Eating and Running ‘Round the World
by Ruth Heidrich, Ph.D.
“Round the World in 30 Days!” Considering the possibilities, twelve different countries, looking at how twelve different cultures eat, and fulfilling a lifelong dream of running ‘round the world – all this was suddenly within the realm of real possibility for me. The itinerary sounded perfect. It started at Whitehorse in the Yukon, Canada’s last frontier, then a re-fueling stop in Petrovastok, Russia; next, to the ancient capital of Japan, Kyoto; Hong Kong, China; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Siem Reap (Angkor Wat), Cambodia; New Delhi and Agra (Taj Mahal), India; Dubai, UAR; Nairobi (Masai Mara safari), Kenya; Cairo (Pyramids), Egypt; Prague, Czech Republic; and Reykjavik, Iceland. In addition, we’d have our own aircraft, a Boeing 757, and crew, who would be going with us. My partner, Bob, also a runner, agreed, so in the words of the goddess, Nike, we were going to “Just do it!”
Preparations were minimal, although I did inform the tour leaders that Bob and I were both vegan (strict vegetarian) and requested vegan foods throughout which at first seemed to present a problem in three countries; the main entrée at a dinner in Vietnam was “elephant ear fish,” in Dubai was steak shish kabob, and in Nairobi, dinner at a restaurant called “The Carnivore,” famous for serving the flesh of the very animals we’d come to the preserve to see, e.g., camel, crocodile, ostrich, monkey, and more. These challenges were resolved easily by just notifying the servers so that they could just serve us veggies instead of the fish, put veggies on the shish kabob, and that we would just skip the meal at The Carnivore as a rather impotent form of protest. So, armed with visas, travel shots, anti-malaria meds, and a great deal of excitement, it was off to the first stop, Whitehorse. Since this was November, we knew it might be cool, but certainly not too bad since, after all, it was still autumn.
First, as soon as we got off the plane, the contrast in the weather was a real shock. It was snowing and alternating freezing rain that made for very tenuous running conditions. Putting on all the clothes I had, I managed only a very short, chilly run. One of the possible highlights of the Yukon was seeing the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis, but the weather did not cooperate. The Yukon is also known for its prolific wildlife. For example, it is said that moose outnumber humans nearly 2:1 and caribou 6:1, and we did see a few of both which compensated somewhat for not seeing the Northern Lights. Then it was back for dinner. The main entrée turned out to be, unfortunately, reindeer! It was hard for me to understand how people can, first, admire, then kill and eat these beautiful animals, but then I thought, how is that different from killing and then eating gentle cows, intelligent pigs, friendly chickens, and beautiful fish. My first “vegan” meal was some kind of pasta that I hardly touched because it was loaded with cheese.
The next morning one hundred very excited passengers boarded our plane and headed for our second stop, Petrovastok. Once we crossed the Pacific Ocean and approached Russia, I was amazed at the volcanic landscape. Mountain after mountain for what seemed hours, and at last, when we were scheduled to land, it seemed we skimmed the very top of a particularly high volcano, then dropped down to a low altitude, encircled a broad bay, circled around it a second time, and, finally, we could see our destination. We landed on a very old, dilapidated runway with remnants of military aircraft, bunkers, and lots of fully armed Russian guards watching us. I guessed it was an ex-military base, and it certainly did not look like it was very busy as we were the only plane on the ramp. There were a few very old-looking aircraft parked alongside the runway of a design that seemed out of a Buck Rogers comic strip, looking as if they hadn’t been flown since the end of the Cold War. I was disappointed when we were told that we were not allowed off the plane. In fact, we were not even allowed to take pictures. We finally were able to get permission to take a few photos, but it was a challenge as most of the one hundred people on board all crammed into the small doorway to try to photograph this unique setting with the antiquated re-fueling equipment and especially the ancient terminal with the name of the airfield in large Cyrillic letters. Then, looking down on the runway, we could see lots of gesturing, frowns, and some obvious signs of disagreement. I asked one of the crew what was happening and was told that the Russians weren’t going to accept our currency! We watched anxiously as the crew negotiated on the ground with a group of Russian soldiers. I have to admit that I was getting very nervous, imagining the worst, that we could be held hostage, flight delayed, or even our aircraft confiscated. It was with a long sigh of relief when the re-fueling process was complete, and we were finally led down the taxiway by an ancient vehicle and onto the main runway and cleared for take-off. Even our very experienced pilot admitted later that he was nervous and relieved when we were safely airborne again. He said later that he was still trying to figure out why we were led in by the Russian flight control right over the highest mountain around and then that circuitous route around a sparsely settled bay to the runway. I suspect that even he was doing a bit of catastrophizing!
