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Travelling to Tamatave was relatively straightforward, albeit classically Malagasy. We got up pretty early and got into Mouramanga in time to get a taxi brousse to Tamatave. The journey was rather long, but the scenery lovely as we descended from the mountains towards the coast. The road slowly got better too. Tamatave is the main port in Madagascar and industry seems to be demanding the only properly tarmacked road in the country. Again, we got in late and the chaos at the taxi brousse station was a little much, between the dark and the rather dazzling lights of all the vehicles. We decided not to faff around and took a taxi straight to the hotel we had in mind.

We stayed at the Hotel Joffre, as we had been without hot water and hence a proper shower for a few days in Andasibe and Kate had had enough. We overnighted, had a much appreciated hot shower each, and an extravagant meal. At about five in the morning we set off on foot for the taxi brousse station. Our map wasn't perfect, it was pitch black, deserted and there was a lot of water about from the monsoon downpour the night before. After a brief wade through a knee deep puddle we located the place, boarded a taxi brousse and waited for an hour and a half as it slowly filled up to comical levels of occupancy. Along the journey the levels of fullness changed from dangerous to suicidal, and we even saw the occupants of another taxi brousse queueing on the side of the road. It had slid off the road and crashed into a tree, but there was no sign of anyone having suffered any harm.

Tamatave and Soaneirana-Ivongo:

Soaneirana-Ivongo is the port where you get the boat to Ile Ste Marie. We visited the police to register, althought at the time we didn't realise why they were so careful to register the identity of everyone who boards these boats. Then we waited and waited, in much the same way as you wait for every form of transport in Madagascar. When we finally left the boat was as ludicously laden as every taxi brousse we took, and listing rather heavily to one side. This didn't seem brilliant, and became even worse once we got to the mouth of the river. As the ocean current met the outflow from the river it made for some rather high surf and we duly pointed straight into it and tried to leave the harbour. This was a plainly suicidal course of action and after nearly capsizing and nearly flooding a few times we turned back.

There followed another hour's wait while they tried to lighten the load although there was little visual evidence of any difference when we finally set off again. We ploughed once more into the surf and in retrospect, I am slightly amazed that we lived to tell the tale. The boat pitched and rolled so much the entire family sitting next to Kate were enthusiastically seasick, I got soaked to the skin and the entire crew were frantically bailing out the bilges and looking extremely scared. We weren't doing much better ourselves. Kate was sitting next to the vomitting family and I had a Malagasy woman and her terrified child holding onto my leg. Apparently physical contact in Madagascar is 'fady' - ie taboo - so I presume this must indicate just how scared the poor woman was. Although actually we saw no evidence of all of these apparently crucial taboo. After about an hour things didn't exactly calm down, but the crew became less nervous, which helped. And by the time we finally got to the island imminent sinking had faded a little from our immediate concerns, but by golly we were grateful to sit out in the sun on dry land and spread out the contents of our pockets on the table to dry out as we tried to decide what to do next.

The suicidal boat trip to Ile Ste Marie: