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Sunday, May 18, 2014

I'm a Scratch for the Rota Triathlon

A visit to Rota in the Northern Mariana Islands…


One of the main reasons visitors come to Rota in Micronesia is for the scuba diving. The ocean water is crystal-clear and sea life is visible without a light even at a depth of 100 feet. There are several dive shops on the island, and I visit the only one that caters to English-speaking divers. It’s early morning, and Dive Rota’s owner-operator, Mark, has just arrived and is unlocking the door.  
He apologizes that there’s no one available to dive with me today, and invites me to try again tomorrow morning.

I arrive for my appointment only to find the shop is locked. While I’m waiting for it to open, a member of the local constabulary, Rai, pedals up on a shiny 18-speed bike and asks why I’m standing here. I tell him I’m waiting for Mark so I can go diving. Rai informs me he is gearing up for the Triathlon. During the conversation he asks if I have a bike. I tell him I have a 40-year-old, 3-speed Raleigh, and that three speeds are enough for me. I have no idea how much trouble this innocent comment is going to cause me later.

When Mark finally arrives he tells me that since I’m his only client today he’s arranged for me to dive with a Japanese group and he’ll provide an English-speaking instructor to accompany me. A short time later an attractive blonde woman arrives and introduces herself as Nanette, my diving buddy. Mark equips me with diving gear and Nanette and I leave to join the Japanese group on their boat. 

As I arrive at the dive boat I hear the other divers talking excitedly and pointing at me. They are speaking Japanese, but I can make out the word ‘Canadian’. One of them speaks a little English and I ask him what all the excitement is about. Evidently they’re excited about meeting the crazy Canadian who will be doing the Triathlon on an antique bicycle!!! I do the usual—just smile and nod—because given the language problem I haven’t a hope of making them understand that neither me nor my bike are in the Triathlon.

In the early evening I go for dinner at the local bar, and I’m greeted with much bowing and ceremony by the contingents from Japan and all the other Pacific Islands. The pre-Triathlon dinner is taking place in the bar, and everyone wants to meet me and see my bike. It now becomes apparent: these people think I’m actually going to participate in the Triathlon. My innocent remark to the constable about my bike has been taken out of context and blown out of proportion. I need to come up with a face-saving plan—FAST—and I do. 

Earlier in the day there was a huge typhoon somewhere else in the Pacific. I announce that I’ve just received tragic news. The container that my bike was in has washed overboard! Buoyed by the disappointed groans from the assembled group I decide to improvise further. Not only was my bike lost, but my special supply of the seal blubber that Canadians slather over our bodies before swimming has also been lost. Sadly I won’t be able to race this year! 

For the rest of the evening I accept free drinks to help drown my disappointment. 

The next morning I go over to the Dive shop and offer to help with setting up buoys and things for the Triathlon. I’m deeply touched to learn that the race committee has decided to make me an honorary marshal and present me with a race t-shirt!

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