I feel... A cool breeze caressing my face and my hair tickling my cheeks as it dances in the wind. I feel my breakfast jump in my stomach as the van's wheels slam down into another pothole. I sway side to side as we sail around hairpin turns. I feel the smooth elbow of another passenger brush mine each time the van swerves to avoid pedestrians, cyclists, and four-legged travelers. I feel my seatbelt rubbing raw a patch on my neck. I bask in the sun's embrace. I feel my seatbelt lock again and again. I feel my legs begin to stiffen after three hours of travel. The cool, welcome kiss of the shade as we drive through an unexpected avenue of trees.
I hear... The sudden honking of a horn that signals a car is passing us—and our driver's furious honking when someone fails to move out of our path quickly enough. I hear the shouts of vendors peddling their wares along the roadside. The drone of trapped flies as they search frantically for an escape. I hear the whine of the tires on the pavement and the static of the wind whipping through the wide-open windows. I hear the high-pitched squeal of the brakes as the van screams around yet another bend. I listen to the gasps of awe and cries of "Wow!" slip from my lips and those of my companions. I catch snatches of conversations as we fly through villages. I hear the rattle of an iron truck bed as it blazes by. The purr of the engine idle and the creak of the parking break engage as we sit in a traffic jam. I hear music from shops. I hear the quiet whine of bicycle tires spinning round and round. Motorbikes revving, carts rattling, and bells jingling on pousse-pousses fishing for customers. The tinny clink of hammer on stone as people seated cross-legged on the roadside chip away at piles of gathered rock.
I smell... Gasoline, hot and sweet and acrid. I smell pungent smoke from distant fires. I catch a whiff of something that smells suspiciously like barbecue that fills the van one second and vanishes the next. Garlic and sakay wafting in from a nearby market. I smell the earthy stink of livestock. I smell sweat and urine as pedestrians swarm; they press close as we crawl through the packed streets of Ambositra. Sweet, alluring chocolate as we munch on crispy wafers. I smell a sweet yet bitter smoke reminiscent of roasting peanuts.
I taste... Gritty sand coating my tongue as it billows in through the windows. I taste a refreshing gulp of lukewarm water, the flavor tinted with a plastic tang accrued from the walls of my Nalgene bottle. The bliss of a milk chocolate coated cookie.
I see... Rugged, terraced hills painted with vibrant browns, oranges, and one hundred different shades of green. I spy zebu dragging carts piled high with shorn hay. I see people waist deep in rice fields. Trains of children, skipping along the ridges of the fields, sure-footed as the goats grazing on the hillsides. I marvel at stunning mountain vistas, graying trees, and a perfect Toy Story sky. I meet the eyes of my reflection, who is staring in wide-eyed wonder at the spectacular scenery. I see a mother's soft yet joyful smile light up her face as she hugs her toddler closer. I watch the rice field-studded mountains transform into tree-covered precipices dotted with silver boulders into smooth, rounded hills coated in long grasses swaying in the wind so that the entire landscape seems alive and trembling into vibrant green fields brighter than the inside of a lime and back again into mountains in what seems like the blink of an eye. I see necks straining under loads that must be nearly as heavy as their bearer. Farmers forcefully drive their shovels into the baked, crusty soil in perfect synchronization. I watch nervously as a line of fearless ducks waddles across the road, coming so close that they seem to disappear beneath the whirring tires. I spot baskets overflowing with red, yellow, and green tomatoes. I watch trucks and taxi-brousses with teetering piles of baggage strapped to their roofs pass us with hardly a hand's breadth to spare. I see a three-foot long eel wriggling on a string, held aloft by a proud fisherman. I spot a wooden railing on a house carved into the shape of the words "tonga soa." Shoppers armed with pink and white bags striped like Guatemalan tinajas. I see girls and their mothers balancing Jenga stacks of bricks on their heads. Mudbrick houses rise from the red dirt, where they stand sentry on the crests of rolling hills. I see a trio of boys armed with paper airplanes, primed to launch them at any vehicle that dares to drive by. I spy skirts twitching, tails flicking, and feet scuffing. I see charred fields scarred by fire. I watch a woman wrapped in lamba and a man sporting a Vikings stocking hat overturn buckets above a heap of bricks. I stare in awe at stunning landscapes that seem a cross between the hills of New Zealand and the mountains of Morocco. I notice a teenage girl in a teal dress, straw hat pulled at an angle to shade her face, stand on a ridge as she leans on a spindly walking stick and watches the cars go by. A column of brightly dressed people advance slowly across a flooded rice field as one. I glimpse an old man making faces at a cooing baby in front of a stand. I see a teeny, tiny Fianarantsoa way off in the distant mountains, pointed out by our driver with over an hour left of travel time. This is the road to Fianar.