Saturday, August 22, 2009

My kingdom for a horse.

Before our horseback ride up the volcano in Guatemala, it had been about 30 years since I had been on a horse (and for Adrian never). Today would be the second time in 30 years I’d been on a horse and Adrian’s second time. Considering how terrifying it had been back in Guatemala, I wasn’t looking forward to it but this was the tour we had signed up for. Adrian however was giddy with excitement imagining that this time he’d be able to ride cowboy style at full gallop. I was glad one of us was excited. Especially since the horseback ride was going to take up most of the day.

Since we’d be out on the trail, today we were packing lunches. We met Marlon in the hotel kitchen where he laid out a spread of bread, tomato, tuna, cheese and condiments so we could make our own sandwiches. And he even had a little something extra for Stacey.
“I looked for something for you. But this is all I could find.” And with that Marlon handed her a can of corn. It was a nice thought but Joy and I started laughing (nicely) at the obsurdity of it. Stacey accepted the can (a little confused herself) and took it back to her room so we could have it with dinner. Once we had made our lunches, we went for breakfast and then piled into the van that would take us halfway up the mountain.

It was another overcast day. And as on every other island, the higher we got the foggier and rainier it got. When the van finally stopped to let us out we were in thick fog barely able to make out the outlines of the horses waiting for us on the ridge (photo above). The horses looked healthier and stronger than the ones in Guatemala but I was still apprehensive and asked the cowboy in charge for the strongest and nicest horse. It must have been a tall request because I was the last to be assigned and helped up on the horse but it meant I was at the back of the pack. Well until my horse just started off without waiting for the group. We were told that the horses knew the way and not to worry but my horse appeared to be on a mission to get up that mountain and wasn’t it the mood to obey me as I pulled on the reins to try to get him to slow down or stop to keep with the group. But my time at the front was short as the boys put their horse riding experience from the Kibbutz to lead the pack.

Despite my focused horse and fear, the ride was actually enjoyable and a heck of a lot easier than climbing the volcano in Guatemala. Instead of the narrow path of loose rock, this path was wide enough for at least two horses to go up and it was compacted dirt and mud. Just as I was beginning to relax, I call came from behind me in the pack.
“Baby!?!” It was Adrian calling out in a panic.
I tried to stop my horse (fat chance of that) as a message soon passed up through the crowd. Adrian had fallen off his horse. Unable to stop or turn the horse around, I had to rely on reports from the others. He was fine and was back up. He hadn’t so much fallen as just slid off because of a loose saddle. Phew. What a relief.

We had an easy ride for about 30 minutes with us beginners (Stacey, Adrian and I) managing to somewhat control our horses until Marlon told us to stop.
“We get off here and walk,” he said. At first I thought he meant all of us but when Joy tried to dismount, he told her no. It was just me.
“Safety first,” Marlon sort of explained. It wasn’t much of an explanation and I wasn’t happy. Marlon joined me as we then hiked up what was probably the steepest part up the mountain. Of course we were now above the clouds and the sun was hot and Adrian was the one carrying the water bottle. We hiked up the mountain for 45 minutes long passed by the rest of the group and the horses. Marlon tried to be cheery by commenting on the scenery to which I icily replied that I’d rather be walking. The path flattened out where the rest of the group was waiting for us. I was allowed back up on the horse which was a much needed break after the hike up but it didn’t help my now foul mood. And poor Marlon, bore the brunt of my evil eye and pursed lips – although he was such a nice guy that I felt a little bit bad for being so mean.

At the top of the mountain we all dismounted. The mountain was an old volcano and the top was actually the ridge of the collapsed caldera. It must have been a big volcano because the caldera was huge. There was evidence of recent lava flows in caldera but Marlon explained they came from a smaller volcano on the other side which was active and to which we would now hike. Great another hike after I’d already hiked. Since I was still fuming and a little tired, I decided to take my time and lagged behind the group. We walked across the lava fields and Marlon pointed out sulfur deposits and lava tubes and even caves where a bit of green had managed to sprout. Further down the side of the volcano we could see lava flowing but unlike our experience in Guatemala there would be no roasting marshmallows or chickens. Marlon kept us far away from the molten rock but had us feel the heat coming out of cracks in the ground as we headed towards Volcan Chico. We took in the view and then hiked back up to the top where we had our packed lunch under a shady tree.

Marlon told me Adrian and I that we now we would both probably have to walk part of the way down. I was not looking forward to that as we got back up on the horses. The wrangler led my stubborn horse by the reins and when we got to the steepest part Marlon told us to get off but the wrangler told him it was okay, we were fine. I learned that Marlon had thought I’d fallen off of the horse and therefore had me walk at the tricky part. Apparently in the past there had been some bad spills and he didn’t want it to happen again. And I could see why the steep part was rather muddy and the horses slipped a bit but it was still easier than Guatemala. Although we all could have done without the wrangler forcing the horses to trot for the last 30 minutes – at least that’s what our sore butts told us. But overall the ride was nice and I felt a lot better about being on a horse. Adrian was now in love with horses and much like diving was talking about doing it all the time. He even asked how much a horse cost. Oh dear, why can’t he fall in love with the free activities.

We got back to the hotel in mid afternoon which would have left us lots of time to enjoy the long sandy beach except the wind and clouds had picked up. Adrian and I did take our books and rum down to the beach to chill for a couple of hours. It was cold and a bit miserable but after four action packed days it was nice to just do nothing. And that night we celebrated over Stacey's can of corn.

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