Tuesday, 29 April 2014

'Early Morning Run In... From The Past... Bogota (part 1)

First light: 0604 hrs
Time start: 0600 hrs
Time finish: in Part 2
Weather: 12C
Altitude 8,300 ft

Something quite different today. The runs have been mostly from Africa to-date. Life in the army, and having worked for an international oil company, have taken me around the world. Those who've followed the blog from the beginning know the idea was first hatched in Monrovia. January this year. Future posts will continue to focus primarily on Africa. Senegal next. I also plan to intersperse the odd run from the past. Today, or should it be yesterday, is Colombia. Vamos.

The last visit to Bogota was my 15th. Final one before beginning work in Sierra Leone Oct 2011. I was a frequent visitor to Colombia between 2007 & 2011. Of all countries worked in, I'm often asked my favourite. A few contenders; Sierra Leone is close to my heart, same for Kenya, Nigeria is pretty special, Vietnam is a wonderful country, but there can only be one favourite. It's Colombia. This post in 2 parts...plenty to get through...

Tomorrow return to Freetown after a break in UK for Easter. Two weeks in the Lake District. In the words of a well known local poet, 'wandering lonely as a cloud'. Great to see close family, relatives, and many nieces and nephews. I embrace the challenge to insert 3 of their random words.

Before the run, let me take this opportunity to wish Sierra Leone happy birthday. 53 years old yesterday. Divas, look busy I'm on my way back. Forget about Black Mamba's. That was the old house.

Bogota. This run was my standard early morning workout. Can still visualise like yesterday. Start point outside the JW Marriott. Calle 73. Weather (the Hemingway thing). Cool. It's always cool. Temperate all year round. High 60s. Never changes. Ideal for running. Well, apart from altitude over 8,000 ft. Steady start required. Move downhill to warm-up. Mountains behind me. Head towards the Zona Rosa. A classic box run. Just keep turing right. Memories in some of these restaurants. Happy days. 'Cigar Bar'. Special memories. At some point turn uphill. Mountains now in front. A little more about the host city perhaps?

Bogota sits on a mountain plateau in the centre of the country, eastern part of the Andes mountains. The city is breathless in more ways than one. Many countries have a certain reputation. Difficult to shake off. Sierra Leone has one. Colombia has one. Ask people 2 words to describe Colombia. They usually reply...drugs. They say...kidnapping. Throughout the 80s & 90s and into the early millennium Colombia was top of the charts for both. Today only number 10 for kidnapping. Furthermore, Peru (land of the alpacas) has number one spot for cocaine production. However, Colombia still remains a healthy number two on the drugs front.

Is Colombia really dangerous today? Is Bogota safe? First of all there's two Colombia's. Most foreign workers, tourists and short term visitors only ever see one. This one includes nearly all the main cities and a huge swathe of the country. The other is to the south and east. Towards the borders with Venezuela and Ecuador. This one isn't under control of the government and remains challenging from a security perspective. The main rebel group, FARC, know a thing or two about asymmetric warfare, having waged war on the government since 1964. Bogota is largely safe by South American standards, but like most capital cities edgy in parts. Further one ventures from the centre the edgier it becomes. It's not Butlins. Theft, sometimes violent, is the biggest problem. Distraction techniques are second to none. Funny story coming up later...

Bogota is not a particularly beautiful city. Some detractors harshly call it a high-altitude polluted city-in-a-bowl. However, and as the guide books point out, it's the fourth largest city in South America, and home to seven million. It has amazing restaurants (particularly Usaquen), a nightlife second to none (Zona Rosa), world-class museums and a vibrant colonial quarter. It's exciting. It's thrilling. It's alive. People really know how to embrace life and enjoy themselves. I haven't even mentioned some of the most beautiful ladies on the planet, or salsa yet. Part 2...

Any run in Bogota you're always struggling for breath. It's an uphill drag up to Carrera Siete. Thin air. Better after a week or so. Make it up, very slow. Club El Nogal in front of me. Used to stay there 2007. More memories. Turn right...ah, the famous junction ahead. Close to the office I worked at. JA, get your face paint on...

At many junctions there's entertainers. Juggling. Mime. Comedy. Dancing. Musicians. They time their acts to the lights. One such junction is off Carrera Siete. A funny story involving my old shipmate JA. He was waiting at these same lights on a Sunday morning. Beside him his expensive Trek mountain bike. He had ridden in the Ciclovia. 75 miles of the city is closed off every Sunday to traffic for about 7 hours. People cycle, run, skate around the streets. Some estimates say about 2 million people participate. The people have taken their city back. It's about families. Numerous cities around the world have copied it. Many more should. It began in the late 70s.

Anyway. There's my old shipmate JA. He talks to a couple of hombres at the lights. They admire his bike. JA speaks good Spanish. JA is a gringo. JA has ginger hair. Sometimes described as Autumn Sunset. Conversation is struck up. One hombre says he's a trick cyclist. Asks to show JA what he can do. JA passes him the Trek. The trick cyclist is good. Up on one wheel. Then the other. Headstands on the saddle. He is good. Really good. Amazing tricks. For his final trick, when the other fellow distracts Ginge, is to whiz down the street with the aforementioned Trek bicycle. JA, slightly miffed, gives chase. In vain of course. Runs back to the scene of the laugh. I mean crime. Hombre number two has disappeared. I'm now officially dropping lawyer jokes and inserting Johnny Admin stories instead. There's so many... and far more entertaining.

In fact, a LinkedIn notification has appeared at the top of my screen. 'Does Johnny Admin know anything about security?' Very timely. Where's the NO button on these alerts?

Back to the run. Trying to recover past comedy junction for the big push back to the hotel. I'll have to finish the run in Part 2 of this post.

Another 1,000 words will make this too long. Part 2, I'll revisit risk, talk more about dusky senoritas, take you to the other Colombia, also a meal at my favourite restaurant - Andres Carnes de Res, there's more from JA, and other stuff...

As they say, where there's a will... I want to be in it. Nieces 0 - Uncle M 3...

P.S. Happy Birthday WW. Hey, Escargot, I need you extremely fit for this altitude...


Saturday, 5 April 2014

'Early Morning Run in...Lumley Beach, Freetown'

Last light: 1902 hrs
Time start: 1630 hrs
Time finish: 1710 hrs
Weather: 29C
Circumstances: Saturday, late afternoon beach run

Something different today. Not many capitals have a beach. Freetown has. Lumley Beach. Comes to life late afternoon, early evening.

Start point opposite Family Kingdom Hotel. Aberdeen end of Lumley. Atlantic Ocean on my right. Running towards the mountains. Heading south on firm sand. Low tide. Great expanse of beach to run on. Head into a slight breeze, should be faster coming back.

Nearly had a guest runner this afternoon. Young glamorous Sierra Leonean lawyer. Ayo. She'll be a future guest. Hoping for today. Wanted to use the line, 'Ayo, Ayo, off to the beach we go.....'. I'll save for when she guests.

'O's. Glance across the estuary to the other side of peninsular. Lungi. Funny times there late 2012. Hotel was badly managed by a lunatic Portuguese fellow. Basil Fawlty from Lisbon. Emotional. Temperamental. Theatrical. Chain smoking. Expresso drinking. Funny. I give you, Riccardo.

He absconded Freetown early 2013 taking the family silver. Left behind massive debt. Loans taken from local banks, fraudulently using the hotel as security. He invested mainly in poultry. His businesses did extremely well. Disappeared to Brazil for an operation. Never came back. Despite the alleged embezzlement, a character.

I booked 25 rooms for 3 months. Hotel was a dump. Only option. BMI (old British Midland) had 6 permanent rooms for aircrew. British Airways bought BMI end 2012. Great news. We now had BA to London. However, can you imagine BA middle aged divas, some of whom flew with the Wright Brothers, staying at Riccardo's? Nor me. Apparently they took one look, that was that. No aircrew in Freetown. BA currently overnight in Monrovia. Need to toughen up.

Busy this afternoon. Football matches all along the beach. Plenty of joggers and walkers. Quick stretch at the wall. Smell of urine is strong. No public toilets in Freetown. People, mostly men, go where and when they want. Certainly not shy about getting their choppers out. Rubbish everywhere. Pity. This could be a beautiful beach. It is a beautiful beach. Just needs cleaning. No rubbish bins. There's needles, medical waste, all sorts. Can't pretend it's not there.

Not a patch on beaches along the peninsular - see Post 3. It's an urban beach. In Freetown we all love this beach. Part of the heartbeat. Has everything. People watching. Running. Festivals. Football. Night life. Fishing. Parties. Weddings. Beach bars.

