I'm allergic to cold weather.
That's what's brought me here.
Stuck in Auckland for a few months, I had to get away to some warmth.
Just for a little while.
I landed in Port Vila late. Did the standard airport haggle with the taxi drivers.
2,600 vatu to get to town.
Ripping me off?
Too tired to care.
We settle on 2,000.
I am staying at a place called Tropicana. The taxi driver is slightly mad, driving like he's in a video game, tailing the car in front literally within inches. I put on my seatbelt.
Thankfully, we get there in one piece.
It's a charming place, smallish, right on the lagoon. I'm greeted by the owner, a small, docile Australian lady. She walks me to my room.
Spacious, small kitchen, big bed. Opens out onto the water. Exactly what I needed.
We're not here to rest. We're here to run.
There is a mall on the far edge of town, about 4km from my hotel.
I need to visit the pharmacy, so this will be the perfect combo - run to the mall, buy my stuff, run home.
I head out around lunchtime - the sun is high and screaming.
I decide to leave my phone at home, so I've memorised the directions in my head: First roundabout straight, second roundabout right, third roundabout left, then straight all the way until you see the mall.
I run past the supermarket. Au Bon Marche. Past the bus stop.
There are stares. Lots of stares.
Then I hit the first roundabout. Straight.
Next I'm greeted by a hill, an enormous one. As I'm climbing it, rain starts to drizzle.
I'll soon learn this is normal in Port Vila - rain in the middle of a perfectly sunny day.
At the top of the hill, some schoolkids are walking around. They smile and wave.
I see the bakery. That's good. I'm supposed to run past the bakery. A strip mall. A fancy supermarket.
Then I see it, the second roundabout. Right.
I tumble down the hill that follows. The third roundabout isn't far, I can almost see it right away. Left.
Now all I need to do is run straight, and have faith that I remembered this map correctly.
It feels like forever, but I finally see the ocean, and know I'm in the right place. I follow the road as it merges slowly with the waterfront, and then I see the mall.
It's small, but well kept, clean, and spacious. I see the pharmacy right in front of me on the ground floor. Feeling slightly guilty walking in dripping with sweat, I browse the shelves quickly and get what I need. Stuff it in my pockets, and hit the road again.
When I get back to the hotel, I lounge on the bank of the water, outside my room.
Port Vila is interesting, in that it's built around a long lagoon that stretches past town and all the way inland, maybe twenty kilometres or more. It's like a river that runs through the town. While sitting on the edge, you can see the locals on the other side, fishing, swimming, washing. It's narrow here at Tropicana, and I could swim across in maybe five minutes.
Whether it's safe to swim in it, that's a mixed bag. Some say yes, some no. Even on a good day, it looks green.
I cup a handful. Smell it.
I think I'll stay out.
Here's the plan: I'm gonna pick a resort, run there, chill out, have lunch, then run home.
I browse the map all morning making a shortlist of targets, then decide on Breakas Resort.
It's a run through town, all the way down to where the lagoon meets the ocean.
I step out my door and look at the sky. Clouds. Heavy ones.
As I walk past reception, I ask "Do you think it's going to rain?"
"You never know."
Doesn't matter. Rain or shine, we run.
I click my watch and go.
Along the same road, past the bus stop, past the supermarket. This time when I get to the first roundabout, I take a left.
The hill that follows is winding and enormous, towered by trees and brush on both sides.
As I hit the top, I see a long, gradual downhill, stretching all the way into town.
I run it slowly, and people stare, just like yesterday. I guess they don't see many runners in Port Vila. In fact, I haven't seen a single one since I got here.
I run past places I recognise from the map, Litchees Takeaways, the gas station, the hardware store. There's more people around, too.
I guess I'm in town now.
It looks ... uneventful.
Finally I come to a junction. Three roads. I don't remember which one goes where.
I pull my phone from my running belt. Wait for the GPS.
Okay, that one.
I take off again, and I can sense the ocean in the distance. The footpath crumbles into nothing, so I run on the road. We're out of the town centre now, there are fewer cars, emptier streets. A few kids loiter on the corner, kicking a bottle around.
Then I see the first resort. Tourist territory now. I keep running. These are beach roads now, sandy sidewalks, empty, quiet.
I run past another resort. If I remember right, the next one should be Breakas.
I wander in and find my way to the pool. A waiter greets me.
"You serving lunch?"
I point to the beach.
