Before I arrived on the island four weeks ago (!!) I assumed that there really wouldn’t be very much to do, so I brought several books with me. Little did I know that the Morale Wellness Recreation (MWR) program here on Diego Garcia organizes activities every single day. A few are limited to military only, but most are open to everyone. Also, everyone gets a free t-shirt for participating in the event! Here are the MWR events that I’ve done:
— Heather & I weren’t even planning on doing this one. We just happened to be at the Marina getting a windsurfing lesson on our first full day on the island, when the Marina guy (Poga, more on him and windsurfing later) insisted with a big smile that we stay for the paddleboard race. We said we’d never paddleboarded before, but he said it didn’t matter, and that we’d get a t-shirt out of it. So that sold us! Basically, we could either stand or kneel on a windsurf board, and paddle out a couple hundred meters against the surf, turn left for a hundred meters, and then paddle a couple hundred meters back into shore. The wind was whipping up some decent waves coming into shore, so I thought the way out would be really tough, but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it’d be.
— It took me awhile to find where the field was, and by the time I showed up it was almost halftime. I jumped in for the 2nd half, and played well (I was happy about that, playing with a bunch of military guys!), but when that game was over that was it. Supposedly a few other teams were supposed to show up to have a tournament, but only two teams did. So I got a free shirt for playing 10-12 minutes of frisbee. Not bad work!
— Around a couple hundred people showed up for this run. It’s so hot and humid on the island, it was nice that this was an evening run, starting around sunset. It’s still plenty humid in the evening though, as the dewpoint is almost constantly 77 degrees F. I hadn’t done much running in the previous 6-8 weeks, so that combined with the humidity made me okay with finishing the race in a sluggish 33 minutes. Hopefully I’ll be able to do the 5k at AGU in San Francisco faster than that!
— This was one of the highlights of my entire trip! Rachel & I went down to the Marina at 7am one Saturday morning, loaded up on an LRV (think of what the boats that landed at D-Day), and ferried across to the northeastern tip of the island, at Barton Point. The first 10 miles of the ride were on a trail through the jungle, where we had to dodge coconuts, crabs, rats, and roots. Not long after we started it rained pretty hard for awhile, which turned the trail to mud, adding new obstacles. Some of the puddles were quite long and deep with no way around them, and my feet would go into the muddy water when I pedaled. In one of the puddles I was trying to power through, my momentum came to a sudden halt on a submerged coconut. My shoes and legs were literally covered in mud, it was crazy!
After we got to the R & R Site (just north of the East Point Plantation on the east side of the island), we had 9 miles on a gravel road through forest and jungle. There were fewer obstacles to dodge, but there were still plenty of big puddles. The puddles weren’t necessarily cleaner, but after the Plantation they were gray and chalky from the chipped stone gravel, instead of mud brown. So gradually the brown mud I was covered with was replaced by gray mud, haha. Then at mile 18.5 was a much-welcomed refreshment station at GEODSS (Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance; I may write a separate post about our tour of GEODSS) with fruit, water, and Gatorade. But it was only the halfway mark. (For the first 10 miles there was water every mile, but only every ~3 miles afterward.)
From then on it was 18.5 miles on paved road. By this point the sun had come out and it was really hot. I was able to keep up a pretty good pace with Rachel until the donkey gate at about the 12 mile mark, but from then on I was really struggling (and Rachel went on ahead). I was very tired and very sore, but I kept going with frequent breaks. Though I was exhausted, I didn’t want to give up — I wanted to finish and accomplish this. Eventually I made it, completing the race in 5.5 hours! I walked around like an old man for the rest of the day, sore in just about every muscle and joint in my body (and I had to work a 9-hr shift right afterward!). I’m not used to biking any distance; other than my ride around Rottnest Island near Perth a month ago, it had been around eight years since I’d ridden a bike more than about 5 miles in a day. I’m sure the going would’ve been easier if I had bike shorts, or if I’d had a road bike for the last half instead of a rental mountain bike. But hey, I still did the Tip to Tip!
— I got pwned by three Filipinos. Totally pwned like I was a Scrabble n00b. It was a bit humbling, haha. Of course, my chances weren’t helped my missing three straight turns; two were lost when I challenged words others made (and they were in the Scrabble dictionary, including “gleed” … huh?), and then another was lost when someone successfully challenged a word I tried to make. Oh well, I still had fun and got a t-shirt out of it!
— Rachel was on shift out at the site, so Heather & I convinced Adam to come out of his room and have a little fun down at the pool. Each of us had to swim 50 meters, or one full down-and-back lap, with our bodies in the middle of an innertube. Heather led off, Adam was second, and then I was our “Team Awesome” relay anchor. I went 110% the first 25 meters, and then around the 35 meter mark I started dying; I’m definitely not used to swim races! I still managed to catch one other team to place us second out of four in our heat. It wasn’t good enough for a “medal” though (14 teams total). The sudden burst of exertion was a little much for normally-sedentary Adam though, as he hurled in a garbage can on the way back to the barracks. Heather & I felt kinda bad for “making” him do it, but he was a good sport about it, and fully recovered a few minutes later.
