Murray's Blog: Paddlers invade Paradise!

Wednesday, 01 July 2009 16:48 | Written by  Murray Williams
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We had to be brave.

For precisely 24 hours before we boarded an airliner to fly east to a tiny Indian Ocean island off the East coast of Africa … an airliner crashed into the sea, trying to land on a tiny Indian Ocean Island off the East coast of Africa.

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You’re kidding!.

But there was hope – one passenger had survived … perhaps it could be me??

Imagine my dismay then when at Cape Town International Airport this morning, my key survival tools were cruelly wrested from me – flares, to shoot from the sea and dramatically secure rescue.

But no, the oke behind the counter was clear – “These, we will NEVER allow on an aircraft!” he bellowed. I suppose they did look a bit like small rocket launchers.

Then, our esteemed national carrier SAA saw fit to play hide-and-seek with my most treasured cargo, my Mocke paddle bag, stuffed with all my ballet gear. Finding it at Oliver Tambo International would have been about as easy as finding a sensible quote in Springbok coach Peter de Villiers’ last 100 speeches.

So, with no flares and no paddling gear, it could be a long swim to shore in some rather holey underpants …

Perhaps it could turn into a bit of a “Survivor” mission – shipwrecked. I’m glancing around at my fellow passengers on this plane, wondering who to befriend with all due urgency. There are four guys near the back who might be useful in enemy territory – but look like they’re part of the Mauritian Mafia and who carry out their hits in Hummer’s with gold mags. There are the French-speaking air-hostesses, complete in navy berets – probably French Legion secret agents. And there’s Rob Mousley, who’s too tall to keep his head below any parapet wall under hostile fire – so he won’t do at all. Am I guaranteed immunity if I can prove I’m mates with Mark Bayly?

But, so far, as this is written, our bird is still in the sky and we’re still safe. After flying for about 2.5-hours from Joburg, we’ve just hit the west coast of Madagascar – an endless succession of beaches stretching south as far as the eye can see.

Now we’re over the rugged interior, which quickly climbs up into vast river plains and dramatic mountain ranges.

Down below there, somewhere, is Riaan Manser, perhaps not the world’s “best paddler”, as has been debated, but certainly one of the bravest.

In a week today, he will complete his first-ever circumnavigation of Madagascar in its entirety – surviving all manner of nasties.

To make matters worse, shortly after he arrived, a coup was staged, wresting power from the island’s government.

If a lone paddler can achieve all that, then what hope do the Mauritians stand when almost 70 of us hit the runway tonight? Under cover of darkness, as the last rays flicker burning orange between the coral reefs …

I have no idea of what awaits us. It was only at 7.45am today that my cellphone’s GPS mapping system told me where this island is. I’d thought it was somewhere near India.

Because we’re flying East, the sun has already set, because we’ve jumped two hours ahead.

The in-flight Air Mauritius mag is like on long Wikipedia entry on every conceivable feature of a paradise island. The island’s apparently about 67kms long, by about 45 wide, and is ringed by reefs, in many of which are friendly dolphins who like to go snorkeling with friendly off-duty paddlers. Can it all be true?

We’ll wait and see.

Sol Kerzner has a One & Only hotel on the island, Le St Geran. And if the One & Only in Cape Town is anything to go by, then it’ll be opulent enough to have kept even Marie Antoinette happy. Will have to sneak a visit.

In the meantime, right now, we’re hurtling down-hill into a thick bank of fog, somewhere near the Mauritian shore.

Will keep you posted …


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