Highland Cross 2018 – Race Report

It is now Monday night and your legs are still sore from taking part in a 50 mile duathlon on Saturday. It was worth it however because you raised money for charities that do brilliant work in the Scottish Highlands. You also thoroughly enjoyed yourself and pushed yourself to the limits of endurance while travelling through some awe inspiring scenery.

Now its back to washing dishes though and your still pretty tired. So how did you get to this point. Well, 36 years after its conception the Highland Cross is still going as strong as ever with a field of over 700 taking part every year. Some choose to walk and cycle the distance while others, including you, choose to run and then cycle it. This is actually the second year you have taken part in the crossing across the Highlands from Morvich to Beauly, passing the stunning Sisters of Kintail and running through Glen Affric.

Organisation is a word you have always feared and has never ever been a strength. In fact its likely the reason teachers at school often became frustrated with you. Unfortunately a significant amount of organisation is needed to compete in this awesome event. Though fortunately the race organisation itself is top notch. To anyone participating in this event it is recommend to make a weekend of it. Take the option of dropping your precious bike in Inverness on the Friday evening to be transported to the transition point of the race after 20 miles.

Arriving in the capital of the Highlands, you will wrap your almunium bike, that you love dearly, in copious amounts of cardboard and bubble wrap while watching fellow competitors  wheel their carbon frames about. Its okay though because you’ve always believed its not at all about the bike and that the totally worn out tryes on your steed don’t make it easier to puncture. Basic science isn’t important right?

With the bike now at the back of your mind, as no last minute repairs can be made, you drive to Beauly where you will be spending the night with your team mate/mother in a hotel room. You have convinced yourself over the last week that the reason you couldn’t find anyone else than your Mum to join your team is that you are a maverick when it comes to running and cycling. You go it alone. Maybe its actually because you look shit in lycra. Oh well.

Anyway on arrival you meet with your team leader who you raced with last year. He is a strong athlete and therefore deserves his carbon bike (please write in), and has given you the great opportunity to do this event again. See you do have some friends in the athletic community.

The night before is less stressful than it was last year when you spent the wee hours pacing around your room and hoping you wouldn’t be using the bathroom as much when the morning came. Last year was more stressful as you really wanted to put in a good shift for your team leader to help him record a sub 5 hour crossing which you managed with 20 minutes to spare.

This year isn’t as stressful as you are purely racing for yourself, being given free lease to see if you can beat your previous time of 4:40. Training hasn’t been ideal and your health has been bit sporadic but you feel confident you can beat 4:30, not using excuses in a desperate attempt to provide a safety net for massive failure.

Feeling sick with nerves the next morning you force down some lumps of porridge which you are sure is actually a living organism, and head of on the 2 hours, 30 minutes bus journey to the west coast. This is where sheep have free will and the roads curve through towering mountains shrouded in low cloud. It is also where you will start the race.

Now standing on the start line your bladder gives it usual last minute reminder that its there, before the starting gun is fired at 11am. Your off at a storming pace and you feel great, strolling along a nice wide path through the beautiful countryside. At this pace you’ll get there in under four hours and you won’t even have to worry about finding a tree to take a piss behind.

Soon you hit the first climb and the legs aren’t the happy, reminding you there’s the best part of 17 miles remaining until transition. Slowing down you take water from every station you pass, commandeered by enthuasutic  volunteers with loud and encouraging voices. Taking it easy to the high point of the race you take in the amazing waterfall below and finally after an hour, relive yourself behind a small wall.

The descent to the halfway point is great fun and you revel in ploughing through deep streams which cross the path. Suddenly you are over two hours in and are still going well. You have munched through half an energy bar, finding out how hard it is to keep running while eating. Others are taking in gels and other food, but you think this will give you a sore stomach so keep going. You will regret this when your blood sugar levels drop through the floor after the race.

Its not long until you can hop on your bike and your getting excited about getting a seat of some sort. Your lycra is beginning to become uncomfortable and you want to start wearing it for its primary use, to protect your fruit and veg from the exertion of cycling. When running its heavy and feels like more of a hindrance than anything else. When thinking about all this you find yourself on the “Yellow Brick Road”, a seemingly endless hell of undulating double track which leaves cramp in almost every part of your body.

In reality this section only lasts five miles but it takes a lot of resolve to not start walking or stop. After a section of tarmac which adds to the pain, you arrive at the transition point to your absolute relief. This part of the race is brilliantly organised and you only spend five minutes here, changing into your circa 2012 cycling clip ins (I haven’t really grown) with the help of a friendly and patience race volunteer.

The cycle was great fun last year and you enjoyed it again this year, weaving through groups of slower cyclists and being passed by the quicker ones on the often technical run down to Beauly. It feels like your competing in a clean Tour de France. With your eye on the clock you power through the cycle in 1hour, 23 minutes, meaning your total time is 4 hours, 20 minutes. Success!

This joy at your time is short lived however, as you miss your team mates finishing as you pass out in your hotel room and sleep for the next three hours, obviously suffering from major calorie defiency. Both of your team mates ran storming times and you leave the Scottish Highlands with a great sense of happiness, hoping to return again to a great event for a good cause.

If you have been good enough to listen to my ramblings it would be awesome if you could sponser me a wee bit for completing the Highland Cross 2018. The work the Cross does goes back into the communities which play such a big role in helping the race continue successfully….

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/finn-nixon1

 

 

 

 

Glas Tulaichean Uphill – 26/05/18

Last Saturday afternoon I competed in my first ever uphill running race, it also only being the third time I’ve competed this year. It was actually the first time I’ve run up a munro which I found rather surprising when I think about it. The finish line was atop Glas Tulaichean, a munro a few miles west of the Spittal of Glenshee. Two of the most keen runners I know, my Auntie Marie and her partner Stuart, where running and had encouraged me to join them earlier in the week.

With my usual anxiety towards actually participating in races I desperately searched for a good excuse and as usual couldn’t find one. However, instead of looking for a bad excuse, on this occasion I decided that I needed to just go for it. I realised that I didn’t need to worry about placings or speed, I just needed to test my fitness by putting a good effort.

On race day Marie swung by the house and we chatted about the race on the short 30 minute journey. We were accompanied by my cousin, Katie, and our mad new-ish dog, Cora. It would be Katie’s responsibility to look after this hairy wrecking ball. I would be more positive about this good natured dog if I hadn’t returned home yesterday to find it had destroyed my Fijian diary. Don’t worry I can’t stay mad at dogs for long.

Arriving at the start line near Dalmunzie Hotel, we were met by stunning views up a valley with steep slopes, gradients I was secretly hoping we wouldn’t be attempting to run up. The scorching weather added to the beautiful scenery and there was little cloud cover in the sky. If I could survive running in Fiji then surely I would be able to cope with temperatures around 5 degrees cooler.

As it approached starting time my only real worry was some nasty blisters which I had on my feet.  I had counted at least five this morning, a result of running in new shoes which I hadn’t properly worn in yet. I had been forced to make a last minute purchase as my old innovates which I loved dearly had long passed there best before date. The soles were falling off and there was very little grip left. Not a good pair of shoes to be running in. This meant that my sole test of my new shoes had been 10k run the day before.

Apart from the blisters I was feeling confident, knowing I just had to give it my best shot. At 2pm we were ushered to the start line and the race to the summit started. The first three kilometres or so were raced at a high pace as we made our way along the valley floor to the bottom of Glas Tuilachen. With a race distance of seven kilometres, much of the next 4K was raced up a frighteningly steep gradient, made harder by the fact you could see the rest of the climb ahead at all times.

Passing through a river at the bottom of the climb my blisters had stung as water had filled my shoes and I really started to feel them getting worse as I slowly ascended the steep land rover track. I was maybe overtaken by four runners on the climb. I have a bad habit of starting races too fast. I was however motivated by the fact that I could see the runners walking like most hill runners should at some point. I am not one of these runners and like to continue running even when it is obviously more efficient to put your hands on your knees and walk.

