Friday, July 01, 2005

Summer Sizzle

My friends in more northern climates tend to have a resting period for their horses and themselves in the winter when it is too cold and rainy to ride much. Our winter is wonderful for the most part, crystal clear days filled with sunshine and cool breezes. Summer is another story when our days register between 35 C and 40 C for weeks on end and sitting around in the sun can honestly be lethal. That is when the countryside hits its peak for me. With the breezes from the fields being cooled by evaporation from the irrigation and shade given by the overhanging trees, the roads and trails of the countryside offer a blessed relief from the searing heat of the desert.

Today was supposed to hit a high of 93 F (just to give a break to any non-metric readers) so we decided to go out for a quiet ride about 9:30 before the sun could really hit its stride. We headed out to the north because I wanted to show off some new trail. One lovely bit cuts through small farming plots away from any roads, giving the sense that one has traveled back in time by about 50 to 100 years. No motor vehicles intrude in this secluded site filled with small gardens of grapes, bananas, vegetables and, of course, date palms. We entered from a mango orchard where the mangos are starting to ripen this month. Riding through a mango orchard isn't as easy as it sounds because first (and hardest) picking the mangos is strictly forbidden. I would lose my right to go through if I began filching fruit. Secondly, a semi-ripe mango is quite capable of delivering a blow worthy of a concussion if one is foolish enough to skip wearing a helmet and doesn't watch the low-hanging branches. But then, what a way to go, after all....knocked out by a mango.

From our tiny bit of paradise, we headed west along a dirt road towards the desert and the army base that takes up much of the desert north of the country club. Some strange individual at some point built an enormous home at the edge of a canal with a factory abutting the rear. The house itself is in a Chinese style and is known around here as "The Chinese House". Most of the time riders will take the small road next to the Chinese House and the factory and turn south along the edge of the cemetery, but we turned north and rode to the barely discernible Zawiat el Rayan pyramid that lies between the army base and the village of Masaken William. From the south it just looks like a hill and you have to come around the hill to the village side to see that the "hill" was actually constructed of large limestone blocks. My company was a runner turned rider and we chatted in front of the pyramid about how much fun it would be to organise a long run or ride that would take people from the pyramids of Giza that we could see through the haze to our left south through the farmlands to the pyramids of Sakkara or Dahshur.

Turning back south, we continued to brainstorm about the logistics of such an event as we walked, trotted and cantered along the shady eucalyptus-lined canal. The road across the canal was quieter than usual since it was Friday morning, and with the summer being wedding season even the farmers are up somewhat late on Thursday nights with weddings to celebrate making early mornings a bit tough.

This lucky water buffalo seemed to have taken advantage of someone's sleepiness to wade into a canal for a nice breakfast of grass and water hyacinth. Normally they are picketed in shady spots along the canal with a pile of green stuff in front of them and they have to wait for someone to take them to the water for a good soak. This old girl obviously decided that she knew where she wanted to be. The gamoosa's, as they are called here, are docile animals and easy to handle. The only problem I've ever had with them has not actually been mine but their owners' in that they are rather timid and find a horse and rider rather frightening the first time they encounter them.

By the time we finished two hours riding, the heat was getting rather severe and everyone was glad to stop activity for the day. We left the horses to have their lunch, snack on hay in the shade and snooze, while we went to do some human errands and (if there is any energy left) go to the Canadian ambassador's residence in Zamalek for a Canada Day celebration with beer, hot dogs and hamburgers. Or maybe we'll just take a nap.

copyright 2005 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani