Chapter 6 – Roads and Bridges
The general area around the lake was semi-arid. The volcanic soil made it difficult to sustain vegitation. In the dry season it was hot, dusty and parched. Even the Acacia trees barely survived.
But the rainy reason transformed the volcanic soil into butter-like consistency, revived the thorny growth and encouraged the local people to plant their small corn fields.
The ten miles of road winding in from the highway made its way around the Acacia trees, down into the deep river gullies, and through the thick bush of the forested areas.
If a driver wasn’t careful and didn’t know where to drive, he could easily get off the trail and be hopelessly lost. Someone had devised a good guiding system. He nailed pieces of blue and yellow tin cans onto trees. These brilliant markers did a wonderful job of keeping the traveller on track – until, that is, the local people discovered that these pieces of colourful tin made wonderful jewellery. Soon these trail markers were all missing. However, I found that painting a big splash of blue and yellow paint on the appropriate trees served us much better.
The road was interrupted by four rivers snaking their way down to the lake through deep gullies. The rivers had bridges over them; very rickety bridges!
Driving in from the highway, we knew we were approaching a river by the change in flora. Rich undergrowth filled in the space between towering trees. It was habitat for monkeys, baboons, wild boar, leopards, serval cats, small deer, and a wide variety of other wildlife and insects.
These forests stretched for several miles on each side of the river. We lived in the heavily wooded forest of the fourth river.
Three weeks after arriving on the property, I had most of the site cleared, a small tin shack storing my building supplies and a reasonably good source of water. I had poured the foundation slab for our little tin house and we were comfortably living in it.
But a serious problem still loomed. We could cross the first three bridges with our loaded VW van. But the fourth bridge was a mess, dangerously suspended across the river with hardly any support. So we had to unload supplies and carry them about a mile to the our clearing with the help of local people we had gotten to know. Then I would carefully manoeuvred the vehicle across.
Later, we returned from a shopping trip to Addis Ababa with one of the mission builders, Warren Daniels. He came to assess my progress and help where he could. Not being a trained builder myself, I was thrilled to have someone of Warren’s caliber to give advice.
But we were not sure if we would be able to get across the last bridge. Two the of large logs spanning the water had given way. With some careful shoving, pushing and a careful touch on the accelerator we finally were on the other side. He promised to return with another mission builder, Bill Schmidt, in the next few days.
They did come and using the old bridge members as scaffolding, they dragged two 30 foot long timbers by block and tackle to the river bank where they could manoeuver them into position across the water. We spent the rest of the day searching the forest for logs straight enough to be used to form the deck. These were difficult to find; most of the trees were gnarled and twisted thorn trees.
What a blessing to have a bridge that could be trusted! We couldn’t thank the men enough. A good bridge was especially necessary for the later arrival of the heavy steel cement block-making machine. We could then be able to transport it right up to the property. This machine would play an important part in our building during the days ahead.
The particular bridge in this photo spanned a narrow canyon and is about 60 feet above the water and only 30 to 40 feet across. Scary! Now and then the cross members would be missing for a couple of feet, taken by locals, and I had to reorganize the wood on the bridge deck, then carefully line up my wheels with the length-wise logs and slowly maneuver my way across.
What you can’t see in the picture is Betty on the far side anxiously (and probably prayerfully) watching … and sometimes covering her eyes so she can’t watch!
I have often jokingly remarked that an appropriate sign on a nearby dwelling should be “Former Bridge”!
Other than minor mishaps and broken vehicle parts, we never had any serious accidents on that ten mile stretch of road.