Runs around the world #17

Arrowtown, New Zealand

OK, I know it’s ages since my last Runs around the world post. The last one was about Melbourne parkrun in January. I have run since then, honest. I ran loads in Australia, up until I got to Sydney. Because that’s when I broke a rib.

Which put paid to running for a bit. Because, let’s face it, when I couldn’t even walk up stairs without being in agony and struggling to breathe, there’s no way I could do any type of running/jogging/anything more than a shuffle. Such a shame when I was in Christchurch as I was staying right next to Hagley Park which is just built for runners.

But, the pain has stopped now. It’s not healed, it won’t be for quite another few weeks yet, but running is OK. the doc said so.

So, in Arrowtown in New Zealand, one chilly morning, I pulled on my runners and headed out to see how it would feel. I planned on doing just as much as I was able but being sensible about it. I thought I’d probably manage a couple of miles at the most. As it happened, I did 5km (just over 3 miles). And oh, was it wonderful. Any runners out there will know that feeling of not running for a bit. I was getting quite twitchy and a little bit grumpy. I missed it like mad. I’d been doing a bit of walking but it’s not the same, not the same at all.

So, this run was great. I went in the morning, which, in autumnal New Zealand, is a little bit chilly. I should have worn gloves. My body warmed up after I’d been running for a bit but my hands were cold; the first time in months that I’d had that. My perfect conditions for running really though, not too hot, not too cold.

My run took me through the woods down by the Arrow River, once a gold mining haven, now a quaint little town, full of preserved buildings from the 1800’s, making the main street look like something out of a wild west film. The town is surrounded by mountains, which I could see when there were breaks in the trees. The scenery is just amazing in New Zealand, and I always have to be careful when running and walking that I keep looking at where I’m going. I don’t want any more accidents now!

I missed autumn in the UK last year as I was in South East Asia, so this is my autumn now. The leaves are changing colour and falling off the trees. It’s my most favourite season, and one of my most favourite times of the year to run, so I ended up after this 5K with a big fat smile on my face.

Running makes me happy. Fact.

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Runs around the world #15

Melbourne, Australia

First things first. HELLO cooler non-humid weather! Oh, how I’ve missed you. You are wonderful. Let me give you a kiss, you are that wonderful. You’re a little bit cold, but I’m not complaining. At ALL.

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Pretty much as soon as I landed in Melbourne I was raring to go out for a run. I didn’t go the first day though. I was a bit tired from all the flights and lack of sleep, plus I needed to go and buy some new clothes seeing as though the laundry place in Sihanoukville had lost half of mine. Including a pair of my running socks. Not that I’m still a little pissed off at that, oh no.

But the next day was a different matter. I woke up all excited, desperate to get my trainers on and get out there. So I did. For over 6 and a half miles. The longest I’d run in a long time. Since Hong Kong I think, which was the beginning of September. A long time ago. Whoop!

I didn’t plan to run that far. I didn’t actually plan to run any distance, I just wanted to go out and run. So I went to the end of the road and down by the creek, and just ran and explored. That’s the best way for me to run sometimes, not knowing where I’m going. Just running to see what’s round the corner, or just turning round and trying somewhere else if you find a dead end. You see all sorts by doing this. So, I got a good bit of exploring of Ivanhoe done on that first run. 

My legs didn’t like the last couple of miles, that’s for sure. I kept it nice and slow though, and I could actually breathe for once without feeling like I was breathing through a wet towel. I was pretty surprised how green it was around here and down by the creek. Loads of trees, grass and green stuff. My first taster of realising what a green city Melbourne is. There’s trees and parks and grass everywhere. Even in the city centre, most streets are lined with trees. 

I loved this run. It was great to be back somewhere it didn’t seem odd to be running. It was great to be somewhere I could run ‘easily’. It was great to be able to run somewhere where there’s clearly loads of different places to run (that aren’t on roads). I’ve got a feeling I’m going to like Melbourne for running.

I told you I’d be back on it when I got to Australia. Yes!

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The flood.

So after missing the super typhoon in Hue, we ended up getting rained on a lot in Hoi An. You might remember because I wrote about it. What I didn’t mention in that blog post is how I wondered where all the rain would go. Because it rained all day and didn’t stop that night, at which point it had been raining A Long Time, and me and Nick did have a brief conversation about where the hell all the rain goes. Well, come the morning, we found out.

It doesn’t go anywhere.

Or, more accurately, it rains into the river, the river bursts its banks and floods parts of the town. More precisely, floods the part of the town that our hotel was in. This was the lobby of the hotel in the morning.

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And the street outside the hotel.

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And it just wouldn’t stop raining for most of the day. The water got to the top of my legs in the end, just below my bum.

 

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To get in or out of of hotel meant wading through this brown, murky flood water. It was an interesting experience – seeing dead cockroaches, rats and rubbish floating past, and seeing live rats swimming for safety. Wading through (in the hotel’s bathroom flip flops – top tip) the water, feeling stuff brushing past your legs and feet and not knowing what it is. Luckily only a couple of streets away was higher than our road and we reached dry land, cheap beer and cafes and settled in for the day to eat, have a few jars and people watch.

We bumped into a few people we’d met travelling over the last month or so and ended up having quite a jolly day. We were careful to limit the cheap beers to a fairly sensible amount though; I didn’t fancy falling over in that flood water when we had to walk back to the hotel. I was successful. Huzzah!

In a way it was quite exciting, all part of the adventure and definitely something new to experience, although at the same time one of those things you kind of hope doesn’t happen in the first place – I wouldn’t wish it to happen just so I could experience it. It was like something you see on TV, and these were people’s lives, homes and businesses that were affected. But in true South East Asian style it was all taken in their stride. No panic, no hysteria, no moaning. Just a get-on-and-deal-with-it attitude. Still smiling, still happy.

We did wonder when the hell the water would go down though, especially with it being so high. How long would we have to wade in and out of our hotel? When would the buses be running again so we could make our way to Ho Chi Minh City? Surely it would be days, if not weeks?

Not so. Amazingly, this was the view from the hotel the next morning.

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All that water. Gone. Overnight.

Flood Day:

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The next day (same spot):

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Incredible huh?

We later heard that there had been flooding over much of central Vietnam, and also landslides in which people had died. It just makes you realise how much we are at the mercy of nature, and that actually, we’re pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

We were lucky; no damage to us or our stuff. Just memories of a new experience, a different adventure and a reminder to be thankful for life, safety and health.

Runs around the world #13

Nong Khiaw, Laos

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Today’s run was in Laos, which is possibly the most laid back country I have been to. This maybe explains why I’ve been here about a week and a half now and this is my first run here. It’s a place that when you arrive, you instantly chill out. I’m not sure exactly why; I can’t quite choose one thing, or put my finger on it. It’s just one of those feelings.

I arrived in Laos by a two day slowboat trip down the Mekong River. Clearly no chance for running on those two days. I had no choice but to sit back, put my feet up and enjoy the ride. Arriving in Luang Prabang, we spent nearly a week there but I just couldn’t bring myself to be bothered to run. We walked and cycled lots, so it’s not like I wasn’t active. And I even saw other people jogging. But, I just didn’t fancy it most of the time. Only two times did I think about it; the first day I decided to go for food instead, and the other day it was heavy rain ALL day. Now I don’t mind running in the rain but this was monsoon-type downpours so there was no chance I was getting out in that. Luang Prabang was one of those places where you couldn’t walk fast; no one hurried, everything was at a leisurely pace. Everyone just loped around slowly with big fat smiles on their faces and nothing more pressing to do than wander around temples, climb Phousi Hill to see the town from up above or just saunter from restaurant to restaurant sampling all the different food. Pretty much every person that goes there that we either spoke to or read about ended up extending their stay but at least a day or so, if not longer.

Eventually, we managed to tear ourselves away from LP (as it’s affectionately known) and hopped on a very bouncy local minibus to get to a place called Nong Khiaw, about 2 1/2 hours north of Luang Prabang. It’s a small, dusty town that’s a bit off the beaten track, and is (according to my Rough Guide) smack bang in the middle of some of the most dramatic scenery in the whole of Indochina. They weren’t wrong. Every corner, everywhere you look, each side of the bridge and far into the distance there’s another stunning view. Another mountain, a river, a quaint village or a cliff face. Let’s face it, Laos is truly stunning. Every morning when I get up and look out the window I’m reminded and blown away by just how beautiful it is. So, I was determined to run here. Plus, the roads were fairly flat and the temperature is a bit cooler than the other places I’ve come to, which would be a first for months, and something I’d very much welcome.

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My first plan to run was scuppered by managing to either get a bug or food poisoning. Whichever one it was meant I felt a bit crappy for a couple of days, and although I managed to get out and about for a few walks, I had very little energy as I’d eaten no food and so [probably sensibly] decided a run wouldn’t be the best idea. So, feeling a bit better, this morning was the morning. Before I had chance to wake up properly, I jumped (not literally but I like the idea) out of bed and into my running gear (sadly not with any help from an automatic Wallace-and-Gromit style machine – although that would be good).

