Saturday, July 02, 2005
A Countryside Jewel
I have Blogger to thank for this. They've changed things so that I can now post photos throughout my blog and that has given me the incentive to work on my riding blog and now to be able to share a favourite spot in the neighbourhood. One of my neighbours went riding with me a month or so ago and offered to show me a new trail. He's known me a long time and is very aware that there aren't many trails in the area that I don't know by now, so this was an irresistable offer. What he had to show me was exquisite, a tiny patch of countryside untouched by cars, appalling villas or roads.
Today I set out with a couple of friends, one of whom hadn't seen this wonderful little patch of land. It's been hot lately, in the high 90's F or high 30's C, and we set out about 10 am which seems late to avoid the heat but actually the timing was good. About 10 am the air in the valley floor begins to heat up and rise, which in turn causes breezes to set up in the open areas. As we left the more confined area of the paddocks where buildings cut off the airflow, we all sighed with relief at the refreshing wind. We still rode relatively slowly at a brisk walk, however, because the heat index was real even if we felt cool from the breeze. Children from the village were either helping parents in the fields or playing beside the paths in the shade of mulberry trees or the shelters built for the animals. One of the joys of riding in the countryside is the fact that one can ride every day on the same trail and never see the same thing twice. Today one of the first encounters that we had was with a donkey left hitched to a cart. Usually they are left tied to a tree or hobbled because donkeys, having extremely independent natures, are inclined to head home if they get bored. We had to walk carefully past this one to be sure that some poor fellow wouldn't have to be running after his donkey and cart in the heat.
This particular donkey was happy to rest where he was as we passed and we continued on our way past a group of homes belonging to some farmers and grooms for horses in the country club just down the road. Flocks of geese paddled happily in the canal as a couple of girls tried to coax them out and back to their pens. The geese weren't having any of it and the girls were helpless to get them out of the canal, so they sat at the edge of the canal tossing stones at the opposite bank. Other children tended flocks of goats and sheep who were mostly resting in the shade. Some of the families in this area collect wood from people who cut down trees and then burn it slowly in pits to produce charcoal. The piles of wood make marvelous climbing places for human kids and the four-legged kind as well.
We made our way past beside some of the enormous villas that the city folk are prone to build out here. These ghastly piles of brick are a blight on the countryside, but on the other hand, their presence has kept away the random low-rise apartments that are the hallmark of the expanding villages. At least the countryside will be transformed into large gardens rather than solid chunks of brick and concrete. Finally we found ourselves at the entrance to the path within the gardens. From the herbal tea factory there is a dirt road that cuts into an area in which there are stables and country houses, but if we continue straight ahead rather than turning left, we find ourselves on a narrow dirt track that winds through a mango grove.
The mangoes are almost ripe and we were thankful that we were wearing helmets because if one of these hard green fruit smack you in the head, it is memorable. The horses, on the other hand, were dying to stop and graze in the tall green grass. From the mango grove the path winds along a bamboo wall that separates the farmland from the back of the tea factory. The other side of the path could be a scene from an illustration of Egypt one hundred years ago. There is an area of about 20 feddan (roughly 20 acres) surrounded by mango and palm groves, within which a few families farm plots of corn, peppers, berseem, okra, and other vegetables. Scattered through the plots are small shelters for the farmers and their animals over which banana trees lean and grapevines wind. If I were wealthy, I'd love to buy the land and leave it to be farmed just as it is for a sort of agricultural museum to remind the people who are living in the increasingly crushing, stressful city of what they've lost. But I'm not wealthy and can't possibly buy this land or even a part of it, so I try to ride through as often as possible to soak it into me before it disappears like so much of our farmland.
Leaving the area we travel through another magical passage, this time along a shallow irrigation ditch that waters a grove of pear trees on one side and small vegetable gardens on the other under the towering palms. The richness of the land is unmistakable and impossible to ignore. I've taken many of my riding students through this land on their lessons and as many friends as possible to let it live at least in the memories of others.