Riding on top of the world, Ecuador.

Hostel IzhcaylumaIt turns out that the quarter-century old impressions of a six year old are not necessarily accurate.

Because that was the last time I rode a horse, and I remembered the feel of a large warm animal between my legs but it being a pretty easy, relaxed experience. So relaxed in fact that when asked in Vilcabamba what level of experience I had in riding horses, I answered “intermediate.”

Seems so clearly foolish in hindsight, but I figured “hey, I rode camels down sand dunes in the Sahara, horses have to be easier than that, right?”

When we met our guide, Holger, that morning, he asked “are you loco (crazy), super loco, or ultra-loco? I brought two horses for you guys (K and I, we were joined by a German lass named J), one is water, one is rocket-gasolina.”

LuceroWhen we saw the horses I was immediately drawn to one, which turned out to be my rocket-gasolina steed, named Lucero. I mounted and felt fine. Then we started trotting and I was highly embarrassed at the prospect of dying that way. Holger looked at me and said “don’t hold the saddle horn, that’s very dangerous. Both hands in the air like this…and it’s good for the abs.”

I thought back to everything I knew about riding horses…Maximus in Gladiator saying “I tell my son to keep his heels down when he’s riding his horse.” I knew it was worth seeing that movie six times.

Vilcabamba panorama 1We started up a rocky ravine, Lucero repeatedly falling behind then at my insistence trotting over the sharp stones, but by the time we reached the panoramic views I was feeling much more self-assured, which was good because the views were stunning.

Holger: “Later we’ll try to find some lassos.”
Me: “Nah, I’ve already got a girlfriend.”
Holger: (looks thoughtful) “Do you want a backup?”
Me: (also looking thoughtful) “Nah, one already feels like too much sometimes.”
Needless to say, this conversation was in Spanish, though K understands the language far too well now…

Vilcabamba - K and I

We tied the horses at Holger’s family holding, high in the epic hills, and climbed to the top on foot, along meandering cow trails through clouds of bright ladybugs and butterflies.

Vilcabamba panorama with us

Helluva place for a date, no?

Vilcabamba view - fence

Someone’s burning land to clear it for farming way off in the distance. (left) Not an easy place to earn a living.

Down the other direction Holger pointed out the rapidly growing towns of American and other western retiree communities.

Vilcabamba view - J and trail

Up here the horses decided to gallop. It was one of the best feelings I can remember (especially once I managed to put the camera securely away.)

It’s an interesting and exhilarating sensation to gallop towards a cliff…trusting that it’s all going to be okay.

I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

One of my favorite pictures I've taken in awhile. Rain in the Andes. I want to go back!

One of my favorite pictures I’ve taken in awhile. Rain in the Andes. I want to go back!