First thought? Oooh, it’s cool. Temperature wise. This is a big change. For all the time I’ve been travelling I’ve been running in really hot and often extremely humid temperatures. Here, it’s a bit cooler in the mornings and at night, and so this would be a different run. I maybe don’t have to say how pleased I was at this, as you might have already guessed that although I don’t like being cold, I don’t like being too hot with high humidity more. So this was like a breath of fresh air literally. Because the first thing I noticed was that my lungs hurt. You know, that kind of first-run-in-England-when-the-weather-starts-to-turn kind of cold. Hurts your lungs until to get used to it, or after you’ve run in the cold a few times. I didn’t think it was that cold (it was probably in the low 20’s) but it just shows how my body has got used to the different temperatures.

Second thought? Shit, I have no energy. I’m not really surprised, seeing as though the only things I’ve eaten in two days is an white bread egg baguette and half a can of Pepsi, which pretty much came back up a short while later.

Third thought? Get a grip, get on with it and just do a couple of miles.

So I did. And it wasn’t too bad. It was hard work, yes, my legs were weary, my lungs hurt, but I got into a rhythm, enjoyed some tunes, gazed at the mist covered mountains, chuckled to myself at the odd looks I was getting from the Lao schoolkids going to school, avoided the chickens that constantly run across the roads here, waved at the little kids peeking out the doors of the houses lining the main road and smashed a [slightly pathetic] two miles out. Only two miles, but it’s better than nothing. It was a faster two miles than I’d done in months, which hopefully proves I’m slower in the heat/humidity and not just horrifically unfit. And I can’t forget I’m still a bit ill. I know I’m not 100% yet. So I felt better for going, and am looking forward to my next run. It won’t be here in Nong Khiaw, because we’re moving on tomorrow. We’re only in Laos for a few more days, so I’m probably not going to be able to run again in this beautiful country I feel humbled to be visiting, however once is once enough to have it forever in my memory.

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City surprise.

Bangkok surprised me. I spent two weeks there in total, which is nearly two weeks more than planned. Lots of people said it’s awful, noisy, busy and advised to just get out as quick as possible. But I found I loved it. It’s not really anything like you’d imagine. Ok, maybe there are seedy parts, dirty bits. Yes, it’s noisy but it’s a city. It’s certainly better than some cities I’ve been to (Delhi?). Maybe it was the area I stayed in; a Thai residential area. But I found it energising, friendly, cosmopolitan, bustling and vibrant. It’s easy to get around and is filled with lovely happy smiley people.

My second stay was when Nick came to join me to be my travel buddy for a couple of months in SE Asia. Nick’s first time in Thailand, we spent a few days walking miles and miles (literally; I think we covered around 40 miles in 3 days) around the city, eating lots of street food, trying to interact with the locals and take pictures. I met up with Rebecca again before Nick arrived for more food and drinks and a wander round a very wet and soggy Asiatique, a waterfront full of shops, restaurants and bars.

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It was strange having someone to travel with, especially someone I know from back home, after a few months of travelling by myself. It’s different, but in a good way. Someone to share stuff with. Like the experiences and sights that are being seen, but also the responsibility and organisation. Like remembering to take a room key, or figuring out which bus to get or doing a beer run. It’s making a nice change for a small part of my adventure. To share my adventure. We did a lot that week in Bangkok, here’s just a few examples:

  •  Had a few beers. Of course, it had to be done. And of course then I had to introduce Nick to the wonders of the 7/11 post-beer munchie food. Incidentally, there are 6500 7/11’s in Thailand. They are everywhere. Literally.
  • Stayed at the wonderful U-baan hostel in the Thonburi district ran by the lovely Joy (helped by her sister Jan). It’s a great place to stay at; we felt right at home and met some, erm, interesting people. Especially three Australian lads who were on a two-month rampage through SE Asia. The things they had already got up to in the few short weeks they had been travelling can’t really be written down here. And that’s just the things they told us about. The Dark Arts, as they called them, were not allowed to be shared publicly. I dread to think. But they were very sweet and very bloody entertaining. They left after a couple of days to head to a posh hotel nearer the centre of the action…god knows what they got up to.
  • Visiting Khao San Road. The backpackers mecca, we had an idea of what it would be like but we wanted to see it for sure. And it was exactly what we thought. Full of tourists, backpackers, english and irish bars, hawkers, cheap tat and fast food places. Pretty dire, and we were quick to make an exit. Not my kind of place, not my kind of travelling.

