Saturday, Nov. 8
Antsirabe, Madagascar

Pull-carts are one of the main forms of transportation in Antsirabe, the first town south of Madagascar’s capital.

But the pousse-pousses, as they’re called in French, are not pulled by a horse, a donkey or even a zebu, the Malagasy equivalent of cattle. These carts move through the streets solely on manpower.

It struck me as a scene out of a fantasy film, men running barefoot around town, pulling carts behind them, some men overtaking others just like cars in traffic. I couldn’t imagine what kind of crazy shape one would have to be in to pull that kind of weight, to do an animal’s work all day to make a living. Installing a system like that in a U.S. city would be a sure-fire way to combat obesity, I thought.

Pousse-pousse-ing it to our hotel.

Pousse-pousse-ing it to our hotel.

I watched the form of the runner who pulled me and my bags from the bus station to my hotel, working hard alongside two other pousse-pousse guys who pulled my new French friends, Anna and Alexa, women who I met during the bush taxi ride. It didn’t feel right, being pulled around town by a local. If a runner could move both me and my bags to my hotel, I could surely walk there with my bag on my back.

But the pull-carts aren’t a luxury just for tourists. That’s how many locals get around, particularly if they have luggage to move, or chickens or even a lounge chair. This is the livelihood of many Malagasy men, and if I want to support the locals, I best take a pousse-pousse.

Besides, my reason for using public transportation, whether it be a taxi or a pousse-pousse, often isn’t to avoid walking from place to place; it’s sometimes necessary because I don’t know where I’m going.

I can already tell that topic — where I’m going — is going to cause me difficulty here. The names of about half the cities in the country begin with “A”, and most are at least a dozen characters long.

There’s Antananarivo, the capital, which thankfully goes by “Tana.” Antsiranana, Ambovombe, Ambatofinandrahana, Antalaha, Andranomena. A good portion of the cities that don’t start with “A” begin with “M”: Miandrivazo, Morondava, Manantenia, Mahajanga. I’d include pronunciations, but I don’t know them yet, so your guess is as good as mine.

This makes it difficult for me to differentiate between one place and another, and whenever someone asks me about the places I plan to visit, I have to pull out a map to show them instead of simply spouting off the names of the cities.

For you, figuring out where I am should be easy. Soon the map in the upper right-hand corner of this site will be updated, showing you the route I’ve taken so far during my trip, including the Malagasy cities I’ve most recently visited.

First, I’ll head south to the coast, little by little, stopping at cities and parks along the way.