13 November 2006

Ride down memory lane

I will get to the significance of this road later in this posting.

My wife Bernice is traveling to Bangkok on Sunday evening. Being a dutiful husband I feel I should be around some before she leaves on her trip, so I better not return too late from my Sunday morning ride. But I don't want to miss out on a long ride so I plan to leave a hour before dawn when she is sleeping anyway.

At the equator the days are the same length all year around. It gets light at 6am and it is dark at 7pm in Arusha. However during this time of year we get a few minutes more daylight in the morning, maybe 15 minutes.

It took me 15 minutes to actually get out of bed. I made my usual pot of milk chai and was off just after 5AM, coinciding with the time of the Muslim call to prayers, making me feel safe riding in the dark. At 3AM I would be more nervous about bumping into gangs of thieves who operate in the night. (Stealing our copper wire for one thing.) I only rouse up some dogs on the dirt roads and I am on the highway in a few minutes. I pass a few faithful off to morning prayers, pass a few bikes, and there is an occasional car or lori passing me.

My original destination when I left the house was a valley called Oldebesi below the Lengijave plains. On the bike I change my plans and decide to stay on the highway longer up to Oldonyo Sambu and check out the area I lived during 1977-1982. I will ride up to the forest and then stop in at a school I taught and lived at on the way home.

It will be partly a social trip. Cool.

From Arusha to Oldonyo sambu is 30km and 20km of that is climbing. I start at 4,300ft and climb to 6,500ft on the tarmac road to Cairo. My mtn bike with slime and tyre liners is really heavy as I slog up and up to Oldonyo Sambu. The morning comes and I turn off the lamp. With the recent rains it is glorious outside. Fluffy clouds and all that:

It takes over 90 minutes to reach the saddle and village of Oldonyo Sambu and coast down the other side.

I turn off the highway and use the paths I used to walk on 25 years ago to go to the village to wait for a bus to get to town. I get on a dirt road. It is twice as wide as it was in the 1970's, not a track anymore but a wide dirt road.

I cross a korongo(canyon) where I had so often repaired the road after heavy rains. It was now 7am and too early for visitors so I ride around the edge of the school on road and kept climbing up the mountain. I pass the old Eckman farm and am suprised the road is not a track but a maintained road. I stop and take a picture of a farm I have long admired with its big trees.

I must now be at close to 7,500 feet. People are awake and I greet lots of people. By 8 AM I make it to the forest and decide to have my thermos of tea and cheeze sandwich on edge of big canyon with solid rock walls. It was deeper than I remembered. There are the same old houses at the junction of the roads and across the ravine from Ghikas's farm. He is a Greek farmer who inherited many farms and is quite a character. Nothing much has changed up here.

After a 15 minute breakfast I coast down to the school. And there is that driveway/lane I remember.

Now, look again at the picture at the top. I fondly remember this lane/driveway lined with jacaranda trees that once a year burst forth with purple flowers and drop their petals on the road. What luck, today is one of those days. This has to be one of the best driveways in the world!

There are no priests or teachers who know me! But they know students I have taught. And it is obvious I was a teacher there. The housese and school have changed little. The house I lived in is pretty much the same. It was built by Boers who walked up from South Africa in the early 1900's looking for place to farm and hunt. The original part of the house is mud blocks about 50cm thick. There was no foundation, just the blocks on the ground! There have been additions over the years and now it is a long building with 6 bedrooms off a 2 meter wide hallway. a sitting room and a dining room and big kitchen at one end. No termites and mosquitoes at this altitude.

I talk and have breakfast with two priests and some young British visitors, get the tour of the school and snap a shot.

This is Father xxx who showed me around the school. My rig is in the background and the house I lived in for four years.

I hop on my bike and am home in less than 2 hours.

It is only a 90km day in like 5 hours but it has been a pretty good work out.

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