A trip to the mountains

I wrote the following blog post in 1999, and never published it, because I never got around to finishing writing it. So most of this post is 9 years old, and the last 3 paragraphs were written this afternoon. It’s kind of disconnected ramblings, because I figure if I wait until I make it into a coherent narrative, it’ll probably be another 10 years before I publish it.


The summer before coming to college, I had an adventure.

We flew from Nairobi to Kigali, landing in one of the smallest international airports I’ve ever been in. Mom and Dad were going to some conference or other, and Andy and I went on from there to further adventures.

Rwanda is probably the most beautiful country I’ve ever been in. We drove for hours through virgin jungle. Folks make remarks about how I should be used to jungle, having grown up in Africa. In reality, this was probably the first actual jungle I had ever encountered. It was amazingly green – eye-jarringly green, and *so* beautiful.

When we crossed into Zaire, a sign on the wall in the customs office declared “Do Not Insult The Crocodile Before Crossing The Nile.” Sage advice, there.

We drove to the hospital where Andy’s highschool roommate’s family worked, way out in the middle of nowhere. Several incidents have imprinted themselves on my memory.

As we were driving the 50-some miles into Zaire, which took us 3 hours or so, we encountered a landrover plastered with various advertiser stickers. Since we hadn’t see any other cars for quite some time, we stopped to chat. This character was driving from Cape to Cairo. He had previously driven from North Pole to Tierra Del Fuego, and this was the second leg of his journey. He was doing a story of some kind for National Geographic.

A little later, we came to a bridge. Actually, it would be more accurate to call it a former bridge. A large steel skeleton spanned the river, but there was no road. The boards that made the road had all been borrowed. Fortunately, we arrived there right behind a bus. Upon arriving at the bridge, everyone got out fo the bus, unloaded boards from the roof of the bus, and built a road across the bridge, and drove across. They let us drive across, for a fee. They then collected the boards, reloaded the bus, and drove on.

At one point, we came to a little town with the road passing through the middle of town. The town itself was about 10 feet lower than the road surface. The road had been resurfaced sufficiently many times that it had grown to this height above the rest of the town. I remember that we stopped here to buy a 5-kilo bag of sugar, which cost 10,000 z (the local currency at that time, the zaire).

While we were at the hospital, a long-awaited shipment arrived. It was a railroad container on the back of a flat-bed truck. The guys driving the truck wanted to leave immediately, and had no way to unload the container from the back of the truck. The solution to this was to lash one end of the container to the side of a building, drive the truck out from under it, and then put truck jacks under the other end, so that the truck could drive away.

This left the container suspended in the air, with truck jacks on one end, and roped to a building on the other end. And, due to the way that it had been loaded onto the truck, the doors were flat against the side of the building. I don’t remember if we ever heard how they solved this particular dilemma. It was still hanging in the air when we left.

We (Andy and I) spent 2 weeks out there at this bush hospital in the middle of nowhere. One of the days, we built a dam in the little stream nearby. That was fun. And I remember that when the generator went out in the evening, it was dark as soot.

One day, Phil took us out to see the airstrip. After hunting around for a bit, he found the place where the airstrip had been a few weeks before. It was overgrown with full-sized trees. Apparently it’s so fertile there that this was enough time to make the airstrip unusable.

Towards the end of our visit, we took a hike up into the mountains. We drove as far as we could go, then got out and hiked for a while. I remember Phil’s brother saying “We’re almost there. I remember that herd of cows.”

Eventually, we got to a teensy cabin, which was our destination. Although there was no running water or electricity, it was still quite comfortable, with cots, and a loft with more sleeping space.

In the morning, being Sunday, we had a makeshift church service using the one book in the cabin, which was an ancient methodist hymnal. There were four of us, and we taught ourselves “Come Thou Almighty King” in four parts. Every time I hear that song, I remember that morning, singing to the cows (and to God) on the top of a hill with the thick forest all around us.

The four of us have moved on to other things, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Phil or his brother since that summer, although I expect my brother has. This was twenty years ago now, and it’s still so clear and recent in my mind, when so many other memories have faded.