Short Runs in Strange Places – Kyboshed in Kyoto

I find one of the more enjoyable aspects of growing older is getting to know yourself better. And for me as an engineer manqué, this covers not just how I react to situations but also getting a proper understanding of how I work. For example: how I learn best (I have to understand the underlying mechanics of anything, then it sticks for ever), how I respond to jet lag (badly – the free booze and music documentaries on the planes get me every time), how  much sleep I really, really need per night (below two I tend to hallucinate a little after lunchtime, more than four if I want to make sense without adrenaline, a regular six if I want to perform properly – so now you know!).

One thing I worked out when I was at university was a basic universal cure-all. Whenever I was feeling low or stressed out I prescribed myself the following: lots of water, some reasonably strenuous exercise, two pints of bitter, light comfort food, an early night and everything will be better in the morning. It worked surprisingly well, right up to the time I hit the City, at which point exercise and early nights went straight out the window. The basic cure-all was then replaced by a more complex structure suggested by a savvy girlfriend of mine involving fresh night air, brown bread and running up and down the street (she had been a junior doctor, and sleep deprivation was a common factor in both our lives).

So when we got to Kyoto I was feeling a little low. Kyoto is beautiful (if you have never been to Kyoto, go to Kyoto (hi Jason!)). But to be honest, nearly six months of travel had been taking their toll. There comes a point at which constantly trying to work out where you are, how you are going to get there, how to read the strange script on the menu, what to eat and how to order it in mime / pidgin English become a little dull. On one level these difficulties are an intrinsic part of the cultural experience of travel, but their enjoyment very much depends on your mood. Standing in front of a queue of Japanese commuters trying to work out why the ticket barrier is steadfastly refusing to let you through can be either an interesting challenge or a bit of a chore (the answer is to insert all of your tickets for your complete journey at once, even if they are issued by different train companies – the machine will riffle through them and spit back out the ones you still need. Dead easy once you know, but deeply counterintuitive anywhere other than Japan).

No matter, thought I – just break out the classic cure-all: drink lots of water, head off for a run round Kyoto, eat a nice seasonal Kaiseki dinner in a good restaurant and spend a long night in a Western bed in our hotel.

I also tend to play myself my all-time favourite tune. The Cinematic Orchestra at their very finest.

And the run was lovely: seven miles round Kyoto, through the imperial park, out to the Eastern suburbs where the wooded hills come right down to the city’s edge, meander down the ancient Philosophers’ Path along one of the charming streams that are a feature of Japanese towns, navigate around a few gorgeous temples fringed by bright autumn foliage then cut back across the river through the shopping district and home. Well, back to the hotel anyway.

Part one complete, we then went out to a modern Kaiseki restaurant for ten courses of exquisitely sculpted seasonal cuisine, an elegant sufficiency of sake and a cab ride home, being honorifically bowed out of the restaurant not only by our own personal waitress but by the receptionist as well. It was, I think, our best meal in Japan and as such I am slightly hesitant to attribute the next 24 hours’ experiences to crushingly overwhelming food poisoning.

It was terrible. I haven’t felt so bad since a bruising introduction to chicken a la banana a few years ago (hello mate!). I won’t go into the fine details, other than to say that Lucy was utterly lovely, looked after me extremely well and I don’t know what I would have done without her.

One other (minor) upside: Japanese toilets truly are world beaters. If you are ever in the situation where you are deciding between going to the loo; being violently, noisily sick; or passing out on the floor I can heartily recommend the self-deodorizing Toto model with the heated seat. That said I would counsel against the interesting water spray features, particularly if you are staying in a hotel with wildly superheated hot water. Ouch.

36 hours later (most of which I spent asleep) I was largely mended and we were on our way. Next stop sumo wrestling and blowfish

Short Runs in Strange Places – Potala Palace, Lhasa

I am a lot less fit than I used to be. Either that, or going for a run at an altitude of just under 12,000 feet is a really, really stupid idea.

We have been in Lhasa for three days now, and are starting to get used to the altitude. We had a relatively smooth ride on the train from Xining, despite reaching over 5,100m during parts of the trip. Our altitude sickness strategy involved lying on our soft sleeper bunks for 24 hours, drinking mineral water and eating packets of Oreos, and I am proud to say that it worked rather well. The Chinese people across the compartment from us seemed to be relying on ginseng and chewing herbal remedies that looked remarkably like genitalia, and from the nosebleeds and nausea I suspect they had a considerably worse time than us. Tourists 1, locals 0!