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  • Got interviewed by some Thai school children. I was in a shopping mall and I noticed a bunch of boys, probably about 11 or 12, giggling and nudging each other while looking in my direction. Eventually they came up and asked if they could ask me a few questions. I guess they were doing some kind of school project; they asked my what my favourite Thai food was, why and had a picture taken with me. It was all a bit odd but after a few months of being in Asia having your picture taken with people is kind of normal.
  • Discovered condensed milk on toast. Well yes, I know this sounds horrific, but, if you have a sweet tooth you may just be in heaven with this new taste sensation. Thick toast, butter then drizzled condensed milk. Oh. Em. Gee. I love Bangkok food courts. Where else would have a toast stall?
  • And staying on the condensed milk theme, Nick and I found a street pancake stall. A man with a little trolly making pancakes. This is quite popular in Thailand; a pancake with banana or egg (or both), drizzled with condensed milk and sugar. My advice? Try it without banana or egg. Just a pancake, on it’s own, with condensed milk and sugar. I may have died and gone to sweet food heaven.
  • And staying on the food theme, we ate and ate and ate the most amazing food. We didn’t go into a restaurant once; we stuck to street food. There were so many options, and the food was just so bloody good. Amazing flavours, so hot and fiery cooked and served right in front of you by happy smiley people. Street food all the way.
  • Talked to a lot of local people. We talked to loads of people. Well, talked/sign languaged as much as we could. Thai people are so friendly and so happy and so smiley. It was wonderful. I watched Nick make a paper aeroplane for a small Thai lad, we joked with people cooking our food and chatted with the people at the market.
  • Browsed the local markets. These are great places to go. All the foods, the smells, the sounds, the people. Makes all your senses come alive. Living, not existing.

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  • Took a sky train tour. One day we bought an all-day sky train ticket and just rode the train. When we got to a stop that looked interesting we just got out and walked around. I’d say with this and the walking we’d already done in the non-sky train areas we pretty much covered the whole of Bangkok. All the different places have a different feel; which we could really tell walking through them all.
  • Got grossed out at the Museum of Forensic Medicine. This was pretty gruesome but fascinating. Lots of exhibits and pictures of things showing what happens to the body after car accidents, murders, birth defects etc. A bit macabre but in an educational way. Apart from that all the writing is in Thai so we just had to guess sometimes.
  • Climbed a temple. We had to go to at least one temple so I chose Wat Arun. It’s a beautiful temple, you can climb to the top up really steep steps to get a great view over the river and Bangkok city. It looks like it’s made out of grey stone but it’s not until you get close up that you realise it’s covered in Bangkok grime and actually the stones are white and coloured.

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It’s amazing how we felt at home in Bangkok. It’s not because it’s a big city, because it’s not particularly westernised, although there are some areas where it obviously has parallels and home comforts. We tried to decide why, but couldn’t. I think there are too many reasons. Nick absolutely loved it, and will be coming back at the end of his trip. How long for, he’s not sure yet. But I suspect it has stolen a little bit of his heart.

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Kids of Zambia.

Today it feels wrong to say it’s been a good day, but it has been a day of mixed feelings. Unfortunately I received some sad news first thing, and, although it was something I was expecting at some point, it’s still a shock and this morning left me feeling far away from home and unable to give support to those who need it most right now. You know I’m thinking of you all though, so much love sent and please take care of yourselves and look after each other to get through this difficult time.

Today was my first day of teaching. Actual teaching of children in a school. Teaching English, Maths and Literacy. Me. Someone who’s not a teacher, hasn’t got any teaching quals and who hasn’t done anything like this before (OK, so I’ve done loads of training and presentations but that’s at work and I’m not sure training someone how to make a posting on Origin or talking about a project I’ve managed is quite in the same league). I’ve had to think about how to explain the stuff that I learnt years ago, already know and just take for granted. Anyone want to explain long division or multiplying fractions? Or sentence construction? To kids? Who speak a different language? You can perhaps see why I was bricking it this morning.

My brother said to just take it in my stride. I just decided to take the same approach I always have when doing stuff like this. Like presentations, training, speeches or interviews. Prepare as much as I can and then just blag it. Sometimes it comes off, sometimes it doesn’t. Most of the time it does. And most of the time no one else will realise you’re blagging it anyway.

And you know what? It was great fun. Yep, definitely daunting. And nerve wracking. But, I think I got the hang of it. And now I’ve done it once I can do it again. And it will be easier next time, and the time after that. I know [roughly] what I’m doing now. I’m getting an idea of the levels of the kids and what and how much they need to be taught.

