Fianarantsoa is located on the RN7 and can be easily reached via it. From there, the “Jungle Express” with its rustic diesel locomotive from 1936 runs on an old, approximately 163 km long railway line, but even the wagons are hardly younger – here you can experience pure nostalgia and adventure. The line was built during the French colonial times. It took over ten years for the first train to run. Today, the caravan of freight and passenger waggons forms a lifeline for the people in the South.
The journey to Manakara at the sea now takes up to 24 hours (as of Juli 2018) instead of the previous nine to eleven hours. From the end of 2014 to the beginning of 2015, the train was even completely out of service, but could be repaired. In between, the journey stops every 30 to 45 minutes at small stations along the way. A good 40,000 Ariary costs the trip, that’s about 15 €. While travellers get off and on and tracks are being repaired, locals offer plantains, fresh fruit, cooked crayfish and other delicacies for sale. At the windows and in small markets directly on the route, people trade, sell and talk.
On the way you can enjoy the landscape of the south: The train runs over steep gorges, along the tea plantations of Sahambavy and the lake of the same name, past the Mandriampotsy waterfall, hills and mountains and winds its way through over 48 tunnels and over 67 bridges, past rice fields, Baobabs, past brickworks, savannahs and rainforests. The train officially stops at 17 stations on its journey. On the way, however, smaller and larger obstacles have to be overcome time and again: Sometimes a piece of track is missing, sometimes a zebu has to be removed from the track and now and then the old locomotive has to be restarted. During the journey, the train climbs 1100 meters from the highlands to Manakara on the east coast, whereby the steepest sections of the line have an incline of up to 35‰
The Jungle Express runs every other day (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays), but due to technical problems or unforeseen events it may be cancelled or postponed to another day. On average, the train only travels at 30 km/h, and the many stops along the way also contribute to delays and interruptions. Bringing a good dose of patience is essential here. For the Madagascans mora mora (meaning “take it easy”) is a philosophy of life – and it is lived in the jungle express.