TZ and JoJo tour of Ghana 2019

The absolutely worst part of travel is the journey. And there are very few less comfortable trips than traveling from Perth to Nandom. Three planes totalling 20 hours of flight time plus the addition of another five hours or so waiting in various airports gets you to Accra.

Before I even left for Ghana, the journey proved tricky as I didn’t organise the so-called visa on arrival far enough in advance which meant I had to cancel my entire trip, reorganise flights and arrive two weeks later than originally planned.  Luckily I got away with it at minimal cost due to very cheap flights between Asia and West Africa and refunds for the cancelled flights.

I arrived in Accra, got to my hotel and embarked on my first challenge for the day – getting a bus ticket. Now I start to get back into the swing of things Ghanaian. I take a ‘tro’ (by definition a minivan that is not roadworthy) to Circle. I walk through a bustling market and transportation hub attracting the attention of men wanting ‘to be my friend’ and children wanting a treat. I need to ask directions to the bus station and I remember to greet before asking any questions after the first woman I tried looked at me with disdain. There are many surly women in this country but I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume her displeasure with me was my rudeness in addressing her without a greeting and not her general disposition.

On the way back to the hotel, the taxi driver tried to convince me that I should take him back with me to Thailand at my own cost while overcharging me for the taxi ride. Oh how I have missed the playful banter with Ghanaian men who have never met me before!

The next part of the journey was the bus trip to Wa.  This is a 14 hour (give or take three hours) overnight bus journey.  The buses drive in convoy due to the possibility of robbery and there is an armed policeman on one of the buses.  In the high risk areas, the buses drive by swerving from side to side across the road in order to increase the chance of avoiding an obstruction placed by robbers to stop the bus.  In the low risk areas, the buses still swerve across the road but this is more about avoiding the deep potholes that never seem to get repaired.  I was dreading this trip but it proved more comfortable than I remembered.  A selection of Ghanaian movies was played through the night but not at the ear-splitting volume of my previous trips so I was able to sleep quite well.

A quick side note on Ghanaian movies.  They typically include a lot of shouting, actors using googly eyes and other overstated facial expressions, unconvincing special effects and they consist of multiple parts with each part going for around 2 hours.  Never-the-less, they can be entertaining even if you don’t understand the language!  Got a spare six hours?  Check out “I Want a Rich In-Law” below and you’ll never get those six hours back!

Now back to the bus trip.

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Departing 4pm.  Yeah right!

A feature of Ghanaian bus trips is the reporting and departing times.  These are in no way accurate.  You can always add a minimum of two hours on to the so-called departure time and at worst allow for four or even five hours.  I was pleased that my bus left just before 6pm and that I had a good book to read whilst waiting for the driver to finally report and the bus to get loaded with luggage.

Traveling in Africa Tip #1 – be prepared to spend a lot of time waiting.  Always carry a book.

The next day I arrived in Wa which is the capital of the Upper West Region and the biggest city in that area of the country.  It had grown a lot since I was there last but the essentials were the same and I had a lovely visit with Ruby, a fellow former VSO volunteer who now runs her own NGO in the area working on “empowering … women and girls through capacity and enhancement training in functional literacy, water and sanitation, health care, environmental protection and conservation and livelihood diversification in the remote areas of Ghana to contribute in nation-building”.

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The amazing Ruby at her home in Wa

With Ruby, I caught up on all the gossip of the region including the fact that just two days before my arrival, the Americans had evacuated all their Peace Core volunteers from the region due to heightened security risks.  I decided not to tell anyone at home this until I was back in Thailand.

Traveling in Africa Tip #2 – your friends and family may become alarmed at the choices you make whilst traveling in a country they have no experience of.   Some things are best left unsaid until you’re back home!

The last part of my journey was to catch a tro to Nandom.  I expected this journey to be more comfortable than the last time I had done it as I had learned that the road was finally paved all the way.  At the tro station for Nandom, I sat with my book (see tip#1) waiting for all the tickets to be sold.  Finally the last ticket was bought and all sixteen of us crammed into the broken down minivan that was built for twelve.

As we were driving I couldn’t help smiling as I passed all the familiar territory on the way north.  I was so looking forward to seeing my old friends once again.  The late Brother Nicholas (the former headmaster of the school I worked at in Nandom) has had a road dedicated to his name in Nadowli and the school he founded there is still operating.  This made me happy as we passed by.  Unfortunately, we passed via the Ko road which is more direct but is still unpaved so my hopes of arriving somewhat clean were dashed.  My Ghanaian skirt was a bit dusty but it still impressed Ben when he picked me up at the station.

Traveling in Africa Tip #3 – wear at least some element of local dress if possible.  People love it and it provides a great talking point too!

On arrival in Nandom, I looked around to orient myself once again.  There were changes but the place was overwhelmingly familiar.  Oh how I had missed it!  Ben drove me to the Guest House where he had arranged for me to stay.  We met up with Doris for a bottle at the Guest House Annex down below.  Then I walked the kilometer from the town to the school.  On the way I met a number of people whom I hadn’t been in direct contact with so were surprised to see me and I felt so terrifically welcomed.  It was a wonderful walk!

The next few days were a whirlwind of greeting, church, greeting, market, greeting, greeting, school visits and more greeting.  At church, I didn’t feel comfortable sitting with the choir I used to belong to as I no longer recognised any of the faces.  I sat a few pews behind them near a man I did recognise called Linus.  He however, was not sure about me.  He knew two white women – myself and Ruth.  Ruth had introduced me to the choir and the church and although I never claimed to being catholic and instead was upfront about being a ‘free thinker’, through her introduction, I was welcomed into that community and it made my experience of living in Nandom that much richer.  Ruth is still famous in Nandom as being the nasapla (white person) that could speak the language as proven when she read at the service on two separate occasions.  So when Linus approached me as we left the church and politely asked me if I was Ruth, I shouldn’t have been surprised!  I said, “No.  I’m the other one.  Merilyn.”  He said “Oh.  How is Ruth?  Is she fine?”  “Oh yes”, I said.  “She is fine.”

Traveling in Africa Tip #4 – white people all look the same.  Expect cases of mistaken identity!

I spent a lot of time in Kogle, a village outside of Nandom, where I visited the grave of my dear friend Basil and the home he had built for Eunice and (black) Merilyn.  Here I enjoyed one of my favourite dishes – TZ with jojo.  Frankly, I can take or leave the TZ but the jojo is really tasty and superbly prepared by Eunice.  I asked Merilyn what her favourite dish is to eat.  It’s rice and beans!  That was one of my favourites when I lived there too and the only dish I still cook outside of Ghana!

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The Maaniasie family at their home in Kogle just outside of Nandom

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TZ with jojo.  The TZ is made from maize and bean flour and is on the left.  The jojo is made from leaves and groundnuts.  It is eaten by breaking off some of the TZ with your hand and using that to scoop up some of the jojo.  Delicious!

I had some chance encounters during my visit too. I went to meet Lutetia and Georgie-bear for a bottle at one of my old favourite spots and I found Lutetia waiting for me with a couple of her friends. She introduced me to them and one I remembered from living there. I said that I recognised him and that I remembered he was the electrician and I had employed him to do some work for me at the school. He was amazed that I remembered him and he offered to give me his number. I then blew his mind by saying I didn’t need it and proceeded to call him on the number I had saved 10 years ago. He couldn’t believe I had kept the number!

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Reuben (the electrician), me, Pius, Christabel, Lutetia and Lutetia’s friend.  I’m sure I’ll be in trouble when I visit next and still don’t know his name!

Another chance encounter occurred when I was sitting under a tree (something I did a lot of) and found the former assistant headmaster of Nandom Secondary School, Samson, (now retired) coaching two contenders at this local game which is an adapted form of draughts.

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Samson (middle) giving advice to the two players.

I hardly got to wear my hat.  I got sunburnt on the first day largely because my hat and sunglasses were frequently removed from my possession by both children and adults alike who enjoyed putting on these novelty items.  I don’t think they realise I wear them out of necessity and not purely for fashion.

The longer I was staying in Nandom, the more of the language (dagaare) was coming back to me.  At first I was hopeless and couldn’t even remember how to say good morning properly but it wasn’t long before I was throwing out phrases that impressed all like…

Te bere ayi – two days (means it’s been a long time since we met)
N ba ter sera – I don’t have a husband!
Fo cop be song? – How’s the farm?  (It’s farming season and this went over like gangbusters with the elders I met in the village).

My biggest triumph was at the school though.  My friend Georgie-bear took me to the staff room that was packed with staff only one of whom was working there when I was.  So Georgie-bear explained to the crowd who I was and what I was doing there.  He did this explanation in English as that is the language of the school although the majority of the teachers would speak dagaare as their mother tongue.  I smiled and nodded and answered a few questions in English until it was time to leave when I hit them with “N na zeli ni sore” which means “I am begging my leave”.  The crowd went nuts the way only Ghanaians can go and they declared me a true Nandomi!

Traveling in Africa Tip #5 – couple the local dress with a few well-timed local phrases and you’ll never go hungry (or thirsty) during your visit!

Every trip back to Nandom is tinged with sadness as I condole with families over old friends who have died since my last visit.  As I mentioned earlier I went to the grave of Basil who died in 2017 after complications from a motorcycle accident.  It was with great sadness on this trip that I discovered that Mr Viiru from down below was very sick.  I visited each day I was there with him and his family.  The family had been a great source of advice for me when I was living there and were always happy to include me as part of their family.  I was very sad to hear once I was back in Bangkok that Mr Viiru died on the day I left Accra to head back to Thailand.  I’m very grateful that I got to see and greet him one last time.

Finally, it was time to leave Nandom and head back down to Accra via Kumasi.  This portion of the story will not be accompanied by visuals.  Keep reading and you’ll discover why.

I lived in Nandom between 2008 and 2010.  During that time, I travelled extensively through Ghana, Burkina Faso and Mali.  Since leaving in 2010, this was my fourth trip back.  I’ve never had a problem when returning to Ghana and I put this down to a very robust host of gut flora.  Despite this, I normally travel with a range of medications just in case.  However, due to my lack of planning and an over confidence in my ability to eat and drink anything thrown my way, this trip I carried nothing.

Whilst in Nandom I ate fufu (pounded casava), light soup (tomato based soup with meat), TZ and jojo, kose with leaves (small deep fried cakes with onion and leaves added in) and I nursed more than one calabash of pito (locally brewed millet beer).  I was fine.  As I expected I had no problems.  This added to my confidence so that on my last day in the north, just hours before embarking on a 10 hour bus trip to Kumasi, I happily accepted and drank the water offered me in the village.  I knew the water had come from the well and not a treated source but I had been celebrated as a true local for a few days and I had started to believe it.

Traveling in Africa Tip #6 – never drink the water.  No matter how tough you think you are, it is not worth the risk!

I started to feel ill about halfway into the bus journey.  I put it down to travel sickness so when the bus stopped for the dinner break, I thought I would just eat something and that would make me feel better.  Well, it didn’t.

Twenty minutes later, my fried noodles and cabbage made another appearance.  I wasn’t able to access the plastic bag I had in my travel bag quick enough.  Luckily the airconditioning was set to sub-artic temperatures so I had my two yards of cloth laid over me like a blanket and therefore caught most of my dinner.

Traveling in Africa Tip #7 – always carry two yards of cloth with you.  This is a versatile piece of travel equipment and can be used as a blanket, towel, a modesty curtain, a skirt, a pillow or a makeshift bundle in which to hold your stomach contents!

I sat for the next several hours with a bundle of sick on my lap, shivering from the a/c and puking into the plastic bag every 20 minutes or so.  I was miserable but I knew I just had to hang on until we got to Kumasi and I could get to the room I’d booked at a guesthouse.  By this point, I had stopped deluding myself that it was motion sickness.  I knew I had food poisoning from the water and I knew what was going to come next.

We were 20 minutes outside of Kumasi when there was a large bang as one of the tyres exploded and the bus was forced to pull over.  I couldn’t believe my misfortune!  Things were getting desperate and I knew I didn’t have time for a tyre change.  I assessed the situation very quickly and decided to abandon the bus and catch a taxi the rest of the way directly to the guesthouse.  I collected my things from the bus including my devil’s bundle but left the plastic bag of puke tied up under my seat.  It wasn’t a classy move but I didn’t care.

I asked a taxi driver how much it would cost to take me the rest of the way and he gave me a figure that I should have bargained down but I didn’t have the time or the energy.  I said “let’s go!” and my things were put in his boot and off we went.  I think because he knew he had overcharged me and I didn’t look (or probably, let’s face it, smell) well, Prince the taxi man turned out to be really helpful.  By this time it was midnight and my guesthouse was not in a good part of town.  He helped me with my things (not my devil’s bundle though – that was for me alone) and came inside with me to the guesthouse to make sure I was safe.

Traveling in Africa Tip #8 – this tip applies everywhere, not just Africa.  Don’t be afraid to trust strangers when you need to.  People are overwhelmingly good in my experience.  You would be extremely unlikely to come across someone who wouldn’t help you if you were in trouble.

I made it to my room just in time.  Luckily the sink was very close to the loo so I could sit with my arse on one and my head in the other and there I remained for the better part of what was left of the night.  Needless to say I was pretty weak the next day.  Luckily, I had arranged to meet Albert, a fellow ex-Nandom Sec teacher, and he brought me some fruit and rehydration salts.  I would have preferred to have a proper sitting with Albert which included a nice meal and a couple of bottles but I could only manage to sip a lemonade and even then being out in the heat was too much for me.  We only had a short time together but I managed to look chipper in the photo we took on the ride back to the guesthouse.

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My angel of mercy – Albert!

I spent the rest of the day sleeping. I woke early the next morning to catch the bus to Accra and then the flight home to Bangkok.  My very last night in Ghana was spent in the company of Ruby, Lina and Ben.  By this time I had recovered enough to eat again and we had dinner at a buffet restaurant although I took it easier than I normally would have at such a place!

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It is always a challenge to get Ghanaians to smile in a photo!

My visit is now done, my material that I was gifted or that I bought at the market is at the seamstress in Bangkok and all the pito is out of my system.  All there is left to do is wait for the two week incubation period to go by and hope that malaria does not kick in.  After this trip though, even if I do succumb to the parasite, I have taken precautions!

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Not taking any chances!  Quick trip to the pharmacy before leaving Ghana to pick this up just in case!

Back on the wagon…again

I’m in the middle of the third week of the Michelle Bridge’s 12WBT and I’m going strong.  The first two weeks were a real challenge because I was taking a friend on the Dead or Alive Flora and Fauna Tour #2 – The Midwest.  It was a great trip and I managed to stay on the wagon for the first week, but by the time we reached Coral Bay, I had a bit of a wobble and fell off.

Having said this, I still managed to complete my exercise training every morning except one.  And I mostly chose the grilled fish and salad option without chips.  In fact, I didn’t eat a single chip.  And I love chips!

 

 

So after two weeks of following the program loosely at best, I can report that I have lost 200g!  Yes, lost!  Any loss is a win when you’re on holidays.  Terri lost more than 2 kg in the same time period which is fabulous too.  She has had a much better start than me but next week is our 4th-week milestone weigh-in and measure-up and I know I’ll have caught up a little by then!

Shock Test

I had a bit of a shock today when doing a fitness test before starting the 12 Week Body Transformation next week.  It may have not been my best effort because Terri and I decided to do the test together in Perth but I forgot to bring up my exercise gear and had to borrow hers.  This means my pants were too small, my shoes too big and I had no sports bra.  Still Here are my results:

  1. Number of pushups without stopping = 8
  2. Time taken to run 1 km whilst holding my boobs up = 6 minutes 33 seconds
  3. Longest plank (from knees) = 3 minutes 4 seconds
  4. Wall sit = 54 seconds
  5. Flexibility test = -13 cm (I was 13 cm away from being able to touch my toes!)

All these stats were put into a formula and the advice given was that I should start the beginner program.  Beginner!  I ran a marathon a year ago and now I’m back to the beginner program!

It was a shock!

 

Getting into the Swing of Things

Before the 12 Week Body Transformation program begins, there is a pre-season.  This entails doing a bunch of different tasks and challenges each week in the lead up to the start of the program in order to get into the right mindset for success.

Trying to move more was a challenge in one of the weeks.  I read this on Friday and I was bored of sitting in front of my computer all day, so I decided to ride my bike to the nearest decent cafe which happens to be a 20 km round trip.  I felt really good having done some exercise.  Of course, when I got to the cafe, I ate an egg and lettuce sandwich, a bucket of chips and a piece of fudge so it wasn’t a complete success.  I did decide not to get an icecream though as I knew that would make me too thirsty during the cycle home.  Yay for me!

Another such task was to go into your pantry and throw out or donate all the food that shouldn’t be there – sugary and fatty foods.  Well, that just seems an unnecessary waste to me, so instead, I’ve been eating them.  I’m currently getting through a block of delicious Margaret River cheese, bread and butter cucumbers and a crisp glass of sauvignon blanc for tea.  For lunch I had a few old butterscotch lollies I found at the back of the cupboard.  Once I’d finished them, I licked the icing sugar out of the tin.  Mmmmm.

Next Saturday is our last free day, so Terri has invited Uncle Adrian over for dinner and he’s bringing dessert!  Uncle Adrian makes the best desserts in the world.  This is true.  If you don’t believe me, you are wrong!  And his portion sizes are also very generous.  This is actually really good planning because there is absolutely no way we will feel like eating on Sunday which is the first day of the program!

 

Rising Like a Phoenix from the Ashes

Ahhh geez!

Well, I’m drinking a glass of wine whilst I’m writing this and it isn’t my first for the day.  I haven’t run for a week after tearing a muscle trying to do a cartwheel for a couple of six-year-olds and I’m about to tuck into a feed of garlic prawns because otherwise, I would have to throw them out.

In short, my foolproof plan to become tropics ready has crashed and burned.

I’m putting it down to isolation.  Normally, I would be going to work where I would be annoying everyone with my constant chatter about my progress, successes and challenges.  Although this would irritate some in the staffroom, there would always be others that would listen and make helpful suggestions.  Turns out, I need that!

Solution: I’ve joined the Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation.

She speaks my language and in an accent I understand.  My sister recommends her whole-heartedly and we will be doing the program together – her in Perth and me in Lake Clifton (at least until the house sells).  The first two weeks will be the biggest challenge as Madrid and I will be travelling around the state!  But not to worry – plenty of chances for exercise whilst swimming with whale sharks and snorkelling on the Ningaloo Reef.  My pescatarianism should be easy to maintain as well whilst heading up the coast.  And if I have to venture beyond that, kangaroo is a very lean meat.

So I’m starting today with the pre-season exercises and this is my shout out to everyone – I’m doing this!

#Horizon

Not a bad environment for some extra exercise!

 

 

Becoming Tropics Ready

I’m moving to the tropics for the second time in my life.  Unfortunately, my body is not tropics ready!  I took a similar version of this body to the tropics almost ten years ago.  Here is a photo of me after I was picked up from the airport in Accra.

ICT Accra

I’m still smiling at this point because the air conditioner is on. But soon after that photo was taken, I had to get out of the van. I naively thought I was prepared. I was wearing a light cotton shirt, a knee length skirt and I had applied some tactically placed talcum powder.

You may not know what happens to talcum powder on your thighs after walking in the tropics for an hour, but I do! And I’m sure as hell not going through that disaster again!

By the time I left the tropics, I no longer needed talcum powder, bike shorts or bandaids.  My body had morphed with little conscious effort, although the dysentery did help a bit,  into tropics go condition. The photo below was taken about 18 months after I had arrived. By then, I was already good to go.

Kokube 2009

The first year in Ghana was tough but it would have been a lot less tough if I wasn’t so physically uncomfortable all the time. So I’m not going to take my circa 2010 body back to the tropics. This time, I’m going to be tropics ready, before boarding the plane!

The Plan

  1. Give up alcohol
    I had my last drink at Dale and Kristie’s on Friday a week ago and the homemade gluhwein was delicious as was the bottle of Moet I took along!My next drink will be during brunch at the Sheraton in Bangkok – book it Kimbo!
  2. Running, running, running,
    I’ve already started training for a half-marathon in February.  Now I just need to find similar races for March, April, May and June!
  3. The two day fast
    This worked so wonderfully well for me before.  And frankly, whilst I’m not working, it will help with my budgeting!
  4. Tell everyone about it.
    DONE!

Japan – the Best and Worst

It’s been about two weeks since I left Japan to make a new home in Australia.  Now that I’m unemployed, again, I have plenty of time to reflect on my five years in Yokohama.  Here is a quick list of things I’m already missing and things that I’m definitely not missing!

Japan – The Best

  1. Skiing
    It is amazing.  Great quality snow, a plethora of beautiful locations to explore, all easy to get to and cheap!  It is by far the best place for skiing I’ve experienced.  What it lacks in the ‘après ski’ atmosphere that the European resorts have, it makes up for in actual snow.  This is also how Japan thrashes the resorts in Australia and New Zealand that I’ve tried.

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    A different type of atmosphere on the mountain in Japan!

  2. Food
    Sushi, ramen, tempura, sushi, okonomiyaki, sushi, yakisoba, gyoza etc etc.  Did I mention the sushi?

    Shirako

    Shirako (cod sperm) excepted!

  3. Onsen
    Bathing naked in front of other people was not something I thought I would end up ever enjoying.  My first experience of it included a terrible faux pas where I didn’t realise you were supposed to get your own stool.  Instead I sat on one that was already in front of a shower which of course turned out to belong to one of the girls in the bath that began giggling at the clueless gaijin.  In addition, I never worked out how you were supposed to really clean your nether regions whilst sitting on them.
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    However, there is truly nothing better after a long run or a days skiing, then coming back to a hot, relaxing onsen.  It’s incredible!

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    An outdoor onsen in winter – magic!

  4. Toilets
    I’m warming to my theme!  A toilet that washes, dries, warms your buttocks in winter, cools them in summer, disguises your ‘noises’ with modesty music and does your taxes.  Well, may be not the last bit but my washlet toilet did everything else.  So lovely!

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    My beloved washlet has gone to a good home!

  5. Convenience
    Japan has it sorted.  Whether it is the massively efficient and comfortable public transport system or the ridiculously fast internet speeds or the same day delivery or the convenience stores that are everywhere and do everything, there is very little you can’t get done at great convenience to yourself.
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  6. Honesty of the People
    I lost my house key once and found it a few hours later perched on top of a drink fountain near where I must have dropped it.  I left my passport on a plane to Okinawa and had someone present it to me moments before I left the airport.  I left my phone in a restaurant and went back later that night to find it had been handed in.  Other people have left phones and wallets in trains or restaurants and all got them back.

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Japan – The Worst

  1. Banking System
    This actually broke me.  Japan’s banking system is frustrating, slow and outdated which is surprising since everything else seems to work so well.
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  2. Communication Problems
    The last two weeks in Australia, I haven’t shut up once!  I’m talking to everyone!  People in the queue at the shops, Geoff the Telstra guy, the chick at the chinese takeaway and countless randoms I’ve just bumped in to have all copped it.  I was able to get mum’s printer fixed by asking questions at the store!  I love google translate but it is so much easier when I don’t need it!
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  3. Shoe Removal
    Mum still makes me do this because apparently I track a lot of dirt into the house and that is fine.  But having to take extra shoes to the gym was a pain.
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  4. Street Racing
    This did my head in!  The summer months had either motorbikes or hoon cars doing burnouts right across the water from my flat.  Their peak hours of operation were 1am to 4am in the morning.  It would be so loud, it was like they were revving their engines on my balcony.  Now I have a much more tranquil environment.
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    Check out the birdsong in the evening in mum’s backyard.

 

 

Sayonara Japan!  I loved my time with you.  Australia, you have a lot to live up to!

Moving in with Mum

Home again #stayathomedaughterIt is every parent’s fantasy to have their unemployed, unmarried, middle-aged child living with them and my mum is now lucky enough to be living that very dream.

Today, ten days after I arrived back in Western Australia, mum and I finally made it home to Lake Clifton.  I’ve unpacked my suitcases and moved into the spare room with the jig-saw puzzles, games and soft toys of my childhood.  But there is still plenty of room left, for when the bulk of my clothes arrive in August.  For now, I’m happy with a pair of tracky-dacks, QANTAS pjs and some running gear!  I also picked up some socks at Target last week so my feet are snuggly warm too.

Mum has acclimatised to having me around surprising quickly.  Not long after we got home, she settled down in to her chair.  Almost immediately she had me running around to collect items for her so she didn’t have to get up again.  I was unpacking my cases in my room when I discovered that she had found her bell and wasn’t afraid to use it.

Mum finds her bell

Mum finds her bell

We’ll see how long it is before she loses it!

Making the Marathon

Winner!

Finally I am an ex-marathon runner!

The Result

On the 19th February in Okinawa, I finally reached my goal after running for 4 hours and 49 minutes on a beautiful sunny 19º C day.

Marathon Details

Phew! I’m in!

I didn’t realise how nervous I was going to be.  I was really worried that I wasn’t going to be able to finish after banging on about this attempt to anyone who would listen since I’d decided to do this back in July of 2016.  I was especially concerned that I wouldn’t finish, not because I was unprepared for it physically, but because I’d overlooked some key step in the organisation and would therefore look like a total twat.  For example, I wasn’t even sure I had successfully entered the race I’d been telling everyone I was running until just a few days before I left for Okinawa when my race package finally arrived in the mail.

Taxi ride in

A nervous taxi ride in but we made it in plenty of time as planned.

The morning of the race, I noticed loads of people (well, two couples) leave the hotel at about 6 am for the race.  I’d organised the taxi for 7:30 am thinking this was going to get me there in plenty of time.  Why were they leaving so early?  What did they know that I didn’t?  This made me worry.

Another concern was the weather.  It was 10 ºC warmer in Okinawa than what I had been training in for the last few months in Yokohama.  My support crew (Okinawa) had canvassed my chief running advisor and he had told her to make sure I drank three bottles of water the day before.  It’s a good thing I’m a bit of a camel because I stored all that liquid up nicely and in the end, I was well hydrated for the race but I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope with the extra sweat and salt loss.

Lastly, I woke up that morning to discover that my period had started.  How’s that for timing!  I only had one super soaker tampon with me, I got another from my support crew (Okinawa) but I was worried with all the bouncing up and down, that might not be enough.  I took two paracetamol with a codeine kicker before the race to combat the oncoming period pain and carried another two with me to take around the 10 km mark when my sciatica typically started to flare up in training.  This was not a good sign and all added up to increase my anxiety.

Support Crew Package

Package carried by my support crew (Okinawa). Everything I could possibly need at the finish line!

In the end, it turned out I needn’t have worried so much.  I was able to finish the race which was the goal I told everyone and I did it in under 5 hours which was my real goal that I kept private.  Not only did I finish under my real goal time, but I did so without vomiting from heat exhaustion or needing to change my pants at the end of the race.  That is success!  And just to prove it, my boss handed me my clean, unused, safety pants, framed, and in front of the staff, as a momento of my achievement on my return to work!

Memorable milestones in training

As the training runs got longer and longer, I started getting more and more bored of running around Yokohama.  This is when I started to run to somewhere.

First milestone was running to Kamakura!  This involved running up a big hill with no room for pedestrians.  I got honked at a bit, but the traffic was moving so slowly, I was never in danger.  And it meant that the run finished with a long down hill to help with  my time!

I ran to Shibuya and I did this by following the directions from Google maps without question.  This did take me across the Yokohama Bay Bridge which has no pedestrian access but that was the way Google told me to go and who am I to argue!  The policeman who stopped me on the other side of the bridge wasn’t happy with me but by that time I was already across and what a view I got!

For my final long training run, I went the opposite direction.  I caught the train to the end of the Keikyu line and then ran back home!

Pitfalls along the way

Fujiyoshida half marathon

It would have been less painful to walk home from Mt Fuji!

It wasn’t all smiles and smooth sailing though.  After completing my first half-marathon since Miura in 2014, I developed a very uncomfortable case of sciatica.  The car trip back from the race was agony.  Sitting down for longer than 10 minutes became a problem but I did my usual trick of assuming the problem would go away by itself.  Five months later, I went to Tokyo Physio in desperation.  Sciatica was diagnosed and the great team there gave me exercises and stretches and a torturous weekly massage that got me on the road to recovery.

For a while I had difficulty making it past the 25 km mark.  On my first attempt to do 30 km I failed miserably.  I was already tired by the time I had run 24 km but it then started pelting down with rain.  By 26 km, I was drenched to the skin and my iPhone had drowned.  At the 26.5 km mark, I gave up completely and began walking.  I even considered not finishing and just heading for the train but I knew my chief running advisor was waiting for me at the finish line with all my  money.

My first attempt at running to Kamakura was also a total failure.  I got lost, my sciatica caused me to give up around Ofuna station but worst of all, I had a bit of an accident in my pants.  It was after this that I started to take the paracetamol with the codeine kicker before a long run.  It was dual action as both an analgesic and (thanks to the codeine) a bottom blocker!

My second attempt to run to Kamakura was ultimately successful however it did start to rain about half way into the run.  It was just a light drizzle so I thought it would be ok.  Typically, I hadn’t bothered to check the weather before leaving my home, and as it turned out the rain set in and once again, I was drenched to the skin by the end of the run.  This time however, I ducked into a convenience store and got a plastic bag for my iPhone (which ultimately saved me another ¥30 000+ repair) and I was extremely lucky that I have good friends in Kamakura who were willing to come to my rescue with a clean, dry tracksuit for the trip home.

Post Marathon Goal

People keep asking me now what my next goal is.  It is simple.  I need to shift my marathon muffin top.

I think I’m the only person to actually gain weight whilst training for a marathon.  Despite clocking up 60+ km a week running, I managed to gain 5 kg since last July.  I’m living proof that you can easily overeat your exercise.  My mindset at the time was that I could eat anything I wanted.  I stopped my 2 day a week fasting routine and you had to be bloody quick to beat me to the free cake in the staff room.

Now I’m back on my 5-2 fasting routine, I’ve cut the alcohol right down again, I’m allowing other people to eat the snacks in the staff room (although last week I was spotted licking the crumbs off the table) and I’m still trying to run three times a week to keep up my fitness.

Lessons Learnt

  1.  Surround yourself with supporting people who have a sense of humour!

  1. Always use sunscreen!

Credits

Finally I have a lot of people to thank who helped me along the way.  I really couldn’t have done this without you!  In no particular order they are:

Chief running advisor

Simon Lorimer

Running advisors

Jim Roberts
Ed O’Loughlin

Support team (Okinawa)

Leah Edwards

Support team (The rest of the world)

Elaine Yandeau
All my colleagues @ YIS
Amanda Roberts
Mum
And everyone who commented and encouraged me on the FaceBook, the RunKeeper, this blog or talked to me in person.  You know who you are!

Health and Fitness Support

Don Mackay @ Tokyo Physio
Reneé @ Falcon Anytime Fitness