Friday, August 10, 2018

On roads

Tarmac roads are a blessing.  Vehicles can move swiftly and fuel-efficiently.  Produce can be readily transported to distant markets.  The sick or injured can be taken to seek medical attention in tolerable comfort.  And so forth.

Formerly-tarmac roads, whose tarmac has fallen into serious disrepair, are less of a blessing – indeed, more of a curse.

This was neatly illustrated by our journey of 65 miles from Fort Dauphin to Amboasary, and then a few miles beyond to the Berenty reserve.  Until Amboasary, we were travelling the N13.  In Madagascar, “N” roads are the major routes –  the equivalent of the routes nationales “N” roads in France, and the interstate highways of the US.  After crossing the Mandrare River at Amboasary, we turned off onto unmade farm tracks through the sisal plantations to reach Berenty.

Mandrare river

Sisal plantations

Once (and probably only once) the N13 was a tarmac road.  In most places, the tarmac now forms an irregularly-shaped median.  Some of the time, the left-hand wheels of our minibus could drive on the tarmac while the right wheels ran along the dirt alongside.  But mostly our drive avoided the tarmac as much as he could – for the strip of tarmac resists being washed out by rain, with the result that the tarmac could not only contain deep potholes, but also be edged by a drop of up to 18 inches down to the neighboring dirt.

Once we turned off the N13 onto the farm tracks, there were plenty of mostly shallow ruts, but nary a pothole.  We swooped along at what now seemed the giddy speed of 25 miles per hour, having averaged a mere 15mph on the N13.

The dirt farm tracks can turn to impassable seas of mud during the summer rains.  But the N13 becomes impassable too, with the dirt alongside the tarmac churned to mud, and water-filled potholes being of unknown depths varying  from a few inches to a foot or more.

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