As Smokie’s song “Living Next Door to Alice” goes, any lass with that name can surprise you. 160 kms south of Antananivro is Antsribe, a spa town the Norwegians “discovered”.
But we’re not too caring about that, just getting used to these bikes and navigating the outskirts of Madagascar’s capital so we can get to Antsribe, is all we’re concerned with for now.
Immediately we realise why we’ll be lucky to manage 260 kms per day – there are people everywhere. 20 million of them on an island just twice the size of New Zealand. And we’ve heard 70% of them are involved in agriculture, but I swear most of them are walking on the roads outside the capital trying their best to stop us leaving Antananarivo.
At this rate we’ll be lucky to average 30 kph. This is road congestion like only Africa (well maybe India as well) can challenge you with. 160 kms and 5 hours later we hit Antsribe. We’re knackered.
And then Alice steps up as we’re unpacking the bikes and says – “Hi you’re Jo and Gareth from NZ aren’t you?”. She’s right first time and as we learn, this is Alice from Napier who’s been on Madagascar for 6 weeks already just bumming about from one town to the next.
We are pleased to share the evening’s meander around Antsribe with this engaging lass from the Bay. It’s a pleasant stroll with the locals, having a beer (“Three Horses” is the brew here), in the park as dusk settles. Then it’s off for a feed and, for us – after the first exhausting day on the road, an early kip.
Next morning as we ride out of town we all are wondering who was Alice? Charming but a memory already.