I manged to catch one of these fellow competitors in the last few hundred meters, to take back a position I had lost. 50 minutes and 47 seconds after starting this 7.2 kilometre race I had reached the finish line. As I collapsed in a heap (okay it wasn’t that dramatic, I took a seat) I was able to take fantastic 360 views of the surrounding hills and munros, looking up the Larig Ghru and down on the highest peaks in Perthshire.

I was pleased that I had been able to keep running the whole way and hadn’t given into the incredible pain which I was now feeling in my feet. I was also pleased for Marie who smashed her 1 hour target by at least 3 minutes, while Stuart finished far ahead of me in a very respectable eight place out of a 44 strong field. I had finished 13th and had learnt a bit about my form with the Highland Cross approaching in four weeks time.

I had also learnt that you shouldn’t race in new shoes you haven’t worn in yet. Running back down to the start line with the others, I tentatively plodded along the land rover track as my feet felt like they were on fire. Returning to the car, I surveyed the damage and found lots of blood and some impressive holes in my heels. This had been a bit of a learning curve.

At least I have an excuse to blow the cobwebs of the bike this week! Despite the blisters it had been a great experience and again reminded me of the perks of racing in terms of being a good motivator to go out and put in the effort. Hopefully I able to get my running shoes on again by the weekend. Now where can I get some compeads?

 

The Infamous Morrone

At 859 metres high, Morrone hill has to be the most recognisable geographical landmark when entering Braemar on the North Deeside road from the east. It is technically a corbett, missing out on being a munro by a mere 55 metres. For me it is a special hill, being one that I admire but also fear. Can you have a love/hate relationship with a hill? Lets say you can.

My relationship with Morrone began before my family had even upped sticks and moved to Braemar. It was June 2016 and I was celebrating the end of my last ever school exams. I was ecstatic (well kind off) and had a long summer ahead of me before heading of to university in September. The only problem was that I didn’t actually know what I wanted to do with myself for these few months with the exception of maybe getting a job at some point. Laziness isn’t something I’m immune to.

However, my parents weren’t too happy with the idea of me being idle, so Mum suggested I travel with her on the 45 minute journey up the valley to Braemar primary school for a couple of weeks. So that’s what I did, volunteering and helping out in her class. It went well, excluding the time I fell asleep at the back of her class. She wasn’t best pleased.

Anyway, while passing Braemar’s 30 mph limit signs, I would always look in wonder at the path which wound its way up the sickeningly steep slopes of Morrone to the mast which was just visible at the summit. I knew I had to run up it and one Friday I was lucky enough to give this a go.

It was after school hours and Mum was making preparations for the next day in the classroom. It had been a scorching day and the heat had seemed to keep intensifying until it had become more and more humid. If I was a weather expert or had basic general knowledge I would have known what was to come next. Hindsight is a great thing though.

At the start of my run I passed the golf course towards Fraser’s Bridge, before taking a right and embarking on the steep southern slope of Morrone. The path that is visible from the main road is the one that I would be descending. The fire road climb was long and winding as I started to feel the burn in the bright evening sunshine. After about 30 minutes of painful climbing at an average gradient of 11% I reached the summit, had a seat and took in my surroundings for the first time.

The 360 degree views from the summit are stunning when the skies are clear and atmospheric when they”re not. On this day I spent about 15 minutes taking in the many hills, mountains and valleys which lay in front of me. During this time I heard a slight rumble from the west and looked up the Dee valley to the Linn O’Dee to see dark clouds forming. Another rumble, this time louder followed by another. Each time becoming louder. Finally logic kicked in and I realised what was happening. It was time to try and loose some altitude quickly.

The approaching lightening was getting closer by the second, seemingly wanting to chase me down the hill to shelter. I scrambled as fast as I could down the rocky, technical single track as huge hailstones attempted to make my descent harder. I could almost feel the electric pulse around me as there were bright flashes and deafening booms to my left.

Eventually I reached the primary school and found shelter as the storm moved away. I realise the chances of actually getting struck by lightening are extremely low but this had still been an interesting experience. According to “Strava” that still stands as my fastest descent of Morrone and I don’t think I’ll ever beat it.