I have Grade 5, which isn’t really a set age as such, more that they are grouped by ability as the Zambian school system isn’t compulsory and consists of 7 years of primary schooling (with an official entry age of 7) and 5 years of secondary schooling. My class are a great bunch of kids, so happy and keen to learn. They were fascinated by my iPhone and taking pictures, or having pictures taken of them. I let them loose with it and they took hundreds of photos on my phone, posing with each other and then all gathering round squealing at the finished picture. It was so funny to watch. I taught them a few poses 😉

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Getting there is a bit of a challenge too. It’s the most rural school we go to. Right in the middle of the bush. The [mud] houses are all over the place and so many kids have miles to walk to get there. And if they’re late they have to sweep the yard, or do other chores before school starts. Although I’m not quite sure I get this as that makes classes start later anyway. But, although they have a syllabus and lesson plans, it’s still very flexible and they don’t seem to be stuck to as rigidly as you’d find in England so I guess it all goes hand-in-hand. This morning we got driven in one of the pickups. The double cab one. Which, on the face of it, seemed a great bet; it’s chilly here in the morning so whizzing along in the back of a pick up or in the safari truck would have been cold, cold, cold. However, it was a journey that reminded me of playing Daytona rally with my brother in the arcades when I was little. High trees either side of a single sandy track – hard right, hard left – with the morning sun just glistening through the trees. Bloody hell, you don’t half get shaken about though, uneven ground and tight corners. As I got out of the truck at the end I felt like my back surely must be broken. I am pleased to report it wasn’t. Oh, and there’s also a bit of the road where you have to drive through the river to carry on.

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Only in Africa.

Oh, and one last thing about today? Dad, you’ll never guess what we got given for lunch. Frankfurter sausages and salad. How I chuckled. No mini eclairs in sight though 😛

Runs around the world #3

Lincoln, Lincolnshire, UK

OK, so, again it’s still in England. And it’s a run that I’ve kind of done before. The Marine pointed out when we were in London that I shouldn’t include runs I’ve done before because I said I wasn’t going to, but I’ve decided to include this one because, well, I want to. It was a Glorious Run and deserves the write up, and I did run a bit that I hadn’t before.

Today’s run was 11 miles in total. Out from Lincoln along the River Witham to Five Mile Bridge and back again, with an extra bit stuck on at the end through and up the High Street. So quite a long run. I haven’t been for a weekend (yeah OK, I know it’s Friday but no work so feels like a weekend) morning run for what feels like AGES so I was well looking forward to this one. And it didn’t disappoint. Firstly, the SUN shone for a large majority of the time. This is Unusual. It was glorious to see the big yellow thing in the sky. It was so lovely and slightly warm that I took my long sleeved top off and ran most of the way in a T-SHIRT. Yes, that’s right people, A T-SHIRT. Such an amazing feeling.

It was the first run in a while where I wasn’t thinking “bloody hell it’s cold, can’t wait to get back”. I had my headphones in, running along in the sun. I enjoyed it. Running for the pure fun of it and enjoying every second, not once thinking about being pleased to stop or get back inside in the warm. Haven’t done that in a while.

I smiled, waved or chatted at people as I passed them. There were quite a few people out and about down the river path. Most people acknowledged me, apart from one runner and an older gent. Both occupied in their own worlds and thoughts. I got a runners wave from another runner. I contemplated making up a runners salute back but the moment had passed.

I had no idea what was down the river path. I still don’t know how far it goes. I know it at least goes to Bardney because there was a sign at Five Mile Bridge (funnily enough at 5 miles from Lincoln). From here it’s another 5 miles to Bardney. Which means it’s another 7 miles from that bridge to my parents house (although those last two miles won’t be along the river). So just over 12 miles from Lincoln to my folks house down that path. Really not that far. So in a few weeks I’m going to run to their house one day. Doubtful I’ll run back but that’s what my dad’s truck or my mum’s car is for.

All along the path are signs about the river and it’s uses in days gone by, benches to sit on and some arty sculpture things. There are two metal cows about 4 miles in. They’re quite pretty so I stopped to take a picture. I wonder how many people from Lincoln will ever know they are there, or, ever see them. I guess 4 miles is quite a way to walk, and there’s probably a lot of people that don’t even know that path exists. And of course, a huge majority that wouldn’t want to or couldn’t care less.

One of the things I love about Lincoln is that from pretty much anywhere in town, within just a few minutes you’re out in the countryside, with lots of green stuff to look at. Great balance.

Only one thing: I need new runners. These ones are battered, have ran too many miles and have no support. They are, to be frank, buggered. A job for this weekend I think.

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