“Do you think that it’s this beautiful on the other side of those mountains?” Freek asks me, sitting down and staring out, eyes squinting to concentrate his focus.
“Yea, I do.” I sit next to him.
We talk about the cliffs, the people working below, going back to the rainforest. We talk about Canada, America, the Netherlands. We talk about the lemurs. We lay back and discuss the clouds above us, and then we sit in silence until everyone else decides to start heading back down before it gets dark. The way down is just as difficult, but quickly hopping from rock to rock gives this great rush of adrenaline. Most primatologists have a great sense of adventure, one of the traits that led to this tough choice of career. So primate observing aside, moments like these provide an amazing source of pleasure. When we reach the caves at the bottom, we say goodbye to the lemurs (I linger longer at the handsome guy that I had made friends with earlier), and stop in at the restaurant at the edge of the reserve. We order heaping amounts of food, and talk about our morning’s taxi-brousse experience.
We had heard horror stories about the taxi-brousse from others at the station, but we all thought we were Malagasy savvy enough to handle it. We were squeezed with other locals into a van that sat twelve, but actually was seating eighteen or twenty. I thought, ‘Okay this isn’t that bad.’ Well Laura, you sweet naïve idiot, that was before making five more stops along the way. I had a woman and man facing me on a small ledge, legs intertwined tightly with mine, and my hips crushed on both sides. The smell was none too pleasant to put it kindly, and I was sure that we were breaking the sound barrier with the speed the van was careening around the narrow cliff-side roads. The roads twisted and we jutted out of the way every few seconds to avoid hitting an oncoming car. The man next to me brought out a small canister of gasoline from his burlap bag, and unscrewed the lid, the contents spilling over my legs before he screwed it back on. The smell of gas and body odor mixed together in a sickening combination, and the heat suddenly became unbearable. I leaned across the man to open the window, but it was screwed shut. A video player above our heads blasted music as the young pop star in it was shaking her rear in a dizzying speed and there was a small child in the back vomiting. This was all before 7 am. When we stopped in Fianar, all of us white folk looked at each other and casually agreed that “yeah sure let’s take a private bus, I mean why not…no big deal though…” Now here we were at lunch, drinking our coca colas and eating our zebu kebabs, talking about the bus as if it really hadn’t been that bad. After spending four hours in the taxi-brousse on the brink of frustrated outbursts, it turns out that all we need is a good meal in order to be ready to do it all over again.