Adventurer of the Year does it again

2011-01-26 00:00

SEARCHING for a suitable encore to his epic bicycle trip around the perimeter of Africa (the subject of his previous book, Around Africa on my Bicycle), South African solo-adventurer Riaan Manser decided he wanted to be the first person to paddle alone around Madagascar in a kayak — a journey of some 5 000 kilometres, which took almost a year to complete.

As he was to discover, it was not a trip to be undertaken lightly and in many ways it was to prove far more challenging, both physically and mentally, than his previous feat of endurance (which earned him the title of Adventurer of the Year 2006).

Buffeted by huge waves and lashed by storms which frequently knocked him off course, he was forced to spend long, lonely hours paddling under a ferocious sun with no other company but the occasional pod of whales, some giant leatherback turtles and the odd seagull.

Along the way he was variously robbed, mugged, chased by pirates, attacked by a huge shark and thrown into jail (twice) on suspicion of being a South African mercenary (his trip happened to coincide with the attempted coup in Madagascar when political tensions were running high).

His trials would have deterred many lesser mortals but Manser is obviously not one to wilt in the face of a challenge and to compensate for his suffering there were, of course, moments of unalloyed beauty and magic — which he describes with warmth and feeling — and he was also able to experience, at first hand, the basic kindness and decency of the ordinary Malagasy people.

Writing in a plain, chatty style, Manser has used his travels to produce a vivid series of chapters and vignettes.

Mixing his own kind of unreserved joyfulness about the natural world, which he got to explore in all its variety, with some rueful conclusions about the swollen-headed self-importance of petty officialdom, he has the ability to draw readers into his experiences with his evocative descriptions and wry sense of humour.

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