Sunday, 13 July 2014

'Early Morning Run In... Tesano, Ghana'

First light: 0553 hrs
Time start: 0615 hrs
Time finish: 0708 hrs
Weather: 23C
Humidity: 78%
Circumstances: Thursday morning, business day, neighbourhood run & gym

No Victoria Falls. No Livingstone. No Harare. No Mugabe jokes. No running over Nelson Mandela Bridge. No Joburg. No guest runners.

Something different. A run with no 'sights', no outstanding history, or any real points of interest. An ordinary run, with ordinary people, in an ordinary neighbourhood. In fact, ordinary as it gets. Real life. I'm in Tesano. Ghana.

Different to Post 4, 'An Early Morning Run In Accra...' back 25th Feb this year. Plenty of other back reading including, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal, Colombia, Guinea, London, and the unforgettable Hesket Newmarket... same link:

Other bits and photos: @roadrunnertns

Talking of photos. Some have mentioned including photos. Most requests being from ex army shipmates who I know have difficulty reading and much prefer pictures. Slaps - these are for you. Vic Falls from the road trip.

Today a short notice business trip to Ghana. Arrived back Freetown only last Friday following the memorable road trip to Southern Africa. JoBurg being the last post before Florida vacation next month - which should see posts from Orlando, Naples & Miami. Any potential guest runners / guides in these locales perhaps?

Tesano a residential area in west Accra between North Kaneshie & Achimota. Suburb was first inhabited by Lebanese who came for business. The origin, or so I'm told, means 'on a flat flat rock'. Anywhere where the Lebanese don't go? Must be the largest diaspora in the world relative to size.

Downtown Accra can be 20 mins away or 2 hours depending on time of day and traffic. My base is the Charleston Hotel. Excellent establishment with super management and staff. Great value and deservedly right up there on Trip Advisor. Thanks Julie and your wonderful team. See you later in the year. Here we go, let's take a look at Tesano...

Feeling good this morning. Smiling, thinking, plus good not having 'Lifeline' slowing me down. Turn right out of the hotel, of course head east into the rising sun. Beautiful morning. 23C already. The neighbourhood is waking slowly, hardly anyone around. No cars on these un-tarred minor roads. Great for running. The area is flat. Roads are a mixture of compacted sand and gravel. Favourite surface to run. You can hear each step as your shoe bites on the surface. A distinctive sound.

A few people now on the move, everyone cheerful, most say good morning or wave. Run past the impressive Tesano Baptist Church. Don't know the street names. No signs. There's the Tesano Sports Club. I'm aiming to finish here to squeeze a quick 20 mins in their gym. Neighbourhood has everything.

Push on heading north to a main road. Good pace this morning. The time spent at altitiude in Southern Africa perhaps. A road with more activity. More traffic, most probably heading for downtown Accra. Divas note, I kid you not, every second shop is a hair & nails salon. I know from my own SL divas that hair in West Africa is vitally important. Well, not in senior divas case - she remember is bald as a badgers bum. A distinctive West African look. First time I saw senior diva in a W. I. G. (don't ever say the word), it was a shock. She just popped it out of a bag and stuck it on her head to attend a funeral. She needed it to keep her hat on. Not only Whisky India Golf, there's also W. E. A. V. E (don't ever say the word), hair extensions I guess. Like I say, hair and nails is serious business.

On this mini high street there's a local Spar / 7-11 type shop. I ask Grace if she minds I take a quick snap with my phone. She smiles and says of course. Ghanaians are friendly. Over the road the local pub. Some pleasant smells around too, sweet coffee brewing, fresh bread... time to head back to the gym.

As I head back into the minor roads there's more activity. Plenty of children walking to school in small groups, all carrying books and wearing distinctive bright simple uniforms. Walking without adults, and some are young. A great deal of laughter and joy. These kids are happy. Then a bizarre sight, a policeman with a speed camera. I don't see any cars on these interior roads.

In southern Sudan a few years back I was traveling by vehicle in the oilfield areas between Heglig and Bentiu. The oilfield police waved me down which was strange. Mohammed, who I knew, said sorry Mr. Mark you are speeding. He waved his new toy through the window. He smiled broadly. It showed 84 kms. 4 kms over the speed limit. Bear in mind at the time there was a civil war. During my time 4 drilling rig attacks by SPLA rebels, a camp attack on the main oil facility, pipelines blown up, a helicopter shot at, landmines laid on the roads, and plenty of other incidents besides.

