Â Many people are vaguely aware of Madagascar and where it is, probably even more so since the Disney movie came out with the name in the title. It is a large island/nation off the southeast coast of Africa and I have actually been there. It was many years ago with my ex-husband almost two years after we had been married. He was a medical student at the time and as part of his studies he found a hospital to intern in for three months so he could study tropical medicine, so off we went.
Â Madagascar is a fascinating place, called the Red Island, with many areas of red earth, part of it desert, part tropical jungle and some of the most beautiful beaches and ocean that I have ever seen. The lemur, a monkey-like animal, is found onlyÂ there.Â The medical conditions I saw there were only read about in nursing books before arriving, such as tetanus, leprosy, syphillus along with all sorts of people infested with worms and other similar parasites. It’s a place where death isn’t scary to the inhabitants, and the dead are brought out of their graves still wrapped in straw mats to beÂ taken to parties and to “see” what is new since they left. There were remarkable carved wooden tomb markers in one area showing the life of the person who had died.
Â So, eventually it was time to leave. One of the doctors had a camper truck that he wanted to be taken to the capital and sold and he asked us if we would drive it there. We thought it would be fun and a great way to see the country as we returned to catch our plane home. We had three days and it was only about 500 miles or so and we thought we could easily make it. Ha. They were checking the engine before we left and noticed a leak in the radiator so some sort of agent was poured into it that supposedly took care of the problem and we were off.
Â We were thirty minutes down the red dirt road when we went through a huge puddle and the truck stalled. Now my ex-husband knew nothing about engines and I knew even less but somehow he knew that he needed to dry the head of each spark plug, which he did, and it worked sending us once more on our way.
Â We had gone fifty miles or so when we noticed that the heat indicator was on hot and we found out that the leak in the radiator had not been fixed. The radiator was hot and out of water. All we had in two jerry cans was gasoline, very expensive there. Luckily for us, a truck driver stopped and asked our problem. He was high up in the cab of his truck and could see ponds and lakes off in the distance so we filled our gas tank and his as full as we could, dumped the rest of the gasoline, and my ex and he went and got water. It turned out that we would have to stop and fill the radiator every 37 miles.
Â Madagascar, now, by the way, called The Republic of Malagasy since their independence from France, had been having very heavy rains for weeks. We had gone about 200 miles when we came to a long line of vehicles all lined up at the banks of a raging brown river, torrential from the rains. No one could get across as there was no bridge. We were lucky to have a little food and a camper to sleep in. At one point an interesting Englishman and his guide asked if we would mind if they joined us as we did have the room. He was there studying the butterflies of the island-it has more varieties than any other place on earth he told us. My ex kept looking out the window all night. Finally, at about three in the morning he saw that the water had gone down and decided that we should cross the river then, at that moment. He kicked out our two visitors and we somehow managed to cross safely. By then we were really low on gas and had to park at a gas station further on until they opened. It was then that we found that in our crossing of the river we had pulled the rear bumper almost completely off on a rock.
Â We had entered rice country, driving through rolling hills terraced with rice fields growing a brilliant green against the red earth. We were really hungry having run out of food and not seeing any place to stop and buy some. Then we started to smell something burning. We stopped, opened the back of the camper and smoke poured out. It turned out that the exhaust pipe of the truck and been bent upwards, on the national “highway” none of it paved as of yet, and the heat of it was against the wooden floor of the truck. A full fire hadn’t broken out yet but there was a black smoldering area under one of our suitcases which had a bubbled burnt area on its plastic surface. My ex got under the truck and tried to pull the exhaust pipe down but couldn’t and didn’t have any tools to use. He had to hitch hike into the nearest town where an American doctor lived to get help leaving me with the truck. Time passed slowly. I was starving. I even went into a field of corn and got an ear but it was too hard to eat. A little boy came buy trying to sell me something to eat but I had no money. Hours later, my ex and the doctor finally arrived. They, of course, had eaten. We were soon on our way and I had the best meal I have ever had when I arrived-fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, home made rolls and home made sweet pickles. It was fabulous.
Â We had one day to get to the capital to catch our plane. The highway finally became paved and we were making good time when we came to another river. It was rushing and scary like the last one but it looked rather deep. My ex looked at me and actually asked me if I would roll up my jeans and wade in and see if it was too deep for the truck to go through and I actually did it. Why didn’t he do it? I still don’t know but it certainly did sort of shadow the rest of our marriage. And, to top it off, fresh water could be dangerous in Madagascar because there were often parasites in it. Anyway, the depth of the water was fine and we arrived in Tananarive in time. We drove the truck to the home of the man wanting to buy it and apologized for the hole in the floor of the bed, the missing rear bumper, the leaking radiator and he laughed and said many vehicles arrived after that drive in much worse shape.
Â So, that was my adventure. It put in me a thirst for travel and new adventures that has never gone away. It gave me a hiden distrust of my ex-husband and made me realize that I needed to learn how to do things for myself, such as learn how to do basic things with cars. Looking back, I was so young, so different than I am now, so unformed, really. I never could have guessed the path my life was to take many years later.