My Fort Dauphin Misadventure


I’m “supposed” to be in Fort Dauphin right now. Supposed to be. My Fort Dauphin misadventure has begun.

Ben drove me to the taxi stop on his way to language class. I grabbed a taxi and headed to the airport. My flight was scheduled to depart that afternoon, destination: Fort Dauphin, one of the areas that I’m particularly interested in for its access point to two unreached people groups. I checked and rechecked my ticket, which was purchased a few weeks ago. Sure enough: departure time 3:00pm.

Unfortunately, departure time didn’t actually happen until 4:05. Finally, our plane took off, and headed due south. The landscape below was absolutely beautiful. Within two airborne minutes we had left behind the metropolitan sprawl of Tana, and were soaring over the fierce, wrinkled mountains. The valleys were laced with rivers—lots of rivers—and the hillsides were occasionally terraced with patches of rice patties. I saw a number of fires, too—probably a result of the slash-and-burn agriculture of the rural farmers.

A snack, a nap, and an hour later, we had begun to descend. It was 5:15pm. The sun was sinking. I looked out the window and saw the ocean. We had arrived at Fort Dauphin.

Or had we?

I disembarked the plane, along with 90% of the passengers. What I didn’t realize was that I was on a transit flight. None of the announcements on the plane (that I could understand) had indicated that it was so. My ticket had not indicated that it was so. I was just happy to have finally arrived in Fort Dauphin.

My seat was at the front of the plane, so I was the first passenger to walk down the stairs, cross the tarmac, and enter the teeny terminal. My only luggage was the hiking backpack on my back, and my computer bag in my hands, so I walked pass baggage claim, and out the doors into the reception area. Immediately, a gaggle of taxi drivers clamored for my attention. I was eager to get to Fort Dauphin before sundown.

One guy stuck a cardboard-scrawled “Taxi” sign in my face. I admired him for his creative marketing, so I selected him, and he escorted me from the clamorous melee of his co-workers, still vying for my business.

“How much,” I asked in English, not expecting a response. I was about to switch to Malagasy, when he answered, “Fifteen thousand.” Nice! An English-speaking Malagasy taxi driver. I told him the name of the hotel that I planned on staying at that night: Gina Village. He nodded in apparent recognition and helped me into his taxi—an assemblage of scrap metal resembling a vintage Peugeot.

“My uncle! I must help my uncle,” he said after pretending to drive me from the airport. Ok. Gotta help the uncle. So much for getting to Fort Dauphin before sundown. I didn’t mind, though. As he got his uncle, I took pictures and looked around.

Uncle and Taxi Driver came back. Good to go. Alright. He cranked up the car and we headed off the palm-lined road toward what I thought was Fort Dauphin.

“What hoteli?” queried my driver.

“Gina Village!” I responded over the sound of the wind—rushing through the cracks in the floor.

“Gina Village. Gina Village.” I heard muttering from the driver as he consulted with Uncle. “Gina Village.” They muttered in a Malagasy dialect that sounded new to me. “This hoteli it in Tulear?” the driver asked me.

“Wait! Are we in Tulear?! I asked?” I wasn’t supposed to be in Tulear. That airplane was supposed to be taking me to Fort Dauphin.

“Yes. This Tulear!” he said.

“I’m supposed to be in Fort Dauphin!” I yelled. “Turn around, turn around! Go back to the airport!” In response, the Peugeot made a beautiful, wheel-burning 180 degree turn, and sped back toward the airport. I couldn’t believe it. The flight I was on had an unannounced stop in Tulear. Tulear is 300 miles northwest of Fort Dauphin! The announcement of the stop in Tulear had completely bypassed me. Besides, it was not mentioned on my ticket—anywhere!

Driver skillfully passed zebu-drawn carts, bicycles, and slow-moving trucks as he zipped back to the airport. Within minutes, he was flying through the little airport parking lot—security guards gawking in disbelief at his reckless speed. I could hear the scream of the jet engine—my flight to Fort Dauphin—beyond the terminal, and we rushed in the airport together.

We ran up to the counter (the only one in the whole airport), and explained the mishap. “I need to be on that airplane,” I patiently, but urgently told the bewildered attendant.

It was not to be. A swarm of Malagasy—some airport officials, some rifle-toting militia men, and some curious onlookers—surrounded the counter with great amusement. Apparently, this was the greatest thing that had happened since the World Cup. Sensing an audience, the taxi driver launched into the story of how it all happened—embellishing the account with a few extra details, some screaming, and no doubt some things I couldn’t understand because of the language barrier.

I stood at the counter for a very long time, interacting with the senior officials of Tulear Airport. It was quite a time. Lots of laughing—on their part, and on my part as well. Thankfully, two of them spoke English. My taxi driver also spoke English. This is very unusual. They have allegedly arranged a flight to Fort Dauphin for me tomorrow. (I had the Air Madagascar manager sign and stamp this on my e-ticket so there would be no more mistakes tomorrow.) “Sir, we will give you a ticket to Fort Dauphin, but we are unable to pay for your hotel room tonight.” I willingly accepted.

I thanked them profusely. The assistant manager laughed and said, “Don’t thank us. This was our mistake. We should be thanking you.”

Minutes later, I was back with Uncle and Driver, and we were navigating our way to Tulear. Since it’s night, I obviously haven’t seen much of the city yet—unless you count the hundreds of pousse-pousses, dozens of zebu, and the Really Fat Pig that we almost ran over. Nightfall comes by 6pm here.

Why am I in Tulear right now? Because God wants me to be in Tulear for some reason. I don’t know why. I’m happy about it, though. Yes, it means that I probably won’t be able to achieve some of my goals in Fort Dauphin, but that’s ok.

Praise: I found an English-speaking Taxi-driver

Praise: The Air Madagascar officials spoke English.

Praise: They provided, at no cost, a ticket to Fort Dauphin tomorrow afternoon (the first available).

Praise: I found a hotel room for $7, thanks to Taxi Driver.

Praise: I’m laughing at the situation, and rejoicing that I’m in Tulear tonight, not Fort Dauphin.

I’ll try to write more tomorrow about some other things that happened on Tuesday. Right now, I’m settling into my hotel room. It’s called the “Hotel Sud Plazza.” It’s right on the ocean. It’s not too bad for seven bucks/night. There is actually a little private bathroom attached to it, and I’m sitting at a desk, with my computer plugged in. Electric power. Good.

The Internet access required just a short hike down the road. There is one light in the room. It is flickering violently right now, but that’s ok. A little citron candle is on the desk here. That’s to fight the malaria-carrying mosquitoes. I’ve drenched my body in 100% DEET spray already. I tried to kill the two mosquitoes that I saw, but malaria-carrying mosquitoes must be faster than the little guys in South Carolina..

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08 2009

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  1. Nathalie a. #

    haha what an hilarious story, but how could all of this happen it’s just well… quite unbelievable. Why didn’t you asked where you were before disembarking? haha I’m still laughing

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