Well, two days in and I have now been up to the computer centre, seen the PC’s and began unpacking all the boxes from the UK. Thanks to Imperial Tobacco’s use of much more modern technology, the box of old RAM I have brought with me has enabled me to double the memory in all of the 8 computers in the main room, which run windows 2000, and despite my initial fears, really aren’t that bad at all. Most are 2.4Ghz Pentium 4’s, and now with the extra RAM, they’re all booting up reasonably quickly, so I’ll be looking at individual issues on each of them in the coming days. Stupidly enough, and I really did have more than enough time for this, I haven’t brought any windows disks with me. D’oh. Nevermind. Where there’s a will there’s a way, and I’m good at finding that way, so it won’t be a problem for now.
This afternoon I got directions down to Marangu Mtomi, which on Thursdays holds an open market where all the fresh fruit and vegetables can be found from the region. This was also a good opportunity to take the rockhopper out for a spin, so without hesitation I jumped on and scrabbled down the rocky paths. Any good? Oh yes! Those ten or fifteen minutes of fairly continuous downhill were probably the best ten or fifteen minutes I have ever spent on a bicycle, and worth every bit of sweat and stress it’s taken me to get here. Fast, flowing paths with football sized rocks strewn across them meandering down the mountain past all manner of huts, houses and dwellings gave me a proper workout, tested my tyres and bravery and in places was both terrifying and massively rewarding all at once. Downhill all the way into Marangu, barely a second to rest or catch my breath, I zoomed past a raft of people shouting Mzungu! Rasta! Crazy man on bike! And I just loved it. Once down in the town, I made my way to the craft shop run by our organisation and met Mama Mlai (pronounced oom-lye) who looked after my bike and helped me get hold of a Vodacom SIM card and not get ripped off for it. I then wandered down out of the town towards Marangu proper, which on the way up seemed like a short distance, but after almost an hour trudging along and saying Jambo every ten seconds I realised that not only was I getting dehydrated, but I was also further and further away from where I needed to get back to, so I turned around and headed back towards wherever I could buy a bottle of water. Making it back into Marangu Mtomi just before I passed out, I was blessed with my first experience of the “he’s white, he must have money” curse that I’ve been warned of up till now. Two lads, about 20 or so, insisted on taking me round the market which I had already acclimatised myself to, and I knew they were in search of money from me, but in reality, they offered some much needed colloquial conversation, and after a while trying to fend them off, I gave in and bought them both a beer for their help. In all honesty, I kind of needed their help, as I was about to pay what I thought was a fair price for five mangos, 1500 shillings, or about 75p, before they informed me that it was 300tsh for all five, not 300 each. They earned their beer in my eyes, and keeping the conversation jovial, I actually quite enjoyed hanging out with them.
Now for the journey back up to Mshiri. I said the trip down was the best 15 minutes of my cycling career, well; this was one of the darkest hours of that same career. A little parched by the sun and my Kilimanjaro beer that went down way too quickly, I picked up my bike from Mama Mlai and headed, with some pace, towards the rocky paths that lead back up the mountain to my home, and quickly realised there was no sense in trying to do this in one go, and promptly got off and remembered the African saying.. Pole pole, and took my time. Not a bad idea really, as it gave me time to take a better look at the surroundings I had zoomed past on the way down, and had another epiphany moment of realisation that my life, and me, will never be the same again. I met more people, chatted a while with Moses and Rock, who I had met the day before, and arrived back at Mshiri thoroughly knackered and ready for bed. 30 minutes later Happyness arrived to cook dinner for me, something that I will never get used to, but enjoyed it nonetheless.
One more thing… the stars. It gets dark here about 7pm, and does so incredibly quickly, one minute it’s just getting dim, then WHAM, pitch black, and without any street lights to navigate, you’re forced to take a torch everywhere (thank god for my cateye bike lights) but look up, and as a westerner who has lived in cities for most of my life, it’s hard to keep your balance.
The view is simply breathtaking. I headed back inside and DEETed myself up for a stint outside with the camera, and took some long 30″ exposures of Orion, which for the first time in my life was lying on his side. Just above to the left, the Pleiades cluster, or seven sisters, which I will always use as my reminder of the 7 years I spent with my best mate Scampy, and further off to the north, a bright, magnificent Jupiter sparkled above to set what is the fullest sky of stars I have ever seen, and that is WITH some cloud cover above the mountain. Simply amazing.
I wish you all could see this; it has brought me to tears both nights I’ve been here so far. There’s something extremely primeval about them, the very same stars every human being ever would have seen, and to be here half way up the roof of Africa, alone with my thoughts and surrounded by my new family that I am gradually becoming part of, I’m lost for emotion, there’s too much of it.