Saturday, 24 May 2014

'Early Morning Run in... Bogota (part 2)'

First light: 0604 hrs
Time start: 0600 hrs
Time finish: 0642
Weather: 12C
Altitude 8,300 ft

Don't mean this to become a soap. But, this post follows the cliffhanger in Part 1, posted 29th April (Post 10). We've had the Makeni run since (Post 11). Cliffhanger? Admittedly, not in the same league as the 'Italian Job'. Remember the bus full of gold bullion see-sawing over a sheer alpine drop. Michael Caine calmly, "Hang on a minute lads, I've got a great idea."

Well. No, not exactly in that league. We had Johnny Admin having his expensive pushbike stolen by a couple of street performing hombres. JA has since reminded me the hombre rode off with his expensive aerodynamic helmet as well. HSE conscious bandido. I always tell the kids to wear their helmets. Learn from Uncle Admin...

Before this early morning run finishes back at the hotel, let's return to risk from Part 1. Middle aged managers working in the extractive sector read on with caution. Wives (and Frankie Valli), look away now. Especially if your next posting is South America.

The greatest danger to expatriates in Bogota? Themselves. Lifestyle choices. The main risk? The ladies of Colombia. Some of the most beautiful women in the world. It begins when the oil worker, quite often in a management position, is posted to Bogota. There's a good chance he'll be divorced and married to a dusky Señorita half his age within 27 months. Some may be thinking where do I sign up?

He's typically mid to late forties. Married to his Anglo Saxon wife around the same age. They've been married a while. He's about to have a mid-life crisis. She's 20 pounds over her best fighting weight and neurotic. That's the start. The finish? They no longer understand each other. She's returns home. He meets a special friend. She's early to mid twenties. Did I mention dusky. The punchline. He's walking down the aisle within 27 months of arrival. He's now drinking mojito's and off dancing salsa every night. Life is wonderful. They live happily ever after. Of course they do. 27 months. In the oil & gas league table of marriage disasters, only beaten by Kazakstan. 24 months. I'm often asked which country is bottom. Papua New Guinea. No question. 293 months.

I mentioned two different Colombia's in Part 1. Let's visit the other one. During my second last trip, before moving to Sierra Leone in 2011, there was a visit to the Department of Vicada. A straightforward itinerary. Overfly new drilling locations. Meet the military. Visit a seismic camp.

We taxied to a halt on a dusty bush airstrip. A hot steamy day as we walked to the distinctive seismic orange tents. First, the mandatory safety brief followed by a camp orientation. The HSE fellow was covering actions to take should we hear shooting. Right on cue...shooting. Impressive. Realistic. Sound affects. In my experience most HSE Managers couldn't manage a spice rack. This guy was good.

However, when the Security Manager calmly said 'get down', followed by a Colombian Army officer running in a little too excitedly...well, this was no drill.

Now laying on the floor with about a dozen others listening to gunfire. Initially it sounded distant. There was a substantial earth berm around the tents. We also had a platoon of the Colombian military in close proximity. However, with the exception of the Colombian Security Manager and myself, the remainder were oil workers probably experiencing this thrill for the first time. I remember being laid next to a rather rotund driller, someone who looked like they'd swallowed a bouncy castle. Like being back in the military and this fellow had replaced sandbags.

Quickly the Colombian army got to grips with the situation and began to win the firefight. This went on for 20 mins, often dying down then starting up again. Whereas the dusky señorita skit is tongue in cheek, there remains a real danger in the 'other' Colombia.

That's enough of the 'other' Colombia. Let's get back to the vibrant half. Beautiful. Sophisticated. Spellbinding. Safe. Edgy. Alive. Exhilarating. Johnny Admin stories. Intoxicating. There's one venue that truly encapsulates it all.

Andrés Carne de Res in Chía. An hour outside of Bogota. Google it, go on Trip Advisor. Listed in the top 3 places to visit in Bogota. Nothing prepares you. A restaurant in name only. Over 2,000 people sit down to dinner every night. It's theatre. It's chaos. A spectacle of art. It's mayhem. It's salsa. It's eccentricity. It's confusing (mime artists, actors, trapeze, someone on a trumpet, a brass band, a trick cyclist on a Trek bike). Oh, and they serve excellent food. Argentinian beef, Chilean white wine. Leave your Anglo Saxon reserve at home. You'll be dancing on the tables, whether you want to or not. This isn't a wedding in the Thames Valley, where any reserve is dropped 30 mins before the end, as the Hokey Cokey starts up. A wonderful experience. Go if you ever get the chance.

Ah, there's the hotel coming into sight. A good run. A trip down memory lane. That's Colombia done over 2 posts. When we next go back in time, it's probably to Peru.

However, the next post will be back to Africa and business as usual. 'An Early Morning Run In...Dakar'. A 75 mins flight to Senegal this week, accompanied by Escargot...

Oh, and @roadrunnertns is now on social media. If you receive this Blog forwarded, or stumble across it - then please follow on Twitter. Included will be all new posts, updates, and photos. See you in Senegal...

Saturday, 10 May 2014

'Early Morning Run in... Makeni, Sierra Leone'

Makeni, Sierra Leone

First light: 0650 hrs
Time start: 0635 hrs
Time finish: 0717 hrs
Weather: 25C
Humidity: 95%
Circumstances: Tuesday morning in the Northern Provinces

This was meant to be Colombia Part 2 - will be next up. Instead...

... a guest runner this morning. Not any old guest runner. An ex Royal Marine. 34 years service. Falklands vet. MBE. His call sign? Pivot 16-64. Pivot? Long story. 1664? Two things happened during this momentous year. Of significance, the Kronenbourg Brewery was founded in 1664 by Geronimus Hat in Strasbourg. Oh, and the Royal Marines modest history can be traced back to the same year. You'd probably like to hear more about Geronimus?