Just over a year later my family had based themselves in Braemar, giving a perfect opportunity for me to put some demons to bed and tackle Morrone again. When in the village it became my staple hill running route and is now one of my favourites. There are a few variations you can do on the route with the longest being 12 and the shortest being 7 kilometres long. The shortest variation takes you up the single track to the “Five Cairns” and is an exact copy of the hill race which is held at the famous Braemar Gathering every September.

Despite my great enjoyment of challenging myself on these slopes, Morrone truly became an infamous hill in my book in September of last year. After work I often climb the rocky path through the heather when there is enough light. Long story short, one night there wasn’t enough light and I ended up at the summit of Morrone in the quickly fading light without a torch. This wasn’t good and was a situation which should have been easily avoided.

Fearing I might not be able to find my way back to the street lights, I wanted to get down the hill as fast as possible. Then I fell. I hadn’t noticed the rock that I tripped on or even felt the one I landed knee first on. I hadn’t hurt too much and dusting myself off, I continued stumbling down the descent, fearing superficial scarring to my right knee at the worst.

As I finally reached the street lights of Braemar after continuing through the pitch darkness (as a part-time jedi the force guided me) I stopped to tie my laces and then looked down at my knee. Seeing the blood which was still flowing down to my ankle, I surveyed my knee and was taken a back by the deep hole which had developed on my knee cap.

Arriving home I tried to plaster it up to stop the bleeding but eventually gave in and showed Mum the extent off my injury. I had certainly done a good job of it. A late night doctor’s surgery visit later and I had three stitches and a very stiff knee. For a second time, the towering hill of Morrone had commanded my respect. Three weeks out from running following a nasty infection on removal of the stitches, and I realised hill running shouldn’t be messed with.

Approaching a year on from this hiccup and Morrone has become a staple of my training again. My weaker right knee reminds me of the risks of becoming overconfident on its steep descent and it seems like a pretty desolate and scary place to go in the dark anyway. Maybe it wasn’t a rock which tripped me…..

 

 

 

Heading Home

First Draft – Monday 23rd April 2018

The Positives :

As I sit on the beach in Nadi Bay on the largest Fijian island of Vitu Levu, my emotions are hugely mixed. This evening I am heading home. No not my Fijian home, but my real home in a small village in the Scottish Highlands. A last run along the beach this morning only made me feel a deeper sadness that I would be leaving this small piece of paradise. The sun is shining as brightly as ever through the numerous palm trees and across the blue Pacific Ocean as though the weather gods our rubbing in the fact that I will leave all of this behind in a few hours.

However, I like to think I’m optimist by Scottish standards at the very least. Therefore I want to first list the obvious positives of heading home. One is probably the most obvious, being that I miss my family and closest friends, having not seen or really heard from them for two months now. It will be great to catch up with them and make them feel jealous as I flaunt my healthy tan and blonde hair. I realise these will fade quickly so I’ll actually keep the flaunting to a minimum I think.

It will also be great to return to sunny Braemar, my home village of around 450 people with a real community spirit which could perhaps be compared to the attitudes of Fijians towards the importance of community. It would be churlish to not admit that I have felt a degree of homesickness during the last two months.

As I’ve often said being Scottish is almost a disease. During the cold long winters and following cool, wet summers that we experience I’ll often be desperate to get away to a warmer climate. However, a week away and you suddenly miss Scotland and can have moments where you are desperate to return to the home nation and have to wear layers most days.

I have also of course had a truly amazing experience which I can take back with me and treasure for the rest of my life. It is by a long shot the best thing I have ever done and I would have laughed if someone had suggested I would have ended up in Fiji six months ago. This journey half way across the globe fulfilled my overall aim. To extend my comfort zone to the absolute limit.

During my time here I have learnt a huge amount about Fiji, its culture and its people. Not giving these islands another visit doesn’t feel like it should be an option for me. Although, lets not forget I have many things to look forward to when I return home. I am lucky enough to be returning to my job as a part-time dishwasher and hopefully have a university place lined up.