The next stop, Kyoto, was much more to my liking. Well, that was when we finally got to Kyoto. We actually landed at the new (and appeared to me to be unfinished) airport in Osaka. Customs and Immigration went very efficiently, and we were led to buses that were to take us to our hotel in Kyoto, which we didn’t know at the time was more than two hours away. After going through the heavy traffic of Osaka and then the long ride to Kyoto, we were quite tired by the time we checked in, but I was instantly revived when I saw our room. It was ultra, super modern with a flat screen TV plus in the bathroom, a toilet that, with the push of the right button, washed and even dried your bottom.
The next morning our breakfast buffet was designed obvious to please both Western and Asian tastes as there was a great spread of all varieties of fruits and veggies, including sea vegetables, mizuna, gobo, lotus root, tofu, pickled white radish, taro, miso soup, the typical eggs, bacon, pancakes, and, surprise, blueberry syrup right next to the large bowl of organic greens. Our first dinner was at the top of a revolving restaurant, famous for its gourmet $200 dinners. These, of course, were meat-centered, so when the meat course was served, I got a delicious pumpkin soup and steamed veggies. Dessert was seeded watermelon (I love those tasty, crunchy, zinc-loaded seeds), cantaloupe, and honeydew. The next night we had dinner at another more Japanese-style restaurant which had seating on the floor, large pots of steaming, flavored water (shabu shabu) for dipping in morsels of food (in my case, greens) to cook, and entertainment by elaborately- kimonoed geisha and a maiko, an apprentice geisha, and, the highlight of my evening, taiko drummers. Two of the six drummers were women, and it was fascinating to see the contrast between women in kimonos with their white-mask make-up, elaborate hair-dos, and bowing, subservient mien contrasted to the strong, powerful women beating large drums with all the tremendous energy they could muster. We were seated right next to the drums and as much as I love taiko drumming, I was sure that I was going to leave there with my hearing impaired. The next day we were treated to a kimono fashion show, which displayed a variety of beautiful silk embroidered fabrics and styles as well as headdress and shoes. Some of these kimonos cost up to tens of thousands of dollars. We then were taken upstairs to see the beautiful silk fabrics being woven on ancient looms as well as many other arts and crafts that are distinctly Japanese such as wood block prints and landscape paintings.
We also got to visit the Todai-Ji Temple with the world’s largest wooden structure and the “great Buddha of Nara” which is 45 feet tall and weighs 25 tons, and the Nijo Castle built in 1603, famous for the “nightingale” floors that squeak so as to let the guards know if anyone was sneaking in. From there, we went to Nara to visit the famous Deer Park. There are over 1,000 very tame (but aggressive if they think you’ve got something edible, even sometimes your clothing!) deer just roaming around the park and also what seemed like thousands of stone lanterns.
