Taxibrousse is the famous French name for the Malagasy bush taxi, which is a kind of share taxi for overland drives. For most Malagasy people, these busses are the only opportunity to travel longer distances for affordable prices, and thus they are part of the Malagasy sense of life.
Several companies run Taxibrousses. Often the vehicles, old Mazda, Peugeot or Mercedes busses, were withdrawn in Europe, cheaply snapped up and exported to Madagascar. On the island, people disassemble the busses and modify them. Instead of the original seat rows and a car boot, they install four or five bench seats, so there is place for at least ten people besides the driver. Usually, no Taxibrousse driver moves off before a lot more people – more than 20 is not uncommon – got on the bus. Mostly, the technical state of the vehicles is quite poor. People simply screw, repair and patch everything by hand if needed. At the eastcoast in some very inaccessible areas, even Tatabusses, old Unimogs and rebuilt Landrover serve as Taxibrousse surrogate.
In the capital Tana, you can find Taxibrousses at the huge Taxibrousse station near the handcraft’s market at the eastern edge of town. Other cities have similar meeting points. Please never show up at these places with lots of luggage, conspicuously worn jewelry or cameras: Since poverty has become very high during the last years, crime is a big problem in bigger cities and especially at Taxibrousse stations. Each Taxibrousse either has a paperboard at its windscreen or the driver painted the travel destination right on the window itself. You just have to look for your travel destination und pay the driver his fare. For small money, you can drive many hundreds of kilometres via Taxibrousse, e.g. the route from Antananarivo to Ambanja cots around 45.000 Ariary, which means 10 to 15 € depending on value of currency, for about 900 km of distance and an about 20 hours drive. If you succeeded in dealing the ticket price, people load up your luggage onto the Taxibrousse’s roof. Malagasy people are very ingenious in loading a bus, but they don’t have any consideration for the bus’ statics. People just charge up the bus until everything’s stowed somehow. Typically, a Taxibrousse’s roof contains a colourful conglomeration of baskets, bags, pots, heavy bags of rice, bicycles, furniture, plastic bags full of clothes and all kinds of other stuff. Often chicken fetch up inside the bus, and this way you involuntarily gain a new neighbour for the trip.
The travel starts if the driver had enough guests, which may take a whole day in some locations. Delays and long glitches are completely normal. People at Taxibrousse stations live for Mora, mora, which means as much as “Take it easy”. Sometimes, a Taxibrousse leaves only the next day or later, although the driver said something different. Well, probably no Taxibrousse in Madagascar ever left punctually.
Taxibrousses only stop in bigger cities or certain villages, which are located directly at the road. They do not approach neither national parks without direct connection to Route Nationales (RN) nor any other destinations besides the usual routes, even not for upcharge. You should absolutely think of this fact, because otherwise it can easily happen that you’re dropped somewhere in nowhere and have to look time consuming for another conveyance before arriving at your actual destination at all. On the way, Taxibrousse only stop for pee breaks after some hours, there’s no possibility to take a break for pictures. Additionally, the driver is payed per guest, so he’s interested to reach his destination as fast as possible with as much people as possible inside the bus. The sooner he can drive back the same road, the more money the driver can earn. This lets you have a presentiment about the breakneck style of driving many Taxibrousses run every day. Sadly, this combined with the vehicles’ technical states and often poor road conditions make the Taxibrousse the most dangerous mean of traffic in the whole country. Breakdowns and accidents are daily fare, and especially at curvy roads those often end up deadly. Dogs or chicken represent no obstacle for a Taxibrousse driver, they are just overrun. People learn rather early to jump to the sides at RN as soon as you hear a rory motor afar.
Who really wants to travel extremely cheap is right to take a Taxibrousse for sure. The travel will surely become an extraordinary experience, and surely one will also learn to know a lot of interesting people. But in the face of countless accidents with Taxibrousse in Madagascar, you should consider in advance if your own comfort and above all your own health should be worth it. Quite certain you will experience something inside a Taxibrousse: Malagasy feeling at first hand.