Still the 5th January 2011
We remained stationary for probably another hour. During this time, the engine stopped again. More local kids hassled us through the windows or while we wandered the redundant tracks.
A few Vaza (white people) had decided to leave the train by this stage. They looked ecstatic when their driver arrived. We felt insecure. We only had a few hours of light left to see the supposed exquisite views , the train engine had been dismantled on the track, the local kids had now boarded the train to hassle us there, and Manakara felt like a distant 2am dream.
We made the decision to call Zina to see how far he was and to discuss the possibility of dissing the train idea and heading back to Fianarantsoa. By chance, he had left late and was two hours away, so we agreed to call it quits…just as the train engine came roaring to life, the whistle blew and the horn sounded. Panic. To stay or go. Go. Leave it. Walk away quickly and watch the train start chugging again, subtle regret seeping into our decision.
The train was going backwards. Brilliant.
It went backwards for 20 metres, stopped, the locomotive was detached and it drifted off into another distance. It returned with an extra train, got reattached, and started moving in the right direction. By that stage, we chose to ignore what we might miss, until we saw the locomotive come chugging back - AGAIN - without the carriages attached. They’d been abandoned 100 metres in the right direction while the locomotive made its determined way back towards Fianarantsoa.
We decided to start walking in the direction of Ranomafana until Zina spotted us.
Plan B. A good one, I believe. We got to see the villages slowly, got greeted by every villager, got laughed at by every kid, and we got some exercise.
The real victory, however, came along our walk…the train had only gotten about 10km out of Fianarantsoa after all that. I don’t recommend it to anyone who travels through Madagascar.
We’re now sitting at our new guesthouse in beautiful Ranomafana and we’ve claimed the title as the first group of people in 11 years that Zina has allowed onto the train, one that he fervently distrusts.