In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States, in 1945, who said, "Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen." Pivot 16-64, I welcome you.

Today we're in Makeni. Fourth largest town in Sierra Leone. Largest town and economic centre of the Northern Province. The President is from Makeni. My first time here. We're 140 kms east of Freetown.

The Wusum Hotel. Our base. 0615 hrs. Already hot. Humidity right up there. A beautiful morning for a run in Africa. Pivot 1664 joins me. Hmmm, looks like he's carrying a bit of timber. This should be comfortable. Head away from the What's-up Hotel as I've taken to calling it. Teko Road heading north. This is a fast pace. Won't last. Will it? Come back Escargot - Post 7...

Roads in Makeni are in excellent shape. A prosperous town by Sierra Leone standards. Prosperous is relative, but this town is moving in the right direction. As well as roads, there's electricity pylons and radio masts. Lots of people on the move. The difference, they are moving with purpose. There are a number of huge mining operations nearby. Addax (bio fuels) alone employs nearly 3,000 people. The mining sector is helping drive the economic recovery of this poor West African country. Communities close to projects should become relative boom areas. Employment and services must go into local communities. The single biggest failing in the Niger Delta. Lessons must be learnt.

To the first roundabout. One mile. Head west to the big radio mast. Pace is still quick. Forget the added timber. Pivot can cover the ground. This isn't comfortable. Why don't I say something. It's an Army thing. Just can't. Suck it up...

Groups of young men walking and standing in groups. Mostly dressed in coveralls which designate where they work. All clutching or wearing ubiquitous brightly coloured safety helmets. Vans, trucks, buses pick-up the workers. The mood is good. All people ever really want is a job.

Okada's (bike taxi's) everywhere at this early hour. Our third colleague (JW) is tucked up in bed. He's the sensible one. Okada's outnumber vehicles by about 10 to 1. A funny van parked to our right. 'Mr. Key'. A battered van with an outsize key on top. About 1,000 words written on the van. A mobile website.

Ironically Pivot 1664 asks how I remember everything for the blog. How do I visualise it? I pant rapidly, I usually jog slowly to take it all in. Pace picks up. This is a blur. Was there a van...

Down a dip back heading north up to the main Magburakah Highway. Two miles in. Weather and pace hot. Over to our left the quite striking Mena Hills. Makeni tucks nicely into this backdrop.

Roadsweepers are also out in force before first light. The cleanest streets I've seen in Sierra Leone. At least 50 people in coveralls and high vis vests sweeping the streets. Some are digging out storm drains. Excellent. Local government functioning well. Money coming into this town.

We make it up the hill to the towns largest radio mast. Now on the main road. Turn east. No breeze. It's hot. Two days ago the first big rain of the year. Yesterday was wonderful. Clean air. It was cool. Unfortunately today back to normal. The first big rain? Lets you know the rains are coming. Next month. Heading back towards the centre of town.

As it gets lighter children are also on the move. I hear the common term for 'white man' in the north. The kids love shouting it out. I always smile and wave when I hear it. Aporto, aporto....aporto...I'm hearing it a lot now...

Also hearing plenty of call to prayer as first light comes. A good healthy mix of mosques and some nice looking churches. Haven't heard as much call to prayer in the other parts of the country I've been in.

Oh, oh. We're still going a good clip. Run straight past the turning back into Makeni. Now need a right turn somewhere. It's not happening. We reluctantly turn and head back East. Over 3 miles done. Aporto...aporto...

Into the town centre and the recently constructed clock tower. The centre piece. Pleased to see this reference point. I know it's just over a mile back to the Whats-up Hotel. Pace steadies. Pivot feeling this now. Thankfully. Where's Escargot when you need him.

Put in a Marine joke? People (Charlie M) will be expecting one. OK, reluctantly...

Dear Jane,

I have a problem. I have two brothers. One brother is a serving Royal Marine in the Navy, the other is serving life for a gruesome multiple murder. My mother died from insanity caused by syphilis when I was three years old. My sisters are prostitutes. My father is a drug dealer. Recently I met a girl with tasteful tattoos released from prison. I want to marry her. My problem. If I marry this girl, should I tell her about my brother who is a Marine?


A steady pace back to the hotel. Good to see those iron gates. Just under 43 mins. Warm down outside the hotel. I haven't run this fast in years. Turns out Pivot was feeling it just as much. Neither said anything. Some things never change.

Ha, I look over and see a functioning GT Bank cash point machine. A rarity. Johnny Admin story for you. In 2011 we were together in SL for the first time. Conducting an infra-structure assessment. We found an ATM in the centre of Freetown. A crowded noisy street. Let's see if we can actually draw cash on a credit card. He looks at me. I look at him. RHIP. Rank Has Its Privileges. He reluctantly, after a few 'get on with it', puts his card in. The loudest machine I've ever heard said, 'PLEASE INSERT YOUR SECRET PIN NUMBER'. JA was trying to tell the ATM to shush down. The street came to a standstill. The bedlam and background noise seemed to freeze. Was this ginger aporto really going to use this machine. People crowded to watch the entertainment. Flustered, he used the wrong pin. 'PLEASE INSERT YOUR SECRET PIN NUMBER' came the loud response. The locals thought this was hilarious. The crowd grew. After plenty of messing about he managed to obtain $100 in local currency. That's great, a $100 for you, what about me? We were there a while...strangest ATM I've ever seen...

Thoroughly enjoyed this run and your company Pivot 1664. Makeni has been a tremendous experience. Great team on this job. It's back to Freetown tomorrow after 5 days away. Divas look busy, get off your mobile phones...

Colombia Part 2 coming next...