Another opportunity to get out of the city and take a walk in the hills presented itself before the rainy season began. Six of us drove about thirty minutes east into the hills covered with small farms to walk/run a nine-mile circuit. With the map downloaded to several phones the route was reviewed as we would be separating into a group of runners and walkers, and there are no trial markers or street signs here.
Very quickly we were accompanied by curious children and greeted by others on the dirt road. Not many “buzungus” (white people) come to these places so far “off the beaten track”, which made us the news of the day. Unsure of the route we (walkers) were stopping often to consult the downloaded map on one of the phones.
If we’d been able to ask the children in Kirundi which way the “buzungus” runners went, they could have easily told us. When we strayed off the route, looking for the “turn to the left, up the hill” it was the children who were quick to tell us with gestures and pointing, ‘not that left, another left’. Helpful as they were their number grew from just a few too many, making it a bit distracting to keep our pace.
We were looking for a footpath that would take us off the main road and up to the top of a ridge. Each hill is covered with a multitude of narrow footpaths leading in all directions to the different small plots of land with houses on them. It’s easy to get sidetracked to a path that leads to someone’s house.
Eventually the runners turned back to help us find the correct path which would ascend most directly to the top of the ridge. As we started up the path our runner companions were able to encourage the large group of children to stop escorting us.
After a long ascent we found the top of the ridge and to our surprise a building under construction (perhaps a school). We all contemplated how they had brought all the building materials up to this spot as there were no roads, just the footpaths we had climbed to get there. Most likely all the materials were carried up on the same paths, balanced on the heads of those who live in this community.
It was a beautiful view from the top. Even in the haze of the dry season you could see the overlapping layers of hills off into the distance, dotted with farms all the way to the top.
We followed the ridge line down and up again to the hill on the other side. At one point we found we were off the trail so we had to cut through several plots of land with gardens and houses on a steep hill. We were slipping on the steep trail in our tennis shoes but the locals were easily traveling up and down these trails in bare feet often with a basket or sack balanced on their head. How do they do that? I kept wondering. Though I’ve seen it hundreds of times it still amazes me.
Eventually we found the road that would circle us back to the place we’d parked the cars. On our descent we could look back on the ridge line we’d walked. It had been a long walk! Nearly 10 miles. Once again it was such a privilege to experience the flora and fauna of this beautiful country, to walk in the countryside, to see those who live on and work the land, and grow in appreciation of the different ways people live upon the earth.