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  • Paul Crompton

Running in the Red Zone

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

Out on a shoot with a plucky family of 7 from Kent. They want to pack it all in for a new life in the equatorial jungle, in a bamboo house whilst harvesting cocoa beans for a chocolate bar they’ll create themselves. Sounds tempting. On a shoot like this the working hours are shambolic. What happened to the unions? But occasionally I get a big chunk of time with not much to do – other than watch the computer as another card is copied to a hard drive. So I pulled on my trainers, grabbed my Garmin and went for a plod. At 7am it was already unbearably hot and humid. My energy levels were low but these moments – I tell myself – are rare and need to be cherished. Never sure where to run in a strange city but being by a river was a blessing . Wherever you travel there is almost always a river path. Within minutes this river path was swamped by three separate groups of around 90 soldiers, wearing identical shirts and donning the prescription buzzcut. I presumed it was the Ecuador army's pre-breakfast training run. Half my age and, unlike me, fully acclimatised, I decided to try keep up. Thankfully the pace was easy going. Not one of them told me to clear off and neither did they say 'hello, what's your name?' Total silence. Disciplined. Focused. I was sweating buckets and sucking oxygen out of the painfully thin air. The river was menacing. It was vast with fast-flowing yellow-brown soupy water. Huge dead trees swirled around the many rip currents. Better running than swimming in these parts. I waved farewell to my running buddies, who didn't bat an eyelid. The next few days were spent filming all times of night and day, but the running definitely helps. It plants you firmly in a new place, you become acquainted and puts the long-haul flight as a distant memory.

On an earlier trip I was in the north of Ecuador in a place called Esmeraldas. The Foreign Office coloured this area red on their website. Red means don’t go there... under any circumstances. I later found out that our scrappy hotel had previously been a crime scene when three journalists were kidnapped and eventually executed. It was early morning and I needed to expel some of the jetlag. The local town was rough… I don’t like calling a place ‘rough’ but it is hard to think of anywhere rougher. I'd say the buildings were dilapidated but that's overselling it. Most of the people seemed happy enough, cheering me along and shouting – what I presumed were - encouraging comments. One or two stared quite hard. I was totally drained at around 2k but my pace remained quite high and I was glad to get back to the murder scene. I left Esmeraldas later that day with the crew and did some googling - pleased that I’d done in that order! It’s an incredible part of the world and a real privilege to visit somewhere you'd never choose to go for pleasure. Not just yet.

Running with the Ecuadorian Army...

Running in the Red Zone

The best corner shop in Ecuador...

Hotel room, San Lorenzo, Esmeraldas

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