July 13, 2009 / 12:36 PM / 10 years ago

Sharks, prison shake 11-month solo kayak adventure

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters Life!) - Having a shark nudge his kayak, treading through storms to find a soft patch of land to sleep and spending days in a rotten Malagasy prison is Riaan Manser’s idea of a perfect career, he says.

The man who has just returned from an 11-month trip kayaking alone and unaided around Madagascar said it was his stubbornness and naivety that kept him going — and alive.

“I’d like people to remember me for having done something great with my life,” the South African adventurer told Reuters just a few days after finishing the 5,000 km (3,107 miles) trip.

In 2005, Manser became the first man to cycle across Africa, covering 37,000 km while passing through 34 countries, but physically, the kayaking was a different challenge, he said.

“I was busy stroking (the paddle) 20,000 times a day, every single day, to cover 40 km... sometimes more,” he said.

With the kayak and equipment weighing some 70 kg and his own 100 kg at the start of the trip on top of that, Manser said the physical exhaustion and loneliness was real battle each day.

“I had to paddle onto slabs of barnacled rock... would end up dizzy and vomiting on the beach; had to sit in salt-water for eight hours each day... my two near-drownings woke me up to the reality of how potentially dangerous this was,” he said.

The 35-year-old caught fish along the way, but once had to go without food for three days as there was none to be found.

But being so close to the wildlife, touching lemurs, seeing giant Leatherback turtles the size of a VW beetle pass below his nearly 6-meter kayak made it all worthwhile, he said.

“For me to be two meters away from a 14-tonne whale with its calf lying in front of it... exhilarating, I really felt I was insignificant, but still important at the same time,” he said.

Yet even trotting along the island’s coastline Manser could not escape the political tensions developing there over time.

Madagascar has been shaken by political instability since former DJ Andry Rajoelina toppled President Marc Ravalomanana in March, branding him corrupt and a dictator. The power grab alarmed foreign investors, spooked tourists and stunted growth.

“I was dealing with politics in every village I went to,” Manser said.

The adventurer has no fixed plan for what he will do next, apart from writing a book. But he will not stay home long.

“I want my mind to work overtime for the next six months on the next ‘first in the world adventure’ I will take on.”

Editing by Paul Casciato

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