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Riaan Manser kayaking around the huge island of Madagascar. photos by the author.
Riaan Manser kayaking around the huge island of Madagascar. photos by the author.

Biking Africa, then Circling Madagascar by Kayak

A year after finishing his Africa-by-Bicycle tour, world famous adventurer, South African Riaan Manser is at it again. Leaving behind his stalwart girlfriend (despite the promise he made to never ever do something like this ever again) Manser ventures into waters of Madagascar. This time for a journey that will test him, his boat and his luck to their limits.

Setting out on an eleven-month long adventure, Manser plans to circumnavigate one of the world’s largest islands, alone. Almost immediately things go wrong. The kayak is lost by the airline, documentation is missing and a friendly ex-pilot points out that in fact Manser’s whole trip is headed in the wrong direction and advises him to change routes.

Things really get moving once Manser is in the water and headed off in the (hopefully) right direction. Encountering amazing natural beauty, whales breaching next to his boat, perfect sunsets as well as flowering local Malgasy culture Manser seems to have found the perfect way to make a living. But it doesn’t take long before Manser finds himself in trouble with local authorities as well as local coral reefs.

Madagascar, all the while, charms both Manser and the reader with its culture. Giant trees, local markets, charismatic bureaucrats, dangerous driving and attacks of red tape only serve to enhance this man-against nature adventure story.

Written in a direct and engaging, if not literary, style. The reader will be in turns horrified and entertained but mostly, inspired. If not to circumnavigate an island on their own, then at least to go to the fascinating and vibrant Madagasgar. Here is an excerpt from Riaan Manser’s Around Madagascar on My Kayak

“The first thing I did when I got to the river itself was to wallow in the shallow fresh water for a few minutes- it’s amazing how soft and soothing fresh water feels when you’ve been in salt water for any length of time. It also made my introduction to the village much simpler, because my wallowing had brought life to the river’s banks. People, more children and women than men, called out to me and pointed to what I could now see looked like the docking area for most of the pirogues.

Around Madagascar on My Kayak.

At the docking site were more men who now were coming to welcome me to their village. I struggled up the steep, muddy river bank, trying not to fall, and shook hands with what seemed to be a few hundred men and children, sharing smiles with the shy ones, mainly toddlers and women.

I informed them, by sign language that I was tired, hungry and in need of sleep, having discovered right away that my fractured French was falling on deaf ears. Once again, Flippie and my other informants had been right. Outside the larger towns no one spoke French. The good news was that Madagascar had only one language. The bad news was that every 200 or 300 km they spoke a drastically different dialect of it. Great! I needed to learn more Malagasy, and very quickly at that, but which variety?

By now my kayak was riding high on the shoulders of some of the young fellows who were slipping and sliding up the bank with it. The suited me fine. I followed in their wake and was eventually delivered to the front door of a small hut on stilts, which I found belonged to the president. Yep, the president, but in Madagascar that did not necessarily mean the head of state. In this case it signified the head of the region, or, as they term it in Malagasy, a ‘fokontany’. So here I was, standing, smiling in front of the Chef de Fokontany de Antakabola. Believe it or not…

Mr. President was a short, grey-haired man whose wrinkled face bore a frown and a broad smile, all at the same time, which I took to indicate suspicion mixed with enthusiastic hospitality. He spoke some French, and wanted to know who and what I was. My idea of carrying my old business cards which had pictures showing me on my Africa travels, including a picture of me with Nelson Mandela paid off nicely.

Pictures for the President

The president loved the pictures and studied them at length while I explained that the information on the card was how he and I could stay in touch in future. He formally introduced himself, by way of a neatly hand-written equivalent of my card, as Monsieur Demi Augustine, and told his wife to start clearing the house of loose things to make way for my bed. Right alongside theirs!

This was obviously a matter for utmost diplomacy, and so I explained as tactfully as I could that there was no need for them to make room for a bed for me and that I had a bed of my own and would be happy to place it outside his door. For a while it was touch and go, because (so I gathered) it was a bit like not burping after eating yourself silly with a tentful of Arabs, or refusing to break a plate or two at a Greek party.

I’ve always found that the best thing to defuse tension is a liberal dose of humour, and since I couldn’t communicate properly-if at all- in English, French, or Malagasy, I turned my focus to the children, who were now glued to me, becoming braver all the time, to the point where they were actually addressing me. Since I didn’t know what they were saying, I decided to imitate each child’s voice and words as best I could. The children loved every one of these renditions and shrieked with laughter each time I spoke.

Riann kayaking along the shore of Madagascar.

Having mended any breech of diplomatic relations that I might have caused, I set up camp amid total chaos. Children would touch me, especially my hair, and then turn and sprint off as fast as they could, all this to the accompaniment of a chorus of shrieks and shrills.

’s hut and explained to Monsieur Augustine that I was very tired and wanted to sleep, although what I actually wanted first of all was some quite time.

He understood what I wanted but not the kids.”

Kathleen Ahamed Broadhurst.

Kathleen Broadhurst is freelance writer and photographer. She writes Travel Vicarious a blog about alternative travel for funky people.

Around Madagascar on my Kayak  

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Tags: storySection: Kayaking,Travel Books
Location: Africa,Madagascar
author: Kathleen Broadhurst
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