Our contributor, Serge Robson, recently traveled to the south of Madagascar and shares with us the exhilarating journey of traversing the elements and terrain by the baka +10!
Serge A. Robson is presently working as a Food Security Expert in a consortium of NGOs fighting poverty in the District of Fort-Dauphin, Anôsy Region in southern Madagascar. He dove into photography several years ago with a passion that is still growing. Photography gives him that instant and emotional escape from his everyday life, bringing him an inner serenity. Photography is his way of depicting life through his lenses, should it be colorful or fade and depleted. Here is his journey!
What would a 15-hour drive mean to you? How many kilometers would you cover during that period of time? That’s quite relative you’d say! And that is right. What if it was in Madagascar all along the South Eastern coast, on the RNT 12A (Route Nationale Temporaire)? Well then, that makes a very interesting journey because fifteen hours are needed to run the 245km (153 miles) between Tôlagnaro (Fort-Dauphin) and Vangaindrano.
All the way, you will drive on mud, sand, cobble, asphalt, and even on ... water. It is clear that your speed will vary depending on the kind of surface you are driving through. There are some sections where you spend two and a half hours to drive forty kilometers (25 miles), but on some portions, you will finish the same distance in 40 minutes.
The most interesting, the most amazing, and the funniest is when it takes forty minutes for forty meters. On that section, you will just have to cross your arms and wait, or while you are running this distance you can have some fried fish with boiled cassava. If you are lucky enough, you can even enjoy some oysters with lemon. Some people just dive into the river and swim for less than two minutes. That makes this road famous with its “baka +10”! “Baka” is a kind of raft on which you put your vehicle to cross the rivers, in short, it’s a ferry, and you have to do it ten times between these two towns. Some of them are designed with a big engine, some have out-board motors, and a few move with human power. Even if it is clearly marked on every baka that the crossing is free, as it is ruled by the Ministry of Transport, most of the time you have to provide one liter of gasoline or pay Ar5,000 for the service. If the motor breaks down, there is a rope tied on each riverside and you just have to help the operators pulling.
The total distance to cross the ten rivers is about 2.2km (1.3 miles), but it takes around 80 to 100 minutes to traverse them. Add 70 to 85 more minutes of waiting and you get maybe a world record of 150 to 185 minutes to cross 2.2 kilometers, 11m per minute! More than two and a half hours because sometimes the “baka” is at the other side of the river and you have to call the operators by honking more than twice. Patience...sometimes the operators are somewhere taking a nap.
“Baka” also sounds like that Malagasy high school diploma (baccalaureat aka bac), compulsory to enter a university. When you have a Bachelor’s degree, you have a Bac +4, a Master’s is a Bac+5 or +6....If you made the connection, “bac +10” is when you achieved ten years of college studies! When you are about to take the trip, people jokingly say “you are going to get you’re your bac +10!”. Then, at the end of that trip on the RNT 12A you have earned your PhD! Congrats!
By Serge Robson