Saturday, 30 August 2014

'Early Morning Run in... Naples, Florida'

This morning Collier County. Gator country. Naples to be precise. Early start. Needs to be. Damn hot. So, without further ado, let me introduce todays special guest runner. The family second in command. It's 'O'. Could have been 'O Dear'. 'O' is for Organiser. I can tell from emails that many are pleased 'O' is entering the blog. More a case of  'O' inserting herself. There's also some 'sister support' out there. For one night only...

Moreover, I sense a problem running with 'O'. In fact, I've been asked to sign an 'Agreement'. Never been faced with such censorship before. Terms? No photos, front or rear. No controlling the pace. No being treated like a military recruit. No references to body parts. Whatever that means. Oh, and a pre read before posting. As I say, for one night only...

Reveille, I mean the wake up call, 0620 hrs. Head west from The Charter Club. We've spent many vacations here down the years. A beautiful location. Past Landings Park. Turn down Broad Ave continuing west. Turn left on 3rd Street, run past the many fine restaurants; Sea Salt, Campellio's, & my personal favourite, Tommy Bahamas. Pace is pretty slow..., I mean steady enough, to 12th Ave - and one of the area's better-known landmarks. Naples Pier. Spectacular for sunsets, it oozes character. The pier sits beautifully as it proudly juts out into the Gulf of Mexico. Beaches are stunning, over 16 kms of pristine sands. However, my Freetown brothers and sisters, these beaches might be special, but not in the same league as the peninsula southeast of Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Naples Pier. This old relic has been here since 1888. Hurricanes and fire have ravaged the old girl over the years. This sturdy old wooden character reminds me fondly of my mother-in-law in some respects.

We jog down the pier past early morning fishermen. At a sitting area half way down there's a group of about 10 elderly folk with a huge thermos of coffee. You get the impression they meet here often, enjoying each other's company and discussing issues of the day. There's gentle laughter and camaraderie as we jog past.

This is one old town. In England Naples would be Bournemouth. Somewhere akin to God's waiting room. 42% of the residents here are apparently 65 years of age or older. Median age is 61 years. In fact, similiar stats to Hesket Newmarket, our home village, where the average age is 87.

We turnaround at the end of the pier. Lots of fishermen casting lines and cleaning fish. A single dolphin playing off the port side. At least I think it's a dolphin.

A little more about Naples. Population 20,000. One word stands out. Wealth. Stinking rich. One of the wealthiest cities in the United States, and the second highest proportion of millionaires per capita. Real estate is among the most expensive in the country, with houses for sale in excess of $40 million. Some of the most luxurious waterfront estates and condos in the world.

Coming, as I have, from West Africa is a contrast of epic proportions. Famous people who have property here include Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Bob Seger, and Buzz Aldrin. There's plenty of old money, as well as the current and retired captains of industry. For the younger folks...

"Knock knock."

"Who's there?"

"Don't mess about, Buzz. Who the (expletive) do you think it is?"

"Sorry Neil."

'O' is holding up pretty well as first light comes. Little pink around the gills maybe, but doing just fine. Some references to sore knees, hips and, "I'm not in the Army you know." I might need a lawyer...

Numerous joggers and cyclists out this morning. Everyone's incredibly friendly. After exiting the pier we head north along Gulf Boulevard. Turn right and head east on 5th Ave. Over half way. We're now in the heart of downtown Naples. 5th Ave South and 3rd Street, where we were earlier, is the shopping district. A mix of swanky restaurants, nice hotels, antique shops, art galleries, expensive fashion, realtors, financial institutions... and Starbucks.

Becoming warmer into the rising sun. 5th Ave is a pleasure to run down. I pause, take a few snaps and catch-up to 'O'. Jog to Tin City. An interesting area of Naples. More authentic. More bohemian. An indoor marketplace and the home for several charter and tour boats. Originally a 1920's clam shelling and oyster processing plant. Retains its quaint boardwalks and tin-topped buildings. No chain operations here. Even has a comedy club...

Over the road a sign for Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens. Took the young folks there yesterday. Frankly, not a great zoo. In fact, only had one animal. A dog. It was a Shitsu...

Turn right out of Tin City and set course for The Charter Club. 'O' is miraculously getting a second wind and pushing on now. We arrive back at the club house just after 0715 hrs. Resort still in bed. Feel virtous. Let's go and sit down by the pool and watch sunrise? I venture into the club and rustle up some much needed coffee. Radio is set on 'Gator Country 101.9 FM'. Two types of music in these parts. Country. The other. Western.

