­ty around the end of the after­noon. We have to go all the way to the end sta­tion. We meet the oth­er vaza­ha in the com­part­ment, four peo­ple from Rus­sia and Ukraine. The train seems to have some prob­lems; it stops often for long peri­ods. We are already sev­er­al hours past the planned arrival time. At the last day­light we enjoy views of deep val­leys with wild rivers. Then the stars come out, and the con­duc­tor puts can­dles in the win­dow frame. Still lat­er, the con­ver­sa­tions fall silent and most peo­ple are asleep.

This New Year’s Eve is sober, but not with­out romance. Dream­ing about the sto­ry of Anna Karen­i­na, Rus­sia and the train, I hear peo­ple sing. It is the Russ­ian pas­sen­gers, who com­plete the atmos­phere with camp­fire songs. Thus we arrive at our hotel an hour before the New Year, and after a half-heart­ed game of Set­tlers of Catan soon roll over from sleep.

Hap­py 2014!