This was especially meaningful for me, because exactly twenty years ago, I visited that park the day after doing the Japan Ironman Triathlon. It was on the bus to this park that I casually opened a newspaper folded in the seat pocket in front of me to find a photo of me at the finish line and the article titled, “American Woman Conquers Cancer; Conquers Ironman.” I was so excited I let out a squeal, and, of course, everyone looked at me. I pointed to the picture and as luck would have it, the man across the aisle was an English professor at Kyoto University. He stood up and read aloud in Japanese to all the passengers, the story of how this woman from Hawaii got breast cancer, changed to a vegan diet, and came to Japan to compete in the Ironman Triathlon and win first place in her age group! It was, and still is, amazing to me how life can have such incredible turns. The next morning it was back on the bus for our two-hour ride back to our plane in Osaka. The countryside was beautiful with lots of rice fields and forested areas, but also the bane of civilization, the construction of freeways.
After a short hop on our plane, we arrived in Hong Kong. We were in store for an interesting experience. As we cleared Customs, two young women were standing on either side of the exit, unobtrusively pointing an instrument at each passenger’s head as they passed. They were taking the temperature of all the arrivals! Most people didn’t even realize what was happening. Thank goodness, we must have all had normal temperatures and no avian flu, because none of our group got stopped. Hong Kong was also more veg-friendly and that evening we had a memorable meal at the top of Victoria Peak after a thrilling ride up a very steep, seemingly vertical hill on the tram.
The view was breathtaking and not for the faint of heart as the restaurant and its seamless glass wall seemed perched right on the edge of the mountain. The city lights at night were an amazing sight and dinner was a seemingly endless buffet with dozens of different salads and a variety of veggies such as snow peas, eggplant, jicima as well as the standard fare. The dessert spread – well, let’s not even go there. The next day we boarded the Star Ferry to cross over to the mainland to visit the famous Stanley Market where there were so many little shops that one could easily get lost in the maze of merchandise of every conceivable type. From there we went to Repulse Bay with its very beautiful beach and to the Hong Kong harbor for a boat ride to visit the Aberdeen fishing village, where people are born, raised, and die on their boats, and then it was across the busy waterway to a memorable meal at a Jumbo floating restaurant. I was delighted to find that they had made preparations for our vegan versions of dim sum. I was, however, a bit disappointed to see so many of the fast food chains, not only there but in most of the places we visited.
Ho Chi Minh City is an amazing place because millions of people are crammed into a very small area and each one of them has a motor scooter. Traffic lights, stop signs, and white lane lines are merely “suggestions” because it seems that no one pays any attention to them. Traffic goes both ways in each lane! Running there was a real challenge, especially trying to cross a street. I ended up just making all left turns, going round and round my block so I could live to tell this tale! But swimming was a whole different matter. The hotel had an Olympic-size pool, and I really enjoyed doing laps in an amazingly beautiful setting, a novelty, I’m sure, in the middle of what used to be called Saigon. The meals were buffet so it wasn’t a problem getting lots of fruits and veggies.
Our second day there we were treated to a boat ride across the Mekong Delta to a small island village, My Tho. We were served that one meal of “elephant ear fish,” but for the two vegans, a “special” meal was prepared, an elegant coconut dish plus coconut milk served out of a coconut. After that delicious meal, we all walked a few feet to a dock next to a small canal and, two or three at a time, got into their version of canoes and were rowed through thick jungle to the other end of the island to board the larger boat back to Ho Chi Minh City. All along the way we were all warned never to eat raw fruit or vegetables because of the risk of contamination. If I’d followed that rule, I’d have starved. Ironically, the only ones who got sick were those eating meat!
Our next landing was in Cambodia, a country in my mind steeped in mystery and intrigue. From the moment the plane touched down, I was struck by how different it seemed. First, there were no other aircraft to be seen, either on the runway or in front of the terminal. In fact, we were the only ones in the whole place. Customs was a breeze and as soon as we exited the small building, we were met by a group of people holding a sign saying “Welcome to Siem Reap.” We were each then presented with a beautiful bright red scarf, which they said we would need to wipe the sweat from our brows. And it did come in handy, as this was definitely the tropics, although it seemed rude to put that beautiful scarf to that use. Siem Reap is tourist-oriented because it’s the site of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Angkor Wat, without a doubt, is one of the most breathtaking architectural masterpieces left standing in the world today. It’s estimated that more than a million people lived there, making it the largest city in its time.