Pitch up a couple of chairs on the lawn by the pool. I might have stretched the parameters of the 'Agreement', but I've enjoyed this run and having 'O' along. Of course, she's by far the best guest runner to-date, no question... (another stipulation in the Agreement...). 'O', one more thing, what hairy legs you have...

Postscript: What and where next? I was due to return Freetown next week. Over the past days BA has extended the suspension of flights into Sierra Leone & Liberia until end 2014. Air France has also ceased operations. The death toll from Ebola has passed 1,500 according to WHO. Most experts believe the figure to be far higher. Business has largely collapsed and regional travel all but impossible. So, see you back in Freetown...

Divas, cheesy I know, but, let's pray for the rainbow after the storm (from Tin City a few days back).

Additional postscript: 'O' wanted me to mention this was her first run for..., ah forget that, he who holds the pen...

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

'Early Morning Run in... Hyde Park'

First light: 0538 hrs
Time start: 0820 hrs
Time finish: 0906 hrs
Weather: 15C
Circumstances: Sunday morning, managed a flight out of Freetown yesterday, to Florida tomorrow

Eventful 2 weeks back in Freetown. The turmoil of Ebola has deteriorated still further. The pace of the crisis has been truly remarkable. With a heavy heart I depart and leave my small team to soldier on. Team being my two SL divas.

Reason being a Florida family holiday booked 12 months back. This past week has seen several plans come and go. Plan A crashed early. On Tuesday BA suspended all flights to Freetown and Monrovia, mine included.

Two days of scrambling produces Plan B. Fly to Banjul with Gambia Bird, then to Barcelona with an airline I'd never heard of. A Spanish airline, apparently similar to Monarch and Thomas Cook, a bucket and spade charter. Pay top dollar for a one way ticket. Two things could still go wrong. First, WHO are meeting for 2 days in Europe and could declare a Global Emergency. A pandemic. Might result in a travel ban and the sub region being isolated. Second, the Gambia is run by an egotistical lunatic. Anything could happen.

We survive the WHO meeting. Stopped short of the worst case scenario. Morning of the flight to Banjul? Yep, said loonie bans all travel from Ebola affected countries. Need a Plan C. I seriously consider a hybrid. Boat to Conakry. Local connection in Guinea drives his old Merc from Conakry, through Guinea Bissau, to Dakar. Doable? The romantic in me wants to. What could possibly go wrong?  

Crazy. Don't do it. For a holiday? There's more to it though. Not just about Ebola. When you spend significant amount of time away in far flung outposts the annual family vacation takes on greater meaning.

Right. Got it. Move over the estuary to Lungi. Be available to fly on anything. Kenya Airways to Ghana? Air Chance to Paris? SN Brussels to Belgium? Glen Miller Airways? Anything.

Lucky break time. Seat comes up next to the tail gunner on SN Brussels. The price? Stripy jumper and mask time.

Arrived central London, following some zig zagging aound West Africa,  yesterday afternoon. Deadline was Sunday evening for the Florida RV. Made it.

What have I left behind? A situation spiralling out of control. Death toll rapidly approaching 1,000. Reported cases increasing. Land borders between Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia all closed. Gambia, Zambia, Ivory Coast, and Mauritania also refusing access. Spread has reached Nigeria & now potentially Ghana. Embassies, NGO's, and companies are evacuating non-essential staff. Some taking out everyone. All affected countries have various states of national emergencies. In Sierra Leone hotels are empty. Places of entertainment have been shut. Football season on hold. East of the country is quarantined. Crime is increasing. Economy is bleak. Businesses are suffering. Hospitals are struggling.

Can it get worse? Yes. Commercial flights could cease altogether. Embassies could advise nationals to leave. Importantly, a full State of Emergency could be declared. This would affect mining companies. Iron ore and other commodities could be locked-in. Does this matter? Yes. The lifeblood of the country. This is a country with no safety net. No social. No handouts.

The bright side, if there is such a thing. The affected governments are getting to grips and making the difficult decisions that need to be made. Some should have been made far quicker. International funding and expertise is being ramped up. However, still likely to get worse before things improve. This crisis needs to be kept alive in the global conscious. Please don't forget 'just' because it's Africa. Exposure from the foreign media has been a double edged sword, but on balance positive. In part, it's created hysteria, but of course has also raised awareness. This ultimately results in money and resources.