The Negatives:

On the other hand, there was a feeling of great sadness as I packed up my suitcase for the last time this morning. The colourful people, the wonderful school students, the postcard perfect beaches, fellow travellers/volunteers and the “Vinaka Fiji” team will be greatly missed.

While reflecting on my time in the Yasawa Islands it is tempting to go into great detail about the sand, sea and sun. However, you probably know these things about Fiji already. No I would rather write about what well and truly makes Fiji such a wonderful place, the people. Their overall hospitality, kindness, laughter, attitude and happiness are unlike anything I have ever come across.

In many ways they have made me consider my attitude towards life and the importance of their resilience, especially in the face of worsening cyclones. Most locals to the Yasawa Islands live a much simpler, less stressful life to us. An existence which is seemingly a lot less centred on the importance of materialism.

I also know it will likely be a long time until I get another opportunity to travel to this part of the world. Maybe I will return one day when I am a little older or perhaps I will have to wait until I am much older. Whatever happens I still have hope I’ll be back on these sun kissed beaches.

At 6.15 pm I start my mammoth journey home. A mini-adventure in itself perhaps, but one I hope isn’t too adventurous. If I make it home (fingers crossed) it will be back to the norm, if there is such a thing. Maybe it won’t feel normal though and it will take time to adapt to Scottish rural life again. I’m not too worried though. If I can travel to the other side of the world solo, then surely I’ll be able to wash some dishes and then roll up at a university less than 150 miles from home. Now how do airports work again?

Keni Stops Play – Thursday 12th April

It had been a productive and highly enjoyable sixth week volunteering in the Yasawa Islands. The only disruption to the scheduled school visits had been on Thursday when we had carries out activities at base due to a poor water forecast. This had been followed on the Friday by a slightly hairy experience on our small boat in a larger than usual swell.

This was a perhaps a pre-warning of the storm which was approaching. It was a depression coming from the west which had caught the eye of forecasters who thought it had potential to become a cyclone. The damage from a Category 1 cyclone isn’t usually too significant I can’t so we weren’t too concerned.

On Saturday I waved goodbye to fellow volunteers Jessica and Steph, leaving school teacher Heather and myself with team members Gabby and Jim. Saturday afternoon and evening was relaxed at Botaria Resort, but the next day was far from it…

That night there was loud cracks of thunder over the islands as the rain poured down. We were starting to experience the first indications of the area of low pressure. After breakfast Heather received a phone call from Elle, general manager of “Vinaka Fiji”, informing us we were to be evacuated to the main island – Vitu Levu.

Elle is also plays a significant roll in the “Awesome Adventures” company, an organisation which helps run several of the 16 resorts in the Yasawas chain. It also provides the flyer, a daily catamaran service which provides the best way of travelling to your chosen resort while seeing the other islands. Therefore, it was her call to evacuate all guests at the resorts to Port Denaru on the mainland.

The Flyer is timetabled to arrive at Botaria at 11am on its way north. This time it arrived early and turned at the next resort along, picking up all tourists south of Naviti. Another boat would do the resorts north of Naviti.

The first challenge was actually getting on the Flyer. None of the resorts have a mooring large enough, so we are taken by small longboat to the flyer which stops just out to sea. Once the resort’s boat captain has managed to park next to the catamaran, passengers must step from one vessel to the other. This can be difficult in stormy conditions and proved to be today as Heather and I both found it hard to find any sort of steady surface to step on.

Thankfully making it onto the boat, we started our winding four hour journey south. As every guest at every resort was leaving the Flyer was soon at full capacity. Luckily Heather and I were able to find seats in the middle and at the back of the boat as we swayed from side to side in the large swell. This is seemingly the best place to sit if you don’t have good sea legs.

Relieved to arrive at the port, it was a farewell to Heather who had unfortunately only been able to spend one day volunteering while in Fiji. I was then given a lift from Elle herself to Nadi Bay, an inland hotel which would be my shelter for the next few days.

