Thursday, August 31, 2006

To The Japanese Hill

We haven't much enjoyed this summer. Where in the past we've had weeks of days in the low 30's C with spikes up to 40 C or so, this summer it's been between 38 and 40 C for the past couple of months. With our current humidity, anything over 35 C has too high a heat index for it to be safe to work horses at any speed. Even the commercial carters would lay low under bridges to avoid the heat. Humans made for fans, airconditioning, and shade between the hours of noon and about 5 or 6 pm everyday.

This last week we finally got a bit of a break and a friend of mine and I decided to take a couple of the horses out into the desert one morning. We were training these particular horses for desert work and a summer off has left muscles less than optimal. We rode out near the pyramids of Abu Sir, went around the back of them and headed for the Japanese Hill. Just inside the desert edge is a plateau that represents what was the banks of the Nile many millenia ago and there is what would have been an island, an extension of the plateau but cut off from the main part of it. This is known as the Japanese Hill and it is a site reknowned fo its view of the pyramids of Giza to the north and Sakkara AND Dahshur to the south. This is an astounding vista, but one that we don't enjoy during the day in the summer.

The Japanese Hill got its name because every summer for the past at least fifteen or more years teams of Japanese archaeologists have come to dig away at the top and the sides of the hill searching for some kind of artifacts. Last week I finally found out what they have been searching for. Apparently one of the sons of Ramses the Second (I believe it was...easy to confuse which Ramses) was an amateur archaeologist himself and spent quite a bit of time reconstructing temples that had been abandoned, and this is one of his efforts.

Cristina and I had been out with her gelding on a moonlight ride with friends at the beginning of the summer and it hadn't been the best of experiences. I felt especially bad about it because Aybek boards with me and I didn't take into account the fact that he hadn't spent much time in the desert in the first place, hadn't done much night riding in the second and was only used to being around my herd of horses in the third. Since that night, we've been working on all of these things and have been riding in the desert, riding at night, and riding with strangers, but not all at the same time. That will come later.

So finally we found a morning that was cool enough to venture out into the sand again after the summer's heat. The wind off the river was brisk and fresh. For a change the haze of pollution over the valley was blown south and it was only grey north towards the city. We took the horses up onto the plateau where they had to deal with extremely broken ground thanks to the army practicing bulldozing and the sandminers taking over from there. All of this was new to Aybek who was a rescue who had been taken from Hurghada as a 2+ yr old that had been used for hauling tourists up and down the beach. Since his rescue, he'd mainly spent time hanging around paddocks and sort of growing up...just a little as he is a very small horse. From the plateau we noticed the archaeologists working over on the Japanese Hill and decided to go around the base to see what they were digging up.

We didn't approach the camp, however. The Antiquities Service gets very nervous about things like that and rather than make them nervous we stay an easy 200 to 300 metres away. We could see the limestone wall against the hill that had been excavated over the past few years and the wonderful Agatha Christiesque tents perched on the hill for the university staff. It was about 10:30 am, roughly time for the breakfast break for people who start working a dawn, and the Egyptian workers were sitting in the shade having a bite to eat.

By the time we circled the hill and headed for the countryside, the air was beginning to heat up and we were extremely happy to hit the shade of the trees along the canals. A couple stretches for galloping and we were back home where the horses could be stripped down for a shower under the hose.

copyright 2006 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

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