Seeing the thousand-year-old structures, some almost overgrown with gigantic gnarled trees, was an experience beyond belief. The sheer size of the stone-carved structures plus the moat around the compound made me realize why it was a sight that people come from all around the world to see. Eating was not a problem here, either, as Cambodians still eat mostly plant foods. Almost all the meals were buffets served in the hotel and with selections for both Western and Asian tastes. Running there was especially challenging because of very rough what passed for “sidewalks.” People stared at me in disbelief as the concept of running for exercise is foreign to them, so I just smiled and kept my eyes on the rough terrain. Although there were very few cars, it seemed as though I was running against and through a locust of cyclists. Three blocks from our hotel I saw one of the very few signs in English: “Secretariat of the Marathon Ministry” and am still wondering what that was all about. An interesting little vignette occurred a block later while running by a hospital. All of a sudden a gate dropped down on both sides of the street, and here came two people nearly running, pushing a gurney across the street with a small child barely covered with a sheet and hooked up to an IV. Seeing this child so sick just brought tears to my eyes!
Next stop was India. We landed in New Delhi and, again, were immediately put on a bus to take us to Agra, about five hours away. Our route took us through parts of Delhi where we saw the most extreme poverty. Running in India was almost as much of a challenge as running in Ho Chi Minh City because of all the traffic congestion plus there were so many vendors spreading their wares on the sidewalks. Also, I couldn’t go very far without being approached by someone either asking for money or offering guide service.
This was despite the fact that it should have been obvious that I was out for a run, but then I guess they weren’t used to seeing runners. It was sad to see so many maimed children having to beg for a living, to see people just throwing garbage onto piles on the street and sidewalk as there was no such thing as “garbage collection” or even garbage cans, and to see so few toilets that it was common to see people urinating on the street. Even when toilets were available, one had to pay to use them. In the midst of all this poverty, we saw lots of young men riding white horses! We were told that these were grooms going to the home of the intended bride. The reason there were so many is that this day was determined to be an “auspicious” day for marriage. They believe that if they weren’t married on the “right” day, as determined by the stars, their marriage would be unhappy. This occurs despite the fact that 85 % of all marriages are arranged, dowries are extremely important, and women have little to say about this, their education, or anything else. In addition, our tour guide told us that twenty million babies are born every year in India! The population is already 1.2 billion! Compulsory education is only to the eighth year. The caste system is technically illegal but is, unfortunately, still all too common. There were also lots of free-roaming “sacred” cows, dogs, goats, and even pigs.
Then there was the contrast of the Taj Mahal! To see such a magnificent marble structure, so beautiful in scale and design is to appreciate what beauty can be created out of stone. It is rightly claimed to be one of the most spectacular buildings in the world. Indian food is primarily vegetarian so dishes such as dal and several kinds of curries were always available, even for breakfast!
The next extreme was Dubai. I’d heard of streets paved with gold and this was the closest thing to that. From the moment we landed, I was aware of being in the Middle East with women covered head to toe in black, some with only tiny slits with only their eyes showing, and men in long, billowing sheik’s clothing and the standard Arabian headdress. Dubai is a city in motion as its skyline is a continuous maze of cranes. Hundreds of high-rises are popping up everywhere I looked. Everything seems to have the touch of luxury.
