Approaching the coast

We saw more and more eclipse travelers as we got closer to Morombe (and the centerline town of Ambahikily) on the westbound highway—they’re easy to identify from their awkward gear on roof mount luggage racks.

Children surrounded us at every stop asking for money for their coin collections. I know what you’re thinking, but it’s true. They showed us: a penny here, a five-centime there, small change received from the rare travelers to the villages, crudely taped to index cards. I watched as they traded each other for the US coins they didn’t have; a quarter swapped for a nickel. (The “coin collector” scammers typically target Euro or Japanese tourists whose coins hold a higher value, and bill collector scammers are even more prevalent. Just saying.) Older kids and adults sold their hand-painted or colored pencil souvenir drawings.

People lined the road to watch the parade of 4WD vehicles making their way to the coast. Schoolchildren held up their hands, making the sign of the sun (similar to the University of Oregon O-gesture) and shouted “faza!” as we passed. (“Faza!” we call in return, waving. Later we were informed that meant “white people.”)

Hoping to offset the exorbitant daily cost of the vehicle we hatched a plan to rideshare the remaining miles to the coast, and taped a sign to the window reading “Comment vais-je a Morombe? Eclipse Solaire Total (USA)…do you need a ride?” (I didn’t know how to say that last part.) It worked; we hooked up with three young French students at Isalo National Park, all prepared, as we were, to camp on the beach. Their translation services were a welcome addition, and at rest stops they chatted happily in French with Samuel.

“The road from Toliara to Morombe is slow and grating being composed of the broken remains of a formerly paved highway that has aged into a mixture of sandy potholes and abrupt edges,” wrote Fred Espenak and Jay Anderson in their NASA prospect report on the Madagascar eclipse. Getting to Morombe on the final stretch of red “piste” (dirt road) was quite an ordeal.

We weren’t sure if we would make it to the viewing site, right up until the last minute. From our final launch point before eclipse day we heard rumors it would take anywhere from eight hours to two days to reach Morombe. (We kept an eye on our map of totality, and cheered when we reached a town in the shadow—if we couldn’t get to the coast, we’d at least see totality from that point on.) An official motorcade conveying, I don’t know, Jacques Chirac or somebody, was ahead of us and made progress worse by blocking the streets in every town we came to.

We reached Morombe after only twelve hours of lurching and bumping along a road so rough I couldn’t open my mouth to talk, afraid the jolting would cause me to chomp down on my tongue. Into huge ditches we dropped, up and over sand dunes, and through villages with chickens and pigs and children and zebu carts scattering as we blew through town in the Trooper. We even had to navigate a full-on river crossing, with water up to the doors, past a stranded old Citroen and taxi-brousses that were being winched out of the mud. I had the time of my life.

In Morombe Samuel dumped us on the beach and disappeared with the car. We made it.

Above: Stuck in the mud

Below:

Handmade souvenirs

Do you need a ride?

River crossing

Dignitary crossing

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