A Hard Start on Madagascar’s Mangoky River

Oscar Scafidi and Ben Ziehm Stephen’s quest to kayak the Mangoky, Madagascar’s longest river, is well underway. The start has been anything but easy.

In early May, Scafidi and Stephen set off from the small central city of Fianarantsoa with a combined 80kg of weight. Half of this was their meaty Klepper sea kayak. But before they could unburden themselves of the kayak and start paddling, they would need to find the source of the Matsiatra.

Sources

There had been some discussion about which Mangoky tributary represented the “true” source of the river: the Matsiatra or the Mananantanana. Ultimately, they decided on the Matsiatra, which feeds a greater volume of water into the Mangoky (though the source of the Mananantanana is slightly further from the river’s mouth).

From Fianarantsoa, they trekked into the forest towards the Matsiatra’s source but found it extremely slow going.

“This was very difficult. We got down to 600m per hour before we got to our starting point,” Scafidi explained when they happened across a spot of 3G reception last week.

Stephen (left) and Scafidi take a lunch break a few days north from the source. A curious crowd had gathered to check them out. Photo: Oscar Scafidi

Walking a sea kayak

From their start point, they mostly hiked, with a bit of paddling, back out to Fianarantsoa. Here, they began to portage toward the town of Ikalamavony, further up the Matsiatra River.

Scafidi and Stephen had to portage west past the middle of Matsiatra because the rapids looked impassable in their Klepper kayak. However, this trek was also slow, heavy going. Eventually, they decided to change their plans and hop over to the other major tributary, the Mananantanana. Here, they could at least paddle for a few days and make speedier progress west toward the Mangoky.

Scafidi and Stephen have jumped from one Magoky tributary to another, but rapids have made for slow progress on both.

 

Still, it will be far from smooth sailing the rest of the way. On May 17, Scafidi reported that they would soon need to diverge for another trek. Rapids were once again the issue. They must make a three-day portage through the mountains to reach the confluence of the Mananantanana and the Mangoky. From here, the journey should get easier, with more paddling and less schlepping overland.

Martin Walsh is a writer and editor for ExplorersWeb.

Martin has been writing about adventure travel and exploration for over five years.

Martin spent most of the last 15 years backpacking the world on a shoestring budget. Whether it was hitchhiking through Syria, getting strangled in Kyrgyzstan, touring Cambodia’s medical facilities with an exceedingly painful giant venomous centipede bite, chewing khat in Ethiopia, or narrowly avoiding various toilet-related accidents in rural China, so far, Martin has just about survived his decision making.

Based in Da Lat, Vietnam, Martin can be found out in the jungle trying to avoid leeches while chasing monkeys.

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West Hansen
1 month ago

It’s always an eyebrow-raiser when someone uses a subjective word like “true” to describe a geographic feature, such as a source of a river, or when they make up a definition that only fits that river and no other river on the planet. If the team pays more money to Guinness, will they be allowed to switch back and forth from one river to another and still claim an actual descent? How many miles will they be allowed to walk alongside or skip sections and still claim an actual descent? Stay tuned…

B.G
B.G
1 month ago

I’m wondering why they didn’t choose packrafts. Far easier and lighter than that folboat thing.

West Hansen
1 month ago
Reply to  B.G

Packrafts are great for expeditions that are primarily hiking; but this was supposed to be descent, so mostly on the water. I’m wondering why they didn’t choose some hard plastic expedition white water boats or even a regular white water raft.

B.G
B.G
1 month ago
Reply to  West Hansen

Eh? I’ve done thousands of kilometers of river in a loaded packraft on expedition as have many people. They handle fastwater better than any semirigid will. Granted a semi can do big miles of flatwater faster but for source to sea stuff they are much better for exactly what these guys are doing.
A regular raft weighs more and packs much larger than even the thing they are using, last thing you’d want.

West Hansen
1 month ago
Reply to  B.G

Well, okay then. I’ll stick with my tupperware or hard shells for similar expeditions. Glad we have the options.

Alexander Kiefer
Alexander Kiefer
1 month ago

Madagascar is such a unique place in more ways than one.
Settled first in ~1000AD by no other than the greatest explorers of all time, the Austronesians (see Merina and Vazimba) all the way from South East Asia by sea, speaking the Maanyan language of Borneo….