Building design reaches extremes in height, width, and curves, and lots of the priciest luxury cars and limos with none over two years old, because they were shipped out of the country when they got that old. We also saw, believe it or not, where one could ski in the middle of this hot, even in November, desert city! Well, it’s not quite what you’d expect as it was contained within a very large, maybe four stories high, enclosure with a ski lift, artificial snow, with construction costs a measly $272 million. It is said to be the largest snow dome in the world as Dubai is seeking to be a major tourist hub. There was the older section of the city where the gold ‘souks’ were, shop after shop of more gold than I’d ever seen in my life or could even imagine. The store windows were practically stuffed with gold bracelets, gold necklaces, gold rings, all ornate and beautiful. All our meals were buffets in our 5-star hotel so, again, lots of fruits and veggies including dragon fruit, passion fruit, dates, lychee, guavas, mandarin oranges, mango, and even macadamia nuts. Our rooms in Dubai were the most luxurious of all, and at $800 a night, I guess they should have been. There was a large flat screen TV, architectural niches with antique vases, a marble bathroom to die for, gold fixtures, both a shower and tub, a bidet, and amenities included full size bars of soap, a loofah, and a sewing kit with four regular-size spools of thread. A reminder that we were in the Middle East: next to the bed was a rolled-up prayer rug and on the ceiling was an arrow pointing to Mecca. From our room we looked down to the very large pool, whirlpool, and slides and next to the pool, was a restaurant with a large hookah at each table. I assumed these were just for decoration until that evening when I saw that people were actually smoking them!
We were right on the Arabian Sea so I got to do a beach run topped off with a refreshing swim. They also had a Fitness Center with the very best of equipment. Our second night there we were treated to a dinner out in the desert at a Bedouin camp. To get there, we were strapped into 4-wheel drive Jeeps and taken over desert sand dunes so rough that I was afraid at times we would tip over. It was such a relief to finally reach our destination – safely! This was where I got the veggies on a skewer in a setting imaginable only in a movie. We were escorted to a large tent, the walls of which were covered with Persian rugs, the floors all thick cushions to sit on, and low tables laden with the most delicious-looking food.
It was a scene out of Arabian Nights, especially when live exotic music complete with a belly dancer was added. When it was time for the trip back, we didn’t need to be reminded to fasten our seat belts because, this time, we knew the wild ride which awaited us. Our driver seemingly took great delight in giving us the ride of our lives! The next morning we left Dubai barely ahead of a sandstorm, so thick that it shut down the airport minutes after we departed.
Our next stop was Nairobi, Kenya. After clearing Customs, we were met with 17 Land Rovers, six of us to a vehicle and driven to the Norfolk Hotel in downtown Nairobi. This was the evening meal that was scheduled for “The Carnivore” so Bob and I had a nice plate of veggies for our dinner at the hotel. The next morning we were put in those same vehicles and driven nearly six hours to the lodge. It wouldn’t have been so long if there had been a road, but, for much of the way, there were no roads and at times not even a path. Lots of bumps and deep ruts but scenery so beautiful as we looked out for miles over the Rift Valley where not only did elephants, lions, zebra, gazelles, and giraffe roam, but where archeologists uncovered bones of the first hominids.
At about the halfway point, we stopped for a visit to a Masai Warrior village. We were greeted by a group of tall, lean men dressed in bright red and carrying spears. For US$20, we were allowed to go into the inner circle of dung/mud huts and observe their living quarters. We were told that when women reached marriageable age, she built her own hut where she would live after marriage and with her children. The huts were small (one-room), dark, except for a small fire on the dirt floor for cooking, and had colorful quilts on the floor for sleeping. We were then told that the $20 we paid was going to help build an elementary school for the children.
Then it was back into the Land Rovers for another three hours of more bumpy, kidney-blasting, hang-on-for- dear-life riding. When we finally arrived at the lodge, the Masai Mara, we were escorted to our rooms, all of which overlooked a river and had individual private balconies for evening and morning viewing of animals at their most active times. It was an enchanting sight with crocodiles and hippos lazing on the banks of the river just a few feet below, and large birds of many varieties nesting in the trees at night including very large storks. We were fascinated as we watched one, then two, then three, and on until nightfall when the tree was filled with nesting storks.
