Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Living the Dream in Paradise

We returned to Canberra late last Wednesday night after an amazing week in Vanuatu. The main purpose of the trip was to take part in the Round the Island Relay. This covers a distance of 140km and is run in relay teams of ten people. Fourteen of us went from our Veterans Athletics including four supporters. The actual race day was very hot especially in the middle of the day when the course was very exposed and undulating. I was runner six and lucky enough to run at 9.30am as we had split starts. Our first runner started at 5am in the dark and had a very long steep hill to negotiate. Although it was quite hot even at 9.30am and undulating at least I didn't experience the intense heat of runners 7 and 8. I was lucky too in that I had the company of the Townsville runner and we had a lovely conversation along the way. We also experienced some shade where there was gorgeous plant life and delightful village children cheering us on. Mr B was the last runner in our team and he had the fun of running through the finish line to the sound of all the cheering and happy supporters.

I ran my 13.3km in 79mins but have no idea where our team came overall. We do know the Townsville team finished third which was quite exciting for them as most of the winners were local runners who were very fast and very young! Some even ran in socks or bare feet. However, the Townsville team did have the advantage of having a couple of local runners in their team as substitutes for two of their team members who were unable to run on the day.

We had such a great week in Vanuatu. Apart from the run itself and all the celebrating afterwards, we had tours of the island which included hot water pools, mud baths, swimming in a blue lagoon and experiencing great local food. We tried Kava at a Melanesian feast, learnt to dance with the locals, went bush walking, visited a tiny bush school where the children never stopped smiling, swam in waterfalls, visited interesting food markets and clothing markets, went sailing on catamarans, snorkelling which included a visit to an underwater post office and ate at some beautiful restaurants trying new foods such as coconut crab, semolina cooked in a hangi and the most amazing fruit cocktails. Some of us girls had our hair braided in tiny tight plaits and enjoyed a great massage. Even when it rained the temperature was pleasant enough to swim and we enjoyed the resort pools as well as the beach. We stayed in little huts or "fares" and they were just delightful with great views of the lake.

The company was great, everybody bonded happily and we filled every minute with fun and friendship. It is an experience I would love to repeat as there is still heaps of things to see over there. We stayed at Port Villa in a resort which included amazing breakfasts with eggs made to order including delicious omelettes, and the most fantastic fresh tropical fruit. The grapefruit, tiny bananas and coconut were probably my favourite.

We loved how the children everywhere were so happy. They were happy kicking a ball made of paper mache, thrilled to bits when we threw them lollies out of the bus windows on race day and just seemed to love life in all its simplicity.

Port Villa itself is quite run down in some ways. The roads and footpaths are in a state of disrepair and we nearly stumbled several times over the rough ground. Although our resort was cleaned regularly early in the morning with palm branches being used as brooms, often the towels in our 'fare' were not replaced and time was relaxed. But I think this all added to the charm of the place and I loved it.

The school children all have machetes which are used to cut down bananas or slice through coconuts or cut branches out of their way when ploughing through the bush. Some days they are kept home from school so they can help their families.

It is a very different lifestyle to ours. We were told that there are no real road rules, no enforced speed limits and no traffic lights. There are also no taxes taken out of their wages. Not surprisingly there are a number of Aussies and kiwis who have chosen to stay there for extended periods. One of the runners in my leg of the relay was an ex patriot kiwi who has lived in Vanuatu as an engineer for 13 years. He has no intention of leaving. Not surprisingly, he loves the relaxed lifestyle there.

On the day after our return, Thursday, I had a short run of 7km with kiwi Barbara who flew back to NZ next morning. On Saturday I ran 8km and on Sunday I ran at the Vets' monthly handicap at Blewitts Pines. This was a tough hilly off road run but I managed to run (slowly) all the way. With a handicap of 22 I finished 67th out of a total 86 finishers in the longer course of 7.2km. It took me 46mins which is pretty slow but I'm carrying a few extra kilos at the moment and have some work to do!

On Monday I returned to the speedygeese session at Parliament House where the main part of the session included 4 x 600m fast, jogging slowly back to the start inbetween. With the warm up and cool down I ran a total of 9.5km.

Tuesday I went to Black Mountain and ran with the Tuesday group. This is made up of mainly retired Veterans' Athletes although there are also some part time workers. It starts at 9.15am and is about 10km finishing with announcements and a great morning tea made up of food which everyone contributes, usually home baking. Oh dear, it's difficult to lose those kilos when I consume the calories I run off! Margaret and I attended the Tuesday group before I went to Vanuatu too as that was just after kiwi Barb arrived and we could run together which was fun. This time however I was running on my own and managed to get lost THREE times. Oh dear, I have absolutely no sense of direction. Next week I will stay with someone else or at least keep them in sight! We ran to Haig Park via the university grounds and back again. It took me 62mins to run 10km!

Today, Wednesday, I had another first, I attended the BBQ Stakes handicap run at Woden. There were 60 runners and I recognised lots of familiar faces. Jen had persuaded me to go and offered to run with me so I wouldn't get lost! It was 21deg, sunny and a stunning day in Canberra. The course is undulating, part road and part dirt track, a lovely run but tough. I enjoyed it and until that time of day becomes too hot in the summer months I will continue running it as the hills will do me good! It took me 39mins to run 6km but hey, I will improve (eventually)!!


  1. Welcome home! You've had a great adventure (X2) over the last couple of months. Lucky you (X2). Look forward to catching up for "reunion coffee" (with Ewen too) in a couple of weeks' time.

    P.S. Next weekend it will be a whole year since I ran/won the Tan Ultra 100km and you and Ewen crewed for me. WOW!!! Time flies. Fabulous memories :)

  2. Loved hearing about your trip to Vanuatu! I was there earlier in the year, doing a bit of running too - what a fabulous place it is.

    Liza :)

  3. We'll have to compare tans today. I think you'll beat me after my treadmill running in Vegas.