Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wild and Foolish

Some stories are just impossible to invent. The truth can be more incredible than be the most fantastic fiction. And more horrifying than a horror movie. 

I went on a white water rafting trip last weekend. It was an organized tour that started in Ampefy, about 2 hours west from Tana, where the riverLily. Soleine was staying with a friend, and Michel was visiting a national park for his work. For many years I believe the term was ‘wild water rafting’, until I did it for the first time on the Zambezi in Zimbabwe. It’s called ‘white’ because there is so much water in the river that it turns white. I could have been called ‘wild’ too, for that matter.

Anyhow we start the trip after a security briefing where we are told how to paddle, and what ‘position securité’ is – all sit on the bottom of the raft with the paddle in the air. Off we go. The first rapid is actually quite a rough one, and we’re all pretty surprised by how ‘white’ (or wild) this rafting trip is. We are accompanied by a young French guy with dreadlocks in his kayak. He seems very able to steer his little plastic boat through the wildest waves. Our guide keeps yelling instructions to us : ‘right forward, left backward, stop, right frorward only’, etc and we happily bobbing on the river.  But suddenly we seem to be stuck in something like a hole, in the river. I still don’t know what it was, how can there be a hole in the water, but that’s how it felt. The raft tilts, and all six of us plus the guide are forced to lean off to one side, because the violent water seems to want to push us over. We’re hanging there, trying to balance the boat, not knowing whether it might flip forward or backward.

Meanwhile the guide keeps shouting: ‘pagai, pagai’, which means paddle, he wants us to stick the paddle straight in front of us in the water, but it’s impossible to do so with one hand, I need the other hand to hold on to the rope.  At last, one of the guys in our raft shouts that we should let go of the boat and save ourselves. I leave the paddle and am in the rough water for minutes. The water is not very deep, but there are big rocks, made out of volcanic stone that hurts like hell. I try to stay calm, but I go under water over and over, barely time to gasp some air before the next wave takes me further. I tumble along the river, lose my shoes, swallow liters of water, try to call for help but there’s nobody around. Suddenly I find myself in a quieter part of the river, and the safety kayak is there. I hang on to it and he helps me across the shore.

Still shaken we arrive at the Lily Waterfalls. Wow, quite impressive. Not like Victoria falls but certainly impressive. We’re just admiring the view and the steam that comes of the falls, until we hear that the two young French kayakers are going to descend the falls in their kayak. What? It seems like a foolish plan. We hardly dare to watch this scene, but they’re is doing it. At the same time, a young Swiss man named Luca from our raft has decided to jump off the falls. He’s all psyched up as he waits for the kayak to arrive,  in his safety vest and helmet. He makes it. He climbs back up, and I talk to him, curious to know how he feels.

He’s is still trembling from the first jump. I can almost see his heart beat. I walk away from the scene, already deciding that we're no longer continuing with this rafting company. Enough dare-deviling. Then suddenly, before anyone realizes, the young Swiss decides to jump again! This time without safety vest and helmet! As he reappears from the waves he’s on his belly. The kayak guys who are still near the water are going in, trying to save him. To no avail. O My God. The body is washed away by the wild river. From above the falls, the other rafters are screaming. Groups of village people are crowding together in disbelieve. What happened? I will never know.

May he rest in peace.

Les chutes de Lily minutes before the fatal jump

Oh and my advice: don’t go rafting in Madagascar.


  1. OMG!!!How traumatizing! That's enough to make you not want to go on any other adventures for quite some time.

  2. Wow... Sorry to hear about the traumatic story... I agree, I don't think I'd go white water rafting in Madagascar...

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  4. WOW! I am so glad you are ok. That death whirlpool happened to us once to, where the boat gets sucked under on one side. It is scary as hell, Hannah was on board too and I was so conflicted between just caring for her or trying to ‘not’ flip the boat! Thankfully, we did both and everyone was fine but it is the result of a shitty guide in most cases. What an adventure!!

    Glad you are safe!

  5. As mother from this young swiss guy I can tell you: Luca, so it’s his name, wouldn't certainly not impress someone. And he didn't think, that he was invincible. He was a very good surfer and a very good snowboarder, he knew very well the strenght of the nature. He was a young men of ideals, with a budding future, with a girl friend and a family, who loved and love him and who are sad and despaired. He worked for a better world, spent the last two years in a project of a non-profit organization in south america – if you are intersted to know some thing of this guy, you could find some tracks on Luca had friends all over the world, one of them sent me the link to your blog. In fact, we don’t know, what he was thinking, why he did jump again – maybe just nothing. But: Your description of this (for us) terrible accident and your questions are not very sensitive - I don't know, if you can imagine, what's going on in us, reading in the world wide web this kind of narration of the dead from our child, brother and boy friend. I would tell you: It hurts!

  6. Dear Luca's mother.
    First of all my sincere condolences with the loss of your son. I can not even imagine the hurt you must feel from that, and I certainly did not mean to add on to your pain. It is true that I did not know Luca, and I am glad to know a little more about him now. I regret that my questions about the accident seem insensitive, I can imagine, but those are the questions that have haunted me for weeks. Why, why, why?

    I was among the last persons to speak to him. I asked him why he had jumped the first time and how he felt. He replied it felt food, and that the most difficult thing was that he had to wait for the kayak to descend at the same time as he jumped. When he came back up he was still visibly shaking, and no one -not even him I believe - expected that he'd jump again. I think it was a spur of the moment decision, like we all sometimes take decision based on impulses.

    Anyway, if you'd prefer I'd change my blog post I will do so, out of respect. My point was to let people know that rafting in Madagascar, on that river, at that time of the year, is really irresponsible, and should be forbidden.

    I wish you strength and courage, like Luca had from your description.


  7. Dear Susanne

    thank you for your answer - I can feel how you were very touched by this accident. It happend 8 weeks ago. For me it's like it was yesterday, when the police came sunday evening in my house to bring me this horrible news. They found Luca on Monday, about 15 km down the river. We went to Madagascar,to see where he was living his last three weeks, we also went to the chute de Lilly and with the people from the village, we planted a three near by the waterfall. And now we are trying to live withoit Luca, which is for us, his girlfriend, his parents, his brother and his sister very hard. Luca had done his studies in political science and his decision was, to work for developing nations. Thats why he was in Madagascar, where he worked for a microcredit organisation. He was really and his decisa very special young man, very friendly and very thoughtful. If you would know a bit more from him, his facebook side is still open, we will close it later:
    If you don't mind, I would be glad, if you would change a bit your text, if you could gave him his name and maybe leave the questions? That would be nice.
    I saw your blog about alex and his children - is good to know, because I will return to Madagaskar maybe next year and bringsome needs and some monney. I wish you the best, Lucie

  8. Dear Lucie

    Thank you for your kind reaction.

    I would be happy to meet with you should you come back to Madagascar next year. I could take you to see Alex and his center. Should you need anything else from Madagascar that I can help you, with do not hesitate to ask.

    Let us keep in touch, you can also reach me on my personal email address

    Wishing you and your family courage and strength.