I’d say that’s pretty good variety! There have been plenty more events that I haven’t done, such as 6-person indoor volleyball tournaments, 400-m swims, 500-m ocean kayak races, bowling tournaments, doubles tennis tournaments, doubles table tennis tournaments, quarter marathons, duathlons… Most of those I didn’t do because I had to work, or they were team events and the other people down here didn’t feel like doing those. Seriously, there’s a lot going on, it’s great!
One “unofficial” activity is the Diego Garcia Hash House Harrier runs. Heather & I both participated in two of these. The runs themselves involve trail running as a social event. The trail is marked by spots of flour periodically, and as you pass each marker you need to yell “ON-ON!” so that the people behind you know where the trail is. There are also markers occasionally for clothing exchange (where one item of clothing must be exchanged with another hasher for the rest of the run), for the guys to wait while the women scout out where the trail is, for the women to wait while the guys scout out where the trail goes, for pausing to dance a jig, and most importantly for “BEER NEAR.” Yep, there are multiple breaks during the run for drinking a beer (that’s probably how hash houses worldwide earn the nickname, “a drinking club with a running problem”), haha. There are even markers for false trails too, which are evil. Anyway, the trails can go pretty much anywhere, including on trails through the jungle, through mud puddles, along the beach, into the lagoon, through barracks buildings, along a road… I think the military’s restricted areas are pretty much the only off-limits places for hashing. The runs themselves are pretty fun, but then afterward is the “circle time,” where “infractions” are handed out (with insults and fairly crude songs sung — not such a fan of some of the songs), new members welcomed, some veteran hashers given a hasher alias, etc. Unfortunately the circle time on my two hash runs has been an hour and a half (as long as or longer than the actual run itself), which is waaaay too long. Hash run: lots of fun. Circle time: tedious, boring, and a bit uncomfortable. Circle time should be limited to half an hour, tops. There are hash houses around the world apparently with lots of odd and eclectic traditions, so maybe I’ll check out one in Colorado at some point. But anyway…
On top of the official MWR activities, the gym and pool are both free to use, which I mentioned in my last post. I took good advantage of those, I feel like. All sorts of sports equipment is free to rent at the gym too, including stuff like golf clubs and tennis rackets. Bikes also only cost $15 to rent for the whole month. Incidentally, there was a bit of a language barrier at the bike rental place though, so I wound up purchasing a cateye bicycle headlight and taillight for $10 instead of renting them (but I think the taillight fell off sometime during the Tip to Tip, bummer), and because none of their helmets were anywhere close to fitting me, I had to “purchase” one from them for $10, but it’s not at all clear to me if I’ll get my money back when I turn in the bike or not. If not, it was still a cheap rental for a month!
Then there are all sorts of water activities down at the Marina, about a mile away from Downtown. At the Marina you can rent snorkel gear for free. Sadly, I only took advantage of that once, going snorkeling out near our research site in Thunder Cove. I had problems with water getting in my mask though, and there weren’t flippers that fit me, so I didn’t feel comfortable venturing too far out into the coral where it wasn’t safe to put my feet down. The Marina also offers sailing classes periodically, but we didn’t do that.
One thing I did take advantage of at the Marina was windsurfing. Your first lesson is FREE, and then after that it only costs $2/day to rent a windsurf board/sail. Seriously. Two dollars. So I went down there a few times, but not as much as I probably should’ve. Anyway, my first time I spent falling down a lot (big surprise). On my second time I figured out how to stay balanced much better, and learned how to turn around. On my third time the wind and waves were much stronger than I’d previously experienced, so just staying balanced was a big problem again for me. And then I didn’t go again for awhile, but my fourth time was yesterday. I spent an hour and a half unsuccessfully trying to figure out how not to get pushed into shore. So I asked Poga, a really cool guy who’s the head of the Marina, for a few tips. After another couple of tries it finally clicked and I fixed what I was doing wrong! So I was able to end on a couple of really good runs (really good for me, anyway), including several turnarounds. On my last run I saw a sea turtle playing in the water right in front of me, so I just started watching it instead of paying attention to what I was doing — of course I lost my balance and fell right over, haha. Still pretty cool! And on an earlier run I saw a big stingray swim right under my board!
Add on to that all the lagoon and ocean beaches that there are to visit (I’ll make a future post dedicated to DG beaches and beach photos), and it makes absolutely no sense for people to say there’s “nothing to do” on Diego Garcia. There’s heaps to do if you’re willing to get out there and enjoy this beautiful island and all it has to offer!
Oh, and we can make our own homemade recreational activities too, such as “let’s try to cut open a coconut by cross-sectioning it with a small knife and make a big mess in one of our barracks in the process, only to discover well over an hour later that there’s no water in the coconut after all”:
I just launched my last radiosonde (I’m working the overnight shift tonight). I watched it sail up into the starry sky until darkness hid the balloon. It’s kind of sad that this adventure is drawing to a close. But with only 23+ hours left on the island, I’ll try to make the most of it!