Watching out for ticks and tik

Well, as suspected, my training has gone somewhat to hell since I’ve been here. I certainly am not running the miles planned, although I’ve made an effort to get the important workouts (or something resembling them) done.

On Tuesday we did a 14 miler along a dirt road called Riviersonderend, which translates roughly into “Endless River.” Since we are in such an isolated place and had to do different workouts, we spent some time beforehand planning how to ensure that we’d be within a mile or so of each other. Jonathan had to do 8 1K repeats and rests and some easy running. I had to do 5 tempo miles in a midlength effort. So we worked out a 7 mile out/7 mile back plan, where he’d eventually catch up to me and pass me coming and going, then I’d catch up to him and we’d run the last few miles together.

What we didn’t count on was another day of brutal headwinds and big hills. Worse, we were in full sun and it was warmer. So those 5 miles were tough and I was again glad to be training by effort rather than pace, since I was averaging 8:00 miles again. I have been told by the locals that a woman running alone is safe, and I have not doubted this while looping through the town, especially with my little borrowed Doberman at my side. Once out on deserted roads with only a farmhouse every few miles, I’ve not been so sure. But Tuesday was fine and the few interactions I did have were comfortable (although I did wonder why two boys who looked about 14 were driving a giant tractor).

Speaking of the Doberman, it seems the owners who were out of town are back and again properly caring for her, so I’ve not seen her wandering the neighborhood anymore. I may go ask if I can borrow her if I do another solo town run again.

The rest of the day was spent consuming recovery-friendly hot chocolate and quiche, followed by a stroll around nearby Genanendal, site of (again, this was what I was told) the oldest missionary settlement in Africa, in this case Moravians from the early 18th century. Something I really like about South Africa is that the flip side of its second-world flakiness is the flexibility that goes along with it. In Switzerland, if you turn up at a cafe at 3:58 and it’s closing at 4:00, they’ll turn you away. Here, they’ll serve you and tell you not to rush, and they really mean it. Or, another example: restaurants often run out of dishes (ask me about the pizzeria that, on a busy Saturday night, had to stop serving because they ran out of cheese!), but the ones they do serve can be out of this world, like the crackling pig I had last night.

Genanendal is also worth noting as we noted on Google Earth that it has a running track. Or, at least, it once had something resembling a running track. Now it’s a molehill-pocked, overgrown loop surrounding a slightly less ratty rugby field, populated with wild dogs. We decided not to run there, despite my being innoculated against rabies.

Next up on the itinerary was a much-anticipated group hike, a 14k from Greyton to McGregor, through the foothills of the Overbergs. I have pictures but forgot my connector cable, so they’ll have to be added later. Most impressive was the presence of Jonathan’s 78-year-old mother, Margaret, who, while not skipping up and down the trails, nonetheless performed like a trooper and made it to the end of the trail without complaint despite two minor tumbles along the way. The English are a hardy folk.

It was a great time, actually. I got to know a few Greytonites, all retirees and most of them transplants, including Paul, who shared his mishap-laden stories of travel in the States and, most shockingly, his total ignorance of Elvis Costello (despite being a huge fan tof Diana Krall, he’d never heard of the guy); Ulrich, a retired professor of German Literature and escapee from East Germany, with whom I had a detailed discussion of Caster Semenya; Claus, a retired Swiss engineer with a penchant for photographing flowers while apologizing for not knowing what any of them are. We got a ride home from Andrew, another cheerful, good-natured Brit, and his lead-footed Londoner girlfriend, Susan.

The hike itself was fantastic, taking us from cultivated wine country into semi-arid desert. Along the way were natural falls and pools, wild lilies the size of saucepans and more wildflower varieties than I could count. No baboons, snakes, spiders, leopards or Lyme-carrying ticks, though.

After quick showers the four of us youngsters, myself, Jonathan, Rob and Phil, headed out for a restorative meal in town in R&P’s rental. And then, upon our return, our adventure began. The first thing we noticed was that the entire side of our own rental car was scraped and dented. Next, upon entering our rented house, inside doors that had been closed were now opened. A survey revealed random items taken: Rob’s camera and cellphones, Phil’s iPod, Jonathan’s Adidas racing shoes and, most oddly, yogurt, tea biscuits, Nutella and biscotti. But not the wine, beer or gin. Nor the laptops, expensive running watches or my jewelry case.

With no sign of forced entry, we all sat around worrying that a key was floating out there somewhere. But we finally found a window that was unlocked, probably from prior to our check-in, although there’s always the possibility it was opened by a clever thief with a knife. Also, a deck chair in front of the window was shoved to the side, making it the obvious point of entry. I will say that the police were responsive, as was the security company when we called. The biggest nuisance was the rental car. Again, don’t ask. A day was wasted dealing with that mess. At this point, we’re out a substantial sum due to arcane car rental mores coupled with Avis’s bait and switch policies. Strongly worded letters to the Avis corporate offices and various regulating bodies will follow. Probably with no effect. Don’t rent from Avis!

The agent responsible for managing the house told us that it was probably the work of local teens looking for things to sell for “TIC” (or “tik”), the local variety of crystal meth. How horrible to know this blight has now spread to one of the countries on the planet that can least afford another big social problem. School’s out, which means the kids are idle, and the property crime is up as a result.

So, what a huge fucking drag this has been, a bruise on an otherwise lovely trip. My visits to SA are never complete without a moment when I say to myself, “I’m never doing ‘x’ here again.” The first time it was sitting alone on a beach in Cape Town. The second time it was flying South African Airways. This time it’s…well, I don’t know what exactly.

Jonathan has two friends from his university days, Brand and Ronel, arriving tomorrow evening from Johannesburg. We’ll forget about the events of the last 24 hours and focus on spending time with them. I’ve got a hard 21 miler scheduled this weekend and had hoped to do it before they come tomorrow, but we’ll play it by ear. At this point, I’m inhaling G&Ts in absence of Xanax.

Africa. A nice place to visit until something goes horribly wrong. Which it will if you give it a few days.

Today’s final note: One of the headlines in the Cape Town Times today is “Seeking solutions to baboon-related issues.”

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