What astonishes me in this demanding age of instant gratification and information over-load is how come I had never heard of African-based adventurer, Riaan Manser. I discovered him by accident as I was looking up Madagascar on a whim after many semi-tongue-in-cheek conversations about paddling around the formidable island with a paddling friend of mine. He was adamant that he could accomplish what no one had done before, but alas, someone had.
My investigations lead me to this Manser fellow who had successfully kayaked around the island. This was in fact his second grand African adventure as a few years before he had become the first to circumnavigation the African continent by bicycle as he pedaled through over 30 countries, not all of them happy places.
I downloaded his book Around Madagascar on my Kayak to my ereader and settled into the sofa for a good read. I was left not disappointed as his prose are detailed, and filled with personality and heart, but all in all I wondered how much of this story was left on the floor because of the documentary he and his trip manager were creating throughout. That said, what transpired from page one to the end was a solo and unsupported kayaking epic on the level of the first accent of Mt. Everest. Is that putting it to a more lofty height than Manser deserves. Not in the slightest. In the tradition of ‘it has never been done before’, or ‘because it is there’, Riaan Manser set out to paddle in waters filled with dangers, both from Mother Nature and from Human Nature. He battles his own limitations as a kayaker as well as an adventurer. He is welcomed by the poorest of the poor and arrested by those who insist on maintaining slim control in this country, though separated from the continent by water still faces the uncertainty of economics and dodgy politics.
Any one of us who has ever set out on a windy day in our kayaks will know the feeling. Most of us will go on the water for a couple of hours safe in the knowledge that after we can dry off, settle in with a pint at the pub and a warm bed in our own home at night. No all of us would be willing to paddle upwards of 13 hours a day, everyday for nearly a year while landing in fierce surf onto sandy beaches that come with their own set of dangers and challenges. This is why he is the real deal, a real adventurer having real adventures.
For that vicarious thrill of paddling dangerously I recommend reading Around Madagascar on my Kayak. Check out some of his video diary clips on youtube, they are a nice companion to the book.
(He has recently published a new book Around Iceland on Inspiration, which accounts the five-month circumnavigation of Iceland in a tandem kayak with partner Dan Skinstad who has mild cerebral palsy).