The next few days were spent sitting around and not doing very much at all. I was desperate to return to the islands but knew this was the a safe place to be as the cyclone arrived. On Tuesday it hit Nadi and there was high winds and flooding in other parts of Fiji. Nadi Bay was a sheltered spot and I felt sorry for the locals who had been forced to batch down the hatches again after the flooding which had followed Cyclone Josie a couple of weeks ago.

“Vinaka Fiji” team member Ross’ family home was flooded along with his farm just outside Nadi. Dengue fever had also been going around his village and he fell victin to it for two weeks. Meanwhile, Gabby and Jim had trekked to Kese when we were evacuated on Sunday. This village on the other side of Naviti from Botaria was hit by flooding from the heavy rainfall.

The Flyer didn’t run next untill Thursday and I met Miss Tema at the port. She had been forced to take an extended break and we were both unaware that Ross was ill as he didn’t join us on the boat. The cyclone had even worse effects in Kadavu, an island 60 miles south of the mainland. Roofs were torn of houses and locals said they thought the world was going to end, as Keni intensified into a Category 3 cyclone.

Arriving in the Yasawas again it was great to be back, but hard to hear of the difficulty my Fijian friends had faced. Difficulties that many say our becoming more common as climate change has a huge effect on a country which actually contributes to the global problem on a much smaller scale than most. When Cyclone Winston hit Fiji in January 2016 it was the strongest ever to hit the Pacific region. Huge Disruption was widespread and the current Fijian government now treats globe warming as a hugely important issue. Let’s hope for the sake of this beautiful group of islands, that there is now some restbite.

 

 

 

 

 

Good Friday – 30/03/18

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On Good Friday morning my alarm sounded at 4 am, eventually waking me from my slumber. Today the “Vinaka Fiji” team would be travelling to Kese village on Naviti to attend a 5 am church service.

As I finally came to, I listened to the wind and rain which disturbed the otherwise silent Bure 9 (shared accomodation). Maybe we wouldn’t be going today. Maybe the weather would keep us in our beds. Part of me hoped this was true as I struggled to find my sulu.

My roommates and fellow volunteers stirred as I tried to organise myself in the darkness. A short exchange of words later and I realised I would be the only one of us going on this early morning adventure.

In the Main Bure I found the three other volunteers looking as tired as I felt. Soon we were also joined by one of our faithful boat captains, Semmi who was from Kese. Half an hour later we were boarding the long boat in the still pitch blackness.

Elle, operations manager of “Vinaka Fiji”, and Tema, the education team leader, joined us on the boat. Looks like we would be going. Slightly less tired now, I grew a bit more enthusiastic after Tema told me that this was the first time they had taken the boat out in the dark.

The boat didn’t take long to get up to speed and we cruised through the darkness, a slight bump every now and then the only reminder that we were out to sea. On our way to Kese we passed the “Fijian Princess”, a cruse ship we had visited and given a talk to the day before.

About 45 minutes after leaving we arrived at Kese as the rain began to come on heavy again. We winded our way through the village to the church located at the back of Kese, passing the orginal church building. A structure which was a shocking reminder of Cyclone Winston (January 2016) which had totally blown it’d roof off.

Eventually we found the church. By this point it was around 6 am, meaning we had missed the first half of the service. However, we were of course welcomed in and chairs were quickly organised for us.

We watched as the congregation of 30 participated in song and prayer, being led by a Pastor who stood at the front of the church. At some points during the service Elle would stand up and address the congregation, talking about “Vinaka Fiji” and our role in the community as volunteers.

This must have lasted for around half an hour and when the service came to an end each church goer came up and shook our hands. This was quite touching and a lovely gesture.

Following this we re-entered the rain for a short while, walking to the Pastor’s house to have a bite to eat. Breakfast was a huge collection of yummy cakes, toast and scrambled egg. This did the job as I think our stomachs were all rumbling.

Breakfast was served with tea and coffee, and after our plates had been cleared, we sat and talked untill 8 am when we left for base. Fijian hospitality had again proved it was a world beater and the church visit had been a great experience. An experience that the average visitor to this part of the would be unlikely to have.