I asked Mohammed when did he get this new piece of equipment. The day before he replied. I told him his new machine could not be working correctly. I was not driving that fast. He just looked at me. Explains he must fine me the equivilant of $5 and give my name to the camp boss. Told him I had an idea. I would drive back and come down the road again to check his machine was indeed working properly. I pulled up next to him a second time. He looked puzzled. The machine showed 70 kms. There you go I said, the machine wasn't calibrated properly. Continued on my way. Pretty poor that - purchasing faulty equipment. Lucky for me though...

As I write about Sudan I think fleetingly about many ex colleagues and friends there, Mahmoud D. in particular. At this time of the year - Ramadan Kareem.

Head back onto the un-tarred roads, pick up the pace back to the sports club. They welcome me. I'm able to sign in as a guest from the hotel. Sly, who has arms bigger than my thighs, provides a quick brief. Just time for one quick exercise on each muscle group and a few abby dabby doobies. Jog back to the hotel as a cool down. I'm ready for the day.

Ready for eggs and coffee too. I have Samuel rebooked (post 4) as taxi driver for my downtown meetings. You may remember Samuel from the Accra post. Want to check back with him on the World Cup and the Ghana team, for which things ended rather ignominiously. Mind you, for all their travails they were the one team that come closest to beating Germany (WC Final later today). One of the best games, before the Ghanaians imploded into politics.

Footnote - I take breakfast with 'Good Morning Ghana' on in the background. Callers ringing in complaining about everything. All West African countries complain to some extent. Ghana takes to a whole new level. Everything is the governments fault. One caller says she had no light (meaning electricity) for 2 hours last evening. What was the government doing? I wanted to phone in and say come to Freetown for a week, you'll soon realise you've nothing to complain about. Ghana is a great country, extremely friendly hospitable people. However, they sure know how to whine.

Reminds me of another line from the Sudan days. Canadian expats. What's the difference between a Canadian expat and a jet engine? Eventually the jet engine stops whining....sorry to my Canuck friends...

A Sunday afternoon pleasure in Freetown writing this one, which I hadn't planned. This is wet season. Non-stop torrential rain outside, mixed in with incredible thunder and lightning. Pure fury. Another 3 months of wet season. 6 hours today and counting. Will be havoc outside - damage, mud slides, overflowing storm drains, blocked roads, trees down. Unrelenting...

Afternoons like this? Bunker down, fresh coffee, family size Toblerone from the fridge, a good book and perhaps a little writing. DSTV has gone down - phone the Ghanaian government...

Unless anything unexpected comes up - on to Florida next month...

Updates on Twitter: @roadrunnertns

Monday, 7 July 2014

'Early Morning Run in... Johannesburg'

Next stop Johannesburg. Northeastern South Africa. Population 3 million.

Let's begin with a chuckle. A joke not included in the three previous Zimbabwe posts. Barack Obama and David Cameron and Robert Mugabe are in a boat in the Atlantic, when suddenly the ship develops a leak. They have only one life jacket. Obama says, "Let's do the democratic thing. Take a vote to see who has the life jacket." They each write a name on a piece of paper and stuff it in a coffee can. Obama and Cameron have one vote each; Mugabe gets six.

A short pleasant flight from Harare yesterday. 'Lifeline' hires a Noddy car at the airport. Also a GPS. Essential to stay in the right areas. We won't be outrunning anything in Noddy.

The final post in this 2014 mini-series from Southern Africa. The trip has taken in Harare, Victoria Falls, and Bulawayo. Today Johannesburg completes an unforgettable road trip. 'Lifeline' is the guest runner for the 4th time.

The Joburg base is a private home in Westcliff. An extremely affluent suburb with views over the inner city and northern suburbs. Another guest to introduce. Meet 'Granite'.

Last evening was a wonderful one of African hospitality. Plenty of high quality South African wine quaffed. We enjoy a spirited conversation on a wide range of subjects, including: Andy Murray, his pushy mother, the World Cup, guilt or otherwise of Oscar P, Kevin Pietersen's sacking by England, Nelson Mandela, cricket, African politics, and Matt Damon's unsuitability, being a short arse, to play a back row rugby legend in the movie 'Invictus'. A lively evening...

Oh, not to forget, some planning for today's early morning run. You know it's a good evening when the run slides by an hour.

