Rina is a savvy and proactive team-mate at Onja. Early on the 6th, I meet her outside the hotel, and we finish off a few logistical tasks such as getting a local sim card, and sorting out my visa woes. (Turns out, one mustn't stand in the tourist lane in immigration when one has a volunteer work permit already!)
Rina introduces me to two go-getters, Julio and Kevin. Together we find some plugs and adapters we can use at the school, then we return to the hotel to check out, relax a while, and get ready for the bus trip to Mahanoro.
It's 3:15 in the afternoon, and as we secure a taxi, it's evident that it's going to take a lot of time to get out of town. Traffic is even more chaotic than Sunday, and progress feels slow. We finally arrive at the bus terminal 30 minutes before our departure.
Our chariot is half-packed, and it's clear we're going to be crammed in, African style. Here I get the chance to meet some of our students. Katia and Daniel.
We set out at 5pm, knees besides ears, through the over-burdened streets that double as markets.
Tana is massive! It stretches out for miles, and the only reprieve from the packed accommodations are the plentiful rice paddies in the lower reaches.
As the city gives way to the rural areas, Eucalyptus fills the vistas. The tree was introduced by the first European settlers as the timber grows quick and burns for a long time, comparitively. The hillsides are covered in them, and my thoughts drift off to Australia burning, colonial influences, and a country exploited. I wish I could drift off like my thoughts can.
The railway beside the road looks like it hasn't been used for years, which would account for the large numbers of trucks on the road. Our convoy of mini-buses and trucks head east, up into the hills, where we reach the first national park. The roads are worse here, potholes big enough to swallow unobservant motorcyclists, and sand drifts are visible on the surface from recent flooding. Eucalyptus begrudgingly gives way to natural bush, and forests, and the rivers turn clear as opposed to the downstream, muddy, rust-coloured rivers and waters around Tana.
After a few hours, we reach our first stop. I fire up Google Maps, and it looks like we've only covered about 100km, after 3 hours of travelling. This trip is going to feel a lot longer than expected!
At the stop, bus drivers help other drivers with parking, and people are in good spirits. We can finally stretch our legs!
After a refreshment break and a few passenger swaps, we're back on the road again, into the twilight.
At this point, I'm feeling wasted tired, maybe even a bit grumpy. The driver is playing a boombox with local tunes, tunes that remind me of B-grade K-pop. Synthetic instruments accompany the pervasive auto-tuned vocals. Occassionally, an African Jazz-themed hit comes on, and all is right with the world for the next 4 minutes.
Twilight gives way to a moonlit dark, I can barely make out shapes in the view out the left window.
There's only so much head-bobbing one can do before you get irritated. I'm too tall for the seats, so I have nothing to rest my head against, and my legs are crammed under the drivers seat. I try put my bag on my lap, but that can only be sustained for 30 minutes before it becomes too uncomfortable.
The next 7 hours are a blur. I'm drifting in and out of consciousness, or wide awake when the driver slams on the brakes to avoid a pothole.
Somehow we've reach the east coast, and turned the corner South.
The coastal road is in worse condition, and time, and our speed, slows down further.
After a brutal 11 hours and ~370km of travelling, we've made it to Mahanoro. The crew takes our bags down from the roof and we walk the last kilometer, dripping in sweat, towards the school. If it wasn't for Daniel and Katia, I would have easily died from over-burdened-bag-carrying-induced-exhaustion.