Party, Party, Party
The closing ceremony took place at the Mourouk Hotel, where the race had started 7 days previously. Teams were bussed in from all over the island, most having stayed in separate accommodation from the HQ. The rule book said we had to wear the bright floral shirts given to us on arrival on Rodrigues, plus the straw hats beloved of the tourism office, leaving at 15:00 sharp.
Naturally, there were teams still in the water at 15:00 (hem, hem, not pointing at you, Team Spot Africa), who then hightailed up the tarmac in bare feet to make themselves presentable.
The reception at the hotel was magnificent. Starting with a meet and greet on the beach, cocktails and Phoenix beer flowing, a gazillion selfies, and general high spirits as racers greeted each other like long lost souls. All ceremonies should begin with sand between the toes. Closing ceremonies, weddings, presidential inaugurations – it sets the right tone.
En masse, we then moved upstairs into the hotel itself, where the previous biking storage venue (after the non-prologue) had been transformed into a trés chic dining experience. White linen, fairy lights in the arches, wine on every table. There were formal seating arrangements which had gotten lost in translation, though each table was named after a village on the island. I don’t know who paid for it all but it was extremely welcome.
A massive marquee had been added on the side to cater for the crowd of over 400 as the bike area wasn’t quite large enough. The speeches began. After a brief introduction, the assembly stood to sing Se Pou Sa, the anthem of the island. It translates as “That’s Why”, and captures the story of Rodrigan culture, the people, their life. It’s a glorious song, quite moving, and had been used at the opening ceremony, too. Loved it.
Heidi Muller spoke, thanking the officials and sponsors who had made the event possible. The sponsors were each presented with a framed race bib to commemorate their involvement. She also spoke about realising dreams, how this was a once-in-a-lifetime event, and apologised for the long swim of stage1 - “That was Stephan.”
There was virtual silence when she talked. The teams wanted to hear what she had to say. After she’d finished, and some officials spoke, less so. Also, the huge applause afterwards took some locals by surprise; there were giggles at my table. What would you expect from a bunch of rowdy racers who take life by the horns (apologies to Retief Coetzee)? Demure, not.
Then the Commissioner took the podium. His first words, “Do you luuuurve Rodrigues?”
Ecstatic response, “We LUUURVE Rodrigues!!”
He spoke about the locals’ appreciation for the “courage, passion and perseverance” of all the competitors, as they’d watched the teams crisscross the island, and paid tribute to their “courage, determination and mental strength.” He also complimented the local hospitality, and ended with his luuurve for everyone, sealing the deal with his customary kiss, kiss, kiss. Cue thunderous applause, hoots and cheers.
The tables were groaning from the weight of the buffet. Cleverly, there were 4 locations you could queue, which made it somewhat more efficient. Seafood-heavy, curries, salads, crudités, loads of sauces. Aunty Bev commented that the pureed avocado was extremely spicy, only to be gently corrected that it was in fact green chilli sauce.
Not surprisingly, teams were already helping themselves before the compere had even finished. Don’t get between an adventure racer and their food!
After burping, we made our way back down to the beach, to watch slideshows from the main photographers, a video presentation by Elevated Adventure Films, and for the teams to receive their symbolic prizes (AR is never about medals), get photographed, and for the proper party to begin.
First, we were treated to local band No Shame, belting out a vigorous series of songs, which left the crowd crowing for more.
Standing on the side with Stephan, he had his typical stern-Stephan expression as he looked out over the throng. Turning to me, he said, “This is the largest gathering of floral shirts in adventure racing history.”
Before handing out the awards, Heidi was insistent in thanking every volunteer (local and overseas), who’d all gone beyond their remit to make the event happen. She brought them up on stage for hugs and recognition, as well as all media crew, both official and team-based. There were cheers galore.
So, the official results of the top 10:
1: Greener Adventure Powered By Cykelkraft (Sweden)
2: AR Team Blizzard (Russia)
3: Team Merrell (South Africa)
4: KeyHealth Nevarest (South Africa)
5: Jabberwock (South Africa)
6: Powerbar Swiss Explorers (Switzerland)
7: RAF (UK)
8: Plett AR (South Africa)
9: Castle Lite (South Africa)
10: Spirit Canada (Canada)
25 Teams did the full course, 34 short-coursed, and 1 retired. Those are decent results for a 6-day expedition race, significantly aided by the shorter stages which meant less foot problems. It wasn’t a course designed to break you, openly admitted by Heidi and Stephan before the start, though if you pushed yourself, it was far from easy. Overall there was an emphasis on having fun, a facet really appreciated by many experienced teams. It might lead to some of the novice teams entering EA Lesotho, which is in only 6 months time(!), and a rude awakening with the old school approach that is expected.
The final words were said by Merrell athlete Donovan Sims, who spoke from the heart about the heart and soul of the Mullers evident in this event, that all were touched by them, and all would remain forever changed by the race they’d experienced.
Then it was time to PARTAAAAY! And the raucousness began. The racers let loose, booze flowed, and I stood with a grin etched on my face, drinking it all in. Expedition Africa Rodrigues was an event not to be missed, and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it all. Thank you Heidi and Stephan.
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