But there is a considerable difference between happily wandering round the sights without getting too out of breath and jogging the pilgrims’ Kora around the Potala Palace. We had visited the inside of the Potala the day before, and had been suitably overawed by the place, despite the ever-present security. We had also joined the flood of pilgrim grannies and walked around the Kora. Did I really need to run the thing? Well, as George Mallory once said about climbing Mount Everest: “Because it’s there. And it will make an excellent blog post.” Also, my running shoes were giving me the (very non-Buddhist) evil eye. So off I went.

It was a very Tibetan mid-morning – warm and cosy on the sunny side of the street; cold enough to freeze the skulls off a protector deity in the shade. I ran down (nattily and traditionally named) Beijing Street, through the pedestrian underpass, past a deeply surprised security check point (no I didn’t need to have my ipod xrayed, and I wasn’t carrying a cigarette lighter) and onto the Kora itself.

At this point, the pilgrims’ progress became a potential problem. You see, there were hundreds of them, mostly pretty old, hobbling along with their prayer wheels wheeling in their hands and stopping every now and then to admire the architecture and ponder all those sins that were being forgiven by virtue of their being there. And they got in the way. Now, from my limited knowledge of Buddhist thought, I am guessing it is particularly bad for one’s karma impatiently to trample on a granny doing a holy pilgrimage. So I was forced to be patient.

And this was no problem whatsoever. Given the lack of oxygen, after the mile or so it took me to get to the circuit itself, jogging more than about 100 yards at a time had me hacking, coughing, hyperventilating and generally feeling like the poor, struggling kid bringing up the rear of the cross country runs at school (which was always me, since you ask).

So yes, I happily waited while pilgrims meandered about in front of me. I positively enthused when old ladies decided to prostrate themselves in my path. I was the model of politeness when elderly gentlemen paused to admire the (admittedly extraordinary) view. And when we came to the end of the circuit and they all turned right to continue their circumambulations? I made a nifty left and headed for home.

 Lhasa Lhasa Lhasa Lhasa Lhasa Lhasa Lhasa Lhasa...

Lhasa Lhasa Lhasa Lhasa Lhasa Lhasa Lhasa Lhasa…


Short Runs in Strange Places – Samarkand

Names don’t get much more evocative than Samarkand. The name conjures up the very essence of the Silk Road – bustling bazaars, winding back streets, dusty ramparts looking out over the desert, weary travelers discussing the price of carpets in the streets. The Silk Road is a region of extraordinary history, with ravening hordes descending from every direction every few hundred years, carving up vast territories into huge empires before falling, either to the next onslaught or to internal decay. Lucy and I have been wandering hand in hand through the streets of Khiva and Bukhara absorbing the old world atmosphere (and eating kebabs – dozens of them) and dreaming of Samarkand, Kashgar and all the places to come in this stage of our trip.

But yet, I hear the question on everyone’s lips. The burning issue of such import, high above all other burning issues: did you manage to go running?

Well no. It turns out that beautiful pre-medieval towns are utterly rubbish for jogging. They are all far too small and far too wiggly – you would end up going round and round in loopy circles getting more and more lost. And people would stare. However, in the epic historical thread of empires in the region, the most recent to fall was, of course, the Russian empire. And Russian town planners just loved straight lines.

It’s easy for those of us who have spent most of our adult life in a post Soviet world to forget about the influence of the Russians in the ‘Stans. Such influence was, of course, utterly transformative. The old towns of Khiva and Bukhara may have escaped without too much adaptation, but that is to ignore the wider Russian impact. They dug some of the longest canals in the world to irrigate the region – the fields that you drive through for hours between cities were all historically rolling desert, with just a few oases supporting the few large towns. The Russians introduced heavy industry in ideologically acceptable places, now largely rusting in picturesque piles. They introduced cotton and in doing so generated vast revenues while encouraging some pretty epic environmental destruction. And they utterly transformed the shape of the cities: wide boulevards replaced winding streets; soviet-style concrete apartment buildings line said streets; while at ground level you find soviet-style shops, which somehow manage to look drab even with a post-independence abundance of goods in them. Concrete and grass parks surround sporadically working fountains, even if the socialist realist statues of revolutionary heroes are now largely gone, or replaced with less political historical figures.

As a “centre” of the Silk Road with large and impressive monuments (and thereby fitting nicely with a centralized ideology) Samarkand benefited from some intensive and expensive restoration work in the 1970s. As a result, the monuments are all deeply impressive, and are placed within an appropriately Soviet hub and spoke road system, complete with pedestrian areas lined with glass fronted shops and restaurants. And it was through these pedestrian areas and along these boulevards that I ran, appropriately awestruck at the sights but wondering slightly where all the charm had gone.

Start and finish point by our guest house – the mausoleum of Timur the Great (or Tamurlane, as he is sometimes called in the West)

Start and finish point by our guest house – the mausoleum of Timur the Great (or Tamurlane, as he is sometimes called in the West)

Short Runs in Strange Places – Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

I am half way through my jog round Ashgabat when I start to get worried. The police are starting to take an active interest in this random Westerner who is running around the government district at dusk, and I am worried about the language gap. To me, I am a harmless traveler keeping semi-fit while providing semi-amusing travel / jogging anecdotes to a very small group of touchingly devoted blog followers. To a cynical policeman, I am an undocumented foreigner running around their equivalent of Whitehall in an ex-Soviet (now proudly independent) state with an earpiece and a GPS tracking device. I wasn’t sure at the time whether I would have been able to explain that yes, my documents are at the hotel, that my earpiece is the unbroken half of my earphones keeping me supplied with Leonard Cohen tunes and that the suspicious tracking device is an iPhone with an app allowing me to count calories and to send maps to my mates, officer. And my, what lovely truncheons you and your friends have.

As it was, the police / army interest was mercifully restricted to two loud flurries of whistles and lots of truncheon waving, and happily died down when I ostentatiously gave the international sign for: “Who me? Oh, I’m terribly sorry officer. Yes, I will happily run across this six lane highway to keep away from your turf.” You may see a couple of sharp kinks in the track below.

Ashgabat is a strange city, but not how you think. I don’t know how many of our dear readers could accurately point out Turkmenistan on a world map (other than S___, our excellent guide, who may be reading this). In the West, news on Turkmenistan is pretty sparse – we have mostly heard of Turkmenbashi, who governed the country after independence from the USSR. A strongman in the Central Asian tradition, he did an enormous amount for his country, but also … renamed the months of the year after himself and his family, banned opera, ballet, beards, the wearing of make up by news anchors etc.. Cool, huh? Ashgabat was leveled by a massive earthquake in 1948, which also killed eight year old Turkmenbashi’s mother and left him an orphan. As such, when the massive post-independence oil and gas revenues poured in, Turkmenbashi decided to get Dubai-serious with the reconstruction of his proud nation’s capital. This includes:

  • Scads of white marble. Seriously, more white marble than you can shake a stick at. Gold domes, gold doors, huge white marble pillars. Unofficially titled White City, we rechristened it Need-Sunglasses City. Did we mention the white marble?
  • A white marble foreign ministry with a whacking great globe on top (Turkmenistan picked out in gold); an education ministry in the shape of a huge white marble book; repeat for every ministry
  • A humungous arch called “The Arch of Neutrality”, summing up Turkmenistan’s foreign policy, but also handily including a 12 metre high golden statue of Turkmenbashi which revolves to face the sun. This used to be in the centre of town, but was moved by the new government apparently because … it got in the way of a parade
  • A massive fairground in the centre of town called, handily, “The Turkmenbashi World of Fairytales”. We tried to get in to this one evening, but we foolishly tried to get in at the entrance marked “Entrance” on all the maps – you know, the one with the ticket office and the turnstiles. The entrance is actually round the back
  • What else? Oh, a massive gold and white marble ferris wheel, huge monuments and museums to Turkmen independence, a museum full of presents given to Turkmenbashi. You name it, if it is magnificent and has been done before (even in Pyongyang), it is here, all bright and shiny. Class.

And yet…

We loved Turkmenistan. Ashgabat is clean and modern, with excellent infrastructure (if a lot of policemen, and not too many opposition parties). We were entertainingly and interestingly shown round by our excellent guide and driver and shown truly wonderful old-world gracious hospitality. The markets were groaning with fresh and dried fruits, vegetables and every kind of dairy product (there is a post brewing somewhere about the entire milk / cream / yoghurt / cheese spectrum and quite how many delicious individual points there are along it). There was architecture in the countryside from when the proto-English were still living in mud huts (anyone remember the Parthians from schoolboy latin lessons? Their capital was here, and still is). There were spectacular dusty mountains with Iran on the other side. You could really feel that you were on the Silk Road. It was fantastic.

And Turkmenbashi? Well, he unfortunately died in 2006, and has been replaced by his number two, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow. The Turkmen are reasonable, if passionate people. Imagine asking a married acquaintance of yours about his ex-girlfriend – you know, the one for whom he made all the truly wild romantic gestures when he was younger – and that is the type of response you get when the subject of Turkmenbashi comes around. Yes, we went out. Yes, it was great. Yes, we have both moved on. Have you met my wife?

By the way, those of you who read the back page of the Financial Times may have noticed that Tyler Brulé, that habitual roué, has started to taking inspiration from my “Short Runs” blogs for his articles. Oh Tyler dear, all you had to do was ask. Perhaps we should expect high powered expositions on international Tuna / Rice cuisine to appear next?

Short Runs in Strange Places – Port Vila Harbour

Ah, the Beach Boys

We have just arrived back in Port Vila. Among other excitements (which Lucy will be rhapsodizing over elsewhere) we have been reunited with our excess luggage and I have remembered that I made the somewhat foolhardy decision to bring my running shoes round the world with me. Yay!

What better way to celebrate than a run around town?

The particularly observant among you may notice a few things. This run is extremely short (blame the lack of sensible exercise over the last six weeks?). It was particularly slow (ditto). And … I seem to be walking on water.

Turns out that iPhone GPS receivers still work while encased in waterproof plastic bags, tupperware and duct tape and hung in a string bag around your neck. And that the resulting Heath-Robinsonian contraption floats rather well when you go swimming. Cue James feeling exceptionally smug for (a) thinking of such a stupid thing (b) making it all the way across the bay without drowning (c) not being hit by a speedboat or eaten by a shark (d) best of all, not frying my iPhone despite dunking it in salt water for the best part of an hour!

Swimming off into the horizon

Swimming off into the horizon


Look! I haven't fried my iPhone!

Look! I haven’t fried my iPhone!

Mt Hagen Running Man

Our first full day in Kumul Lodge and we’d arranged with our guide, Max, that we would be able to climb Mt Hagen. It sounded like a fantastic day walk – 8 to 10 hours walking through forest and mountain, with spectacular views from the peak. We were pretty excited about this, though for some reason we couldn’t quite fathom, Max seemed less thrilled. We thought maybe he just preferred to walk along the road (we’d done this the previous afternoon and he’d been able to gather soda cans – for later resale – to his heart’s content).

Our little group of three set off, each equipped in their own various styles for the excursion: James & Lucy: technical hiking gear – boots, fancy lightweight trousers, wicking tops plus waterproof jackets; Max: a smart pair of slacks, woolen pullover, white gumboots, a machete and an umbrella. Max kindly offered to loan us a pair of gumboots – we smiled, inwardly chuckled and politely refused.

How wrong we were.

You see, here’s the thing about rainforests: it rains. A lot. No, I mean really a lot. You’re thinking Surrey on a drizzly afternoon in February. I’m thinking an atmosphere best approximated by turning the central heating on full then getting someone to follow you round tipping a bucket of water over you every 10 minutes or so. The type of rain that laughs at waterproofs and treats goretex walking boots as a challenge to its masculinity. The type of rain where you actually really NEED gumboots.

Max 1, James & Lucy 0.

The thing with all that rain is that it turns the smooth earth of the trail into a vast churning mud plain. Walking in this terrain loses all semblance to the normal day to day activity, particularly when you’re headed up a steep slope. As your front foot lands, there’s a short period of stability before it slides slowly, gloopily backwards. Your back foot slides in sympathy. Yep, basically you end up pretty much dancing the Running Man all the way up the mountain. In hiking boots. Minus the arm movements, of course – I’m not crazy you know and a simile can be stretched too far. The only thing that can really stand up to all this mud and keep you upright is….gumboots.

Max 2, James & Lucy 0.

Of course, this situation didn’t go on for long. An hour into the walk, the trail ran out (well, it was still theoretically there, but untouched for 3 years. The rainforest grows a LOT in 3 years) and the bushwhacking started, courtesy of Max’s machete. We marched gamely onwards, stumbling over tree roots and spiny bamboo and hurdling a 2 foot high fallen tree trunk every 10 steps or so. Of course by this time, the grips in our technical walking books were filled with mud, so we were slipping and sliding all over the place. No grip, no trail, virtually no solid footing. You know what works well on this terrain? Gumboots.

Max 3, James & Lucy 0.

We know when we’re beaten. After about 2.5 hours, we turned back – we were already pretty tired by this point and after 10 hours wed have been in tired-enough-to-be-stupid-and-end-up-injuring-yourself territory. After another 2.5 hours walking in the blinding torrential rain (during the course of which, Max confessed his hatred for this particular walk – apparently you can’t see sh** from the top anyway), we ended up back at our cozy bungalow, where we stayed for the remainder of the afternoon, listening to the blinding torrential rain.

Best decision EVER.

[Me on our trek. Note the lack of any discernible trail….]

Short Runs in Strange Places – Sydney Harbour

Perhaps it was the pernicious influence of the Olympics. Perhaps it was the fact that the Sofitel was more expensive than we would have liked and we wanted to make full use of ALL the facilities. Perhaps it was the fact that the some drunkard had stolen the free weights in the gym in our deeply classy hotel in Santiago. For whatever reason, we had decided that Sydney would be exercise central. So, we hit the gym in the jetlagged very early morning (ouch), and when the opportunity came up for Lucy to do a (free!) pilates class later that afternoon, I decided to go see the sights.

20 minutes in – Sydney Harbour Bridge, from the Sydney Opera House

20 minutes in – Sydney Harbour Bridge, from the Sydney Opera House

And I guess you can’t complain about a little jogging when the views are as world class as this:

40 minutes in – Sydney Opera House, from Sydney Harbour Bridge

40 minutes in – Sydney Opera House, from Sydney Harbour Bridge

A short note on tall bridge running – although the views are lovely it can be damned hard to find the pedestrian on-ramps to the blasted things, which are always situated about half a mile further inland than you expect. Cue James running utterly ragged up, down and around the Circular Quays area trying desperately to find a long flight of stairs to run up. I would like to think that this explains both the drunken spider routing and the damned slow average speed (again, not that I’m counting…)


Short Runs in Strange Places – Easter Island

I was feeling ambitious. I had been yomping up and down steep hills well above 2,500 meters for more than two weeks now, and I wanted to see if this whole altitude-training, red-blood-cell, hyper-fit malarkey was actually true. Incidentally, Easter Island is the location that I originally had in mind when I decided to start this whole Short Runs in Strange Places business, and my running shoes were starting to give me accusing looks again. So I went out for a short jog: from our guest house in Hanga Roa up the hill to the Birdman Ceremonial Village and back. Easy.

The cliff path

The cliff path

A few observations:

  • I learned the joy of jogging by the Hudson River in New York. There are no gradients there – sea level, that sort of thing
  • Choosing as a running destination the top of a hill that prehistoric men used to climb to prove both their manhood and the vitality of their whole civilization is Not Very Smart
  • I’m no Michael Fish, but if you spot the most beautiful rainbow ever, and it is upwind of you, you are about to get utterly soaked in freezing rain
  • My rinky-dink New Balance running shoes are deeply technical and lovely, and are designed for running on pavements, possibly moist pavements at a pinch. They are NOT designed for running diagonally up steep grassy hills in the sleet while hurdling gorse bushes
  • Large animals poo mightily in handy gaps between said gorse bushes
  • Running at just above top speed down slippery red clay roads in the pouring rain wearing aforementioned urban footwear is, erm, “exhilarating”
  • My heart rate can still top 180 when the red mist of stubbornness comes down
The view from the lip of the crater

The view from the lip of the crater

The outcome? Well, I have no idea if I am any fitter than I used to be, as I never would have attempted something so patently stupid before. Still: just over seven miles; 300 meters up and down; slow at 85 minutes; came home to Lucy covered in mud, blood and soaked to the skin. Epic.

[PS: check out the crater on the satellite photo above!]

Short Runs in Strange Places – Las Vegas

There is a feature on the running machines in our gym in New York. While you are pounding away on an artificial slope in an air conditioned room surrounded by neurotic, exhausted office worker types you can dial up videos of great scenic runs of the USA. It’s called the Virtual Active system, and with surprisingly little imagination it transports you: alongside the Niagra Falls; through ancient New England forests in the fall; through the legendary national parks of the United States. I don’t know if it’s the pumping music, the endorphins from the exercise or that strange runner’s trance, but it’s actually pretty compelling, to the extent that when you finish it comes as a bit of a surprise to be transported back to New York City and the real world.

There is a particular run which is my favourite: half an hour through the deep canyons of Utah and the deserts of Arizona, with a final sprint along the Las Vegas strip. I don’t know what it is about this specific run that I particularly like – maybe it’s the bonkers scenery or perhaps, less kindly, it’s the virtual running through all the clotted crowds struggling from casino to casino. Anyway, I had promised myself numerous times in my little gym in New York that – one day – I would do the run for real.

Well, Lucy and are currently in the wish-fulfillment business, so here you are:

Short Runs in Strange Places – New Orleans

Well, the food was out of this world, and we didn’t hold back. No problem, thinks James. All I need to do is put on my running shoes, leave the air conditioned frigidity of our hotel and do a standard six-miler. In the evening sun. In 90 degree heat. And 90 degree humidity. Ouch.


Ladies and gentlemen, I’m not proud, but this run almost finished me off. Anyone tech-savvy enough to download the .kml file behind this google map and interrogate the time signatures (geeeek!) will be able to work out that I ended up dragging my sorry ass round this embarrassingly short course in the world’s slowest time. I had visions of staggering into the hotel bar at run’s end like something out of Ice Cold in Alex and asking for a whisky sour and a litre of house saline (“warm water, one teaspoon salt, five of sugar and three straws please barman!”). I won’t say I burned off all the Jambalaya, but hell, I gave it my best shot.

I must admit that the heat wasn’t my biggest concern when I set out. New Orleans has had a relatively troubled past and as a result has some similarly troubled parts of town. The logical solution to a starting point in the French Quarter and a nice six mile loop takes an out-of-towner along the river, through the up-and-coming Marigny and into the Lower Ninth Ward.

For those of you who don’t know the city, Old New Orleans – the French Quarter, Bourbon Street etc. – was built on a natural levee on the curve of the Mississippi. More modern parts of town, for example the Lower Ninth, were built behind artificial levees about 10 feet below sea level, and as a result were … about 10 feet below sea level after Hurricane Katrina paid her visit in 2005.

Lucy and I both spent the majority of our waking hours over the past decade on the fringes of the (re)insurance industry, for which Hurricane Katrina was a Major Loss Event. Having seen the effects at a narrow industry-wide level, we thought it would be worth paying a visit to the Hurricane Katrina Museum, situated one floor below the Mardi Gras Museum – turn left at the artfully stranded boat by the cathedral.

Having always considered Katrina a natural disaster (hurricane – go figure) it was a surprise to me to hear it classified as man-made: to see exhibits detailing the mammoth but all too often counterproductive efforts undertaken by the federal flood protection programs over the years; to see clearly-explained design flaws in the levees themselves; and to see minute by minute dioramas of how and why they failed. After a room of hurricane tracks and a room of soil science, the rest of the museum focuses on the human cost and suffering of those in New Orleans at the time – those trapped in their homes and the tens of thousands suffering in the temporary shelter in the (Mercedes Benz sponsored) Superdome while the federal government struggled to help. It is pretty harrowing stuff.

A point that was made so carefully by the museum as to seem almost accidental was that 100,000 people remained in New Orleans … while 1.1 million reacted to the truly apocalyptic hurricane warnings and left town in a carefully orchestrated, pre-planned evacuation. That’s your eleven closest neighbors fleeing town, and you deciding to stay behind. And expecting the Federal Government (and there is a huge essay brewing somewhere in me about an Englishman’s take on the touchy relationship between the federal and state governments) to step in and helicopter you out.

I am not able to put myself in the minds of the people who stayed behind. Many may have lived through worse-sounding hurricanes. Many may not have been fortunate enough to have had places to go, or cars to take them there, or even money for petrol. Or may have been afraid of leaving their homes unprotected. In any event, those who stayed had their already tough lives made much, much tougher. All while the richer, older parts of the Big Easy remained relatively untouched above water level.

Returning to the possible route of my run, some said that the Lower Ninth Ward should never be rebuilt – that constructing a neighborhood well below sea level in a notorious hurricane zone may have been unfortunate once, but that doing it twice would count as carelessness. The people of New Orleans are made of tougher and brighter stuff, however, and the buildings have been reconstructed. That said, razing one of the city’s poorest areas to the ground and rebuilding it in a hurry has done nothing for the crime rate – I decided it wasn’t a place for an out of breath Englishman to be caught after dark, and kept my run shamefully short.

Clouds over New Orleans

Worrying looking clouds at half time