Unlocking William Hill
Hiking William Hill is like dancing. Or if you cannot dance, it’s like standing in the shower singing your heart out – with clothes on and water off. But if you are like me; can’t dance or stand the sound of your unfiltered voice, it’s like an answered prayer. And in a way, all these things are the same.
At the end of my hiking experience up Mt. Kilimambogo, I made a prayer to the mountain gods to let me into the great outdoors. A fortnight later, at the magical hour of 5 am, I was headed towards the trail bus thinking about William Hill. My prayer had been approved. It was up to me to honor the gift.
After the short ritual; roll call and fruits and the guilt wristband “#WilliamHillUnlocked”, we left the city for Mai Mahiu. The synchronized hum of the street lights was being replaced by odd frequencies of the waking city. But inside the bus, everything was in tune. It was chilly and the air condensed into the fog on the bus windows. A few hikers took a nap, others looked out and I watched the foggy windows. After some time, water drops started going down the window. One such drop was unique. As it went down, it collected smaller drops and at the end, it went down as a big one. This was the same on other windows. And before I could analyze the drops, we stopped at the Great Rift valley viewpoint where curio shops were still asleep.
Mai Mahiu Catholic Church – Traveller’s Church
The next stop was across the road just opposite Mai Mahiu Catholic Church – “Travelers Church”. Besides being one the smallest in the world, this church has a very rich history. If you are interested in history, read on, and if you are not, let me bore you with a little bit about this Church.
During the early days of the Scramble for Africa, Italy too wanted a share. And so began its colonial expansion campaign in Africa. The first phase of her attempts to establish colonies around the Horn of Africa concluded with the disastrous defeat in the Battle of Adwa (1 March 1896). Ethiopian army under Negus Menelik II gained victory over the Italians led by Gen. Oreste Baratieri. This was the first defeat to a European nation in Africa and one that surprised the World.
Over three decades later, Italy under Mussolini invaded Ethiopia (1935-1937) and won adding most of the Ethiopian Empire to her Italian East Africa. This included Italian Somaliland (Somalia) and Italian Eritrea (Eritrea). It was after this Second Italo-Ethiopian War that Haile Selassie was exiled in Bath, England.
Italy continued to control its East African colonies until their hostile defeat in the Abyssinian campaign between 1940 and 1941 by the Allies of World War 2, led by the British Forces.
The defeated Italian forces were captured by the British as Prisoners of War. It is some of these prisoners that were forced to build the Mai Mahiu road. During the construction of the road, the Italians built the Small church completing it in 1942.
William Hill Hike and Notes on Travel
After stretching and trail do’s and don’ts from our lead guide, we began the hike along a lonely dusty road which led us to an oasis where we stopped to wait for the rear group. And for me, it was a chance to buy chapatis from a nearby “Hotel.”
The rest caught up and we all started on a single file along a narrow trail. This was the first ascent and shortly after we were going down a Murram road towards a derelict resort at the foot of the Kikuyu Escarpment. After a short break, we continued the trek guided by purple ribbons up to a flat zone.
Up to this point, I had deliberately followed an unwritten rule often observed by travelers – I included. We begin our travels at the destination and refuse ourselves the trip in between. Hikers fast forward the trip to the mountain and snow. Road trippers fly to Naivasha. Ocean lovers only show pictures on the beach. For the wild ones, an Elephant with Kilimanjaro in the background is the destination. Ask a Road tripper how the weekend was and the story begins with Beer in Naivasha. We forget the adventure in between. The fellow hikers on the trails. Strangers and friends on the train rides. The burst tires. Madness on the highway. And all the fantasy itineraries that we create inside our heads. Maybe these things are meant for the diary. And there could be a reason why travelogues start and go on as follows…
Boots Start to Sing
From the flat zone, we could see the steep face of the escarpment and what was possibly the summit. A group of hikers was already halfway and their slow pace was a sign of a real challenge. The first step, second, third, and stop!
“Why? Why do we hike?”, a gentleman in front looked back and asked. His question wasn’t directed to anyone in particular and so no one replied. We trekked on. And soon our boots started to sing. Theirs was a rhythm of random beats by boot’s friction on gravel and soil. This song, a not-so-mellow-one was no more than three verses of accented folk. It was Lift, Step, and Slide. This kind of singing is controlled by the feet and if the hiker stops, it stops too. The shower artist is the same. If the instruments aren’t there – warm water and the strings of the skin, the sound is kind of weird.
The rhythm was in my head to the big rock “Ihiga ria Nyondo”. The first group had stopped there and I saw why they did. If there was an answer as to “Why We Hike”, this could be part of it. It was like an opening scene to an action movie – a chopper flying over a jungle or mountains and hills and valleys. The rock was a static chopper and the hiker’s eye a brush. Kendong Valley, Kijabe Hills, Mt. Margaret, Mt. Longonot, Mt Suswa, Suswa Train Station, and an Oasis down the valley were some of the details on the painting.
The Fellowship of the Boots!
We continued for the summit which wasn’t far off. From up there, the scene changed. Everything was closer; farms, homesteads, Mai Mahiu Road, and home. As with most summits, it is a moment of pride and looking back on the day’s achievement. It’s also a reminder that you are not alone. That other hikers at William Hill are singing too. Trying to arrive at a smooth tune for their lives. And it’s not just them. Because at that very moment, someone just took a step forward elsewhere – At Longonot, Kilimambogo, Kilimanjaro, and all over the World. Bound together by the trails and hunger to go beyond. We are a Fellowship of the Boots!
The descent was steep but knowing that the buses were nearby made it easy. We shared stories and truths and lies about our experiences. One common truth was that we had all seen and Unlocked William Hill. My lie was that it was easy!
Prepping for the Next Mountain
Back in the bus I looked at the window and remembered my morning companions – The Drops. The big one was like Mt Kenya, and the smaller ones the prep hikes. There we were, William Hill Unlocked and Longonot next. These prep hikes were feeding the Journey to Mt Kenya. I prayed for my boots to keep singing. To be the path of the drop and add each prep hike into the whole. And while at it, enjoy the dance. Because in a dance you move, not to go somewhere, but to be somewhere in time. In our case, we were back on the road heading back to the City.
Featured Image: A Hiker on “Ihiga ria Nyondo” William Hill by Outdoorer Kenya