"I'll sit on the sand."
He nods and waves me down.
I take off my shoes and shirt, sit in the water.
After 8km in the Vanuatu sun, it's bliss.
The waitress comes.
Pork wrap, fries, fruit smoothie.
It's my first meal of the day. I inhale it.
The Breakas beach is pleasant.
Probably not postcard quality, but the sand is soft and the water is warm.
There is a small village nearby, and local kids play in the ocean.
As I lounge for an hour in the sun, I ask the waitress for a tonic water.
"We don't have tonic water, but we have something called Cascade water, it is similar."
She brings me a bottle and I take a sip.
I spin the bottle in my hands, admire the design. Very nice.
After one more swim, I can see the sun on its way down.
Better get home before dark.
I head back out to the road and wonder how to get home.
I could run, but I really don't want to.
I start walking, and hope a bus drives by.
By bus, I mean a 12-seater van, which is what the locals use as buses. There's no set route, you just tell them where you're going and if they're heading in your direction, they'll take you.
It only takes five minutes before one drives by. I wave him down.
"Can you take me to town?"
We head back along the route I ran earlier, then into another side of town, by the water. It's busier here.
He drops me right in the centre, by the main market.
"How much, bro?"
That's about a dollar.
I give him all my coins.
"Keep the change."
While the sun is still yet to set, I decide to wander a little around town.
I walk through the market, which is now closing and almost empty. There's a takeaway joint overlooking the sea which is popular. I get myself a chicken and chips and sit by the water, watch the sun come down.
It's supposedly rush hour here in Port Vila, but it's peaceful. I like it.
I'm not sure how safe Port Vila is to walk at night, but my spidey senses tell me it will be fine.
I decide to walk home. 3km.
I criss cross through side streets until I'm back on the route I ran. Down the big winding hill. To the first roundabout. Past the bus stop and the supermarket.
As I walk past reception she asks, "What did you do today?"
"I ran to Breakas."
She stares at me.
"You ran to Breakas? Gosh that's ... far. Isn't it?"
Compared to where I came from, not very far at all.
Today, it's time to explore the other side of the island.
There's a bunch of resorts at a beach, around 10km away.
I go sit in reception and lace up my shoes, say hello again to the owner.
"Tell me again where you ran yesterday?" she asks.
She turns to her staff member standing nearby - "He ran from here to Breakas."
"I'm going the other way today," I tell her. "I think it's called Aquana?"
She turns to her staff again.
"Today he's running to Aquana!"
They both look at me, shake their heads and laugh.
Yeah, I know. I wish I didn't have to, either.
I say bye, take a look at the sky.
Normally I come out of the hotel and turn left, towards town.
Today we're turning right.
Immediately I know this run will be different.
The roads are wider, emptier, straighter.
The sun is beating down, and after the first couple of kilometres my legs are already heavy.
This one's gonna be tough.
Thankfully, it's hard to get lost on this one. The first 5km is one long road, straight all the way.
There's no sidewalk, so I'm running with the cars. Luckily there isn't many of them, and the roads are wide.
It's a hard slog in the heat, a few hills thrown in, but I get to the turn-off. I see the big Aquana Resort sign.
The second half is a 5km run along sandy roads heading to the ocean. Locals live here. Every few hundred metres I pass clusters of small houses, kids riding bikes, small corner shops, mixed with stretches of empty road.
When the ocean gets near, I can smell it. The air changes, the road changes, even the trees change.
When I finally reach the Aquana sign, my legs sing a sigh of relief.
That was a tough one.
I pass reception as soon as I enter.
He's surprised to see me. He hesitates.
"Well ... yes ... I mean ... well ... "
I wait for him to catch his words.
"We just might not have the full menu."
"As long as you have food."
He smiles back.
"We do have food."
I head down to the restaurant by the water. The resort is completely empty (Covid has turned the resorts in Port Vila into ghost towns).
I order the surf and turf. And my new favourite drink - Cascade water.
Then I go sit in the ocean while I wait. It's not a beach to write home about. But the water is calm, and warm.
I close my eyes. Meditate. Give thanks.
Life is not perfect right now, but these moments - a reminder to be grateful.
The waitress calls.
I sit down by the water on my lonesome and feast. The food is superb.
After a little more lounging in the water, it's time to head home.
I head to reception to pay my bill.
"Do you stay around here?" the lady asks.