Early the next morning, it was the same sequence in reverse, with first one, then several, then all the rest flying away for the day. We had to get up early because this is the best time to view the wild animals searching for breakfast. We got back into our same vehicles, but this time the top was raised straight up by about two feet. This meant we could stand up and have clear 360-degree views of all the animals. We were just barely out of our lodge when Bernard, our driver, pointed to the left at a large herd of giraffe. These magnificent animals were grazing at the tops of the trees, and it was clear that their long necks were a distinct advantage when it came to mealtimes. Just moments later we saw a large group of zebras. They are so striking that it looked as if their black stripes had been painted on. One of the most spectacular sights came a bit later, a whole herd of elephants, including two babies, trying hard to keep up with mama.
Different varieties of animals came so fast that I was overwhelmed with what I was seeing. Lions, Thompson gazelles, hyenas, Cape buffalo, monkeys, helmeted warthogs, hartebeest, jackals, guinea fowl, and so many others I’d never heard of and couldn’t remember because I was too busy looking to take notes. Because these animals were so accustomed to these vehicles, they all just ignored us. At one point, a giraffe headed our direction and sauntered slowly across the road in front of us. This presented one of my best ever “photo ops”! Of course, we were not allowed to get out of the vehicles, so I was very thankful for my zoom lens on the camera. This allowed close-up views although I was wishing I could get even closer.
Our driver was told by his communications with other drivers that there was a rhinoceros with her baby not far from where we were, so Bernard did a quick U-turn and headed across a bumpy field, through some brush, down a stream embankment, and up to the edge of a small-forested area. He got out his binoculars but could see nothing, so we waited – and waited – and waited. Several times we swore we saw some movement but nothing that was clearly a rhino. I took a photo of that area and imagined that with enough megapixels that I could point to it and say, “There it is!” Thinking back about the offerings for dinner at “The Carnivore” seemed such a sacrilege and, thankfully, even some of the other travelers agreed that eating those beautiful animals was going too far. Because we sat out that dinner at The Carnivore, others told us later that they did have a vegetarian option! The safari company wanted to present us with t-shirts, so after dinner our last night there, we were told to pick one up as we left. Because I was really excited about getting a Kenyan t-shirt, I ran to get in the long line that had already formed. When I got to the front, I was handed a t-shirt that looked extremely large. I checked the size and it was, indeed, an extra-large. I asked if I couldn’t please have a medium. I was told that all the t-shirts were extra-large because, after all, he said they thought that all Westerners were extra-large! Unfortunately, he was almost right, but I still cherish my Kenyan t-shirt, anyway!
Then came the Pyramids and the Sphinx at Cairo. I was truly in awe at the massive size of another one of the wonders of the ancient world. The city of Cairo itself was typical of most large cities – too much traffic, too many people, and lots of smog although I must admit that running alongside of and then crossing the Nile River was one of my peak running moments. I almost had to pinch myself as the impact of where I was sank in. Eating here, though, was more of a problem, as it seemed every dish had some meat in it. Thank goodness for eggplant as that seemed to be one of their staple foods plus lots of salads. There was never a shortage of desserts of every ilk, however – all very sinful and definitely not of vegan persuasion! One of our dinners was on a cruise on the Nile complete with live entertainment consisting of another belly dancer and a whirling dervish who did wonders with his cape.
The next day we were treated to a visit to the Cairo Museum, which had more exhibits than one could possibly visit in a month, but the most popular exhibit was that of King Tutankhamun from more than 3300 years ago, which was discovered buried in three nested gold coffins. Another visit was made to a papyrus “institute” where we were treated to a demonstration of how the ancient Egyptians made papyrus. There were also large and small papyrus paintings that were so beautiful that one of the members of our group bought $2000 worth! I was sorely tempted myself, but with limited wall space on which to hang more art, I reluctantly passed. I did, however, succumb to a 22-carat gold cartouche, which I proudly wear around my neck on my Kenyan t-shirt. It has hieroglyphics on both sides, one of which spells out “Ruth” or so I’m told.
