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Around Africa On My Bicycle by Riaan Manser

Monica Malpezzi Price Reviews

Around Africa On My Bicycle Reivewed by Monica Malpezzi Price. Photo courtesy of Amazon.

Although there are many of us who are passionate about bicycling and bicycle touring, I don’t know of anyone that considers bicycle touring a life or death situation….. but Riaan Manser has! When this South African decides to cycle the entire perimeter of Africa to both get away from his mundane life and do something extraordinary nobody else has ever done, he realizes that he will encounter dangers and perhaps insurmountable challenges and decides that the only thing that will stop him from completing his mission is death. While reading his exploits, both the humorous entanglements in which he falls as well as the seriously dangerous experiences, you realize that there are good reasons that nobody has ever cycled the perimeter of Africa…. The journey in “Around Africa On My Bicycle” takes Manser two years, two months and fifteen days. He pedals 36,500 kilometers (22,531 miles) and rides through 34 countries. Some countries take him several weeks to cross, others less than a day. His goal is to ride his bicycle through every single African country that has a sea or ocean coastline, including Somalia, the most dangerous country at the time of his adventure in 2003-2005. (It takes weeks to get visas to enter each of the three parts of Somalia, and in the end he enters illegally and quickly gets back out ….so though he didn’t accomplish his goal completely he can say he cycled in Somalia).

Manser leaves South Africa with some money in the bank, a few of the visas he’ll need for the first few countries he’ll cross, donated equipment, some media contacts that will keep him connected to South Africa and also earn him a small income along the way. Manser departs as an ambassador to the “Proudly South African” movement, which, while promoting “Buy South African,” also gives Manser a desire to raise awareness of all African countries and the standard of living of the different peoples within Africa. As his trip progresses, Manser feels more and more strongly about his purpose of cycling around Africa to bring unity and a sense of pride that a fellow African is doing something so daring. The enthusiasm and wonder of the people he meets often means assistance or goodwill along the way…which he often needs….

At times, Manser’s trip is dangerous and a trial of his mental, physical and spiritual state. He’s imprisoned several times by both law enforcement and rebels and he greatly underestimates the time his circumnavigation will take (he thought a year but it took more than two). The longer trip means that he runs out of money and has to add financial concerns to the rest of his worries. Throughout the trip, he spends days at a time with no communication with the outside world, has almost everything stolen from him at one time or another, spends weeks negotiating visas, traveling to capital cities or other destinations for bureaucratic reasons (at times leaving his bicycle in a place and returning weeks later to pick up riding where he left off ), and cycles in all kinds of terrain, including terrible traffic and quicksand. The most harrowing experience had to have been being held hostage by drugged Liberian teenage rebels who truly seemed able and interested in killing him. As Manser begins to despair that nobody will ever know exactly where and when he died, the rebels come across an old magazine with Nelson Mandela’s portrait on the front. The rebel leader sees a comparison between Manser and Nelson Mandela, both from South Africa, so he frees Manser. In that instance, had Manser been from any other country in Africa, he may not have made it out alive. By comparison the remainder of Manser’s stories recount merely uncomfortable situations or heart-warming episodes.

Manser’s writing is not professional or polished, it is that of a traveler writing a travel journal. He was not a professional or even experienced cyclist when he set out on his endeavor. Indeed, perhaps an experienced cyclist or cycle tourist would have better foreseen the problems Manser was to face, from financial shortfalls to physical illness to non-existent lodging options to visa issues to fatigue to poor weather conditions. You might say that it was Manser’s naivety that allowed him to set out on this journey, leaving the three loves of his life behind—two dogs and his girlfriend. He cycled home nearly 31 pounds lighter to find one dog and the girlfriend there to greet him.

All in all a good adventure to read, although it surely does not make you want to go out and try to emulate him!