I hope you've got this far. Trust me. There's a run about to break out. Really. I now have a bonus 24 hours in London. Book into the Victory Services Club (VSC) close to Marble Arch. Founded 1907. A marvelous institution, and registered charity, for serving and ex members of Her Majesty's Forces. Rooms in the Memorial Wing have plaques in memory of an old soldier, sailor, or airman. My room in memory to Lance Corporal W. Houston. A marine from 70 years ago. Wonder what the W stands for. This wing was opened by Winston Churchill in 1957.

Hyde Park run this morning. One of many wonderful things about London is the green space and parks. Set off reasonably early onto Edgeware Road. Turn right onto Bayswater Road. A little chilly compared to yesterday. Hyde Park over to my left. The slight drizzle which makes it refreshing. Hurricane Bertha expected later today.

Cross over into the main park. Head south. Plenty of joggers and bikers out this morning. Boris bikes aplenty. Steady pace to the Serpentine. Lake was the venue for the triathlon and marathon swimming events in the 2012 London Olympics. Every Christmas morning at 0900 hrs the members race 100m for the Peter Pan Cup, first inaugurated by J. M. Barrie. Run along the southern shore past the Lido cafeteria. Plan to come back for brekkie and Sunday papers. Fair few swimmers in the lake. Some in wet suits, the hard core in speedos.

Enjoying this run, but thinking of my team in Freetown. How much do I miss them? Well... must give them a call in a few days time, when I'm in my Don Johnson outfit sipping a margarita along the Florida Keys. Senior Diva (Eagle) wasn't herself last week. First the ginger W.I.G. then Thursday she came to work in a purple suit, complete with shoulder pads. Looked like Barney the Dinosaur. Lack of electricity can often mean getting dressed in the dark... Divas, thinking of you and everyone else there...

Run past the underwhelming Princess Diana memorial on my right. Over the bridge and along the northern bank of the lake. Row boats all parked up. Ahead the grass amphitheatre known as 'The Cockpit'. The legendary Rolling Stones 'Stones in the Park' concert took place here in 1969.

Want to push hard back to Marble Arch. Mind is willing, not so the body. No real zip this morning. Stop and take a quick snap of the 2005 memorial to the victims of the London bombings. Think fleetingly back to that tragic event. Was it really 9 years ago. Heading north, can see Marble Arch coming into view. Run through Speakers' Corner. Anyone, some sane, some otherwise, can stand here and talk or rant, mostly nonsense, about anything. In the past frequented by Karl Marx, Lenin, Orwell, Kwame Nkrumah, amongst many others.

The park has historically been a hotspot for mass demonstrations and remains so today. There's plenty of cast off posters and banners lying around from yesterdays huge Gaza protest. Take a quick snap of the Arch and head back down the Edgeware Road. Not one of my best runs, but a training session all the same. We all have off days...

See you in the States... 

Monday, 4 August 2014

Great to be back... London

First light: 0521 hrs
Time start: 0625 hrs
Time finish: 0706 hrs
Weather: Balmy 17C 
Circumstances: Monday morning early, business day, fly back to Freetown later this morning

Landmark. 20th post in 'An Early Morning Run In...' series. London has been run previously (post 5, 03rd March, 2014). Could run London 20 times and still keep it fresh.

Run took place last week, but edited in Sierra Leone. In Freetown. A city in turmoil. Ebola. Do I write about it? Do I not?

Ebola is the agenda here. Ebola dominates. Every conversation. Every waking moment. Without being too dramatic, we're in the grip of Ebola.

Sweet Salone has many 'labels'. Most are wrong. Many are completely out of date. Some plain ignorant. The most apt? Probably, economically challenged. Put simply. Poor.

No-one deserves Ebola. Sierra Leone, and its immediate neighbours, least of all. So far 233 Sierra Leoneans have died from this dreadful virus. 729 dead in the wider sub region (Guinea & Liberia). The dead include Dr. Sheik Umar Khan. He was just 39, and one of the country's leading doctors specialising in viral haemorrhagic fever. He passed away a week after contracting the disease. He'd been in the frontline treating patients. His funeral was 4 days ago. The health minister rightly called him a national hero.

Huge turning point. The moment morale visibly sank in our small office, and probably across the country. This was now for real. Thoughts and prayers also accompany the 2 American medical staff being evacuated from Liberia to the States for treatment. 