Getting out of Cairo was another mini-adventure. After a long bus ride, over an hour just to go a few miles because it was rush hour, we got to the airport, breezed through Customs and Immigration, and were ushered into a waiting room where we waited, and waited, and waited. First, the time for boarding passed, and then the time for departure passed, then we all started getting very nervous since no one was allowed to leave the room, and we weren’t told anything about what was happening. We just knew it couldn’t be good! Finally, we were told that airport officials could find no record of our having pre-paid our fuel charges.
Our crew then had to phone the headquarters in Toronto, wake somebody up since it was the middle of the night there, duplicate the invoice, and fax it to Cairo. By that time our flight plan had expired and we had to file a new one. The only problem was our route was to take us over Bosnia, and it had taken months to get bureaucratic clearance to enter Bosnian airspace. By this time, that had expired, and we were not allowed to follow our original flight path and had to deviate, fly around Bosnia, which delayed us even more than the two hours delay at the Cairo Airport, and by the time we arrived in Prague, three hours late, all but one person of our welcoming committee had gone home. In addition, there were only two buses there when we needed three, so we had to crowd onto the two buses and leave our baggage behind for later delivery. All of these hassles combined led to some very unhappy people, but once we were settled in to our hotel in Prague, everybody soon forgot the trials of just getting there.
Prague, the city of spires and castles, and the only major European city that wasn’t touched by the destruction of WWII, was worth it! Visiting the ancient Prague Castle and walking across the Charles River were exciting moments as I realized that these structures were hundreds of years old. This was back to freezing, cold weather, so again, I had to dig out all the warm clothing I had – and still almost froze to death! Running on cobblestone streets presented a challenge, as I sure didn’t want to trip and fall, so my eyes were carefully glued to the rough terrain ahead of me.
But one of the nicest runs I had was on an early Saturday morning when Old Town was practically deserted. No cars, no people, (and no one to take a running picture, unfortunately for me) just like a Renaissance still life painting – except it was definitely real! Food choices again were primarily buffet so there were lots of choices of fruits and veggies for all meals.
Iceland! Just the name inspires scenes of fire and ice, and, yes, there were plenty of both. Seeing shooting geysers and thundering waterfalls, active volcanoes with lots of lava, and giant miles-long rifts in the earth are enough to put one in stark awe of this amazing country. In fact, gaping down one of these rifts, one could not see bottom. We were also treated to a concert of Christmas carols sung by young Icelandic children. This was unique because the group of about twenty did not merely stand on a stage in front of us.
They each headed in different directions, walking through our group, and serenaded us individually. It was fascinating to look so close up into the eyes of these children and wonder what they were thinking of us. One of my most memorable runs of the whole trip was running at 10 am in complete darkness. We were told that there was a restaurant on the top of a nearby hill, Oskjuhlio, which got all of its energy from an underground thermal spring. Bob and I ran, in total darkness, to the top of that hill, and marveled at where we were, one of the most unique places we’d ever run!
The sun went down again at 4 pm, so it made for short days. Then a swim in the Blue Lagoon, a natural warm-to-hot, truly blue thermal waters amid recent lava flows with below-freezing temps topped off the visit to a truly remarkable and, except for buffets with nine different ways of preparing herring, it was a surprisingly veg-friendly country. Our tour guide, Elisabet, was vegetarian although the Icelanders spell it “vegeterian.”!
My one disappointment was in seeing so little of “local” foods. Each of the countries gears up for tourists, and since most of them are what they consider “rich Westerners”, they supplied the foods that they thought would please us. I really would like to have tasted the foods that our hosts in each country eat in their homes. In any case, it was indeed a dream come true – to see so many different cultures and countries, to eat so many different foods, and to run in so many different places – truly, eating and running ‘round the world.
(c) 2007 Ruth Heidrich