The Georges in Peru

Where are we supposed to swim to?

05 Aug 2018

For the first time in my recent memory I shut off my phone without being on a plane.  You might protest, "Wait!  You just went on your honeymoon.  You're telling me that you left your phone on then?"  Actually, yes, since the kids were being tour guides around Peru for 18 friends and family, we thought it best to be available for them.  Luckily, there weren't any big emergencies!  

Thursday, Mary Beth handed off the puppet show equipment to a church, the ophthalmology campaign ended that night and the kids were on their last 3 days of winter break, so we slipped off to the beach in Mejía about 2 hours away from Arequipa.  Today was the Ironruna (runa is loosely translated as 'man' in Quechua) Triathlon in Mejía.  One swims 1.9 km, bikes 90 km, and runs a half marathon (21 km).  I'm not in good enough bike shape to enter it on my own, but a friend, who is an awesome swimmer wanted to do it as a relay.   He'd swim, someone else would ride the bike and I'd run the half marathon.  But we never found a cyclist, so I went to observe.

The plan was for the swimmers to swim a somewhat complicated course around several buoys but the race director didn't realize that the water was too deep for anchors or that the current was so strong.  We watched a buoy float off toward the horizon as they readied the race.  We never saw it again.  The director scurried around on a wave-runner to reposition another.  He abandoned having the swimmers swim the original route and told them to just swim around the one lone buoy and come back.  Things just got crazier from this point on.  It was breezy.  Like always, the sea was rough in Mejía.  It's cold too.  About 11˚C (52˚F). As the 18 triathletes took off into the water for the swim leg we noticed the buoy moving quickly to the north.  "Wow!  It will be hard to swim around a moving target.  And this will be a short race; it's only 500m to the buoy!"  The first swimmer got through the breakers into the open water.  Then two more.  The rest appeared to be struggling.  After about 5 minutes, the rest of the swimmers were still just a 50m from shore, while the leader was approaching the buoy.  They were unable to get through the waves!  How can this be?  They were almost all semi-professional athletes.  Haven't they swum in rough water before?  One more got through the waves and headed for the moving buoy.  Those left behind were just standing in the water, shrugging their shoulders and looking at each other.  They looked to shore for direction and someone yelled at them to keep trying.  A race director's nightmare:  having to disqualify the majority of your participants because the swim leg was too hard.  He came up with a brilliant plan:  Send in the lifeguards!  Ten red-and-yellow-clad lifeguards headed into the water to "rescue" the triathletes and send them out on the bike leg!  But do they still qualify for prizes, or just those that completed the swim?  I'll let you know if I hear how it turned out.

I badly wanted to put on my wetsuit and try to see if I could get through the waves.  They didn't look any worse than usual to me!