'Granite' kindly offers to drop 'Lifeline' and I downtown. We'll run back to Westcliff taking in some sights. Oh, forgot to mention the nibbles last evening. Biltong. The Boer used biltong during the war of the late 1800s. Food for travel (longlasting), and food for war (protein). Some say South Africans like only two things more than sunny skies and rugby. That's biltong & beer. This beautifully dried cured meat with a salty texture is perfect with cold beer. I'm hooked.

In amongst the fine wine I missed the briefing about the internal house alarm. Crime is a serious consideration in Joburg. Granite had said, "if nature calls at 0500 hrs use the guest suite's en-suite bathroom. Don't open the wrong door into the main house."

Sorry to everyone for the earlier than expected alarm.

0650 hrs. Glass of water. Quick laugh about the idiot who woke the whole house up two hours earlier. Into Granite's car. We're in the traffic flow to downtown before 0700 hrs. Jan Smuts Avenue is busy. 15 minutes later we're dropped in Newtown. A well-known cultural district, a bohemian feel with restaurants, museums, jazz clubs, theatres...

We quickly establish our bearings and run north to cross Nelson Mandela Bridge (below). It's cold. We feel the altitude for the first ten minutes. In two weeks is Nelson Mandela Day (18th July), his birthdate. He'd have been 96 years old. The great statesman and icon passed away 5-Dec 2013. So many quotes, I'll go with this one, "I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death."

This year also marks 20 years since South African gained full democracy from white minority rule. Apartheid was over in 1994.

Another guest runner appears. We're joined by a local lecturer for a few hundred metres, jogging alongside in his street clothes no less. A fantastic smile on his face. Thankfully we turn and head east up Ameshoff Street. He was the flying lecturer. He could move. We settle back into a steady groove up Constitution Hill.

Joburg theatre to the left. Now renamed after Nelson Mandela.  The giant billboard advertises Peter Pan opening in November. 'Second to the right, and straight on till morning'. Peter told Wendy this was the way to Neverland. A land of fairies. We're in South Africa. Haven't seen any fairies yet.

For us, it's first to the right and straight up Constitution Hill. Continue climbing Joubert Street.

Constitution Hill. What a view. Worth the ascent. We run straight into the Old Fort, first built in 1893. All happened right here, folks. It's more than the site of South Africa's Constitutional Court. There's some stunning modern architecture on this 100-acre site. This former prison complex held Gandhi, Luthuli, and Mandela (all Nobel Prize Winners), amongst numerous others. His 27 years in jail began right here.

We run a slow circuit of the raised fort perimeter. A high vantage point to see Joburg. Pause. Take a few snaps. Over to the east is Hillbrow. This suburb is more associated with crime than anything else. A hard area, even the Rottweilers, go around in pairs.

We work our way down from the high ground. Plenty of cheery bonhomie from those on foot also thumbs up from some drivers. I detect we're something of an oddity. Perhaps not a well known early morning running route? Down from the high ground onto Empire Road. Head west. Merge back onto Jan Smuts and begin heading north slightly uphill back to Westcliff. The training for Vic Falls paid off.

Run past our base - one more thing to do. 'The Steps'. 300m run down. Turn at the bottom and push back to the top as hard as possible. A final jog around Westcliff to warm down.

Here ends a beautiful road trip. Johannesburg has been fantastic for 36 hours; I want to return. A hearty thank you to 'Lifeline' and to all we've met along the way.

P.S. Thanks to 'Granite' for a bumper pack of Biltong for my hand luggage. I'm both savouring and rationing it...

Thursday, 3 July 2014

'Early Morning Run in... Bulawayo'

First light: 0632 hrs
Time start: 0710 hrs
Time finish: 0802 hrs
Weather: 8C
Humidity: 36%
Altitude: 4,300ft
Circumstances: Tuesday morning, business day, downtown Bulawayo

Difficult to swap one of the seven wonders of the world for an industrial city in the hinterland of Zimbabwe. But, here we are in Matabeleland.

Yesterday drove southeast 4 and a half hours to Bulawayo. 435 kms. Second largest city in Zimbabwe. Population 650,000. Unsure what to expect...

'Lifeline' books us into the Bulawayo Club. Founded in 1895. Hidden gem on corner 4th Street & 8th Avenue. Old fashioned colonial elegant building steeped in history. Built in 1935, like staying in a museum. Throwback to another era, another time. The club has been lovingly maintained, great credit to the excellent management and staff.