State of Emergency was announced by President Koroma last Wednesday night. This country, and the others, need assistance from the international community. Positive signs in this respect. Organisations like MSF, Samaritans Purse, WHO, and a host of others are already doing a magnificent job in extremely challenging conditions.

I'm not going to continue with London, there will be other opportunies. I'd like to remain on Ebola. Read on though, some cheery (hopefully) stuff later. Today. Monday 04th August, 2014. A poignant day all round. 100 years ago today Britain entered the First World War. 

Here we are today in virtual lockdown. Declared a 'Stay at Home Day' by the government. No movement. A day of reflection. A day of mourning. A typical wet season day. Gloomy with intermittent rain. The streets are deserted. Eerie. Lengthy silences are interrupted by vehicles patrolling the streets broadcasting advice / sermons through terrible speakers.

In a country where life insecurity is pitifully low, where malaria is normal, where regular cholera outbreaks occur this time of year, Dengue fever, Lassa fever, typhoid, and numerous other tropical diseases and illnesses, there's been little panic. It's just the next thing...

How have I prepared? 24 hours alone in my humble apartment. It's small, even the mice are hunchbacked (Escargot, my landlord, are you listening?). Just a little fresh air and a leg stretch for photos. Preparation? Enjoyed a run to the ocean late yesterday afternoon. Finished at the now deserted Raddison Hotel for a good supper. Took an Okada (motorbike taxi) from there to a Lebanese supermarket in Congo Cross. All bread had gone, some people buying water, but hardly a Waitrose or M&S first thing 24th Dec. However, I topped up with essentials - bottle of wine, choccy hobnobs, & cashew nuts. Jogged through the dusk and drizzle the last mile up King St. It rained all night.

Have everything I need today. Wine for later when editing this post. Porridge and biscuits. Decent coffee from home. Toblerone as emergency rations. Stevie Nicks & Fleetwood Mac on the Bose travel speaker. Good book on Kindle. Doesn't quite do Robert Harris justice - absolutely stunning book ('An Officer and a Spy'), my best read in a long time. Highly recommended.

What don't I have? Escargot? Electricity (generator only today). No Internet. 3G only. No TV (DSTV doesn't perform too well in heavy rains). Apart from these minor things... life's OK, all things considered.

Back to Ebola. Ebola first appeared in central Africa in 1976. Virus is thought tied to bushmeat. In the jungles and forests of the east and southeast of Sierra Leone bushmeat is popular. I've spent time there. Lived on porridge and biscuits. Ebola symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage. Death rate this outbreak 60%. Can reach 90%. Currently no vaccine or cure. Patients have a better chance of survival with early treatment.

You only have to visit the hotels and restaurants of Freetown to witness the economic impact. Companies have and are evacuating their people, business deferred, regional travel impossible. Whilst not the most important thing, when a country is poor with huge unemployment then everything has a knock-on effect. Remainder of 2014 is likley to be tough for many. The immediate priority is to stop further spread of this virus. The emergency measures hopefully address this.

On a lighter note, I'm hearing from the UK that my mother-in-law won't be hugging me until this crisis has passed... every cloud and all that...

Footnote: Shame in some respects to have left out London. Here's what you missed. There was Nietzsche (how many blogs have...). A joke about military justice, which of course as Groucho once said, is to justice what military music is to music. A piece on the 3 things you would save if your apartment caught fire. The run took in Wellington House, with a nod to Napoleon and his famous little willy (weiner for North American readers). Apparently only one inch long. That original post had history, Waterloo (200 years next year), a French joke (a photo of the blue cockerel in Trafalgar Square - who's laughing at who?!), and even with all that, a run broke out... what a post you've missed...

Footnote 2: The 3 things I would save? Easy. My exquisite Trek carbon fibre road bike, my MacBook Air, and of course, one of the twins...

Footnote 3: You know you're upside down when... Senior Diva (remember, who's bald as a badgers bum - West African style) has taken to wearing a curly ginger W. I. G. (never say the word in these parts) this week. Strange times indeed...

Finally. Next post will be Orlando, then Naples in southwest Florida, and finally Miami. Yep, 3 USA posts coming up. Plan B will be Freetown if international airlines pull the plug. There may be no family vacation to the States this year. British Airways, SN Brussels & Air Chance please keep flying here. BA - not to push it, but, please feel free to move me from the tail gunners seat to somewhere closer to the pilot. You are the worlds best airline.

More updates on: @roadrunnertns

Also an occasional second blog on: @taxiridertns

See you in Florida, or not, as the case may be...