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.
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.