This post will be written, aided by a few sundowners, in one of the bars. In fact, there's my writing spot. Bistro Bar. Along from Bistro, comes O Bar. Probably Freetown's number 1 beach bar.

Enjoying this run. Running right at the oceans edge. Only place I listen to music. Too risky in the urban sprawl. There you need every sense you have, plus additional ones. Here I relax. The beach playlist? Starts with 2 live Sam Cooke songs to warm up. I'm sweating lightly. 10 mins in. Run past Roy's, one of the most popular bars.

It's a crescent shaped beach. A rocky outcrop each end completes the effect. Probably 4 kms long. It's out and back today. Shirt off, capture those rays. UK for Easter. Soon be mixing with Whitey's from Blighty. Elvis Presley, 'Suspicious Minds'...pick up the pace...

Still chuckling about Riccardo. He's probably smiling on a beach somewhere in Brazil with expresso and a cigarette. I recall the bizarre conversations.

"Hey Marco, no problemo. I deal only with you & Bernardo."

"Thanks Riccardo."

"An expresso?" "This machine from Portugal, good expresso."

"Thanks Riccardo."

"Hey Marco, in dise hotel, my golden rule, then no problemo?"

Waited with baited breath. What could it possibly be in this fleapito.

"Marco, only one rule. No prostitutes. Privado."

"Hey Marco, another expresso?"


By the way, my name is Mark. Oh, and that's a whole lot of 'O's. Ayo, you should've come today. In fact, more 'O's than the average conversation in Calgary.

Swerve up the beach around the fishermen. 10 guys either side of the nets hauling in. Forming a large U shape. There's rhythm to their work. The fellow at the front sounds the beat to match the tide. Second catch of the day. Young boy at the end of the chain neatly coils the rope. I pause... take a couple of photos. Higher up the beach, near the road, is a local fish market. Exclusively women and children. Preparing for the catch to come in. There is a strong smell of fish. Better than urine.

Away from Aberdeen the beach is looking better. Palm trees on my left. Less rubbish. Actually looking cleaner. I run this beach a lot, normally at first light. Today I'm noticing more. Have a blog to write.

More beach bars. Some look good. Some don't. Past 'King David'. Past 'Q Bar'. Even with the camber I can still see over the road. Hotels. Most I wouldn't put my Mother-in-Law in. Hang on, hasty, let me think about that...

Arrive turnaround point. Atlantic Bar. A long established beach watering hole. Move up to the soft sand under the palm trees, head back north. A wonderful view up the mountains. Across the road Freetown Golf Club. I don't play golf. Don't know much about golf. Despite this I'm family champion at the Keswick crazy golf course. Absolutely wiped the floor with my daughter last time out. She struggled with the big clubs. What can you do when you're 7?

Run back down to waters edge. Wedding party ahead. The Bride looks resplendent in white. Bridesmaids in purple. Family group of about 40 posing for photos. Some are taking donkey rides. Some struggling with the sand in high heels. Women love heels in SL, especially my divas, sand won't hinder them. This young wedding party warms the heart.

I've talked of smells. Sounds are distinct too. Every bar has speakers the size of my divas handbags. Although I'm on track 6, Bruce Springsteen (Born to Run) the steady Afro beat overpowers my headphones. Forget them. Lets run to the beat. Urban beach, it's naturally noisy.

Sun is getting lower. On the horizon ships at anchor waiting for iron ore from upcountry. China bound. Mining revenues provide about 12.5% to GDP. Projected 20% by 2020. Huge impact on this poor country.

My finish point ahead. Hope you've enjoyed this run. Time to warm down. Head phones back in. Ah, there it is. Mr Phil. 'Another Day In Paradise'. Certainly was. Sundowner time...

Before I go...

The mandatory lawyer joke. From 'Disorder in the American Courts', things people actually said in court, word for word, taken down and now published by court reporters. My thanks to Agnatha.

ATTORNEY: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?
ATTORNEY: Did you check for blood pressure?
ATTORNEY: Did you check for breathing?
ATTORNEY: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?
ATTORNEY: How can you be so sure, Doctor?
WITNESS: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
ATTORNEY: I see, but could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?
WITNESS: Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law.

P.S. I've received emails concerning Escargot. He struggled on the run in Sean Conakry. He's fine now. Currently on a much needed fitness drive in Freetown.

P.P.S. BA - you're the best airline in the world. Want to upgrade me next Sunday? I'm ready, willing, and able.