A Day in the Life of a “Vinaka Fiji” Volunteer

As I might have mentioned in my previous posts I am in the magical Yasawa Islands in Fiji. My reason for being here? Five days a week I am travelling out to three primary schools and one high school to volunteer.

Details about the type of volunteering are in a previous post, but what has happened in the average day for the last month or so. I’ll tell you….

0600 – On weekdays and in fact most days I will wake up now, often being woken by the amazingly bright sunrise.

0630 – After I have  watched the sunrise from the Sunrise beach (adaptly named I know) and perhaps read my book for a while, I try to go for a run. If your not a fan of running up and down the beach then there is the ‘Hike’ up to the higest point of Drawqa Island. This run usually takes about 20 minutes though can take longer if I meet Saki. Read the next one!

0700 – Short shower. All of the showers on the island are set to cold making them a great way to refresh after sweating it out on the run. Sometimes if it’s a really warm morning I’ll go swimming in the sea instead.

0715 – Breakfast! Best meal of the day. There is a big selection for breakfast I tend to keep it simple with some cornflakes. Sometimes I’ll treat myself with a pancake if I’ve had a particularly hard time on the ‘Hike’. At breakfast we will receive our pack lunches for the day and will choose what we want for dinner that night. So much thinking about food at the same time!

0800 – After breakfast the boat will depart to the next island along, Naviti. Journey time depends on which school we go to, the weather and which boat captain we have. Though in fairness Jim and Sammi are both exceptional. The closest school at Soso usually takes about 20 minutes to travel to, while Naviti District School can take up to 45 minutes to get to.

0900 – Most of the schools start their day at this time and we will usually get our first students of the day just after the bell. As mentioned previously, each session with a student is meant to last 25 minutes.

1030 – Mid Morning Break. Between the start of the day and recess we will likely see about three students each. This break lasts 15 minutes. If I’m lucky I sometimes get to throw a rugby ball around with some of the kids.

1200 – Most of the time this will be when we take a break for lunch and can attempt to eat the enormous contents of our pack lunch boxes which will often contain fish, or rice. Most of the primary schools have lunch at the time, but Yasawa High School students don’t knock off until 1 pm.

1330 – Our lunch break lasts for a long time! It is often very hot and humid by midday/early afternoon so it is nice to take rest bite by going paddling in the nearby ocean after sitting on the beach. Eventually we will start with the students again and will usually see about two each before we leave for ‘home’.

1430 – Mid afternoon we will usually wander down to the beach to catch the boat back to ‘Barefoot Manta’. Sometimes the long boat will be waiting for us while on other occasions we will depart at around 3 pm. Before we leave the high school we will often choose some resources to take with us we know we will be visiting one of the more remote schools the next day.

1530 – Most days we will arrive back at ‘Barefoot’ in the late afternoon and will sit back and relax until dinner. Depending on how I’m feeling I might do the ‘Hike’ again or have a nap. Recently the nap seems to have been the preferred option as the heat and a course of antibiotics for an infection on my ankle has made me feel quite drowsy by this time of the day.

1800 – Will try and catch the sunset from the beach on the other side of the island if there is one! Have tended to be more lucky with stunning sunrises for some reason.

 

1830 – By this time in the evening I’ll make my way down to the Main Bure or to the sunset deck in preparation for dinner at 7 pm which is always top notch.

2000 – Sometimes there will be post-dinner entertainment. Every Friday the staff members will patrcipate in Fijian traditional singing and dancing, ending in a rendition of the national anthem.

2100 – As a result of the heat I will often find myself going to be early during the week. Before I got to bed I like going to the beach with my music. The lack of natural light means there is a stunning view of the stars when there is little cloud cover.

2130 – Bedtime. Ready to do something similar the next day!

Weekends – My weekends tend to be spent chilling by the beach, running and just socialising with the other volunteers. Not a bad way to spend your days off! In recent weeks I have kayaked around the island and last weekend I went to Naviti to watch a local rugby game. This was a great experience and some of the hits the locals put on each other were massive. I couldn’t choose a better place to spend your down time!