I'm guessing she's the owner.
"No, I'm staying at Tropicana."
"And what are you doing around here?"
"I ran here."
"You ran here from Tropicana?!"
"Wow! You must be fit!"
"Triathlon season soon," I say, smiling.
"How long did that take you?"
"About an hour."
"Gosh," she says, shaking her head. "Well, best of luck!"
I say farewell and head back to the road.
Now ... how to get home.
There are no buses along this road.
I could run, but I really don't want to.
I'm guessing I'll need to walk the 5km back to the main road before I can hitch a ride.
The walk is calming. On the way in, I was just trying to keep my legs moving. Now on the way out, I get to enjoy it. I admire the little houses, the kids rolling in the grass, the people lounging under the trees.
Barely ten minutes passes before a pickup truck pulls over beside me.
It's an old guy, with a big smile, in overalls.
He shouts at me through the window, points down the road.
'Yeah, I'm going that way," I reply, nodding, pointing into the distance.
He waves me inside enthusiastically.
I jump in.
My lucky day.
"Where you go?"
"Ahhhhhhhhh Tropicana. Okay."
Although his English is broken, we somehow manage to talk. He used to live in Tahiti. He speaks French, and Bislama, a kind of local Pidgin English. He loves drinking Kava. No, it doesn't make him drunk. It's good for you, he insists. He caught Covid. Didn't feel anything.
When we finally hit the main road, he stops the car and points.
"Me this way. You this way."
I shake his hand and thank him several times before getting out. As he drives off, he smiles and waves me goodbye.
I get home to a much needed hot shower and lie down.
Today, I'm running to Warwick Resort.
It's a big resort, not far from Breakas.
In fact, the route is almost the same, except for the last kilometre or so.
I head out onto the roads and run comfortably this time. Port Vila is starting to feel familiar. I know the market is in that direction, there's a supermarket coming up here, it will probably rain in an hour. Bearings. I have them.
When I finally get to Warwick, I still feel fresh. A shorter run today. How nice.
Warwick is a flashier resort - two restaurants, three pools, a really long driveway.
Unfortunately, the sun is hiding today, and it's not a great day to swim or lounge around.
After a short dip in the ocean and a wander, I sit by the pool and have a pizza.
Cascade water too, of course.
With the weather being dull, I decide to head back early.
I get the bus to drop me at the market just down the road from the hotel.
It's a smaller fruit range than I'd have expected - papaya, banana, coconut - that's about it.
I buy a stash of coconuts for my fridge, then head home.
Once I get there, somehow the sun has found its way out again.
I cook myself some eggs, relax by the water outside my room.
It's not so bad, Port Vila.
Final day. And saved the big one for last.
It's on the southern tip, far coast. About 12km.
I get moving early.
The first 8km are easy - it's the same run to Breakas. This is the third time I've done it, I know the way by heart now, and run slowly, mindful that I'll be running ninety minutes in the Vanuatu heat with no water.
I get to Breakas.
From here, it's another 4km along the coastline.
It's an interesting area here. Nice holiday homes mixed with local villages, sandy roads and not many cars.
When cars do appear, they're generally expensive ones, 4x4s presumably owned by someone rich.
At the 10km mark, I start to slow down.
The sun is tough, and my legs are battered from the prior days.
Every few minutes some locals watch me run past and wave. Probably wondering where I'm running to, or running from. There's nothing around here.
Then I finally hit the resort road.
I see the Paradise Cove sign in the distance.
Paradise Cove is charming.
Not obnoxious, just nice.
Full of green, spaciously laid out, clean stone paths winding through private bungalows.
I head straight down to the ocean, and as soon as I get there, rain starts to pour.
I don't care.
I jump in the water and float as raindrops pellet me in the face.
Few things are more beautiful than a warm ocean in the rain.
After my ocean therapy, I head up to the restaurant to eat.
Again, courtesy of Covid, the resort is completely empty.
Even the waitress looks surprised to see me.
I order the local spring rolls and a coconut.
Sitting on my lonesome, I'm soaking wet, with no dry clothes, somehow shivering in the Pacific islands.
I ask the waitress for a towel.
She brings one.
As I finish my food I sit there and daydream.
It's my last day in Vanuatu.
Do I like it?
It's a little quiet, even for me. But that's exactly what I needed.
Now all I need to do is figure out how to get back home.
But I'm sure it will work itself out, just like every day before it.