Get straight into it this morning. Chilly. Let's go. 'Lifeline' needs no introduction. First guest runner to appear twice, now for the hat-trick. Out the front door, first run with little to no research. Which way? If in doubt always head east towards the rising sun. Something will turn-up. Altitude around 4,300 ft. Can feel a good run coming on.

Straight over the robots at the crossroads. Prominent statue of the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo’s to my left. Died in 1999, accorded national hero status.

Might be early, but lots of activity. Street corners seem gathering places. Piles of newspapers on the ground with stones weighted on top. People glancing at the headlines. Glance down myself to see what's happening. People are wrapped against the chill. Some smoking and standing in small groups. These are people without jobs. Many of them. Others hurry about their business. Shops here open early, most by 0800 hrs.

Downtown Bulawayo seems shabby but functional. Well laid out but deteriorating. 'Lifeline' is moving awkwardly following his exertions in the half marathon 48 hours previously. City Hall ahead. Building looks good with neat lawns. Traders setting up using the freshly painted blue railings to display local art, usual African bric a brac, and an impressive array of fresh flowers.

Turn, still heading east, onto L.Takawira Ave. A straight road signposted Cairo 3,500 miles. On the other side of the roof another sign indicates Capetown 1,150 miles.

Run down the right side of L.Takawira. Traffic is light coming into town. Impressive park both sides of the road. Take a look at right half first. British and colonial in appearance reflecting the period when this green space was established. Bandstands, working fountains, memorials, and statues - some dating back to the Matabele Wars. Whilst the park may not be what it once was, I see park keepers at work. It's not being left to just rot. Crossover to the left side. More symbols of the past. Lakes, stream, a small gauge railway line, probably used to give youngsters rides. Many of the water features and streams are sadly overgrown. Imagine Bulawayo has higher priorities these days with public funds.

The park remains an area of tranquility, good to see young students sat in the old bandstand reading and studying. We see the National History Museum at the junction of Park Road. Opposite is the NGO, World Vision. Park Road is the best part of the city I've seen in the short time in town.

A little more on Bulawayo perhaps. Sits on a plain that marks the High-veld of Zimbabwe and close to the watershed between the Zambezi and Limpopo drainage basins. Twinned with Aberdeen, Scotland. I hear from home that my Scottish 'brothers' are enjoying England's rather quick World Cup exit. This has coincided with an uptick in their performances since wee Gordon Strachan took over. He said after they beat Iceland earlier this year, he was looking to arrange further games against... Walmart and Marks & Spencer.

Head north back towards the city noting the cricket academy. We circle the outfield also noting the Walnut Cafe for coffee later.

A broad smile as we run past the National Theatre. A big poster advertising, 'The Wizard of Oz', opening 30th July for 4 nights. Seems a little bizarre, but why not. I wish the production well. In fact, 'Lifeline' is doing a pretty good impression of 'Tin Man' this morning with his laboured running style, rounded off by his checked bermudas.

Right. Time to push on back to the Bulawayo Club and brekkie. Cross over R.Mugabe Way. Every town has at least one such road. Want to rename it, 'His Way or The Highway'. After this thought, which of course is a joke, it's past the Selbourne Hotel.

Heading west now, run past the Econet offices, one of the more impressive modern makeovers. Econet Wireless, a global business, was founded by its Chairman Strive Masiyiwa. Cell net coverage in Zimbabwe is excellent. My humble dealings with this company in Harare have been first rate. Mr. Masiywa is well known on the world business stage and demonstrates what can be achieved by Africa entrepreneurs. A Zimbabwean success story by any measure.

Arrive back to the Club. 52 minutes. One of the most enjoyable runs I've done. Enjoyed this one. Feel on a high. Later, after coffee at the Walnut and a discussion with locals, we realise can't head south to Rhodes grave, which was an original intent. Not enough time. Will take 3 hours there and back. Then due to roadworks another 7 hours to Harare. Too much night driving. Maybe after next years Vic Falls Half Marathon.

Rhodes is buried in the Matobo Hills. He died 1902, his body brought to Bulawayo by train. He and other early white pioneers like Leander Starr Jameson are buried at a site named World's View.

Well, that's all for this post. This amazing road trip concludes with a short visit to JoBurg. One more post to come... see you in South Africa...

Footnote: Following 7 hours back to Harare, last 2 hrs in the dark again, we come across the President's motorcade. Lots of vehicles (about 15), flashing lights, high speed maneuvers, and sirens. Local wags apparently refer to it as 'Bob And The Wailers'..., or so I'm told...

Breakfast in the club...